For (belated) Lady Porn Day: This time it’s personal

02/27/2011 at 12:40 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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I’ve gone from having writer’s block to not being able to stop writing. Whereas today’s earlier Lady Porn Day post presented an overview of experts in conflict over pornography’s place in sexuality, this one will be more in keeping with the theme of LPD: To talk about my own experiences with porn. While this post probably squeaks by as SFW, it’s still TMI ahead, it goes behind a WordPress cut. Everything should still appear in your RSS feeder if you’ve subscribed though.

Continue Reading For (belated) Lady Porn Day: This time it’s personal…

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For (belated) Lady Porn Day: What are the experts saying?

02/26/2011 at 7:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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February 22 was Lady Porn Day, a blogging event organized by Rachel Rabbit Write. This is the same blogger who, last year, organized “No makeup week.” In this case, “Day” is something of a misnomer, as today is actually the last day of the week-long Lady Porn event. (A good thing, too, considering my recent writer’s block.) In an interview with the Huffington Post, Write said the purpose of Lady Porn Day was to, “Essentially to celebrate porn and masturbation. I’m inviting everyone to talk about their porn experiences, share stories and to ultimately share their porn recommendations. This is about not only opening up a dialog about how porn is good, but also how porn is hard, how it can be an issue for women, in terms of dealing with guilt or body image or their sexuality.”

What’s been on my mind for awhile and has finally been knocked loose by this event is the subject of pornography and sex therapy. I’ve been thinking about this topic because I’m seeing a conflict between sex therapists who embrace pornography as a healthy & valid part of human sexuality vs. those who view it as the source of all kinds of sexual problems. Sex therapy is a possible treatment option for some folks with sexual dysfunctions and problems, so clients could find themselves in the middle of a political, academic & psychological tug-of-war between experts.
I’ll show you what I’m talking about, but with a caveat: you must bear in mind that I myself have not had sex therapy and I have absolutely no desire to do so, to the point where I’m actually quite resistant to sex therapy as a treatment for my dysfunction.

Whether or not sex therapists and sex educators are pro-porn or anti-porn looks to me like it’s largely a function of their own personal politics.

Notable sex educators who have articulated porn-positive arguments include the following:

Dr. Marty Klein is a long-term sex therapist and author who is very much anti-censorship and who consistently defends the use of pornography. He does identify as feminist and is clearly pro-choice; however one theme I’ve noticed in some of Klein’s writing is that he is critical of feminism – or at least, select vocal feminists and feminist groups. Oh well, so am I.
Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a feminist sexologist who is highly critical of female sexual dysfunction and so spearheaded the New View perspective of FSD (a perspective which I myself am highly critical of,) likewise recognizes a valid place for pornography in women’s sexuality.
Jessi Fischer is a sex educator who you may know better as The Sexademic. She recently got into an academic debate about pornography, opposite Gail Dines and Shelley Lubben – two notable anti-porn activists. (Each side of the debate was joined by additional activists, so it wasn’t just Fischer Vs. Dines & Lubben.) The pro-porn side of the debate came out on top – the audience members voted on who made the more convincing argument and decided it was Fischer’s team.
Dr. Carol Queen, sex educator with GoodVibes, wrote a post in favor of porn and Lady Porn Day – which makes sense considering her involvement with instructional & graphic sex videos. Most porn is not for educational purposes, but there’s some out there that is.

Nonetheless, porn-positive activists can be critical of porn. Pornography can, and often does, have problems. Criticisms of porn from sex-positive therapists may consist of something like, “This element is good, that element is neutral, and if you will look over there there, there is the element is the inherently problematic one that needs fixing.” And the element that needs fixing may be something like, the marketing of porn rather than the content itself. A great example of this took place a few weeks ago when actress Nicki Blue elected to film her first vaginal intercourse experience for the pornographic website, kink.com. The initial marketing for Blue’s film shoot was highly exploitative and inaccurate.

But I’ve seen activists, educators and licensed therapists go in the opposite direction too, and come down hard against pornography. Often this stance against pornography is lumped with a warning against sex and masturbation addiction – which is another extremely controversial topic. However, I’ve repeatedly seen more acceptance of the term “Compulsion” instead of “addiction” to describe obsessive sexual behaviors, to the point where such behaviors interfere with someone’s personal or sexual life.

Dr. Mary Anne Layden is a clinical psychotherapist and Director of Education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy, part of the University of Pennsylvania. In 2004, she went before the US Senate to talk about the so-called dangers of pornography. In another interview with the Washington Examiner, she talked about the process of becoming addicted to porn when she said, “There’s always an escalation process. We don’t know what the threshold is, and those with addictive personalities will start it earlier. But I see a lot of people who didn’t show any psychological problems before [viewing porn].”
Jason McClain is a UK therapist who considers himself to be a former porn addict. He runs an organization, Quit Porn Addiction, and now he counsels clients who likewise want to break away from porn.
Dr. Alvin Cooper is a sex therapist and director of the San Jose Marital & Sexuality Center who contributed to a documentary, A Drug Called Pornography. According to the linked synopsis, this film’s thesis is that, “Pornography is an addiction. Its effects on users and their loved ones are just as habit-forming and destructive as heroin, tobacco, or any other addictive agent… The program features disturbing interviews with pornography addicts, many of whom are convicted sex offenders. They talk frankly about how pornography affects their psyches and systems, coloring all their activities and relationships.” And according to this Time article, Cooper also gives seminars about addiction to cybersex.

In addition, Googling search terms such as, “Sex therapy addiction” or “Sex therapy porn” brought up many, many more results for therapists and organizations that prominently feature treating sex and masturbation addiction among their services.

I am confounded, though not surprised, to see that sexuality experts with licenses, teaching jobs and more credibility than me have not come to a unified agreement on porn’s place in sex therapy. It’s not surprising that sex therapists haven’t come to a standard approach on how to deal with pornography, because there’s precedent for a lack of resolution: Pro-and-anti- porn debates in politics, academia and feminism remain unsettled.
But it is confounding, because who am I supposed to believe, and why?

Actually, I have been convinced by the arguments of the porn-positive side. I especially appreciated Violet Blue’s analysis of the for-profit agenda of major anti-porn activists. This analysis, and others like it, also note that anti-porn rhetoric is also often anti-masturbation – a healthy sexual activity. There are numerous other arguments in favor of pornography that I have heard which have contributed to my “Up with porn” POV… the only reason I’m not getting into them right now is because it will take too long to document everything.
Though I’ll also admit that most porn has problems which could and should be handled better (but won’t,) and, like just about any other tool, it can be used for the forces of good or for evil… and everything in between.
(Plus I’ll admit to some potential bias – I have a subscription to a porn site which I regularly check on. I have not noticed any ill effects from doing so…)

So there’s a couple of scenarios with regard to porn use that I envision as potential problems in a sex therapy setting. While I have no experience with sex therapy myself, I nonetheless speculate that these scenarios have probably come up before many, many times in clinical practice. So I would be surprised if practicing therapists and educators didn’t have tools in place to address such situations. How could such conflicts not come up?
The problem is, because so many google search results for “Sex therapy addiction” or “Sex therapy porn” result in facilities looking to treat addiction to porn & masturbation, I am not able to find out what these client-therapist conflict-resolving tools may be. The search results are too bogged down with stuff I’m not looking for. (Little help? Anyone?)

One of my concerns is with regard to pornography and sex therapy is that if you’re entering into a therapeutic relationship with a licensed professional, there’s inherently going to be a power imbalance. The therapist has probably had more exposure to educational materials, which may have their own biases & agendas. You and your therapist are probably going into that relationship with some ideas about pornography to begin with. If there’s a match between your beliefs and your therapist’s, then in terms of personality you may not have a problem, and you may be able to swiftly work out a plan of action. But if you and your therapist have conflicting beliefs about pornography as a tool in your sexuality, then you may have a problem.

So what happens if you are someone with a sexual problem or dysfunction who just happens to have a history of porn use? If you find a sex therapist who is anti-porn, will your previous or current use be zoomed in on as the source of your problems to the exclusion of other contributing factors?

Or what happens if, due to the conflict between you and your therapist re: use of porn in sexuality, you decide to find another therapist? That may be possible, depending on your geographic location. Finding a good therapist may take time and transportation, depending on where you live and what sort of resources are available in your area. Checking my own local area via the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Certified Therapists, I was surprised to find one licensed sex therapist! The next “Local” one, though, would be about 45 minutes away by car – not exactly the worst commute, but certainly not convenient, either. Finding Kink-aware therapists may be another option.
I’d like to imagine that sex therapy may be easier to provide now and in the future though, thanks to technology like Skype, though this is speculation – I do not know if there are any therapists willing to use this remote communication service with clients. But,  hypothetically, if I were very unlucky, then I might be stuck with a therapist I don’t agree with, or no therapist at all.

Basically, for Lady Porn Day, like many bloggers my concern is what happens to the porn users and their partners who are stuck in the middle of it all. This conflict between professionals is unlikely to be resolved  any time soon. The most neutral article about porn use in a relationship was this one from About.com, which says, in the end, “Whether or not pornography will add to or lessen a couple’s sexual enjoyment is up to each couple.”

Book Review: First Time

04/13/2010 at 7:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A question: Is an erotic graphic novel considered “Erotica” or “pornography?”

To be honest, this question might be better left for a later, more dedicated post, as for the time being I’d like to focus on this book review as just that – a book review. But in the mean time, as I am still forming my thoughts on this question… To me, the difference between erotic graphic novels and comic book porn skates a very fine line. In my opinion, erotic the graphic novel First Time fits better into the category of erotica – no doubt the presentation is controversial, yet there is no doubt denying that all of the vignettes are artfully presented.

I first heard about the graphic novel First Time from Feminist Review. I already knew I have an affinity to drawn and cartoon porn & erotica, but I had no experience with an in-print version – partly because for a long time I had no safe space to hide such a tome. I put the book on my wish list, and kind of forgot about it for awhile, until recently. Having cleared off some paperbacks from the shelves in favor of electronic titles for my Kindle, I ordered it up and within a few days a surprisingly large package arrived at my door.

The first thing I noticed about First Time when it arrived was the sheer size of it. This isn’t a graphic novel – it’s a monster!

I mean, look how big this thing is! (Note: This is a picture of the back cover, in order to keep this post ~mostly SFW.)

[Description: The back cover of a large, red, square book on a yellow background There’s a UPC code on the lower right of the book cover.]

Now compare this to some of my other graphic novels (nerd alert!):

[Description: Three graphic novels, left to right: The blue cover for JTHM, the conclusion of the comic book adaptation of The Dragons of Spring Dawning with a picture of an armor-clad woman & five-headed dragon on it, and the same red cover for First Time as seen above. All on a yellow background. The First Time graphic novel is clearly much larger than JTHM & DoSD.]

It’s really big! It’s bigger than most of my other comic books. Hardcover, too, so there’s no way you’re going to be able to hide this in your purse or read it in public at the bus stop.This is a book that will be restricted to the bedroom, or, if you’re adventurous, the coffee table. And I’m surprised that for the quality, (It’s one of those books you almost feel bad about cracking open to read) it costs less than $15 on Amazon. It’s not much more expensive than a manga comic volume.

First Time is a series of 10 short sex stories illustrated by different artists. I think some of these artists & the author are using pseudonyms, because I’m having a very hard time looking their biographies and other artistic work online. The unifying theme is that all of the stories are told from the perspective of a woman experiencing a new sexual situation for the first time. That includes first time intercourse, but it also covers a woman’s first time buying a sex toy, visiting a sex club, engaging in a threesome, etc.

One thing I really like about First Time is the wide variety of artistic styles. With a few exceptions, changing artists between new chapters of an overall story is a feature I’ve come to look forward to in graphic novels. Here, the character designs, weight, shading, degree of abstraction, etc. changes with each chapter. No two stories look the same, and I’m surprised to report that there’s no “Anime” chapter. Some of these styles look … familiar to me… I don’t recognize any of the artists’ aliases in the table of contents, so perhaps it’s just a coincidence. Everything in First Time is in black and white, which is kind of a bummer because with webcomics at least, everything looks better in color. The artist I liked best was Dominique Bertail, who shaded his first-time story of pegging with shades of gray. Other artists took a stark black & white only approach, which works, but feels less fluid to me. Indeed, several artists use mostly angles & boxy shapes for their character designs, and the last chapter is so heavily cubist that it looks more like Explosion in a Shingle Factory Nude Descending a Staircase than a couple watching a pornographic video together for the first time. In contrast, the line art in First Time 1 + 1 is so tight, curvy and fluid that it feels more like a cartoon. My brain fills in the gaps between panels well for this chapter and I can almost see the characters moving frame-by-frame.

Some of the art changes during stories as well, to reflect the situation. For example, in First Time Submission, the line art shifts from well-controlled in some places to shaky and wild during sex, I think to reinforce a sense of forfeiting control.

There’s a decent variety of content and sexual activities depicted, and everything could theoretically happen in real life – that means there’s nothing otherworldly fantastic that can happen only in fantasy. Most, but not all of the stories have happy endings. One of the stories ends in heartbreak, and as FR points out, one of the stories about an inanimate sex doll wise beyond her years material doesn’t really fit in well with the rest of the theme.

Areas for improvement: There’s a narrow range of body types depicted, so it would have been nice to see more variety. Also, color.

At about 100 pages with relatively little text (the pictures do most of the talking,) First Time probably won’t take long to read through unless you like to pour over the little details in the art. Which you should do because some of this art is beautiful. The artists weren’t stingy with their ink and the amount of work they put into this project.

Yet for all the uncensored pictures of naked people having sex, none of the stories really fired up my libido while I was reading. No, I would say First Time is more “Erotica” than “Porn.” If it is porn, then it certainly falls into the “Alternative” realm rather than mainstream. It’s more “Sit quietly and contemplate sexuality, then build a fantasy later on,” rather than “Wow that’s pretty hot” instant gratification. Your mileage may vary.

I would say that First Time might be appropriate for someone who already has experience with written erotica, and is interested in exploring visual depictions of sex, but is not quite ready for or fully comfortable with pornography. If you know for sure 100% that porn isn’t for you, this may be pushing the envelope. It may be of interest to those who do enjoy pornography or to comic book collectors. As it turns out, there’s actually a sizable niche market for erotic comics, and Eurotica has produced more than this one volume.

If you choose to spend the ~reasonable $15 or so via Amazon, make sure that you have a private place to store it when you’re not reading it. First Time is highly conspicuous, and you might not want the kiddies accidentally discovering it while pouring over your X-Men and Justice League collection.

Full disclosure note: As with all books reviewed on Feminists with FSD so far, I had to pay for this book out of pocket with my own money, and I receive no compensation for writing this review.

Interesting posts, weekend of 7/5

07/05/2009 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Posts that I found to be particularly interesting over the course of the last week and my thoughts on them:

On hand-holding as pain relief for the ladies – This one may be of particular interest to those living in the circle of vulvar pain. This is an older post but I just found it, so it’s New To Me. Rugbyfan (I didn’t see her e-mail or blog link,) talks about her experience a gynecologist for a consultation. She tried to talk to the doctor about ways to manage the pain of smear tests and instead of brainstorming some options the doctor said, “Would you like me to ask a nurse to hold your hand while I take the smear?”

FFFFFFFFFFFFFF

Now, I’ve had someone hold my hand for visits with my vulvovaginal specialist, but all that does is provide moral support. Hand-holding just keeps me from getting up off the table and/or kicking the doctor in the face. It doesn’t make the tests & proddings any less painful, which is my goal (except for maybe if the doctor is trying to ascertain your pain thresholds as part of figuring out which treatment would be best.) For routine exams though, my gynecologist would have no reason to test my thresholds, as she is unprepared to treat vulvodynia. So why not try to make things a little easier? Why not offer to use a smaller speculum, try a little lidocaine ahead of time, maybe a muscle relaxant, a painkiller, something that actually might do something?

Rugbyfan says,

I know the medical profession has a very poor track record when it comes to pain management, but it’s hard to think of a situation involving significant pain to any other part of the body being dealt with in this manner (“I’m just going to drill into your tooth – no need for anaesthetic, the nurse will hold your hand.” “I’m just going to pop a few stitches into your split lip without anaesthetic or a numbing spray – now don’t worry, the nurse will hold your hand.”)

Rugbyfan goes on to say that there’s a major difference between “Uncomfortable” and “agonizing.” This much even I know from first hand experience. Pap smear tests should not be agonizing and they should not be followed with post-exam burning for days after. I’m so aggravated that there are still doctors & facilities that do not realize this!

Part of me wonders if they doctors & nurses are still willingly refusing to acknowledge that some of their female patients feel severe pain because that acknowledgment means, they are going to have to acknowledge & confront the fact that for years, they were willfully subjecting their patients to horrible pain and stigma. Having to confront this means enduring a “My god, what have we done” moment.

The comments on this one are good too.

Then we have something that’s been making the rounds on several blogs – Vibrator use common, linked to sexual health. Differnet blogs are linking to alternate sources & commentary.

Now, this is particularly interesting to me because, I grew up always knowing that vibrator use was acceptable. I never questioned this. I have never once experienced any stigma about using a vibrator. How to choose and/or use a vibrator is a common topic on womens’ sexual health forums. Once in awhile vibes & sex toys will sneak into tv shows like Sex & the City – when the movie is a comedy, this is just about the only place where they’re derided at all.

Apparently I’m extremely lucky not to have had to deal with negative views of vibrators. It wasn’t always like that – according to the NYT article, the Journal of Popular Culture in 1974 called vibrators “Masturbatory machines” reserved for “Sexually dysfunctional females.” Well I may be sexually dysfunctional alright, but at least I’m in good company. A great big giant chunk of the rest of the female population uses vibrators too – 53%! That’s an even bigger stat than that commonly cited & questioned 43% number re: sexual dysfunction in general.

One quote from the ScienceDaily site says,

“The study about women’s vibrator use affirms what many doctors and therapists have known for decades — that vibrator use is common, it’s linked to positive sexual function such as desire and ease of orgasm, and it’s rarely associated with any side effects,” said Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.

So, you probably already know this, but just in case you need a reminder: using a vibrator is not something that means there is something wrong with you. It doesn’t have much to do with FSD.

I probably owe a lot of my personal security with vibrators and other sex toys to GoodVibes, Babeland, et al – stores & people who made it okay to experiment with vibrators.

Finally, a short post from the GoodVibes blog – Medical Pornography? Porn has been banned in Ukrane – unless it’s for “Medical purposes.”

Veeery interesting. How does that even work? Welp my vulvovaginal specialist did recommend that I strive to be aroused during the dilator process so … does that count as a prescription for me? Would I be exempt from this law? Can I get a doctor’s note for that? Or would even I, an occassional consumer of (so far) mostly cartoony images, be jailed?

Book Review and thoughts on: Naked on the Internet

05/09/2009 at 7:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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How appropriate that I should finish reading Naked on the Internet by Audacia Ray on the eve of the Sex 2.0 conference in Washington D.C.

It is an interesting coincidence that I should finish reading the book now, since it had (has? Present tense? The conference is today,) its own coverage & follow up at the event. I didn’t plan for it to work out that way – it just did.

Alas, clearly, I did not attend this conference, and indeed, I’m not sure I’m ready for it at this point. I’m interested in attending some nerd conventions but always seem to miss out, either due to time or financial constraints. But someday…

In the mean time though, until I can start getting out & going to some of these events, let’s expose & explore Naked on the Internet.

Naked on the Internet is a book about female sexuality and the internet, to say the least. More accurately, it is a book that explores feminism, sex & sexuality, women’s health, entrepreneurship, pornography, sex work, the history of computers, and especially the internet. Among other things, Ray talks about how women use the internet to explore their sexuality, how much they reveal about themselves, risks vs rewards, and what those rewards are – be they orgasm, money, validation, and/or something else entirely.

I wanted to like this book. No, I wanted to love this book. It sounds so perfect. I’m fascinated by the topics contained within its pages. I want to know more about feminism, sex, and the internet. I want to be a feminist, and I guess a sort-of sex blogger? (Here my own internalized  insecurity nags, “More like a lack-of-sex blogger.” “Vagina blogger” may be a better term & one I’ve been accurately referred to – you were talking about me, right Esther? I’ll embrace that. It’s not wrong.) So I was eager to start reading & dive in.

And it’s a good thing I dove in when I did…

Because at this point, the book is two years old, and the internet updates fast. I’m a little late getting to the party.
Ray states that “One offline year is the equivalent of ten Internet years” (18).  I’ve heard similar statements before – things like, a month in “Internet time” is like a year of real time passing. The amount of new content on the web just keeps growing. Websites, social networks, trends, blogs come & go.

Welp. I better hurry up & read then. These blogs & websites aren’t going to sit around waiting for me to come along, and indeed, many of them have changed since they were mentioned in this printed old media. Other, newer ones have also come up – Twitter is becoming all the rage right now. That service didn’t make it into the book at all. On the other hand, some of the websites were already deleted by the time Ray committed their URLs to paper. Why bring them up at all then? Because of their historical value. Besides, even if it doesn’t exist anymore, like JenniCam, I can probably still learn about thanks to Wikipedia.

However, I believe that as the web becomes older & more ubiquitous (at least to those privileged enough to use it,) it is becoming… slower. More long-lasting. The ratio of internet time to real life time is leveling out. I actually very much enjoy reading old posts from a few bloggers. Old content sometimes gets reposted under labels like, ‘Oldie but Goodie.’ Since I work full time, and I tend to get long-winded, I myself will post about topics long after the fact, since I’m only discovering them now. It’s new to me.

And, many of the websites & bloggers Ray refers to in her book, are still around. Websites mentioned in the book, including Blogger, CraigsList, Adult Friend Finder, Alt.com, Livejournal, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia still exist and remain ubitiqous. They have not fallen into obscurity – they just have new friends that didn’t exist or weren’t well known at the time of publication, like Twitter.

I said earlier that I wanted to like this book. So did I? Yes, I would say so. I enjoyed reading it. It didn’t take very long either – the book looks longer & thicker than it actually is. I burned through it in a little less than a week.

I liked learning about the women that Ray interviewed for the book. I never heard of most of these women before, although it turns out I’ve actually been exposed to some them – I just never put two and two together before. “Oh so that’s who that person is,” “Oh that person? Wait, I’ve heard of her. She still writes!”

I enjoyed reading about the women who started up their own sex blogs and porn sites, their motivations, their business models, and the daily grind such a business requires. I never really knew much about the “How to,” behind the scenes work maintaining such a website requires – other than the obvious of course. So it turns out things can be a lot more complicated than just producing content. There’s hosting, advertising, monitoring site popularity, revenue vs. costs, employee drama, which credit card processing site to use, etc. There’s also interaction with the audience to consider, thanks to comment features & e-mail. Not all of these interactions are pleasant.

Likewise, I enjoyed reading about how sex workers use the internet to make contacts and keep in touch with one another. I learned a little bit about the networks they use, online and off. It’s more complicated than I thought.

With regards to her chapter on Women’s health and the internet, I was already pretty familiar with this topic. After all,  it was the internet which pointed me in the right direction for a better sex life than I otherwise could have had if I became an adult 10 or 20 years ago. It was through internet health & support groups for women, and access to journal articles, that I was able to learn about and decide on my best course of action for my treatment of vulvodynia & vaginismus. Even now I speak relatively freely to strangers whereas I stifle myself in person. But of course, my lived experience is much different from someone seeking post-abortion support or support within the trans community, and I appreciated these anecdotes.

Mostly I just found the last chapter about cyberdildonics funny. I first heard about these things a long time ago, and thought they were funny then, so this chapter did not shock me at all. They’ll always be “Teledildonics” to me, even if the “Tele-” prefix is outdated. For those that don’t know, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a sex device to be used remotely, using a computer. As Ray illustrates, the technology still isn’t exactly feasible yet. And it will probably never really replace human interaction. I wouldn’t worry about that.

I didn’t get the impression that Ray judged any of the women she interviewed, in one direction or another. She neutrally presents what her interviewees told her about their experiences with the internet. Or maybe Ray was not completely neutral, since she is herself a former sex worker, and so empathetic to what they do. But I like that she didn’t try to psychoanalyze. I think there’s quite enough of that already outside of the book.

So yes, there were a lot of things I very much enjoyed about Naked on the Internet. I feel like I learned a lot.
But did I love the book?
No, not really. Like all things, it’s not perfect.

Naked on the Internet is not the best work of prose I’ve seen, and I’m disappointed by that. Sometimes I feel like I’m tripping over Ray’s words. It’s not that it’s too academic or cerebral; Ray’s had a lot more lived experience dealing with sexploration and the internet than I have.
Although there is one highly cerebral section dealing with Cyborgs that I think could have just been completely thrown out because that went waaay over my head.

The reason I say it’s not the best work of prose is that, many of the paragraphs presented one feature of the internet in a positive or neutral light and then immediately followed with a “But,” “Though,” or “However” statement describing problems that come along with it. Which isn’t necessarily bad or wrong. But (and now I’m doing it!) I felt these ideas could have been better fleshed out with more detail in whole separate paragraphs. I suppose her contradictions held within the same paragraph are reflective of the contradictions inherent on the tubes. For every pro-something website you can find, there is going to an anti- website somewhere else. For every positive online interaction that you’ve ever had, somewhere, someone else, is getting harassed. All of this takes place simultaneously in the larger context of this digital universe.

Most of Ray’s comments and conclusions are drawn from interviews with other bloggers and sex workers. By nature of the medium, I suppose this had to be the case. But I would have liked to see more hard statistics backed up with verifiable sources. It would be a mistake to universalize the experiences of a just a few people.

The table of contents (and the cover) makes the content of Naked on the Internet sound more “Juicy” than it actually is. I was expecting to see more in-your-face raunch and graphic descriptions. It’s not like that at all – there’s really not much drama in this book, although drama certainly went into creating some, if not all, of the conflicts Ray describes.
So if you’re looking for something “Wetter,” for lack of a better term, look elsewhere.

I felt that the chapter on the history of women & computers was dry, and, to someone who has already lived through it, common knowledge. I got my start on the internet back in the late 90s and that’s actually how I met my current partner, so to me, much of the history is old news. Been there, done that. Wrote the blog. This chapter would be more useful & interesting to someone younger than I, who got online only after the Y2K fiasco.
However, perhaps to make up for this, I did very much enjoy Ray’s insights into the history of pornography and how the internet has changed (continues to change) the industry. That was new to me.

I would have liked to see something about women who produce porn & erotica not by taking pictures & videos of themselves, but by writing or drawing it.

For some reason, the book does not have an index. This annoys me to no end.
Perhaps to make up for the lack of an index, there is a pretty comprehensive list of useful links & resources in the back, as well as a glossary.

There are no pictures whatsoever, not even any witty little Ziggy comics below chapter headings. Sometimes I like irreverent black & white pictures. I would have liked to see a graphic of a timeline or maybe some diagrams depicting the interpersonal links that Ray goes into detail about. Or a picture of what exactly a “Cyberdildonic toy” looks like (use your imagination, it’s probably exactly what you’re thinking…) Hell, I would even settle for a LOLcat.
So I would have liked to see some graphics – and I’m not even a visual learner! Most of the time if I look at charts & graphs, they just confound me. Perhaps Ray, like me, is totally comfortable with walls of text. It just seemed strange to see a book talking about a multimedia platform and yet have no multimedia of its own to present.

As Ray concludes, she could not address every little corner of the internet and make any definite conclusions within her book. The internet is too fluid, constantly changing. But it’s still a pretty good book, and much of what was true in 2007 remains true today. I’m hoping that there’ll eventually be a second edition printed, with follow ups to the interviews. Luckily, even if that does not happen, that is what the Sex 2.0 conference was (is?) partly for.

Naked on the Internet would be a useful title to pick up if you have an interest in any of the topics it covers – feminism, sexuality, the internet (And who isn’t interested in at least one of these things?) You may pass over some parts briefly since you already know about them. You may identify with some of the women & situations they find themselves in. You may learn something new.

Just remember to read it asap while the data remains relevant. Do it now before the information on the web gets written over.

Book review: Anne Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex

04/21/2009 at 6:33 pm | Posted in book review | Leave a comment
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There’s a lot of useful books about sexuality & sexual health on the NVA’s reading list. I’ve been trying to catch up with them, although I probably won’t read every single one. Most of these books take a pelvic pain perspective, which is helpful for people in my kind of situation (or not.)

It’s not an all-encompassing list of sexual health books, but it’s a great place to start. Still, there are some books not on the reading list that I found helpful & informative.

Case in point: Annie Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex.

What the… you’ve got to be kidding me. Annie Sprinkle [nsfw] is a former porn star & stripper who earned her Ph.D. later on in life. She’s associated with sex-positive feminism, and even identifies as such. She’s been around the block a few times. Compared to her, I know nothing! I’m relatively young & some will surely say naive, and I struggle with vulvodynia and vaginismus. There’s no possible way I can compare to her! What possible thing could I learn from her? What new & useful information could she have for me?

So I went into the book feeling skeptical. I started reading, on the defense, fully expecting to not like what I was about to read…

Huh… waitaminute…

It’s… actually pretty good…

I… like this.

What? Why do I like this. It’s Annie Sprinkle. I can’t do what she can do! How do I like this. What’s going on here.
Well, let’s find out what I liked and didn’t like about this book, and why you may want to think about getting a copy.

I went into Spectacular Sex with my guard up. I was soon disarmed by the author’s gentle, reassuring tone & positive affirmations. I was ready to mark the book up with my pen & post-its – and wound up putting them down for awhile. I had to go back & make notes after reading about halfway in. For the most part, I got lost in the story.

Spectacular Sex combines the best features of three of my favorite self-help books. It talks about how we must break away from an intercourse-centric mindset (Let Me Count the Ways,) it has features of a workbook (A Woman’s Guide to Overcoming Sexual Pain & Fear,) and is peppered with affirmations & humor throughout (The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting what you Want). The tone is non-judgmental and inviting.

Right away it is clear that Sprinkle is also operating under an expanded definition of “Sex,” and I like that. It helps that I’ve already been exposed to this idea before – sex means more than just intercourse. Sprinkle is a lot less brow-beating about it than Let Me Count the Ways, though.

Yet Sprinkle takes the expanded definition of sex even further than I. She recognizes sex as a physical act as well as a purely energetic one. This is a far-out concept even to me – it is an idea & practice heavily influenced by her experience with spirituality & Tantra. To Sprinkle, it’s possible to have a sexual experience without necessarily involving any physical contact at all (21). I was still able to go along with this idea, because I can see where the application would be practical to a person who experiences chronic pain or disability. It helps that I have also had some (very limited) exposure to Indian philosophy & principles of alternative medicine. I figured, “Alright, I’ll go along with Chi and Kundalini for a little while…” I see where you’re coming from, but I feel like an alien in that land, and am quick to return to the mundane physical world. Luckily, you don’t have to believe in that sort of thing for it to work.

On a related note, Sprinkle writes that it’s possible to have a more sexual experience in daily life, by recognizing ordinary sensations as being sensual (22). I felt this was an improvement over a similar statement made by the authors of Let Me Count the Ways. They kind of drag everyone into eroticizing the mundane, even strangers, whereas Sprinkle’s examples focus on only the individual.

There are many lists & blank lines waiting to be filled in with answers to some questions Sprinkle asks the reader. I participated in some of the workbook exercises Sprinkle suggested, but not all of them. Yet I spent some time to think about even the seemingly silly exercises – they may be silly, but they actually have some merit. You’ll be asked to think about and write down both positive and negative thoughts you have about your sex life, areas you’d like to see improved and how you think it would be best to bring about that improvement.

One of the most interesting self-reflection exercises I saw was the “$ex-Life $pread $heet” (163) – making a detailed budget for how much money you’re currently spending on sex vs. how much you would like to spend. Living with pelvic pain can get expensive, so I’m already spending quite a big chunk of change on it. But I can see where this would be useful for, pretty much everyone; even folks who do not live with chronic pain. We make household  budgets but where do you usually lump the cash you spend on sex? “Discretionary/Miscellaneous” after every other line item? Perhaps even if you don’t get as detailed as this exercise, you should still think about giving sex its own line on your home budget.

Sprinkle is a big fan of props, costumes & roleplay, and she offers a few suggestions for each. You don’t have to use whatever stereotypical, conventional props first spring to mind if you don’t want to, although you may want to consider doing so just in case it turns out that you do like it. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money on any of this, but she advises that it’s still wise to invest at least some time. I’m more familiar with roleplaying in the nerdiest sense of the word, than I am with sexual roleplay… but my experience with RPGs still taught me that developing a character is a relatively safe way to explore other sides of yourself. Perhaps you yourself aren’t willing to act a certain way, but your character is. And at the end of the day or game, you can pack your character up, go home and be yourself again.

With a lifetime of experience under her belt, I fully expected Sprinkle to provide instructions for sexual techniques. I would have been disappointed otherwise. No need to fear though – the book delivers.
Much of the “Technique” is the theme that permeates the entire book – makeover your mind to makeover your sex life. Open up to new ideas & experiences, but recognize & respect your own comfort zone. You’ll still find how-to instructions on how to execute physical acts as well. There are tips for finding the G-spot in women and the P-spot in males, and there i’s a whole chapter on sexual massage. If you’re looking for a step-by-step manual on how to execute dozens of sex positions though, you may have to supplement this reading with another book.

Unfortunately, like all things, the book isn’t perfect. There’s still a few rough spots that didn’t jive well with me.

I didn’t like the way Sprinkle pushes those who have experienced sexual assault to become survivors and then “Thrivers” (34.) I feel it’s better to let the victim embrace whatever term they themselves are most comfortable with and work through it as they see fit. If you have triggers, you may want to skip this page – it’s a short passage.

When talking about living with chronic conditions, Sprinkle explicitly mentions “Vulvodynia” and “Vaginismus.” My goodness – how you know about these sort of things? Have you actually dealt with women like me before?
But then she does that thing where she talks about being unable to have sex for two years due to chronic yeast infections… …which, yes, still sucks & I can imagine the pure utter torture those two years must have been, but that’s still only sympathy. You still cannot fully empathize 100% with the women who’ve done this their whole entire lives.

Sprinkle mentions Dr. Lenore Teifer just a few times and provides a the name of Teifer’s book in the Resources section. I first learned about Teifer over a year ago, I’ve had over a year to process my feelings about this particular feminist doctor… and I still recoil from her. I run screaming in the opposite direction with my arms flailing wildly, in fact. Why provide Teifer’s view and book but not one of the books endorsed by the NVA? It’s perfectly relevant. Sprinkle, if you’re reading this, you should add a link to the NVA in the resources section.

Overall though, I felt that the positive outweighs the negative. I really enjoyed this book. I think Spectacular Sex has a lot of practical, hands-on exercises as well as advanced ways of looking at sexuality. I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually experience “Spectacular sex” during my lifetime, but whatever I do certainly won’t be boring. You don’t even need to have a partner to benefit from reading it, since so much of what it suggests, must come from within.

Amazon.com’s sexuality fail

04/12/2009 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Here’s something to blog about that I’m sure everyone can agree is completely horrifying:

Amazon.com is stripping the sales rank feature off of books about sexuality – this includes LGBITQ books, feminist books, and as I’ve discovered, even general sexual health books. The books are being removed from top sales lists, so if you were to look at the most popular books right now and one of them happened to be a bestseller about sexuality, it won’t show up.

A couple of blogs are covering the story better than I ever could; check Jezebel & UnCooler than Thou, as well as LiveJournal community Meta Writer. Keep an eye on others; Feministing will have something to say shortly.

You can still find the books of interest; they’re not stopping sales. But what seems to be happening is, you have to know the exact title or author instead of being able to browse a topic.

Without a sales rank feature, this change in Amazon’s policy is resulting in some pretty disturbing search results. I’m quoting Jezebel here:

Update 3: Commenter Gertymac points out that due to the removal of sales rankings, the first title that pops up when one searches “homosexuality” on Amazon is the aforementioned A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Also in the top 10 when one searches for “homosexuality:” Coming Out Of Sexuality: New Freedom For Men And Women, Can Homosexuality Be Healed?, and When Homosexuality Hits Home: What To Do When A Loved One Says They’re Gay, which carries this description: “The heart–wrenching declaration that a loved one is a homosexual is increasingly being heard in Christian households across America. How can this be? What went wrong? Is there a cure?” Yikes.

What… what?

It makes me wonder very much what the search results looked like before a few days ago, when you looked for “Pornography.” I see what it looks like now – did anybody take screen caps of the search results a few days ago? I’m curious to see if it changed. I don’t see one of the titles about the legal issues & censorship appearing that I was thinking of getting.
…And there you are then. I was wanting to get one of the books about censorship, legal issues & porn and now I’m … probably not going to find it this way now am I. Because now of course I’m remembering that such a book existed and I cannot for the life of me remember the title or author.

It just happened again; I did a search for a book I know I own. I looked for The Science Fiction of Sex. Tell me now, do you see this book listed on the search page? Do I have to be THAT specific now? The title is too long to be practical to remember every word unless maybe you absolutely LOVE the book (Which, I don’t. I don’t love this book. It’s very cerebral.)

I have some of the books on these lists. I have blacklisted books. What? Check it out – click the link & then scan the page or do a search for “Sales” or “Sales Rank” & you won’t find something that does appear on the page description for something more “Wholesome,” something more Family Friendly such as EragonSales Rank. Check it out, Sales Rank appears for Eragon but not these books now. As of today, Eragon ranks #3,079 but the others… well look for yourself.

Let’s try some of the titles I’m most familiar with… ones that I either already own, or plan to own shortly. These seem relevant to my interests:

Sex guides such as  The Ultimate Guide to Sex & Disability and Anne Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex is getting the purge treatment. Sexual health books including The V Book are getting the purge treatment. WTF. THIS IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE & MOST USEFUL BOOKS all caps. I use this book all the time! For Women Only, put out by the Berman Center, lost its sales rank feature. The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn is getting this treatment. Yes Means Yes and other feminist works are getting blacklisted. For example, Jane Sexes it Up is getting this treatment. (This is the anthology that has the vulvodynia essay in it.)

Dr. Goldstein’s Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding your Lost Libido (something on my “I want it” list) has been de-ranked as well – now that may be because the hardcover version went out of print and the new paperback version isn’t available yet so maybe we can forgive that for the time being? I don’t know?

So far bell hooks has escaped the great purge. So too has The Feminine Mystique, but not My Secret Garden.

Interestingly, the BabeLand Sex Toy Book is getting purged, but not the actual Sex Toys themselves (note the sales rank feature is appearing in “Health & Personal Care.”) More of the same.

Are you familiar with these titles? Are you noticing a trend here? Are you noticing a theme?
What is going on? Is sex still THAT much of a taboo subject? It’s still that completely powerful & scary that you have to protect your own customers from it? Especially when it becomes more explicit or leaves the path of mainstream?

This is pretty upsetting – I bought a lot of my sexuality & feminist books from Amazon. It’s almost always cheaper for me to order the books online than it is for me to buy them in-store, unless I have a coupon. I once price compared the same 5 titles I wanted from BabeLand & Amazon & bought the bundle from Amazon for a net savings of $20 after shipping.

But now I think I am going to need to reconsider which store I patronize with my $.

Amazon, you need to go back & fix this. What are you doing? You are going to get so much flak. You survived the great recession of 2k9 so far, are you really willing to risk alienating a big chunk of your consumer base now? Like, I really don’t understnad what the logic is behind this move. Like I really don’t get it. Don’t you remember when LiveJournal similarily started censoring some interests from search results & the top interests list? The member base raised hell about it! It wasn’t that long ago.

Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross on porn

01/30/2009 at 8:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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There was an interesting, quick video posted on the Betty Dodson & Carlin Ross website today. In this video, Ross & Dodson make a few points on their views of pornography.

“They seem nice,” is the first thing that came to mind when I watched the video… Which is probably the understatement of the year. I feel comfortable saying that Dodson is an expert in human female sexuality. I’m surprised that her wiki page isn’t very long but I’m familiar with some of her other work anyway – her name pops up all the time in books & discussions about sexuality. Plus her name is on that pelvic exercise bar I’ve been eyeing for a few months…

Carlin Ross is someone new to me that I’ll have to keep an eye on.

Dodson isn’t entirely free of critique herself. She places a very strong emphasis on clitoral orgasm as the end-all beat-all orgasm experience. I like Anne Sprinkle’s counter argument that you can have orgasmic experiences in other ways besides that, as described in her book (p 245, 246). I like it partly because it’s more freeing if you can not experience a clitoral orgasm.
I’ve seen what that can be like :/

Some of the points that Dodson & Ross make in their video include:

For the most part, using porn is probably harmless. Worst case scenario is, you have an orgasm and then go about your daily business.
They did not address arguments about how pornography is produced & whether it furthers stereotypes of women. They did not address how porn can be abused & used as an abuse.  They didn’t talk about addiction to porn. I think part of the reason they do not address these larger issues is,
They want to make sexuality more enjoyable for people, women in particular, and that’s hard to do when you make people feel guilty for using porn. Or whatever other kinky activity it is you’re into. These are pretty advanced arguments – perhaps Dodson & Carlin will address them another time, if they haven’t already.

Porn isn’t a good yardstick to use to measure yourself against. It’s not healthy to compare yourself to a porn star.
I know I will certainly never Measure Up. My body doesn’t look like that – and that’s okay. There’s a lot of things sexually they can do that are far out of my reach. “How are you doing that??? Why can’t I do that?”
I am trying to be okay with that. Ideally I won’t have to be…
Fashion magazines, which are more socially acceptable than porn, aren’t good to compare yourself against either. In both of these areas, the women have often been modified in one way or another. Breast & other body augmentation, sometimes body modification in the way of piercings and such, diets, lots of makeup, and when all else fails, Photoshop (or possibly video editing software, in the case of porn.)

Porn – and here I’m getting the impression that they’re referring to mainstream porn – isn’t a good substitute for sexual education.
If you’re looking for technique & details – they’re right. You’re probably not going to learn a lot from watching a porn video. It’s been edited to make the events happen faster & look more interesting. The bodies shown are probably unrealistic to strive for. The camera angles may not be positioned well to show what’s actually going on.
This is especially the case with hentai. Lol… hentai is almost never accurate. “What? How does that even work? That’s not how it works!” That’s a bad place to look for sex advice! Or any kind of advice, for that matter.

But I feel like Dodson & Ross. made a contradiction when they talk about the “New Porn” being sex education in and of itself. Didn’t you just say porn isn’t educational? Which is why I feel they’re referring to mainstream porn. Thier porn of choice is probably best described as Alternative.
I get what they’re trying to say though. A glance through the video selection at GoodVibes & BabeLand reveal many instructional DVDs promising to explain in great detail how to perform one or more sexual activities.

It’s a good question… is it still Pornography if its intent is sexual education? Or is it just… sex education? (Why didn’t they teach us that way in high school?) What if it’s an instructional video that’s all censored & demonstrates on, say a piece of fruit rather than another person? What if it’s a sex education video that’s totally hot?
I think it’s a hybrid, in that case. Being both things at once. Is it possible to do both?
We should be able to find out for sure shortly – Dodson & Ross leave off assuring the viewers that they’ll have some of their “New Porn” available soon.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Of course Dodson & Ross are making a point to bring New Porn to the forefront, since that is what they are looking to sell. But on the other hand, if it delivers what it promises, then that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Still, I’m a little concerned that their New Porn will become just another product to tune out. Now if they are referring to “New Porn” as a whole entire genre encompassing porn produced by other folks – I would feel more comfortable like that.

Welp. At least it may offer one more way to explore your sexuality. For those who feel inhibited about watching porn, this type might feel more comfortable since it’s marketed differently.

The miscellaneous hazards of pubic hair

12/19/2008 at 10:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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Pubic hair periodically comes up within feminist circles. Discussions about it fall in & out of favor.
Well, recently, a Salon.com article titled “Is Bush Back?” made some waves. Once again discussions about pubic hair & feminism are contemporary.

A brief summary of the article is, the author was told about “Shave the Date,” a tongue-in-cheek personal celebration for now-President Bush’s departure from Washington. The author points out that this isn’t as Hip & Cool as it may first sound – pubic hair is making a comeback. Barenaked vulvas were popular in pornography & in society in the last two decades.

(I know I could walk into any of several local salons and get a bikini or a brazillian wax right now if I wanted to – although if I felt so inclined, I’d probably be choosy about which one to patronize! But it’s right up there, on the menu.)

But lately more hair is sneaking in. It’s more socially acceptable to have a bit of a hairy bush.

I found it rather interesting that the author pointed out a connection between economics & shaving patterns. She suggests that women groom more during boom economic times and less during recessions, such as the one the globe is feeling right now. Intuitively, it makes sense. When the economy is booming, people have more cash to spend on luxury goods & services, including beauty treatments. During downtimes, those luxury treatments are the first to go. On television and in comic strips, I’ve heard jokes about families resorting to cutting their own hair. On the sitcoms, this can end in hilarious disaster.

Perhaps some of this regrowth is in direct response to feminist analysis of pubic hair.

I don’t know if most feminists feel this way or if it’s just a vocal minority, but the loudest voices that ring most clearly in my ears are the ones that say “Never shave, trim, or shape your pubic hair, because doing so is a symptom of the patriarchy. You’re only doing it because the patriarchy tells you to. You only want to look that way because porn stars do it. You want to look that way because men like childish, immature looking women. Real women wear pubic hair.”

Livejournal may not be the end-all, beat-all feminist location, but we can see some discussions of feminism & pubic hair here and here. I’m sure you’ve seen some elsewhere, as well.

Unfortunately, once again I find myself feeling alienated by these most vocal feminists. I never really like feeling like my choice is never my own, even when I am fully aware of the repercussions of whatever choice it is I am making. That’s how I feel when it comes to feminism & pubic hair though – we must constantly question our choices. We can never be certain that we fully know ourselves, because of our socialization & gender roles.

It’s a real bummer if you ask me. If I don’t shave my pubes, then on the one hand I may have to defend this choice against macho men who have been socialized & conditioned to believe that a shaven vulva is inherently better than an unshaven one. (In practice, my own boyfriend does not seem to hold this belief – or if he does, he’s smart enough to keep it to himself!) But on the other hand, if I do shave, then I have to defend this decision against vocal feminists who tell me I am feeding the patriarchy by bowing to the peer pressure.

However, I also once again find myself in a unique position to point out a few shortcomings of arguements about pubic hair.
My answers are probably unusual. The most common responses re: shaving probably do fit the bill nicely for most people. Other feminists have done a good job of addressing the most common concerns re: to shave or not to shave, for example we have one vocal radical’s points and another newbie-friendly blog presents a couple of different points of view on the matter.

But I am constantly reminded…
I am not most people.

I’m actually one of the lucky ones. Most of you readers are probably lucky ones, too, and don’t even realize it. I actually have the option to manage my pubic hair.
On one of the support groups I’m a member of, some women have written that their pubic hair, in and of itself, causes a lot of grief & there isn’t much to be done about it. Some women with vulvodynia have vulvar pain so bad that they describe not being able to allow anything to touch thier pubic hair. Even warm water in the shower can’t fall directly onto the mons. Swimming is out of the question, due to the chemicals in a pool. Not that swimming in the ocean would be much better. Some women can’t tolerate the force of water pushing the hairs around.
It really does happen.
My heart goes out to these women. Shaving, waxing, trimming, and sometimes even wearing pants, isn’t even an option for them. I can’t take the vulvar health I do have for granted.
Yet, for others, managing pubic hair can actually be a way to manage vulvar discomfort. Everyone is different – it’s possible to have vulvodynia & feel a little better, either physically or emotionally or both, with minimal pubic hair.
I can go either way. I can leave it in place or I can manage it. In practice, I do go both ways.
I am so grateful to be able to go either way.

At this point, I can’t remember the motivations I had when I first started shaving my beaver, about age 15. I believe it was something along the lines of “Let’s try something new & see if I like it.” I found that I actually did like the rewards, so I maintained for awhile. It wasn’t really comfortable or pleasant. I have a lot of pubic hair so it took a long time. Looking back, perhaps the uncomfortable burning sensation I experienced when some of the supposedly bikini-safe shaving gel dribbled into my vestibule, should have been taken as a big fat warning sign of times to come. I wonder if it’s like that for everyone. How would I know?

I only had crappy disposable razors for a long time. Then I became aware of better, more long-lasting, more comfortable razors that felt less scrapey on the skin. Now you can get razors marketed for women that have 4 & 5 blades at once. I wonder if some of the push towards barenaked vulvas in porn & photography came from having better tools become available, which required less swipes of the razor. One swipe did the work of two or more.

Unfortunately over time, the discomfort I had with shaving gels increased. It might’ve been the vestibulitis acting up, or it might’ve been simple annoyance. There’s no use denying that managing pubic hair requires time & care.

Last year, I picked out a nice electric razor. I can’t shave with a regular razor & foamy gels anymore. I don’t want to risk getting the irritating shaving gels in my vagina. That means by extension, hair dissolvers like Nair are out of the question, too.
But with this new electric razor, I can shave my mons if I want to – among other things. I really enjoy working with it. I can use it outside of the shower, which means I don’t have to rely on gels to act as a buffer. It does not seem to cause me any pain in & of itself.

Electric razors can be a bit of a trick to find. They aren’t marketed towards women so much as men, and when I was shopping around for the perfect razor, most of the advice I heard was you get what you pay for.

Often, when I don’t feel like shaving, I still prefer to trim my pubic hair with a pair of safety scissors.
I’ve seen the question raised, “Why would you want to take sharp objects to your vulva just to get rid of a few hairs?”
A good question, indeed…Except that, I had vulvar surgery. The doctor already took a scalpel to my vulva.
It doesn’t really get much sharper then that.
An electric razor or a small pair of safety scissors by my own hand, is pretty unintimidating after that.
Been there, done that. Wrote the blog.

It may be worth noting here, that when I had my surgery, after I was put under but before things got started, I had to be shaved. I was instructed to not shave for a few weeks prior to surgery, in order to let the hair grow and also make sure there were no ingrown hairs that could become infected.
Not all of my pubic hair was removed, just the ones that were in the way of my vestibule. I am not sure if hygiene had anything to do with the surgeon’s decision to shave me, but I’m sure it made things easier to see.

I am certainly not afraid to look at my vulva. This surgery I had wasn’t cosmetic in nature. My vulva wasn’t ugly before and it’s not ugly now – although I do like the way this one looks better, because of what it means to me. It does look different – now when I look at my vestibule, I do not see so much redness & sorrow.

I like to check on my vulva at least 2x a day, mostly out of habit. I like to check in on it to make sure everything is within the range of normal. Discharge, odor, color, amount of smegma buildup, level of irritation – all must be within an acceptable range for me. If something falls out of range, I worry. Is it a warning sign of pending infection?
I do not know what will happen if I develop a vaginal infection from now on. I fear I may relapse or have a flare-up. I don’t know if my checking habit will be able to prevent infection from happening, or if it will let me get early treatment. But I take comfort knowing that I am trying to baby it & keep it happy. I’m trying.

I have enough pubic hair so that it does get in my way when I need to check my vulva. So having minimal pubic hair makes things easier to see. More light gets through to my vestibule, I have less hair to push & pull out of the way. It is less obscured.

I’ve had some issues with my pubic hairs in an of themselves causing me some discomfort.
Once in high school, I had an awful, painful experience with clitoral pain. It came on suddenly & I had to run funny for the cramped ladies room stall.
I was practically in tears in discomfort, hunched over the toilet and digging around my vulva trying to figure out what was wrong. It took me several minutes to find & remedy the problem.
It was a pubic hair.
It had gotten stuck under my clitoral hood.
I wasn’t shaving at that time. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t – in this particular instance, I was letting it grow out for awhile longer. I had a whole bush going.
And a hair still got stuck in my clitoral hood.
And it was poking me and scraping me.
It was a trick to pull it out. Who designed these ladies room stalls? I had a hand mirror that I used, but there wasn’t much light to see what I was doing.
I felt immediately better after I got it loose, but I was somewhat irritated for the rest of the day.

This has happened a couple of times, whether I’ve shaved or not. I have a few hairs in an unfortunate position. They like curling up in such a manner that they pokes my clitoral hood if I let them grow long enough. When I do shave or trim I must be careful to rinse off well.

But since it happens whether or not I’ve managed my bush, pubic hair under hood seems to be a case of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

A counter argument that sometimes comes up, in favor of managing pubic hair, is that it makes having your period more comfortable, thanks to less mess.

When I’m menstruating, I still can’t use a tampon, so I can’t just plug it up & go about my merry way, mess-free. I freak out when I try to insert a tampon (even though I can use dilators fairly comfortably,) so it’s not really practical to tell me to use a diva cup or sea sponge.
So, I still use pads. I’m actually in the minority at this point – most women use tampons.

Tampons and pubic hair get pretty messy on the peak flow days.

One vocal feminist answer to pubic hair getting tangled by blood is, “WIPE. Deal with it!”
Which most of the time, probably for most women, is perfectly fine & effective.
However, in my experience, wiping does not get all that blood off. There’s still a residue of brown crust to deal with later. The menstrual blood itself is somewhat irritating to my vulva, as is this residue. It’s not terrible but it’s enough to notice.

And if you are so sensitive to touch that even soft toilet papers feel like sandpaper on your vulva, “Just wipe it” isn’t very good advice.

I don’t feel comfortable using disposable moist towelettes or baby wipes on my vulva either, because I don’t want the ingredients (usually including some combination of alcohol and/or fragrance,) going near it.

Personally, I prefer to, minimize the hair that gets tangled in the first place, by trimming… and then address the rest by Rinsing.

I live in the US, so bidets are a rarity. I have never in my life encountered one.
So in order to rinse the blood off, I have to use a few cups of warm water, or have a nice sitz bath, or take a shower.
Cups are in short supply in all the pubic bathrooms I’ve ever used.
I’d be embarrassed to lug my big ol’ sitz bath basin around in public (although I DID do it once – related to the surgery, again.)
And I can shower once a day or thereabouts, but doing more then that takes extra time & isn’t practical.

So even my favored approach to removing menstrual blood, the rinse, isn’t perfect. 8+ hours a day while I’m at work, rinsing is a bit of a trick. Theoretically it’s still possible.

I’ve heard tales of women sneaking mini squirt bottles into the rest rooms with them, if thier purses are big enough or if their pain is bad enough. When I hear these tales though, it’s probably not just the blood that’s irritating, but also the urine itself…
When you have to take a squirt bottle into the restroom with you, it’s usually because you don’t want to have to take a squirt bottle into the restroom with you. Sometimes I take a water bottle around town with me so I can drink when I’m thirsty. I’m reluctant to use the same water bottle to rinse off my vulva. I’m a little squicked out by the fact taht the bottle has my mouth germs on it. And once I run out of water, if I need to refill it in public, I’d have to leave the stall I’m in, fill up at the sink, and then go back into the bathroom.

So with regards to the clots of menstrual blood getting tangled in my pubic hair… for me it makes more sense to me to just, not let that happen in the first place. Or to minimize it as much as possible.

There is one other, somewhat more unusual but completely practical application of managing pubic hair.
And that is…
…Having a lot of pubic hair makes getting accurate readings on biofeedback machines a little harder.
…Biofeedback, in case you didn’t know, is another perfectly legitimate treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction, including but not limited to vaginismus, and sometimes for vulvodynia, bladder control, etc.

When you have a lot of pubic hair the machines will still give a decent reading. They still work. However, according to my physical therapist, having a lot of pubic hair where the electrodes need to go, might influence the readings. It makes sense – are the sticky electrodes attached to your vulvar & anal skin, or to your vulvar & anal hair? If it’s the hair, they might wiggle around with your every movement.
Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who has enough pubic hair so that it influences the biofeedback machine. Not enough to make biofeedback worthless, but it’s causing some interference.

For example, this was the case at my most recent biofeedback session. I let my pubic hair grow out somewhat, thinking I could still get away with it. But during therapy, my readings were getting screwed up. There is no way my tensile strength is THAT high for THAT short a length of time (a fraction of a second) and there is no way my relax state is that uneven. My readings, when the electrodes are properly applied, are usually much more stable then that! I’d been keeping up my exercises at home, so I can’t say I slacked off & got weak. It’s not supposed to look that jagged!

I reached down & felt the electrodes. They were partly stuck to me and partly stuck to my pubic hair. Which is a real bummer because the therapist tried very hard to get the electordes to stick properly. It just kind of worked out that way this time.

Having all that pubic hair makes removing the sticky electrodes a little uncomfortable too – tug, tug, pull, pull… Oops one pubic hair just broke off me now. So much for letting it grow out = no ingrown hairs…

Of course, someone confronted with this anecdote may, in a great huff, tell me,”Well then just shave off the hair that’s in the way & leave the rest alone!” Or perhaps, “Deal with the slightly inaccurate biofeedback readings!” Or, perhaps the worst thing you could possibly say to me would be “Oh but that’s so rare, it’s so weird, that doesn’t happen to anybody ever.”

Meh, I like the way this looks & feels better. I already started managing it in one area, may as well finish the rest of the job. That way I can see how the skin is holding up on my mons too. And yeah the biofeedback readings are still okay, but I’m so curious now to see if we can make them look more level without the hair in the way. And please don’t say that last thing to me. FSD is not as uncommon as you may like to think, and biofeedback can be a non-invasive treatment option for some forms of it, among other things. It makes me feel like I don’t matter when you say things like that.

I will never tell you whether to manage your pubic hair or not. I will never tell you what is the best choice for you, because only the individual can make that decision. I will never take that choice away from anyone, and I would very much appreciate it if no one took that choice away from me, either, in the name of the greater good.
After all – I’m know how lucky I am to have that choice.

Don’t forget about that.

On the written word

10/12/2008 at 9:52 pm | Posted in book review | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

There are a lot of topics I want to touch upon in this blog. There are so many areas for discussion – I want to talk about everything. Pain, fear, the physiological & psychological, expressing ones sexuality, porn, and of course feminism. I may even want to go down tangents sometimes, and I expect that as I maintain this blog I might even change my mind on some things.

Becuase there are so many areas of discussion, at times I feel overwhelmed. How can I do it alone? How do I find good resources to refer to? When I do find something to review, do I have to read through the entire thing or can I stop if something turns me off?
Actually, that’s not really a bad place to start with. So let’s talk about what’s written, what’s not, & where to find it.

In General Health Books
In my experience, I’ve had some difficulty finding books that deal with female sexual dysfunction in detail. General women’s health books, by nature, need to cover everything from conception (yours and that of your child’s, if you have one,) to death & bereavement. Everything inbetween gets covered – diet, anatomy, the menstrual cycle, birth control, common health problems, etc. When I look through books like that, sexuality & one’s sex life usually takes up one or perhaps a few chapters out of many – not including those dealing with birth control or sexually transmitted infections. The sexual problems that can and sometimes do arise might be covered in a few sentances or they might get their own chapter, with each little condition getting a brief overview. We can find examples of this in All About Eve, a book my mother owns, and even in Our Bodies, Ourselves. This is the one with a whole entire ~page or maybe a page & a half on vulvodynia specifically. Since this topic is relevant to my interests, and since this was one of the most easy to find & bang-for-buck books, I was somewaht disappointed.

In a way, it makes sense that sexual dysfunction gets little airtime in this type of book. There’s a LOT of ground go cover in these big text books. It might be better to leave detailed discussions to the experts in other books & articles. The book is just there to point you in the right direction.
But the cynical in me thinks to myself, “FSD is not exactly uncommon, but perhaps the authors of these books are merely operating under the assumption that it IS rare & so it doesn’t make sense to waste ink & pages talking about something few people will need.”

In my experience, I’ve had even more difficulty finding materials that deal with female sexual dysfunction from a feminist perspective… And even more difficulty finding materials that do it sensitively & with compassion.

Going back to Our Bodies, Ourselves, I’m pretty turned off that the book’s discussion on female sexual dysfunction focused mainly on levels of arousal. That bothers me. I take a broader perspective – I include pain disorders and the influence of hormones in with FSD. Personal experience tells me that these two things – pain & hormones – can themselves have a strong impact on the level of sexual desire a person feels. Listening to anecdotes by other people, personal experience & one’s upbringing can also play a pretty sizable role. One paragraph acknowledges these physiological issues in passing… I tried reading through the their companion website, looking for more information about these pain conditions. After all, it’s the internet, so nearly infinite space is avilable there. Alas, even on the website, the physiological was mentioned merely in passing, and no resources were provided on that particular page.
It also bothers me that it’s pretty clear, reading between the lines, that the authors do not support medical intervention when a low sexual desire, in and of itself, is a problem. I don’t think it’s fair to advise against medical intervention for women who are bothered by a low libido. I understand that that isn’t always necessary. I would never force it upon someone who feels comfortable and/or does not want outside influence.
Still. Maybe some of us do want. Please don’t take that away from us. Please don’t make it harder than it already is.

Some texts are surprisingly unhelpful – I glanced through a medical text book – 600 pages of gynecological conditions at my college’s bookstore once. It talked all about women’s reproductive organs, and yet even in this specific book, vulvodynia only got about a half-page of coverage. I forget the name book now, something with a deep purple, almost navy blue cover…

In Feminist Books
Books like that focus strongly on women’s health. When talking about books that deal with feminism specifically, Cunt is but one work that springs to mind. It springs to my mind immediately because, I own a copy. This is one of the popular feminist books I have – and attempted to read.
Key words here, “Attempted to.” I found this one to be so distressing & counter-productive, I had to put it down less than halfway through, right around when Inga started talking about how men only love women so long as we are, “consumer… bitch, concubine, accountant, orphan, punching bag,… threeholestopenetrate…” etc. etc. It went on.
I’m really not okay with having to look at men this way. I really don’t think I’m going to be able to enjoy a healthy sex life with my beloved male partner if I have to think about guys like that.

The cynic in me thinks to myself, “Welp. Inga says men only love me so long as I’m threeholestopenetrate, and one of my holes is broken, so… guess I’m fucked. …Or not… :(”

That’s just one of the problems I had with Cunt. On the very next page, Inga talks about how she doesn’t understand why anybody would want to see a male doctor or a male gynecologists and how she and all her buddies like holistic natural medicine.
Well, I receive both treatments. I do the holistic thing in the form of acupuncture & chiropractic, and I do the western way by having applied estrogen gel, getting surgery, and taking a combination anti-anxiety & muscle relaxer medication as needed.
I get both, becuase the holistic thing by itself, wasn’t helping. Before I had tried estrogen gel & surgery, I tried the whole acupuncture thing. I did not see satisfactory results.

The other issue is, not all of us have female practitioners readily available in our areas to see. I live in a pretty heavily populated area, yet female gyns & female alternative health practitioners are still kind of hard to find. Still hard to find if you have insurance, as some may not be on your particular plan. Or your health insurance, if you have any, may not cover the alternative stuff. Or if you don’t have insurance, then you have to pay for everything out-of-pocket, which may be very difficult.
It may be worth noting here, that the alternative health guy I do see, is male. So is my vulvovaginal specialist & surgeon.
So I really don’t like feeling like I’m being judged for seeing a male gynecologist & taking medication. Which is how I felt when I read Cunt.

The cynic in me thinks to myself, “Welp. Inga says the natural holistic medicines are inherently better than western, invasive techniques so… I guess I’m a poor excuse for a woman & a horrible traitor.”

I really don’t think Inga had my best interests in mind when she wrote this. She tried to write a book that would unify everybody with a cunt, but I refuse to stand in unison with her.

That said, I recongize that the book did, in fact, help many women learn more about their bodies & about women’s history, and other things. I know of at least two women in on of my support communities who did find support & comfort in Inga’s words. For this reason, I don’t want to take Cunt away from anyone or off the shelves. But based on my personal experience, I would strongly advise against reading it if you yourself have FSD. It just made me feel bad, for all the wrong reasons.

In Specific Gyno-related books
Okay, maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places for resources to use along my long, lonely journey of FSD. So I started looking for books that address the female reproductive system, specifically, and FSD where possible. Books like these are a bit harder to find. There’s a couple of really good ones out there. Some of the ones I like the most are out-of-print. I had to pay extra for those. And some of the really good ones are out-dated, so more research has been done since they were printed.

Two books in particular come to mind as being particularly useful for my situation. These are the ubiquitous V Book and The Vulvodynia Survival Guide. These two books are great for me. The V Book is useful for any female because it covers all kinds of gynecological conditions, in pretty decent detail. There’s a whole chapter for the basics, one for skin conditions, one for vaginal infections, one for cancer – and a whole chapter just for vulvodynia. The Survival Guide deals only with vulvodynia and it talks about possible causes, coping strategies, treatements, and provides resources at the end. Because it only needs to cover one topic, it can afford to spend time on little details.
I have one problem with these two books – they’re 6 years old now. There has been additional research into many of the topics covered in these pages. I’d like to see a second printing made which includes the new research findings & updated statistics. As they stand now, they make good starting points. They’re relatively cheap online, $10-$20 plus shipping – you may have a hard time finding them in a bookstore. I wasn’t able to find the Vulvodynia Survival Guide in my local Barnes & Nobles or Border’s, or mom & pop shops.

Several of the books on the NVA’s own Book recommendation list are out of print. Now these ones are even harder to find. One of the out-of-print books I own & really like is A Woman’s Guide to Overcoming Sexual Fear & Pain. This one is hard to find… and since it’s a work book, copies that are available online may have already been marked up in pencil or pen.
I would ask that if you do not have or treat FSD, please do not buy this book. There are a finite number of copies available.
I like that the book deals with FSD sensitively & lists detailed instructions on techniques you and/or your partner can do to make your sex life more comfortable. Keep in mind, it is a work book – you’re supposed to use it as a tool & mark it up. If you don’t feel comfortable writing in the pages I suppose you could always write in a seperate journal or on the computer.
My one complaint about this book is that, since it was written in 1998, the book doesn’t address vulvodynia specifically, and it doesn’t provide the NVA as a resource in the back. Some of the strategies it talks about might work if you have vulvodynia, since it deals with sexual pain. For me some of the things are quite useful because I mostly have mine under control. I can’t really blame the authors. The NVA was not yet well-known. The NVA existed but it looks like things really picked up around the start of the new millennium.

Yet these books do not address feminism specifically.

In Life Experiences
There are at least two vulvdyina memiors that have been printed in text – and an increasing number of more are being published online within the great big blogosphere even as I write this. The ones in text I am referring to, are The Camera My Mother Gave me and one essay in Jane Sexes it Up.

The first is Susanna Kaysen’s memior of vulvodynia. This is yes, the same Susanna Kaysen who experienced Girl, Interrupted.
I love The Camera my Mother Gave Me. I hate that anyone has to live through this, but I love that she talked about it so openly. FSD, vulvodynia, it’s hard to talk about. Who is going to understand & believe?
And that is exactly what happened. That is exactly what happens to so many patients with FSD in one form or another. She got bounced around from doctor to doctor, trying to get a diagnosis, trying to get treatment, trying to live her life, trying to talk to her friends & partner, trying to find relief.
And this really happens. I’ve heard enough horror stories to recognize this is real.

And I linked to the Amazon page in this case because if you’ll look at the reviews, you’ll find that so many readers didn’t understand that. The book’s ending is ambiguous because FSD IS ambiguous. The reader doesn’t know if everything ever worked out because that’s how it really is. The patient doesn’t know, either. The author is called “Whiny” by one reviewer, and frustrating by another. Why didn’t she do this, why did she do that, etc.
Because in real life, so often, that’s exactly what it’s like. Especially if you are limited by finances or location.
Welp. This isn’t exactly a book about eating ice cream on a sunny day or having a pirate adventure. What did you expect?

THE HOLY GRAIL
Finally we come to an essay that incorporates both feminism and vulvodynia.
In the book Jane Sexes it Up, Katinka Hooijer submitted an essay about her feelings on feminism & porn – and how she sees it through the lens of sexual dysfunction. Porn is always a hot topic among feminists. There are always at least two sides to it. It’s inherently anti-woman and always bad. It’s not anti-woman it’s just sexual expression. It’s unhealthy, it’s healthy, it hurts all women everywhere, women can usurp it & use it for their own purposes, it encourages other girls to objectify themselves, it encourages women to feel empowered by their sexuality, etc. etc. It goes on.
Hooijer is in a unique position to talk about pornography. It’s hard to enjoy your sexuality when some part of your sex isn’t working out. It’s hard when it doesn’t meet expectations. It’s hard when it is in physical pain. For her, porn improved her sex life even more than the surgical route. It offered her options she hadn’t yet thought of. She was presented with several choices of alternatively-penetrating or completely non-penetrative, painless sexual expression and made her feel more comfortable with masturbating. She didn’t need a partner and she did not require medical intervention to experience orgasm. She was able to become aroused and enjoy herself, using porn. It allowed her to reclaim & express her sexuality, even in the face of great pain.
How is this anti-woman?
I agree with Hooijer. For us, as she says, “Porn is literally medicinial” (273.) It is distressing when other feminists – Hooijer points out Catherine MacKinnon here – tell us that our thoughts are bad & wrong & hurtful to every woman everywhere & we don’t deserve our sexuality. How about that – feminism telling Hooijer that she isn’t entitled to a healthy sex life. This, on top of the virgin/whore dichotomy that women deal with that makes sexuality a tricky subject already.
How is that pro-woman?
Yet I realize… when I look around the corner, I realize that there are still going to be other women with FSD who lose thier partners to porn. Unable to express their sexualities the way they want to, or the way thier partners expect them to… in my head I realize that somewhere, one partner turned to sex to the exclusion of other intimate activity, and a relationship was lost. Hooijer doesn’t talk about that. We also have different ways of dealing with painful penetration – to her, she was still able to re-engage in it after awhile, but I prefer to refrain from painful penetration.
So although we have some differences, Hooijer’s essay is unique to me & represents the kind of thing I’m hoping to do here, by maintaining this blog. It was very comforting to see another person just like me who shared my own opinions.
I wonder how she’s doing now?

Whew. It looks like I’ve written more about the books I don’t like than I did about the books I do like. I don’t feel like I have a lot to complain about with the books I do like.

Now, I have a couple of other books in my queue right now which I have not yet evaluated. I may need to come back to these later. Stay tuned for my thoughts on … A Headache in the Pelvis, Sexual Healing, The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, Ressurecting Sex, and The Science/Fiction of Sex. Among other things I’m sure I’ll be adding to my library.

And I haven’t even touched all the scientific studies & journal articles!

If you can’t or don’t want to wait that long, then comments are turned on right now so you can talk about your resources.


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