Jessica Hagy has a crazy/great gift for simplification that often looks to me like wisdom.
Something tells me she's right. But how could such a theory be tested?
Jessica Hagy has a crazy/great gift for simplification that often looks to me like wisdom.
Something tells me she's right. But how could such a theory be tested?
From my cover story in this week's Ventura County Reporter:
Since the genetic basis of our species, Homo Sapiens, stabilized approximately 100,000 years ago, the reproductive nature of the human
body has not substantially changed. But in the last few years, human
sexual experience has substantially changed, especially among the
For Valentine’s Day, and especially for
“vanilla” people interested in benefiting from the experience of those
on the edges of the spectrum, here’s a report from the front lines of
sex in Ventura County.
At California Lutheran University
(CLU), sociologist Adina Nack, who teaches courses on sexuality,
confirms the widespread reports that young people today no longer date
in the conventional sense — they “hook up.” But she adds a twist.
norm has shifted from dating and relationships to the hook-up culture,”
Nack said. “But one of the things [my students] say they like about
that phrase is the ambiguity of it. As a sociologist, this is something I
have to work to wrap my head around. I am not of that millennial
generation, and to me it’s strange for friends to prefer it to be vague.
‘Hooking up’ can mean anything from kissing to going all the way.”
adds that, although both sexes will report their hook-ups on social
media, she’s not sure this represents a step forward. Her students still
describe a sexual double standard, in which women are judged more
harshly for having sex than men.
The lessons to be learned from the BDSM community
of the most popular of guest speakers in Nack’s sex ed class is a
positive sex advocate, Emily Prior, a doctoral student researching
sexual experience in the BDSM (Bondage/Discipline Sado/Masochism)
community. Nack said that her students were enthralled with Prior, even
though in class they laughed nervously at her presentation.
Prior, who has always believed in openness in sex, the necessity for
safety in sex in the BDSM community has, over time, brought a new and
admirable sexual etiquette into being.
“Imagine that you are
a single woman and you are going out with a man or a group of men,
knowing that no one is allowed to touch you without your permission,”
she said. “It seems like that should be the norm, but it really isn’t.
In local [ BDSM] dungeons, no one is allowed to touch anyone without
permission, not even to give a hug or hold a person’s hand. It’s a much
safer space for a woman than dating.”
At CLU, Nack points out
that because of the wide range of sexual possibilities in the BDSM
community, communication and negotiation between parties is expected and
understood, where it’s often difficult for heterosexual couples. Prior
puts it more bluntly.
question in the BDSM community is typically: What do you do? Which
means: Do you like to be tied up? Do you like spanking? Are you a top or
a bottom? You know immediately whether or not you can be compatible
sexually,” she said. “Instead of waiting days or months or years or
decades to find out, for example, that your partner won’t actually give
you head, you talk about it up front.”
Prior also argues that
the BDSM community has a lower rate of sexually transmitted diseases
(STDs) than the heterosexual population, although she admitted that
hasn’t been proved.
“We only have anecdotal evidence for a
lower rate of STD transmission, but it makes sense,” she said. “Most
people use protection even if they know their partners, and people are
very diligent about disclosure as well as protection. It’s definitely a
point of pride in the culture.”
not just the negotiation and communication that is underestimated,
according to Roylin Downs, the owner/operator of the Kama Sutra Closet
lingerie and sex shop in downtown Ventura. It’s the nature of sexual
Downs points to 50 Shades of Grey,
the book by E.L. James about a kinky relationship between an elegant
older billionaire and a beautiful young woman, as an example. Despite
being reviled by critics for its prose, 50 Shades became the
fastest-selling paperback of all time, with 65 million copies in print.
It’s still second on the national best-seller list, two years after
“Our society is suppressive about
sexuality,” she said. “My customer is a more vanilla woman, usually, and
70 percent of American women don’t have orgasms during love-making.
What 50 Shades of Grey does is show you a woman in her 20s who
has an orgasm every time she makes love. Everybody assumes this book is
fantasy. But a lot of women are looking at it and thinking: ‘Wait a
minute, if she can write about how this woman has this experience in
every encounter, why isn’t it possible for me?’ It creates an opening,
an opportunity for conversation.”
Downs explained that her
most popular single item is the “Kegel balls,” or silver balls that were
the first item used by the young woman character in James’ book.
They’re used in a playful way by the couple in the book, but have been
sold to women in Asia for generations as “ben wa” balls.
terms of health benefits, after 40, or after childbirth, women often
need to tighten their pelvic floor,” Downs said. “Instead of being told
by the gynecologist to do exercises, such as sitting forward in your car
and tightening, tightening, tightening, which 98 percent of women don’t
do because it’s too challenging, you insert these metals balls, and the
weight naturally pulls them down, and the muscles naturally tighten. So
the Kegel balls have a health benefit, but they also tighten the
vagina, so you can have more control during love-making.”
stresses that her upstairs shop, which is open mostly by appointment,
is designed to be the sort of shop where a shy woman such as herself or
her mother could go without embarrassment, and that she herself doesn’t
want anything to do with heavy bondage gear or vulgar sex toys.
always start at wherever the most uncomfortable person in the
relationship is,” she said. “It’s about creating intimacy. A vibrator
might not be the right tool. Maybe it’s about a tickler, or a book, or a
massage oil. It’s about creating that sense of touch.”
Downs opened her business four years ago, she set out to distinguish
her store from other stores offering adult products, partly by stressing
the female-friendly aspects of the store, with no products that looked
like body parts, and partly by bringing in experts. Her first speaker
was Joan Price, from Northern California, who became an expert in
“senior sex,” more or less by accident.
After publishing an
exercise manual in 2003, the mature Price had a chance to publicize the
book with an appearance on a television talk show in New York. Her agent
asked her for a hook — something to make her sound interesting. Price
offered that some of her exercises were good for sex, and mentioned, by
the way, that she was having “the best sex of her life.” The agent
passed this on. Price was booked on to the show.
discovered that no one cared about my exercise book,” she wrote about
the appearance. “The major question of the evening was: So, Joan, is it
true that you’re having the best sex of your life at age 59?”
explained that, yes, she was, in part because she was in a new
relationship with an older man, whom she later married, though he passed
away in 2008. And the sex was good. Price argues that, in fact, senior
sex can be better than youthful sex for everyone.
age, we’re not so goal-driven,” she said. “The men have slowed down and
like the extra touching, and the women have slowed down, too. If you
have a good connection, the sex can be better than ever, because we can
bring a wealth of wisdom and experience to it. We can communicate in a
way we never could before.”
a young woman, she said, she was never taught anything about the nature
of a woman’s sexual pleasure, and she thinks that’s still all too true.
“Too often, young women are still sort of left to the mercy
of their partner,” she said. “Sex is whatever the boy thinks it should
be.” The good news, she said, is that good information is more available
than ever, in forums such as scarletteen.com, and that solutions to
most sexual issues are readily available. Her first sex book — Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty — featured her own story, but had many chapters, written by a wide variety of experts, on psychological and sexual topics.
was in an extremely satisfying and exhilarating relationship when I
wrote that book,” she said. “I was 61 and my lover was 68. People were
telling me that it’s great that you’re having great sex, but they were
asking me questions about their own issues. Is vaginal pain normal? No,
it’s not. Is there anything that can be done about erectile dysfunction?
Yes, there is — e.d. is not a diagnosis, it’s a symptom of something
else that’s going on. The problem so often, with my generation, is that
we don’t know where to go for good information.”
that just because she found satisfaction in a committed relationship
doesn’t mean that’s best for all older people. In her new book, Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex,
she said many reviewers were startled to read about the range of
unconventional relationships she found among older people, including
polyamorous couples, as well as older women who liked phone sex, casual
sex and/or rough sex.
“We see a friendly gray-haired smiling
grandmother and we think we know all about her,” she said. “Actually, we
have no idea what she’s doing in bed.”
John Wilner, the chairman of Ventura County’s [LGBT] Pride committee,
Valentine’s Day is less about sex and more about love and acceptance.
Although currently single, he longs for the day when he can celebrate
Valentine’s Day like any other couple.
“At the end of the day,
love is love and a couple is a couple,” he said. “Whether it’s two men,
two women, or a man and a woman. There’s even a joke in Portlandia,
about a couple made of a transgendered man and a transgendered woman.
Whatever the case, the celebration is the same. I’m really heartened
when I’m able to see that I can be open and honest with my affection. If
you can hold your wife’s hand in public, why can’t I hold my
recent years, the Pride coalition has staged a Valentine’s Day protest
at the county government center, with same-sex couples filing petitions
to marry, even though they knew that would be rejected. This year — with
the issue hanging in the balance at the Supreme Court — Wilner said
they called it off.
“I think people are realizing that
marriage is about love and family,” he said. “Times are changing and
younger voters are coming on line. I’m really hopeful that this session,
we’ll see a court decision restoring our right to marry, and so this
year we decided to give the clerk at the government center a break and
not put her through all that.”
Kit Stolz has been
reporting on culture and climate in Ventura County for over a decade —
for more, see www.achangeinthewind.com.
Joan Price (senior sex author/expert)
Scarletteen (sex ed for the real world)
Pegging Paradise (Ruby Ryder)
VC Pride (John Wilner)
Kama Sutra Closet (Roylin Downs)
Author Dan Slater took on three of the most prominent "differences" between the sexual behavior of men and women, beginning with promiscuity:
Take the question of promiscuity. Everyone has always assumed — and early research had shown — that women desired fewer sexual partners over a lifetime than men. But in 2003, two behavioral psychologists, Michele G. Alexander and Terri D. Fisher, published the results of a study that used a “bogus pipeline” — a fake lie detector. When asked about actual sexual partners, rather than just theoretical desires, the participants who were not attached to the fake lie detector displayed typical gender differences. Men reported having had more sexual partners than women. But when participants believed that lies about their sexual history would be revealed by the fake lie detector, gender differences in reported sexual partners vanished. In fact, women reported slightly more sexual partners (a mean of 4.4) than did men (a mean of 4.0)
For those of us who like myth-busting, it gets even better. With research, Slater goes on to challenge the idea that women are choosier than men about who they will date, and even the idea that women are less interested in men in casual sex.
Terri D. Conley, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, set out to re-examine what she calls “one of the largest documented sexuality gender differences,” that men have a greater interest in casual sex than women.
Ms. Conley found the methodology of [an often-cited] 1989 paper [researched on college campuses] to be less than ideal. “No one really comes up to you in the middle of the quad and asks, ‘Will you have sex with me?’ ” she told me recently. “So there needs to be a context for it. If you ask people what they would do in a specific situation, that’s a far more accurate way of getting responses.” In her study, when men and women considered offers of casual sex from famous people, or offers from close friends whom they were told were good in bed, the gender differences in acceptance of casual-sex proposals evaporated nearly to zero.
Slater wants to show that our attitudes about sex today may be spilling over into our assumptions about sex and gender, just as they did for Charles Darwin, who posited that for evolutionary reasons men wanted to go out and make money, and women wanted to stay home and raise children.
In other words, the evolutionary psychology of its founder in l9th-century Britain miraculously reflected the Victorian era of his time. We must expect the same. And from right (orthodox religion) to the left (certain notorious feminists) there's a surprising consensus that women are less sexual than men.
But as Slater points out, there's a lot of evidence to suggest that in fact women are pretty much the same as men in this arena. Despite physiology.
A radical thought for all concerned to contemplate.
In Slate, a science reporter specializing in sex, Jesse Bering, reports on a new study that finds that women who look drunk and/or stupid are especially attractive to straight men.
The study has problems — for one, a lack of a good control sample. For another, the hypothesis (that men find women who appear out of it more attractive because the guy thinks he's more likely to get laid, for example) surely has limits, to which the study seems blind.
All this Bering discusses ably. He notes the flaws, but concludes:
All else being equal, would you really have thought that the average man would subjectively perceive such women to be physically more alluring than their sober, bright-minded peers?
Actually, yes. But that's because I remember a great quote from the sexy, brainy Hedy LeMarr:
Any girl can look glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.
Here's a pic of her in her early movie star days:
I wonder if Lamarr came to this realization because she couldn't look stupid if she tried, and maybe sometimes wished she could.
Despite the well-publicized woes of the media, the US press still produces some great stories. Here are three great trend stories from just this week:
Sex and Obesity: An intimate report from the front lines on NPR
Birdnesting: A way around custody battles, in the Ventura County Star
Overdose deaths from prescription drugs surpass traffic deaths in U.S. — a breakthrough this-is-the-real-news story from atop the front page on Sunday, in the LA Times. Maybe one of the most important stories of the year.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, came complaints about hype: Was Hurricane Irene a disappointment?
Media analyst Howard Kurtz says yes. After all, Irene wasn't even a hurricane when it made landfall in NYC. Other New Yorkers are equally dismissive: A NYC gossip site called Irene The Sudden Sex Celebrity without Much Bang. Scallywag wrote:
she’ll more than likely be the sexy hot dame that tantalized us and left us a smidgen disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the type of rude shock that we were told to look out for.
An anonymous texter had a similarly sexualized reaction to the storm:
Last night in my drunkenness I bought hurricane supplies which included a jug of wine and a bouquet of flowers. Apparently I'm going to woo Irene.
Even Susan Orlean, The New Yorker writer, saw the storm as beddable (on Facebook).
If Irene were my boyfriend, I'd say enough with the foreplay, dude. The moment has passed.
When we add all of these risk factors together, we can say with a great deal of confidence that in the future, there will be more and more events like Irene. We can comfort ourselves by saying that this particular storm was not necessarily caused by global warming. Or we can acknowledge the truth, which is that we are making the world a more dangerous place and, what’s more, that we know it.
Maybe if Kolbert was looking at the natural world through the TV screen, for entertainment. she'd react differently.
Although considered politically naive by some, Tennessee Williams did know how to make a scene. Especially when it came to love.
If you want the unbuttoned Tennessee Williams, you have to read Dotson Rader's entertaining Cry of the Heart. It's a wonderfully breezy and entertaining book about the mature Tennessee Williams, but even better, it's a sort of biography by dialogue. We quickly understand how much Tennessee Williams' fourteen-year-long love affair from Frank Merlo meant, both to Williams, and to Merlo.
During the fifties, as his fame grew, Tennessee became very sensitive to slights against [his longtime companion and] friend Frankie, insisting that he always be included whenver Tennessee was invited anywhere. It didn't always work out that way.
Tennessee was angered when Irene Selzick [the powerful heiress who produced the movie version of "Streetcar"] invited him to her socially prestigious dinners in her Hotel Pierre apartment and would add, "Oh, and ask Frank to drop in afterward, if he likes."
"Tell her to go fuck herself," was Frank's usual response.
Or Tennessee would raise hell when they checked into a suite in a fancy hotel and there would be two single beds rather than one king-size. He would threaten to leave and never return unless they were moved to a suite with a proper bed or a proper bed was delivered to the suite they were in at once.
Whent he Royal Orleans in New Orleans refused to allow them to share a room with only one bed, Tennessee created a scene in the lobby.
"But it simply isn't done, Mr. Williams," the night manager tried to assure him. "We never allow two men to sleep in the same bed. Why would two men want to sleep in a bed together?"
"So they can fuck!" Tennessee said, before he and Frank marched out.
[Here's the only picture I can find of Merlo and Williams together — sort of.
From the height of Williams' glory days, from left to right, Frank Merlo, Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams, Charles Feldman. Courtesy of a play at NYC called Love of Men Ferocious]
The New York Times has many famous columnists, and one funny one: Gail Collins.
Which brings us to sex. What is it with Republicans lately? Is there something about being a leader of the family-values party that makes you want to go out and commit adultery?
They certainly don’t have a lock on the infidelity market, and heaven knows we all remember John Edwards. But, lately, the G.O.P. has shown a genius for putting a peculiar, newsworthy spin on illicit sex. A married congressman hunting for babes is bad. A married congressman hunting for babes by posting a half-naked photo of himself on the Internet is Republican.
A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child is awful. A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child by a staff member of the family home and then fails to mention it to his wife for more than 10 years is Republican.
A married senator who has an affair with an employee is a jerk. A married senator who has an affair with an employee who is the wife of his chief of staff, and whose adultery is the subject of ongoing discussion at his Congressional prayer group, is Republican.
We haven’t even gotten to Newt Gingrich yet!
Don't worry, she won't overlook him. She's not afraid of him, unlike her cohort David Brooks.
From the rarely-so-thoughtful-but-often-fun Overheard in New York:
So Yada Yada Yada, We Spent the Night in the E.R.
Twin sister #1, indignantly: I tried to get him the least sexual plant I could find. I mean, a cactus, how much less sexual could you get?
Twin sister #2, thoughtfully: You really can't get any less sexual than a cactus.
–Uptown 1 Train
Though to be fair, even cacti do have sex…
Meghan McCain speaks out against the Puritanism of the GOP today, in a post for The Daily Beast called The GOP Is Clueless About Sex:
Perhaps the worst sexual double standard in politics right now is that
too many subconsciously believe Republican women are void of sexual
Good point, Meghan.
One wonders: How can a party opposed to sex (consciously or not) hope to succeed in life?
Seriously! John McCain's daughter makes a sensible plea for sexual education, health, and contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies, but admits that her chances of being taken seriously in today's uptight GOP are slim and none.
No wonder Republican identification among American voters has fallen to 20%, a twenty-six-year low. Even male GOP politicians do have sex organs, as we've noticed as of late, at least in South Carolina, and even most Republican women, being human, probably like sex.
That's just a guess.
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