Category Archives: Sex

Thoughts on SlutWalk: Can “Slut,” Like “Queer,” Be Reclaimed?

Can we reclaim “slut” as a positive term?

Sophie Jones has an interesting commentary on SlutWalk, criticism thereof, and the ensuing “feminist debate about the politics of linguistic subversion” at The F-Word.

She starts by tackling those feminists who criticized SlutWalk as a misguided attempt to promote the “right to be called ‘slut.'” Jones writes: “Some women argue that SlutWalk is just an expression of what Nina Power has called Feminism™, in which gender equality is rebranded as the right to buy whatever you want on the way to your burlesque class, whether it’s a diamond-encrusted vibrator or a pair of effing shoes.” I, like many SlutWalk supporters, have been frustrated by this misunderstanding of how and why the term is being used. That said, I’m also in complete feminist support of burlesque classes, vibrators, and “fuck-me shoes.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be sexual or sexy — it’s a woman’s right and still not an invitation to rape.

Jones sums this issue up as “a clear case of these writers simply misinterpreting the mission of Slut Walk, which is not a protest ‘for the right to be called ‘slut’ but a protest for the right to dress however you want free of the presumption you are ‘asking for it’.” Then we move on to more interesting questions: even if the point of SlutWalk isn’t about reclaiming the word “slut” — can we? and should we? Continue reading

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Filed under Feminism, Sex, Sexual Assault

Not Enough Sex Ed in the City

When I attended school in Manhattan, I received what I considered good, comprehensive sex education. Sex ed started in 5th grade: the boys went to one room, the girls to another, and we learned how bodies worked. (Okay, by that point we’d picked up enough through the playground, parents, or TV programs that we had the basics down already.) I don’t remember what precisely was covered, or how useful it was, but I have a clearer memory of 7th and 8th grade. I’ve mentioned the assembly on flavored condoms before; condoms could be procured for free in the bathroom at the nurse’s office.

I moved to New Jersey for high school, so I missed out on a continuing New York City sex education. But I always assumed–well, it’s New York City!  Where would you expect to find better sex education?

So imagine my surprise when I read a letter, “Sex Ed in the City,” to the New York Times a few days ago from the president of Planned Parenthood of New York City. Joan Malin points out in that the city actually does not require sex education, a fact I find shocking. With the current budget cuts being made in New York schools, as a program legally considered non-essential, sex education is often a target. This puts youth at danger by not educating them on making healthy sexual decisions–and those young people grow up to adults who still don’t know how to make the best decisions.

I’ve realized, considering my own New York education, that the best sex ed I received was in 7th and 8th grade, when I attend a school that, though not private, was affiliated with Hunter College, not the Board of Education, and it had chosen to prioritize the subject where the city administration had not. While some public schools now also do an admirable job of providing comprehensive sex ed, it shouldn’t be left up to the discretion of individual school administrators.

If you’re a New Yorker and want to see sex ed secure, sign up with the Planned Parenthood “We’re Going to the Principal’s Office” campaign.

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Filed under Education, Reproductive Justice, Sex

Hair, Girl Scouts, and War

Sunday, at a performance of Hair on Broadway, I sat in front of a troop of 13-year-old girl scouts taken by surprise by the full on-stage nudity that closes the first act. Listening to the concerned (yet giggly), troop leaders discussing what they would tell the parents back home, and asking which of the girls had written down this musical as their suggestion (no one owned up), I wondered if it was as age-inappropriate as they thought. Or, more to the point, what about it was the most serious, shocking, saddening–meant for a mature audience.

My play-going partner this weekend was my mother, who’d seen Hair for the first time in the summer of ’68, a time when it’s racy content launched even greater waves. But it’s not just the sex (or the drugs) that makes this musical so subversive. I never managed to submerge myself in the colorful, playful fun of Hair, pulled by its underlying current of the Vietnam War–a war that was still underway when my teenage mother saw this play. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts, Iraq War, Sex

Dictionary Deficiency: Defining Sex

Labels can also be misleading.  I saw a news report about a lesbian protest march, and the reporter said, “Coming up next, a lesbian demonstration.” My first thought was, “Cool.  I always wondered how those things work.” -Michael Dane

Last week, a queer friend told me she’d had sex with a woman for the first time–and it was good. Laughing and congratulating her, I realized after hanging up that I hadn’t the faintest idea what that meant.

The next time we talked, I waited through a couple minutes of small talk, and then asked: so, how does that work? One open conversation and half an hour of Googling later, what people mean by “sex” remains hazy.

When I started looking, I thought the main problem with the terminology was heteronormativity. And maybe a little reproductive-normativity too: penis + vagina = ability to make babies = sexual intercourse. Some definitions do recognize that sex doesn’t always involve a mixed set, conceding that sex can involve other forms of genital contact, but that still wasn’t perfectly satisfying.

My friend determined that she considers sex between two women fingering or oral–or, if you’re bringing toys into the equation, intercourse involving dildos. But, I asked, would you consider fingering or oral sex with a guy, well, sex? No…well maybe yes on oral…and then we brought up sex between two men and whether that would be anal, or oral, or hand-jobs…and got more confused. What it came down to in this case was that she and her partner orgasmed, that it was her first such experience with another woman, and she was excited by the contrast to with a guy.

Wandering the internet, I found a lot of confused LGBT and straight individuals asking similar questions about what sex means, or whether they’ve “lost their virginity.” I despise this particular phrase, with its connotations of innocence and purity and this idea of loss, rather than a gain, in sexual experience. But what about dropping the term virginity and wondering: did I just have sex for the first time?

In asking what sex means, I was asking the wrong question. Let’s take another term: hook-up. On a G-rated level, to “hook-up” can mean to get together and hang out. But when you say you hooked-up with a hottie the night before, the assumption is something a little more sexual—but how much so? At times it doesn’t mean much more than kissing; in other usages, it can mean fingering, or oral, anal, or genital sex—with many shades of seriousness, clothing, etc. The same person night to night uses it to describe different situations.

When a person qualifies what they mean by “hooking-up,” it might be for the sake of a more detailed, interesting story amongst friends. We like to tell people the good things in our lives, and, despite societal taboos that might keep us unusually quiet on the subject, sex is no exception. I had a great time dancing last night—I had a great time fucking last night.

However, often, especially for straight women, the qualification is to say, “oh, but I didn’t have sex,” to avoid–what? Being called a slut? Easy? The vagueness of the term “hook-up” is one of its perks—you don’t TMI friends who maybe don’t want all the details. If you’re not in the mood to give the gripping details of what exactly happened last night, then hook-up should suffice, sans defensive qualifications. (I’m not so sure what the situation is for straight men–if you prefer to claim sex, for macho points–or for queer men and women, on where the virtues of the chastity-to-stud scale lie.)

In any case, the weight we put on “sex” is too heavy a burden. It’s not just about heteronormativity; one of the things that fascinates me, comparing my generation (we’re the Millennials now, apparently) to my parents, is the perception of oral sex. Even in the time of free love, oral sex seemed generally considered a more intimate sexual act, while today, blow-jobs are on the serious side of hooking-up, but often as standard “instead-of-sex” fare. So is oral sex really sex? More than? Less than? This question applies whether you’re straight, bi, gay, trans, whatever–but does it matter?

The concept of sex (in bold) ties in with our cultural Puritanism mingled with sex-obsession (ever a nation of opposites and hypocrites, America), fundamentalist religion trying to turn it into a battleground of sin.  The fun of sex is—well, doing stuff that’s not so easy to define. Or the multitude of ways to define it.

What can sex be? Talking with my friend, I didn’t get a clear definition; however, like Michael Dane, I wondered how that worked, and my question got me a better understanding of what sex could be. I tend to be less concerned about TMI and more interested in people openly discussing sex—so we can find a multitude of (Ecstatic? Deep? Playful? Leather-requiring?) answers to what sex can be.

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Filed under Queer issues, Sex

Back to School: Let’s Talk About Sex

When I was 12, a guest speaker presented on the merits of flavored condoms to an auditorium full of giggly 7th through 12th graders. I recall him saying his personal favorite was grape.

It wasn’t all fun and flavors though–as one of the lucky kids who received comprehensive sex ed, I actually learned how to have sex and be protected. But a huge swath of the country gets the short shrift.

 Thanks to religious fundies and the Bush legacy, abstinence-only education has increased, and so has the teen pregnancy rate. Abstinence ed has been an excellent sex in convincing students there’s no point in using condoms–while they’re having sex just as much as ever. Oops.
Looking around, I always wonder what people know about sex. How many people had been told, still believe, that the condom failure rate is 30 percent? Or how about the gender stereotypes abstinence educators love to dish out–like boys have natural urges and girls must be chaste? Does that seem like it prepares people for healthy, safe sexual interactions, in a frat basement, or a bar, or anywhere?
Plus, my sex ed was pretty good, you know, for America, but it left a whole lot of questions–ones I didn’t even know to ask back when. So I was intrigued at discovering an adult sex ed programs, Our Whole Lives, a project of the Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Christ. While the program is designed by two religious groups, they chose to keep faith out of their discussion of sexuality–there’s an optional companion book on faith–and since Unitarian Universalism is one of my favorite religions, I’m curious to see just how good their program is. Maybe I’ll be buying a new textbook soon.
I’ll leave you with a fairy tale from the abstinence-only curriculum “Choosing the Best.” It goes something like this: knight saves princess from dragon. Princess gets into the same dangerous situation; this time, the damsel in distress offers her savior advice on how to kill the dragon, and does so again when the situation repeats a third time. Though her suggestions work, the knight’s manliness has apparently been undermined, so he goes off and marries a village maiden with no recommendations on how to kill dragons.
“Moral of the story: Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.”
That’s right, young women: even if you’re about to be eaten by a mythical flying beast, shut up and let the man do his job on his own. You might become a tasty snack, but at least you won’t get dumped. Three jeers for abstinence ed.

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