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Reacting to the Red Light District

11 Apr

by Nicole Chenelle

When I say that I spent a week in Amsterdam during my semester abroad, most people respond with something along the lines of, “Oh! So did you see the Red Light district?” coupled with wide eyes and giggles. I spent the week in Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class. We met with NGOs, government organizations, and former sex workers to discuss the status of sex work within the Netherlands. I definitely saw the Red Light district.

This week-long trip to Amsterdam with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class was the reason I chose to study abroad at the Danish Institute of Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a women’s and gender studies minor at Georgetown, the idea of studying prostitution in countries were it is legal was exciting. I had never engaged with prostitution academically, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to study the issue through a lens of legality. My Prostitution and the Sex Trade course included a three-day intensive study in our home base of Copenhagen, where prostitution is legal, a three-day trip to Sweden, where prostitution is legal but the client is criminalized, and this week-long trip to Amsterdam, where brothels, as well as prostitution, is legal.

The Red Light district of Amsterdam cannot be ignored. Centrally located around the city’s oldest church, the Red Light district demands that you notice the sex work happening all around you. Whether it’s the beckoning of the dolled-up women in the windows, the neon lights advertising sex shows, or rainbow-colored condoms hanging in the windows of the Condomerie, sex permeates the atmosphere of Amsterdam. The Red Light district is both a neighborhood which celebrates sex and pleasure and one who’s glitter and lipstick camouflages exploitation and human trafficking.

The majority of our class discussions and my own personal musings come back to this question – can you separate freely chosen sex work versus the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation? Can sex work even be chosen, or do the economic motivators limit the agency of this choice? How can we, or should we even, aid the Eastern European girls in the windows whose boyfriends would legally qualify as pimps? How do we stop the human rights violation of trafficking while allowing individuals to sell sex if that is what they so chose? Is sex work just another form of labor, or is there something about sex which makes it inherently different? These are questions I have spent my semester abroad contemplating, questions that activists and lawmakers have spent their whole careers thinking about, without coming to an obvious conclusion.

Learning about the sex industry in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands has made my ignorance about the sex trade in the United States glaring apparent. I know prostitution is illegal in the majority of the United States, but it still exists. Criminalizing the prostitute herself (or himself, but most often herself) does nothing but create a cycle of criminality. Marring these women with a criminal record does the opposite of helping them exit the sex industry, but instead, makes getting a job in another profession near impossible. Is the Nordic model, or the criminalization of the customer, the solution for the United States? Criminalizing the men who purchase sex rather than the women themselves is a step in the right direction, yet I worry that the Nordic model merely plays lip-service to the ideal of eradicating prostitution rather than enacting real change. I find myself leaning towards supporting the legalization of prostitution, yet fear that legalization would encourage sex traffickers to do their business in that country. The more I study prostitution and the sex trade, the more I come to appreciate the complexity and nuances of this issue, and the more I recognize that anyone who has a simple solution isn’t thinking hard enough.

Tired

7 Apr

by Anonymous

I should be angry. I should be enraged and impassioned. I should be motivated to fight and struggle. But I’m not. I’m simply too tired.

I’m tired of going to my evolutionary biology class. Tired of being a gay in person in a space where all we talk about is critical importance of heterosexual mating behavior. Homosexual animal behavior was alluded to once – as something bonobos do for fun in their spare time. I’m tired of my sexual orientation being reduced to an outlier in the data.

I’m tired of hearing professors casually use the word “rape” in classes containing survivors of sexual assault.

I’m tired of being warned to avoid certain professors because they’re sexist. (Does anyone even ever say that to male students?)

I’m tired of people believing that my painted nails and long hair tell them anything substantive about me.

I’m tired of explaining why a lesbian cares so much about reproductive choice.

I’m tired of that little bit of discomfort every time I write or say “mi novia” in my Spanish classes.

I’m tired of going to parties with my straight friends and being the only one that doesn’t get the option of a hook-up (I enjoy sex just as much as everyone else.)

I’m tired of my dreams of motherhood being tainted by the extraordinary cost of IVF and the logistic and bureaucratic nightmare of the adoption process.

I’m tired of feeling feminist shame every time I enjoy a TV show or movie that happens to include female characters that personify lofty western beauty standards.

I’m tired of being asked if I have a boyfriend. The answer is always going to be no, no matter how much you’d like to define me by relationships with men.

I’m tired of knowing how much more likely I am to be raped that my hetero best friend. I didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I’m tired of knowing how likely it is that my hetero best friend will be raped before we graduate. She didn’t do anything to deserve this either.

I’m tired of explaining why feminism is still relevant.

I’m tired of being told I talk too much about “women’s issues.” You can bet that no matter how tired I get, I will never stop talking.

My Mad Fat Feminist

17 Dec

by Anonymous

There is a show (a British show—the best are always British) called My Mad Fat Diary. The title is fairly explanatory: Rae is a fat teenager who struggles with binge eating, depression, and self harm. There are only six episodes, but those six episodes are life-changing.

As someone who has identified as fat my entire life, I had never seen a fat character be a main character. She is no one’s sidekick. She is self-conscious and funny and just a little trite. It is a TV show with a fat main character and before I saw the TV show, I didn’t know why I needed it so badly.

Here’s the thing: people always try to hide my fat. It’s secondhand embarrassment; I am the living embodiment of something everyone around the world is afraid of being. My roommate freshman year said that fat people disgusted her. My friend said that fat people weird her out so much that she can’t even look at them. My classmates grimace as a fat person slips into the desk next to them. Being fat means I’m lazy and ugly and always relegated to the back of the photograph. Being fat automatically means I am unwanted because fat itself is unwanted. There is a reason fat people are known to be “jolly”: when we put up with your bullshit 24/7, we have to use humor as a coping mechanism, because otherwise we will literally want to tear our skin straight off.

I have found other ways of coping to get around being fat. I am the first one to every class, every day, every semester of every year because I have first pick of seats. When I choose where I sit and I sit down first, I don’t have to squeeze between desks and maneuver between gaps that I may or may not be able to fit through. It’s a defense mechanism. No one has to see how I angle myself to fit between the desk and the chair. When I eat at the dining hall, I go when the dining hall is empty so no one can see me eating alone. A skinny person eating alone looks different than a fat person eating alone. A skinny person eating alone is not a big deal; a fat person eating alone means they did not deserve to have someone sit with them. When I listen to my friends talk about how much they ate at dinner, about how fat they feel, or about the three pounds they gained over the summer, I stay silent. I am supportive in their quest to be skinny and I ignore the implication that what I am is undesirable. I smile at strangers on airplanes because I know they are angry they have to sit next to me during the flight and I avoid stares when I finish my Chipotle burrito.

Because I have been told my entire life that I am something that people do not want, I have believed it. I still believe it. But when I watch My Mad Fat Diary, I feel a little better about myself. Rae gets to be a main character. Rae gets to be interesting. Rae gets to battle binge eating. Rae gets to talk about her depression with a therapist and have it not be embarrassing. Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

Rae gets to have a boyfriend.

For the first time in my television-watching history, I get to see a fat person be likable and desirable. Rae’s visible sexuality (she masturbates to the fantasy of a Roman god in an early episode) is absolutely vital because I have absolutely zero idea what orientation I am; I have been conditioned to believe that I do not deserve sexuality. I am universally unwanted and, as a result, my sexuality is futile. So when every TV show, every magazine, every book and movie stars a skinny girl, my sexual erasure is reinforced. It doesn’t matter if the medium is alternative manga or reality TV; fat, sexual people do not exist, and they certainly do not exist as main characters who have entire stories and worlds revolve around them.

My Mad Fat Diary is a pioneer and a champion. It tells me that I deserve attention and that I deserve to be seen sexually, and what’s more, I deserve to have a choice. I do not have to settle for the first person who expresses any interest in me. I do not have to be flattered when I am harassed on the street because at least someone noticed me. When I am treated like a real person, and when I see myself as a real person, I can escape from oppressive structures that keep me meek and mild-mannered. I get to have a voice. I get to have self-worth. And yes, of course, my self-worth should be self-derived, but in the meantime, I get to walk through the world with the knowledge that there are people who think I deserve to be a main character. That I deserve attention and respect. That I, unlike my fat, am wanted.

(Note: I could write pages and pages and pages about how great this show is regarding issues of mental health, but that’s an essay for another day. Also, disclaimer: My fat experience is not the same for all fat women—WOC experience size very differently than white women.)

Fisting

7 Oct

by Anonymous

‘Aight. Let’s talk about fisting. I know it’s scary (hell, I was a fisting virgin once too),  but that shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want or doing it SAFELY. That’s the thing, once I did my research, no more scariness. So hopefully this gives you some relief if you start thinking about logistics.

Also, fisting isn’t just for woman on woman. If you’ve got a hand and a partner, you’re good to go. I won’t speak specifically to the wider world of fisting, so hopefully some of the links in here can give you a starting place.

First things first: don’t do it alone. Not that you could. Fisting is more intimate than any other sexual act of which I know. We’re always being told not to be intimate with people unless we trust them, but let’s be real, things happen. Fisting cannot be one of those things. Fisting can produce some of the best sexual experiences, but you must be completely open and trusting of your partner whether giving or receiving. Constant communication is key. What makes fisting so amazing for both partners is the muscle involvement. Orgasms resulting from fisting usually involve the kegel muscles, the muscles along the vaginal wall, creating wave sensations. These muscles are treasures, but they are very sensitive to emotional states. If the receiver is anxious or uncomfortable, they can close off making the vagina “tight.” Let’s just say this is unpleasant for everyone. So talk to each other.

Second is that it will take time. It’s like poker. Don’t expect to go all in during the first hand. Play each round. Add more to the pot each time. You’ll get there. And when you do, there’s a big payoff. For some people (and realize this varies for everyone) it takes about two to three weeks to work up to. Like I said, talk. If ever either partner starts to feel pain, stop. Rapid expansion of the vaginal walls can cause tearing and bleeding. Going slowly can prevent this from happening.

Third, and most important, is safety. Ladies and gentlemen, hands with nails have no business between anyone’s legs! I don’t care how much you love to scratch your partners or how great your manicure looks; neither of those things matter when your hand is inside another person. That said, most doctors recommend wearing gloves when fisting (be careful with latex allergies). They can somewhat protect against nails, but not very efficiently. Gloves do protect against various other things your hands may have on them. You never know.

Most important to me, which is why it gets its own paragraph, LUBE. There is no fisting without lube. It just doesn’t happen. Ever. Most sites and stores will recommend a water-based lube, as do I. You may think getting the small bottle is a good idea. It’s compact, cheap. For your first buy, the small bottle is good. But when you’re getting into fisting, honey, you Costco that shit. There isn’t enough lube in the world for fisting. Even when starting out and working your way up, add lube. Then, add more. Then, when you feel like your hand is swimming in a sea of lube, add more lube. Receiver, you will probably feel like slip’n’slide, but trust me, you need it. If you’re using enough, you’ll end up with lube all over your bed (or whatever location you chose), and, receiver, don’t be embarrassed—you will leak.

Fourth, don’t worry about it. Fisting is seriously fun, so try and relax and enjoy. As long as you’re in control and aware you should be loving life (not to mention being more aware can heighten sexual response).

If you want more information, doctors are a good go-to. As awkward as you think the conversation might be, taking any issue of this nature to an OB is not that big a deal.  Always refer to professional health caregivers with questions of sexual health or activity or anything really. For less serious advice, this is a great video on intro fisting, and they pretty much bring up all the points I could possibly think of. Get ready for International Fisting Day on October 21st! You can also find a handy diagram here for your introduction to fisting.

I Was First Called a Slut at Age 13

8 Jul

by Kat Kelley

There are still moments, as I linger in front of the mirror for a few extra seconds,

Not quite sure what those high cheekbones or scarred knees have to do with that passion for healthcare policy or appetite for travel,

Or as I return home, heels in hand, and eyes on my toes, avoiding the gaze of families in pastels filing into the Holy Trinity Church on Sunday morning,

In which I still value myself, still derive my self-worth from my appearance and the value assigned to me by men.

And this, I do, because I was first called a slut at age 13.

They called me a slut, Chloe* and Morgan*, because I kissed a boy at a bonfire, amidst a game of a truth or dare. Chloe thought he was cute, and he kept up with the big kids at the skatepark, but I didn’t know of her crush. I just knew that he was in fact cute, and was in fact a talented skateboarder, and that I certainly wasn’t going to chicken out of truth or dare. They called me a slut and didn’t talk to me until backstage at the drama production, when Chloe and him entered into an intimate relationship of not acknowledging each other in the cafeteria, but staying up late at night on AOL instant messenger.

They called me a slut and I learned that women will just as soon impose double standards upon one another, just as soon slut shame as men. They called me a slut and I learned that “bros before hoes” meant something entirely different for women, that Morgan and Chloe would drop this “hoe” over envy of a “bro.”

They called me a “heartbreaker,” at age 8, as I leaned against my mother, tired from a day at the pool. “She’ll be a heartbreaker. And that one,” he grinned at my sister, “she’ll be a headbreaker.” At age 8, I already knew that I was the enviable one, deemed a conforming  heartbreaker, not an audacious headbreaker. My brother later teased me for my buck teeth, but I was a heartbreaker, and when his friend Ryan* said my freckles were cute, I nearly swooned.

They called me a heartbreaker, and I learned that my relationship with men, my image to men, even grown-ups, smiling down at me as if I were their own daughter, even professionals, briefcase in hand, would always be tainted by the value of beauty and the tragedy of uneven complexion, bad hair days, and the dreaded scale.

They called me a whore at age 14, and they institutionalized my title. A code word developed amongst our class, KIAW, which was shouted spontaneously in the hallways, mimicking the meow of a cat, for the last three weeks of eighth grade. Jake* and Mark*, whose prowess on the basketball court had propelled them to popularity,  hollered “KIAW” at me as I entered the classroom, or as I got onto the school bus. “That means they like you,” Hannah* said knowingly, but after a full day of signing yearbooks, I learned just what it really meant. ‘I’m real sorry,’ Jake looked down at his feet. “Kathleen Is A Whore, we thought it’d be funny, just between me and Jake, but then everyone started to say it.” Does everyone know what it means? I asked, holding my breath. “Yeahhhh,” eyes glued to his Vans, yes, each of these students with whom you’ve gone to school for the past 9 years, all think you are a whore.

They called me a whore, and I learned that my “sexual” history was infinitely more socially relevant and defining than the Valedictorian speech I gave that night, even though I quoted really smart people we had read about in History class and my teachers told my parents I had a lot of potential. They called me a whore because I snuck out of my parents house one night and met my high school boyfriend on the beach, and I wore spaghetti strapped tank tops, and I learned that the key to both enemies and admirers, and more importantly, attention as a woman, was not success but sex.

They called me a slut on an anonymous Facebook page, they counted my sexual exploits while singing the lyrics of their team’s traditional songs, they begged for stories during drinking games. Women joined in when they discovered my involvement with a romantic interest of theirs, and men dropped me as a “friend”  when I wasn’t DTF.

And so I still struggle to guard my self-worth from the influence of beauty and size, from who I’ve slept with, and who thinks I’m worth their time, because they first called me a slut at age 13, and they have yet to show me I’m worth anything more to them.

______________________________________________________________________________________

*All names have been changed.

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Regretful Hook-ups and Practicing Consent

23 Apr

by Anonymous

This past fall I hooked up with a guy at a party and regretted it. Before the party I pregamed at a friend’s apartment and got very, very drunk. While most of my friends were barely tipsy, the vodka I drank hit me all at once and I ended up very drunk very quickly. The party was not particularly fun, and we wandered between the basement (where no one was dancing, much to my disappointment) and the backyard. I was sitting on the porch steps next to my friend when a guy I vaguely knew walked up the back steps. It took me a minute to recognize him because at this point everything was a little fuzzy, but when I did I leaped up, shouting his name and engulfing him in a hug. There was another guy with him who took that opportunity to wrap me up in a hug as well. I immediately felt weirded out by it because I didn’t know him, and I felt like he was maybe just excited to have found a really drunk girl.

I said I was bored and wanted to go dance, so my friend and the guy I didn’t know, Pete*, went downstairs to the basement. I stumbled down the stairs as Pete kept touching me- my arms, my shoulder, my waist, the small of my back. I realized at this point that he wanted to hook up with me but I had decided that I didn’t really want to hook up with him. I tried to talk to my friend and ignore him, but he was persistent, and wouldn’t stop touching me. My friend turned away for a minute, and Pete took that opportunity to kiss me, pressing me up against the brick wall behind me.

I realize that I should have stopped this all from happening, but I remember feeling like I just didn’t have the energy. So instead of shoving him away I just turned my head away. And when he kissed me again I let it happen, and this time I kissed him back. After a few minutes he suggested we go upstairs, but I protested that I wanted to stay in the basement and dance. He ignored me, pulling me up the stairs behind him. When we arrived in the backyard he kissed me again before suggesting we go to his house. I said no, and in response he kissed me. Then he asked me again if I wanted to go back to his place, and as he pulled me closer to the gate I said no, again. I remember telling him that I was having a good time at the party, that I didn’t want to, couldn’t, leave my friends, and that I didn’t want to go. He ignored me. This process repeated itself a few more times before he unlatched the gate and stepped out onto the sidewalk as I continued protesting.

He held me up as we walked down the sidewalk, and I remember feeling deeply discontented with the situation as we walked along. At least once I remember saying, drunkly, sloppily, “No, but I said I didn’t want to go home with you. I wanted to stay with my friends!” to which he would reassure me that we would see my friends and we were just going to have a little fun.

He unlocked the door to his house and I stumbled into his bedroom. I wished I wasn’t there but at the same time didn’t feel like I had the energy or willpower to leave. At that point I figured I might as well stay, hook up with him, and get it over with rather than leave. He led me over to the bed and I fell back onto his mattress as he climbed on top of me. We began kissing again, and almost immediately his mouth left mine and trailed down my neck to my breasts as he pulled my dress and bra down. We continued on like that for maybe ten more minutes, and then, without warning, he slid my dress up and his hand down beneath my tights, and slipped his fingers into my vagina.

I was shocked, caught totally off guard. I decided I would let it happen, but it began happening before I made that decision. After a few more minutes I sat up and told him I was ready to leave. He seemed frustrated and asked me to stay, but I refused, pulling my clothes back on and standing up. As I walked to the door he passed out on his bed and I went back to the party to rejoin my friends.

What happened that night was not sexual assault or rape, and I am not claiming it is. I ultimately consented to what happened that night and I take responsibility for that. But it matters that a guy decided to finger me without asking for my consent, and without thinking to check in with me first. This is not what consent should look like. Both people involved in a hook up should clearly give their consent, and it is not ok to assume the person you are hooking up with is consenting to everything that is going on. Simply because you are consenting or you haven’t heard otherwise from your partner does not mean that they are consenting. Pete had no idea whether or not I consented that night. I did consent, and that is important, but he never asked and never tried to ask. That is not ok. When we were making decisions about where to go earlier in the night he ignored me, and that is not ok. People need to understand, respect, and ask for consent.

It is also important to recognize the agency I had in this situation, the agency that for the most part I didn’t use. I protested when we left the party, and I ended the hook up before things went further than I wanted them to again, but there were other times in the night when I could have said something and could have stopped what was happening. I could have stopped Pete after he kissed me, and I certainly could have said no once I was hooking up with Pete in his room. For stupid reasons I felt like it was easier to go along with it, and that’s fucked up. I should feel like I have more sexual agency than that, because I do have more sexual agency than that. That is both my responsibility and the responsibility of a society that does a shitty job of teaching teenagers, and especially girls, about sex.

I have thought about writing this piece for a while, and was finally pushed to do so after reading Anna March’s piece My Bad Sex Wasn’t Rape. Her article was in regards to a particular sex scene on Girls, the ubiquitous T.V. show, in which Natalia is sexually assaulted by her boyfriend Adam. March contends that this was not a rape scene, as Natalia has more sexual autonomy than we give her credit for, and that just because a woman does not give consent does not mean that a woman was sexually assaulted. There is a lot wrong with March’s argument, not least of which is that her writing discredits and diminishes the stories of many survivors, but I also think it is worth discussing consent and how we talk about consent. It is not valid to assume every woman is capable or willing to say “no” even when she is not consenting.

Part of why I wrote this is because March wrote in her article that, “We can say yes and we can say no…We have to respect that agency no matter how someone chooses to enact it, whether that’s having sex they don’t really want to have in silence, or saying yes to it, or saying no and walking away.” While I agree with many parts of her message, she stresses again and again that women have this indomitable agency that is being miscategorized as rape or sexual assault in many cases. I disagree. I think that often it is hard to say no. And while sometimes consent can go unspoken and still be present, as in my case, other times someone might not feel strong enough or safe enough to say no, and that is not simply a failure on their part to act on their sexual agency. I think empowering women (and everyone else) to act on their sexual agency is wonderful and necessary, but it is also important to recognize that there are many times when people do not feel they can act on their sexual agency. And those times are not “gray areas” or “murky sex” or “bad sex”- those times are rape, and they are sexual assault, and it is important that we recognize that, act on that, and take the stories and experiences of survivors seriously.


*Name has been changed

The Guilty Ones

17 Apr

by Christina Crisostomo

There are few things I love more than thriving online feminist communities and folk-rock musicals based on 19th century German plays about sexually repressed teenagers. So when I managed to meet Feministing.com editors Chloe and Lori and watch Mask and Bauble perform Spring Awakening in the SAME WEEK, you can probably imagine my fangirl frenzy. What I didn’t imagine was that, through these events, I’d be confronted with what I perceive to be some huge problems here at Georgetown.

But let’s start with the fun stuff. Spring Awakening is The Best Musical Ever. At least, it was to me when I first saw the original touring cast pass through my hometown at the tender age of 18. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Tony-winning musical spoke to me in a way no musical ever had before – and that’s because it got it. Based on a controversial (read: banned in Germany at the time) play written by Frank Wedekind in 1891, Spring Awakening portrayed topics like sexuality, abortion, child abuse and suicide the way no after-school special ever could: realistically, unapologetically, with humor, cursing and nudity and set to the tune of gorgeous folk-rock songs, of course! This angsty, musical-loving teen girl couldn’t get enough. I went to opening night without expectations – and returned to watch the show again the very next day. Yep, the guy at the box office recognized me and looked at me weirdly. But little did he know just how loudly the play had struck a chord within me.

After all, I was going through an “awakening” of my own. I could totally relate to Wendla’s confusion, guilt and shame about exploring her sexuality in the face of a religious upbringing – especially as I too was melting into a puddle at the sight of my very own atheistic Melchior Gabor. I understood the pain of not knowing: my mother, despite being the most awesome woman I know (and the first person to see Spring Awakening with me!), did not broach the topic of sex with me until I asked. And so I knew the pain of asking, rooted in my fear of disappointing my parents. This play marked the start of my ongoing journey to cast off that guilt and shame and start making decisions that were right for myself .

It may sound corny, but I feel like I didn’t find Spring Awakening – it found me. At the right place, at the right time.

Naturally, I was curious to revisit the play, four years later. Would it be as good as my first time? I was even more curious to find out: How were we getting away with this at Georgetown? If the play’s subject matter wasn’t enough to convince you of the oddity of performing it at a Catholic school, take this line from “All That’s Known”: Thought is suspect / And money is their idol / And nothing is okay unless it’s scripted in their Bible.

As my friend Morgan so eloquently explained, discussing many of the themes presented in Spring Awakening in a public, institutionalized setting at Georgetown is a considered a no-no, given its Catholic heritage. But it soon became clear at the Feministing event that students crave school-sanctioned safe spaces to talk about “taboo” topics like pre-marital sex, contraception access and abortion. The urgency of the hands raised and voices presented during the Q&A was telling. Our conversation jumped from sexual assault, to reproductive health, to contraception access, to free speech zones, to the policy against talking about abortion on our university radio station, to the lack of collaboration between feminist and POC communities at Georgetown…and this was not led by the Feministing editors, but by students, who clearly had opinions to share but seemingly had no place to say them. It’s one thing to write blog posts and speak about these issues among friends – but it’s another to feel like we’re really being listened to.

Spring Awakening managed to find me once again, at the right place, at the right time – but not the way I expected. I kept flashing back to moments from the Feministing conversation as I watched the play, especially as I watched Mask and Baublers jumping around jubilantly and freely while belting out the lyrics to “Totally Fucked”. How could Georgetown put on a play like this – whose ultimate message is to warn of the dangers of silencing and shaming young people – and simultaneously alienate so many of its students? As a school, are we only okay with addressing these themes in fiction, but not in reality? Why do we, as students, accept this? I thought I would watch Spring Awakening again and marvel at how much I’ve grown since I first saw it. But it many ways, I still feel like the teenage girl afraid to disappoint her parents – or in this case, afraid to disappoint Georgetown, which I love, but is certainly not without its flaws.

So now I’m speaking out. Following the Feministing event, I felt energized and empowered to voice my views. I suspect after watching Spring Awakening, others may feel the same. Like the play’s ending, in spite of the darkness I remain hopeful – hopeful that these conversations will continue beyond my graduation five weeks from now and turn into actions that create the safe spaces students need. I’m hopeful we will be heard.

It Keeps Coming Up Anyhow…

27 Mar

By Hoya Saxxa 

Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd

It keeps coming up anyhow

Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic

Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it

“Let’s Talk About Sex” by Salt-N-Pepa

Let’s talk about sex, baby!

Sex is one of my favorite things to talk about. I can go on and on about it, and as any one of my close friends could attest to, I often do (especially when a bottle of wine is involved).

But for many people, talking about sex is hard to do. At least, it can be difficult to talk about sex openly and honestly. So often, we’re told not to talk about sex, because it’s inappropriate, impolite or TMI. And when talking about sex is shamed and stigmatized, it can lead us to harbor unhealthy and unrealistic attitudes about sex.

These kinds of attitudes are sometimes referred to as “sex negativity.” It isn’t hard to find. For me, sex negativity meant growing up in a Catholic household where talking about sex was a no-no and I never got the birds and the bees talk! I was lucky enough to receive comprehensive sexuality education in school since 6th grade, but I also went to Sunday school, where the only mention of sex was not to have it until marriage. But sex negativity isn’t always religiously motivated. It can also include shaming people for never having sex, waiting for marriage, or abstaining from sex, for whatever reason. Of course, it’s also shaming people for having sex (i.e. slut-shaming) or having certain kinds of sex (i.e. “taboo” sex, like group sex or BDSM). Sex negativity is what causes people to hide their sexuality – sometimes with devastating consequences. Every time we hear of an LGBTQ kid taking their life because they were bullied or pushed into the closet is one too many.

Sex negativity is a deep and pervasive problem in our society that manifests in different ways. While there’s no singular answer to these problems, I think talking openly about sex is a start to solving them. And you shouldn’t need a bottle of wine to do that.

So how do we start having better conversations about sex?

Open and honest communication about sex is a major component of the sex positivity movement, which the unstoppable Kat Kelley wrote about recently. I think sex positivity is an attitude that we should all adapt in our own lives in order to create a happier and healthier society. For me, learning about sex positivity changed my outlook on sex and definitely improved my sex life – and I believe it can change yours as well.

What does sex positivity mean? People often think that being sex positive means you love sex or think that sex is objectively “good.” But the definition of sex positivity is more complex than that. The best explanation I’ve come across is by a sex educator named Charlie Glickman. To him, sex positivity does not mean “sex is a positive thing.” Instead, sex positivity is about “working towards a more positive relationship with sex.”

Sex positivity puts forth a philosophy that challenges our harmful attitudes about sex. First, it advocates for the acceptance and respect of different sexualities. Second, it encourages open and honest communication of sex.

Sex positivity challenges the assumption that sex should look or feel a certain way. We are told so often what sex should look or feel like all the time – from our families, friends, peers, school, TV, movies, magazines, porn…the list goes on. When we don’t fit these standards, we feel like we’re not normal, we’re doing it wrong, or we feel like we should be ashamed for our desires. When others don’t fit these standards, it becomes too easy to shame them as well. But none of us wants to be judged or feel ashamed about expressing ourselves. Sex positivity challenges these standards of sex by advocating acceptance of different gender identities, sexual orientations, and desires, as long as they’re safe and consensual. Whether you’re straight or queer, monogamous or promiscuous, celibate, sexually active, asexual, disabled or able-bodied, elderly or young, vanilla or kinky – again, the list goes on – sex positivity means accepting and respecting these expressions of sexuality equally. By doing so, we reduce our insecurities around being “normal” when it comes to sex.

Furthermore, there really is no such thing as “normal”. Sex positivity can open up a world of possibilities when it comes to sexual expression. In one of my favorite sex-ed videos ever, sex educator Karen B.K. Chan describes having sex as a lifetime of musical “jam sessions,” where each person brings their own “instruments,” skills, and experiences to sex. Each sexual experience is different and open-ended. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes we just need practice – what’s important is that it’s consensual and collaborative, more about pleasure during the process and less about the outcome.

Speaking of consent and collaboration, sex positivity also advocates for open and honest communication around sex. Feeling shame when talking about sex is a learned behavior, which means we can find new ways to talk about sex. We should be able to speak about sex with our peers, friends, and parents. This doesn’t mean you have to share every single experience or talk about sex at every opportunity – but if you feel there is an occasion to talk about sex, you should be able to do so openly and authentically.

Of course, we should always be able to communicate with our partners by expressing our desires, expressing consent and discussing our personal boundaries. Glickman analogizes open communication to ordering food at a restaurant. You wouldn’t ask for everything on the menu or simply let the waiter decide. You’d say, “This is what I want for dinner tonight.” (Or breakfast!)

 

I believe embracing sex positivity is something anyone can do, regardless of sexual preferences, whether or not you’re having sex, your religion or your upbringing. It’s ultimately about respecting choices and accepting others’ decisions and desires – as well as your own.

The conversation doesn’t stop here. I encourage you to do your own research on sex positivity (The CSPH is a great resource!), ask questions and figure out how to apply this attitude to your own life. If we do this, I believe we’ll all have healthier and happier sex lives – and start building a healthier and happier society.

So let’s talk about sex…

(Note: I don’t use in my real name in this piece not because I’m ashamed to be attached to it, but because I’m employed by the University and my boss respectfully asked me not to, given the nature of our work. But if you have any questions or want to chat, contact Feminists-At-Large!)

Womenstruation

4 Mar

by Kat Kelley

So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?

Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event:

Men would brag about how long and how much.

Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.

To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps […]

Statistical surveys would show that men did better in sports and won more Olympic medals during their periods.

Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“men-struation”) as proof that only men could serve God and country in combat (“You have to give blood to take blood”), occupy high political office (“Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priests, ministers, God Himself (“He gave this blood for our sins”), or rabbis (“Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean”).

Gloria Steinem “If Men Could Menstruate

After a full day of language instruction, and with merely a scarf to protect me from the sun reflecting off the marble of the Grand Mosque, I found myself struggling to commit the ritual washing ceremony to memory. The sheikh washed his hands, mouth, nose, face, right and then left forearm, head, ears, right and then left leg, three times through. This is a ritual he performs five times daily, and which Muslims are expected to perform before praying in the mosque. He rattled on about the formalities, mentioning that despite the thorough procedure, it is not always a sufficient cleanse. Women are prohibited from entering the mosque while menstruating. Additionally, they are prohibited from praying, touching or reciting a verse from the Qur’an, or performing the Hajj while menstruating. As my eyebrows arched, I realized that this was not a Muslim phenomenon, even as a young American I had encountered the menstrual taboo.

Our language is rife with euphemisms for menstruation, and the only time pop-culture addresses menstruation is in regards to PMS. Desperate requests for tampon are always asked in a whisper and I staunchly avoid intercourse while on my period- yet never feel comfortable articulating my reasoning.

I remember sitting in my high school’s cafeteria, during the 2008 Democratic primaries and hearing “I’d never vote for Hilary Clinton, I don’t want someone in office who is PMSing every fourth week.” I laughed it off, but I couldn’t shake the lingering frustration. It was as though we were reduced to beasts. Out of control and unreliable, for a fifth of our reproductive lives. We’ve been taught that periods themselves are shameful, as tends to happen with women’s bodies and biology (I mean, prior to the Affordable Care Act, Viagra received more insurance coverage than the Pill). In a recent study by Kotex, 56% of girls agree with the statement “talking about period care is looked down upon by society.” The stigma causes more than embarrassment and discomfort. The consequent silence causes misinformation, and in many cultures restricts girls’ access to education.

In some nations, such as Nepal women are isolated during their menstruation, expected to live in huts or cowsheds. Where affordable sanitary products and clean, gender-specific facilities are unavailable, girls often stay home from school while menstruating- drop out and absenteeism rates are high for girls in countries with strong menstrual taboos. There is growing evidence that the provision of appropriate facilities and sanitary supplies for girls not only decreases absenteeism for female students, but also contributes to “improved ability to concentrate in school, higher confidence levels, and increased participation in a range of everyday activities while menstruating” (1).

For many young American girls, there is a need for basic sexual health education. For young girls in many developing nations, basic sanitation facilities, or incinerators for disposal, go a long way towards advancing girls’ education. A stigma, especially one as entrenched and ancient as the menstrual taboo, will not be changed overnight. As the power of a stigma thrives on silence, discourse and education are essential to breaking down societal menophobia.

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(1) University of Oxford: “New study shows sanitary protection for girls in developing countries may provide a route to raising their educational standards

Hook Up Culture

9 Feb

by Anonymous

In a September 2012 Atlantic article, Hanna Rosin argues that hookup culture on college campuses has historically been viewed as “socially corrosive and ultimately toxic to women.”  However, after interviewing women at a prestigious business school, she comes to conclude that hookup culture is actually an “engine of female progress – one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.”

For some reason, this article intrigued me. In the past six months, I’ve had seven hookups (defined as making out).   After six of them, I felt exactly how the article suggested I should feel – empowered and liberated.  I felt like I should feel guilty and maybe reel it in a bit, but, hey, I was having fun!  Not only was I having fun while it was happening, but I felt GREAT about myself afterwards.  I found myself dancing around alone in my room to the Pussy Cat Dolls and investing in sexy lingerie that made me feel coquettish.  I found that I began to genuinely believe that I was desirable and adopt a “his loss” attitude when my come-on smirk didn’t have quite the effect I desired.  The guys I chose were attractive and ambitious, and I have since become good friends with all but two.  My hookups helped to develop my confidence, which in turn opened me up to even more hookup opportunities.

This seemed like a golden scenario.  The Atlantic was totally right!  I got to alleviate sexual frustration, develop sincere relationships without the baggage, and do whatever the hell I wanted with my time, without anyone holding me back.   Then there was the seventh guy – we’ll call him Jake.  He has been one of my good friends for years.  I should have been honest with myself that he was never going to be just another hook up, as I had been in love with him in the past.  But I was drunk off of Captain Jack and the intoxicating power that my sexuality brought me.  For the first time in years, I felt like I was in control – that it was Jake who wanted ME. This is why I liked hooking up – it put me in a place of power.  A place where vulnerability and sacrifice don’t – and shouldn’t – come into the equation.

I went home with him around 12:30 am.  Around 2:30 am, he walked me home because I would not have sex with him.  I woke up the next morning on top of the world.  Not only had he so desperately wanted me, but I had also denied him something that he wanted – sex – turning the tables on him denying me what I had wanted from him for years – love.  Yes, the power dynamics had definitely shifted in my favor.  I had it all – stellar grades, a high-paying/powered job, amazing friends, and any guy – even JAKE – in the palm of my hand.

I had lunch scheduled with three of my best friends the next afternoon.   I met them and rambled on, quasi-delusional, about how lucky we were to be young, educated, rich, and beautiful (PS – I am definitely not all of these things).  At one point, one of them whipped out her phone, and flippantly said, “OMG – you will not BELIEVE these texts Jake was sending me last night.”  My other friend, who had seen me leave with him, grabbed it and started reading out incredibly crude texts (along the lines of “Come over. Get naked.  She pussed out.”)  The texts were dated 2:47 am.

I felt like someone was forcing my head underwater.  “Stop it,” I begged.  In that moment, I sure as hell didn’t feel smart or sexy or empowered.  I felt so, so stupid and used and weak.  And I HATED him for flipping the power dynamics again in his favor – a million times over.  When I called him out on booty calling one of my best friends after dropping me off, he gave a pathetic “I’m sorry” text message reply.  When I expressed my anger to my friends, several replied with a “Oh, that’s Jake,” or referenced that we weren’t actually in a relationship.

So what did this teach me about hookup culture and its influence on women?  Hookups can be incredibly fulfilling and empowering and are not inherently shameful.  However, they must be rooted in mutual expectations and understandings.  And they don’t give men (or women) the license to be knowingly hurtful.  Respect should be integral in every relationship, and the absence of commitment or exclusivity does not give anyone license to act like a grade-A prick.