Friday, December 23, 2011

Cosmocking: January '12!

[I'm heading out of town on Christmas business for a few days.  I hope all the Pervocrats have a merry and, if applicable, sexy holiday season!]

White cover!  Scarlett Johansson!  She's a redhead now so I guess that's exciting if that's the sort of thing that excites you!  "Sexiest. Body. Ever."!  I wonder if the person who write that headline even knew it was a Simpsons reference!  "Your Other G-Spot!" Spoiler: They just mean nipples!  Cosmo is bringing you the breaking new discovery that nipples exist!

I know I complain about this with every issue but I really want to teach the Cosmo cover artists a remedial lesson on How Necks Work!  (Lesson 1: You cannot point your head in a different direction than your neck!)
Q: I have a crush on a taken guy. Should I make a move?
A: It depends--you don't want to lower yourself to home-wrecker status over a rando crush. But if you're convinced he could be the love of your life, tell him "I would never want to break up a great couple, but if things don't work out, let me know."
One of the problems with Cosmo not knowing the difference between "she's a bad girl, she has dirty sex" and "she's a bad girl, she does unethical things" is that when they start trying to encourage bad-girledness, they still don't know the difference.

Also, "rando"?  Really?  "Rando"? I changed my mind; it's totally okay to be a homewrecker if The Amazing Rando is at stake.
If he's stressed... Stroke his earlobe between your thumb and index finger.
Sure, why not.

Because it's not just bizarre, it also avoids the much thornier topic of how to really help someone who's under stress while still respecting your own needs and boundaries?  Actually, that's a pretty good reason why not.

Sometimes my real problem with Cosmo isn't what it is (sometimes sexist, sometimes harmlessly ridiculous) but what it isn't.  They touch on stuff that could be important, could be a real issue and a chance to learn something real, and then leave their readers with nothing but pop-psych nonsense and gender stereotypes.  I know people don't read Cosmo for in-depth life advice (oh God, I hope not), but at the same time it makes me sad to see a magazine with a circulation over 3 million standing as a grandiose monument to missed possibilites.
If you really want a first date to turn into something more, there's an easy way to avoid any confusion: go home alone.
Right, because in Backwards Land, not showing sexual interest in someone is how you say you want a sexual relationship with them. Also in Backwards Land: the apples taste just like sardines. I know you think I was going to say "oranges," but nope, turns out the opposite of apple is sardine. The opposite of orange is brake fluid. Don't eat the oranges there.

I sort of intellectually know that this is, like, a signal that you're not just in this for sex or whatever.  But in Forwards Land, I like to say "I'm not just in this for sex" before and after the sex and that's actually worked pretty well for me.  If he doesn't trust me, or he is just in this for sex? Well, shit, that sucks, but at least I got laid.
Hand him your vibrator, and tell him to use it on himself while you watch.
[icons below indicate:] Freaky!  He never wants to try it!
That's sad.  Not just because every issue of Cosmo asks women to masturbate for men.  But also because Cosmo is encouraging women to not even ask about doing things the other way around, and that's a damn shame.

If you don't even ask you won't have even a chance of getting to do something completely awesome, something that lets you see his body and his pleasure in a way you never did before.  You won't even open the door to watching his muscles tighten and his face contort and then feeling his reaction as you take him in your hands and finish the job yourself.

I'm just saying.  It's worth asking.
Before you start 69, lube up your fingers. When you get started, reach up and alternate running your slippery digits over his perineum and the area around his anus.
[icons below indicate: Totally kinky! He never wants to try it!
That's mighty specific for something not to do. Is there some briar-patch shit going on here?
Spice up missionary by rubbing your lacy undies over [your nipples].
Oh Cosmo.

Someone, somewhere, is super-seriously planning to rub her underpants on her nipples during sex.  She's picking the pair out and finding a good spot to pre-stash them for easy access and everything. Godspeed to you, underpants-nipple-woman, wherever you are.
"I dated this guy who tasted really funky down there, but I didn't want to confront him about it.  So I told him I was going to suck on a strong mint while going downtown to give him a tingly sensation... which he loved."
I think that tingly sensation is my lunch on its way back up.

You know how when there's an awful smell and you spray air freshener it doesn't really help, it just smells like Country Garden and awful smell?  That's sort of what I picture unwashed-crotch-and-mint being like.
We owe nipples an apology.
Yes, Cosmo, yes you do.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What do you want?

[Finals are over!  WHEEE!  Big serious essay today!  Cosmocking next!]

I talk a lot on this blog about how sex should be dictated by what the partners want and the most important thing is to communicate and respect everyone's desires.  And I totally stand by that, but I also know that it's not always that simple.  It's not something I do flawlessly in my own life, that's for damn sure.

Because I am not always sure what my desires are.  My sexuality sometimes seems frustratingly opaque to myself.  I want something, I don't just want to kiss my boyfriend good night and go to sleep, but what on Earth is that something?  Why don't I know what I want?

I have been taught not to credit my own desires.  In part that's personal--one of the most insults I've been subjected to was "you're so selfish, all you want is the things you want!"--and in part it's cultural.  The socialization of young women is all about how to not indulge your desires: don't choose food because it tastes good, don't choose clothing because it's comfortable, don't come on too strong to boys, don't be a needy girlfriend, don't say "no" too stridently or "yes" too enthusiastically.  It's not the charitable or ascetic kind of self-denial, but there's a lot of desire-denial, of doing things correctly instead of the way you want.

(I don't think that young men have it so easy either--it's not the same but it's fucked up in different ways--but I don't have much personal experience with being treated like a young man.  My impression is that guys have more permission to express "acceptable" desires, but there's a pretty narrow range of which desires are acceptable.)

And sometimes when you do break through, when you do the things you want, it's impulsive.  It's not gourmet cooking but a binge on raw cookie dough.  It's not an ethical-slut lifestyle but a furtive tryst with a stranger.  It's not truly escaping repression, it's just acting-out.  It lets you indulge some of your more primal desires, but it doesn't let you lucidly understand them.

But now you're done with that crap.  You're not crowd-following or acting-out any more; you're committed to dealing with sex like an adult.  You read feminist sex blogs.  You have self-respect and you're ready to respect your desires. ...Now what?

Simply saying "that was all bullshit! have the sex you want!" isn't going to cut it.  Maybe intellectually, but not emotionally.  Here I am all prepared to acknowledge and communicate my desires, and my desires are... uh... hm.  I'm so used to putting the "no it's bad and selfish to want things" mental block between my desires and myself that I don't even know what's on the other side.

So here are some questions I've started asking myself.

"What do I fantasize about?"
It took years (okay, the years from 12 to 17, but still, those are years!) for me to go from masturbating while fantasizing about scenarios of sexual submission to realizing that I was into sexual submission.  I know it sounds silly, but I hadn't really made the connection between "thing I like to think about" to "thing I want to do."

"What are my best memories?"
Kevin only held me down and spanked me once, ever, in a yearlong relationship.  It still stands out in my mind as the best sex we ever had.

"What am I fascinated with?"
Another thing I did when I was a teenager: I used to read a lot of blogs and websites about kink, thinking that I was merely curious about this strange world I'd discovered, nothing personal, just something I took a detached academic interest in.  (Hi there, by the way, if you're reading this with detached academic interest.)  I had the same experience with healthcare, interestingly--I was reading medical textbooks "just for fun" before I realized it was a field I would actually enjoy working in.

"What am I stopping myself from saying?"
I've had a lot of conversations with partners that started "I... no, never mind, I shouldn't bother you with this, it's silly."  (Sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud, which is my way of forcing myself to continue the thought because very few boyfriends will go "oh, okay then" to an opener like that.)  They usually turned out to be really really important conversations once I broke through that.

The obvious extension of this is "What do I say when I'm drunk?"  Which is not the safest (emotionally as well as physically) way to get your truths out, but it sometimes works.

"What's the bad, obviously incorrect idea I came up with off the top of my head, the one that's weird and gross so I'm trying to revise it so it doesn't sound ridiculous?"
Pretty much always, that's the truth.

"What would I want?"
Imagine you were in Magical Fairy Land where you could have anything you wanted and a genie would give it to you and there would never be any consequences--what would you want then?  Yeah, that's probably what you want now too.

"Let's try this once and see how it goes."
Sometimes you can't learn without experimentation.  So I can't treat everything like a declaration or a commitment.  Sometimes I have to give myself permission to say (and to make sure my partner knows too), "hey, this might not work out, I might need to stop it halfway through, but I won't know until I try it."  It's almost impossible to be right without having a space in your life where it's okay to be wrong.

I'm not promoting selfishness here.  Knowing what you want doesn't mean always doing what you want; if you want polyamory and your partner is monogamous, or if you want to tie up your partner and they're terrified of that, then your job is not done here.  You still have to negotiate and compromise and possibly sacrifice some of your desires. But you can't even start that process until you know exactly what you're negotiating about, and that requires you to know exactly what your own raw, impractical, selfish desires are.

Me, I want four things real bad right now:
1) To have boy clothes and do boy things and sometimes be a boy in sex, but to still be a woman in the end--a really boyish woman.
2) To focus deliberately on reaching altered states through sex and BDSM, rather than having it just accidentally happen to me.
3) To be a primary to my boyfriend.  Which I am, no question, but it's something I want to keep happening and to feel secure in.
4) To get fisted, like, all the time.  Oh man is that just the awesomest thing.

And even after all this preaching I've been doing, typing those out was hard, and pressing "publish" without deleting them was harder.  This "wanting things" business is a tough skill to learn.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Guest Post: What it's like to go to an STD clinic.

[I'm busy studying for finals. In the meantime, enjoy this guest post by Jack. I think it's important information for people who've learned testing is important but are unsure what to expect when they actually go through the process. -Holly]

A good friend of mine recently had an STD scare. I figured I might as well get a physical/emotional clean slate myself, and more importantly, go through the experience to support my friend, who has been distraught and has a horror of needles that rivals yours.

[Jack once stuck me with a play piercing needle because we were curious if I would like it. My reaction was a calm and level-headed "GET IT OUT GET OUT OH GOD GET IT OUT AUUUUGH." -Holly]

She did the basic research over the internet and phone; two places in Boston, Boston Medical Center and Mass General Hospital, offer free STD clinics. If you work normal day hours like me, expect to take a day off to get in to be tested – the late Wednesday hours are generally packed, they said. You have to give your name, address, and date of birth to book an appointment.

[I edited out some Boston-specific details here; after finals I'll put together a "Boston sexual health resources" page to accompany the kink resources. -Holly]

They take almost every insurance plan. They also do testing free if you have no insurance (and they’re a public health clinic, so they ask if you have insurance but don’t look into it – and don’t much care – if you say you don’t), but only if you are symptom-free. This struck me as kinda odd, and I wasn’t able to ascertain the reason behind it. They test for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV; they'll also test for hepatitis C if you request. They also offer the three-shot hepatitis A and B vaccines for free if you want them. This is a separate appointment from your STD testing.

So you walk in and take the elevator up to the clinic; when you walk up to the desk, the desk workers are rather apathetic. “You’re here for what? Huh? Oh. Fill out the form.” They have you fill out a basic form with name/address/phone number/do you have insurance/how did you hear about us, then call you in when it’s your turn.

You have to go in alone; it’s completely private – they wouldn’t let me go in with my friend, despite her and I asking if I could. The actual person who does the testing is polite, warm, and professional, very matter-of-fact but not cold. They explain that the HIV screening is a rapid reaction test with results in 20 minutes, and that the other results take a week or so to come back from the state lab – they do a pretty good job of calmly, simply walking you through everything, showing you lists of information and such, and answering your questions.

One big catch: If you come back positive for anything, you have to come back in to the clinic within a week of that call for more information and (free) treatment, or they turn your information over to the state, which will track you down as a public health risk. Aside from the threat-to-the-public good aspect, everything is 100% confidential regardless of age/status/etc. – apparently even if they have to track you down with the police it’s a private deal; the police bring you to a state doctor who works with you in private.

[Don't get too scared by this--it's actually pretty extraordinary for the cops to hunt someone down for medical treatment--but do be aware you take this risk if you get tested for anything you're not willing to be treated for. -Holly]

The physical part of the procedure is fairly simple: they do the standard spring-loaded finger prick for the HIV test; they put a very small needle (21 gauge) into your arm and draw two small tubes of blood (the needle’s in your arm for less than two minutes, I never even felt it); then they walk you down to the bathroom and hand you the urine cup (“half full, please”) and wait for you, then take it from you when you walk out. The whole thing is very private, very professional, standard doctor’s-office, alcohol-swab-and-stick routine. Your name is not written on the specimens; you're identified only by a number and barcode.

After that they send you back to the lobby (and give you juice and cookies, if you’re like my friend and look chalky-white and like you’re going to die after the needle stick). Within 20 minutes they call you in and tell you that your HIV test was negative (I’m not sure what they do if you’re positive – Bells and whistles? Herd of lemmings? Dunno), and that that roughly means that you aren’t positive, although if you were infected in the last few weeks it may not show up. The other tests take 48-72 hours; if they don't call you, after a few days you can call the phone number and and hear your results over the phone--but if you test positive, they will call you.

[What actually happens if you test positive for HIV is a lengthy meeting with a counselor to tell you "this does not mean you're dying, you can be healthy for many years after this, but we need to get you started on treatment ASAP and here's how that's going to work." They also retest you with a slower but more accurate method to make sure. -Holly]

They reiterate the we’ll-call-you-if-bad, you’ll-hear-a-few-days-later-if-it’s-good, feel-free-to-call-after-a-few-days-if-you-want-to routine, and then they wish you a good day. Other than the apathetic desk attendants it was professional and friendly friendly, anonymous, non-judgmental, and pretty low-key.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From slutty to horny.

Female horniness is an important, and missing, narrative in our culture.  We have a well-developed idea of female sluttiness, but that's a different thing.

Sluttiness, as popularly perceived, is:
•External. A woman looks slutty, she dresses slutty, she acts slutty.  Whether she feels slutty is not something we generally talk about.
•Indiscriminate.  We seem to draw very little line between "will have sex with multiple people" and "will have sex with anyone and doesn't care if it's an alley cat."
•Mysterious.  Why is a slut slutty?  There are some attempted answers out there--need for attention, trying to get something from men--but most often she just is.  It's a character flaw or something.  Just as a slut's internal experience of sluttiness doesn't get talked up much in the popular narrative, neither does her reason for choosing the slutlife.

Whereas female horniness in the popular imagination is rare.  Admittedly our idea of male horniness is pretty scrambled too, but we have some concept of it as a near-universal male experience.  On the rare occasion a woman is horny in the mainstream culture, usually it's comical or even threatening.

This is getting better over the years.  Slowly.  But it's still not an accepted thing that a woman can just plain want to get her grind on.  (Actually, seeing women as horny isn't new; it's just undoing the work of the Victorians.  In medieval Europe women were often described as lustful and desiring--the ideal of the sexless woman in Western culture is only about 200 years old.)

Here are the things about horniness that seem to make people nervous:
•Horniness is internal.  It's defined entirely in terms of a woman's experience of her own body and feelings.
•Horniness is selective.  I'm horny for some of the men but not all of the men, and that's some sort of radical statement apparently.
•Horniness is humanizing.  Women get horny just like people do!  It's impossible to get all "woman, she is a mystery" on this; if you've ever had that warm tickly feeling in your pants, you know exactly where a horny woman is coming from.
"Nervous" is an understatement.  These are the things about horniness that drive people--male and female--to completely deny that women's sexual desire exists and matters.

I don't want to make this post just about "slutty is bad and horny is good."  The behaviors commonly called "slutty" are not bad or dirty; that was the point of the Slutwalks.  But they're a painfully incomplete portion of female sexuality.  Without understanding that women can not just invite sex but actually want it, we can't make sense of any of the issues surrounding women's sex lives.

The biggest one being: Only when we accept that women can want can we accept it when they don't want.  If sex is only ever something women tolerate, then being forced to tolerate it is not so fundamentally different from tolerating it to sustain a relationship.  This isn't just about rape either.  It's also about women in the condition of tolerating sex and not expecting anything more; women who have learned to disregard their own desires.  Women are taught how to say no, and more recently how to say yes, but we're still not up to saying "I want it."

I feel sort of weird living in a society where it's radical to say that I want my good-to-rub parts rubbed, that I want to choose who does it and how, and I'm not going to apologize for this. But it is. I guess I'm a revolutionary then. Slutwalk is old news; let's have a Hornywalk.

[Programming note: I have finals this week, hence the light posting. I have a guest post about STI testing queued up next and I'll try to get things back on schedule after finals.]