Books I read January – February 2015

I’m well on track for my book goal this year! Here is what I’ve read so far this year. What are you reading?

  1. The Invention of Wings
  2. Ready Player One
  3. Revival
  4. Against Football
  5. What is Marriage For?
  6. Skim
  7. The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50
  8. White Noise
  9. All The Bright Places
  10. Redefining Realness
  11. The Promise of a Pencil
  12. Dark Places
  13. Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights
  14. Persepolis
  15. The Great God Pan

Vulvodinosaur: The Saddest Vulva

do you know anything about vulvodynia?

Yes, and no.

But first!

Vulva: The exterior genitalia of a female bodied person. Often times we describe the female sexual anatomy as “the vagina.” This is inaccurate. The vulva is what you can see on the outside. The vagina is the part on the inside. The labia, the clitoris… the mons pubis, or as I like to call it, Vagina Mountain. These are parts of the vulva.

Vulvodynia: A chronic pain syndrome that affects this area. Ouch.

One thing that is consistently annoying about vaginal/vulvar issues is that they are mostly a mystery. There is still a lot we don’t know about female sexual anatomy, including why it might hurt sometimes, for some people. I remember something a professor said once in a sexualities class I took. To paraphrase: We’ve studied why one testicle might hang lower than the other testicle but we still have no idea what the g-spot is. (Studies continue to debate the g-spot, along with female ejaculation.)

Vulvodynia is fairly rare, but not necessarily uncommon. Wikipedia estimates as high as 16% of vulvas are cursed with vulvodynia.

Confounds would be:

  • the term is relatively new, so people may not use this term
  • their pain may be in passing or due to known causes
  • they may expect pain is normal and shrug it off as a symptom of having sex.

It might feel like a burning sensation and may only act up when pressure is applied to the area. One might experience it during, or after sex, or simply by stimulating the area manually or by riding a bike.

Those who experience vulvar pain will go through a process of elimination to make sure the vulvar pain cannot be explained by anything else that is already known about the vulva.

In effect, vulvodynia appears to be more of a “you have vulvar pain and we don’t know why. sorry.” diagnoses.

They may try a variety of treatments, including general care (hygiene, cotton underwear, gentle touches) and counseling to care for the potential mental causes (and later effects.)

If you have pain in your vulva it is important to see a medical healthcare professional. Do not continue to have sex if you are in pain. It’s important to keep notes on what the symptoms are and when they occur. These things might help diagnose the problem.

Do you have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice at the top and I’ll answer it on my blog.

How Precious is Reality?

In my last post about Kate Bornstein I mentioned briefly the idea that grasping is suffering. This idea came about when Kate was asked about a woman who has offered unkind ideas about transgender people. What would you say to someone who believed unkind things about you? Kate said something to the effect of she wishes she is at peace. Then she went into this idea of grasping is suffering.*

In this case, this women was grasping at an idea of being a woman. I have been thinking a lot about gender as reality and how we grasp to hold on to what we know about gender. The harder you grasp, the more you suffer.

Let’s say you have a very firm understanding of what being a woman is. A woman looks a certain way, a woman behaves a certain way. We are in a place in time where those ideals are being questioned. Daily. In every single way. Now a woman can have a penis and be a CEO. Now a woman can choose not to have children. Many people hold on to ideas of what a woman is because that is the very fabric of their reality. Trying to hold on to that idea as it slips from their fingers causes this suffering. The suffering is then released in the form of anger.

Is this true in other ways? As I thought about it, I compared it to love and sex. The harder we grasp on to love the more we suffer. If our ideas of what a relationship are supposed to be are cemented, we will be disappointed over and over again as we realize our relationships are flexible or fluid over time. If we believe sex is supposed to look a certain way and grasp for that, we may suffer as we learn that satisfaction may come in waves.

I have always believed that the most angry people, the meanest people, are the ones that are suffering the most. This idea of grasping helps me put these ideas into perspective.

What makes someone cruel? The suffering that they have inside of themselves but cannot see.

*Apparently this is a buddhist idea. I would love to read more about it if anyone has any resources.

Struggling to Find Companionship

I don’t understand why I can’t find a companion. It’s been years. The women who like me don’t appeal to me. The women I’m interested in don’t show any interest in me.

I cannot offer you any advice that you probably haven’t heard already, so I will reiterate the three points that spring to mind when these questions come up. Though they are obvious, I think they are important.

1. Truly loving yourself makes a big difference in finding a relationship that sticks. It is very easy to differentiate between a person who is happy with themselves and a person who feels incomplete without someone else.

2. Non-verbal communication is important and should not be discredited simply because it is often vein. Knowing how to dress and style yourself is important. Having good hygiene is important. Knowing how to hold yourself is important. Posture. Body language. All. Important.

3. Having hobbies and things you enjoy that make you a well rounded person is important. Getting out there and joining a team sport, a gaming league, a book club, going to regular meetups in your city. Doing things that you like to do them because they are fun. Never stop improving yourself. Loving yourself and improving yourself go hand in hand.

As my own point of experience I will say this. When I was dating on OkCupid, I found you could immediately distinguish between men who were out there enjoying themselves and looking to meet new people to connect with and men who were dating because they desperately wanted to find someone to connect with. Shifting your mentality about dating from “this is a huge waste of time I just need to find that one person” to “I’m going to go have fun and hopefully meet someone I can have a great night with” can make a difference of epic proportions. This does not mean you should change your mentality from one of wanting to serious date to date casually. However, letting some of the stress/pressure/disappointment drip off can influence your non-verbal communication.

Lastly: There is a lot I could say about the girls I like don’t like me point. Without knowing more about you and the girls, I feel like it’s impossible to speculate why this might be. So I offer two lasts points of pondering.

• Why do you think it is that you don’t like the girls that like you?

• Why do you feel it is that the girls you like don’t like you?

You pose both of these questions in your question but I am curious to hear how you would respond to them. How you respond to those questions could point you towards an answer. I feel that most people are pretty intuitive about these things but often times we simply don’t like the answers.

I wish that I could help more. If there is more you have to share I’d be happy to talk more about it because I think a lot of men and women struggle in finding dates that are of a mutual attraction.

Talking Dirty 101: Why, When, How?

Dirty talk can be a foundational part of sex for some people. But why? What exactly does talking dirty contribute to sex? Why would someone want to talk dirty? And how can one prevent it from sounding so damn awkward?

Dirty talk can set the mood and boost arousal

Mental arousal can be a big deal for some people. The more you set the environment, the more they’re going to feel physically aroused. Dirty talk can easily be considered environment. If your partner is completely silent, that sets a much different tone than if your partner is whispering something kinky in your ear.

What is dirty talk?

Dirty talk can be sweet, it can be sexy, it can be kinky or filled with fetish. My favorite description of dirty talk comes from Dan Savage, I believe. Dirty talk is what you want to do, what you’re doing, and what you just did. Generally speaking, people tend to avoid using anatomical language like ‘vagina’ and sex it up a bit with words like dick, and pussy. Language like this is not necessary for dirty talk, though.

For example:

What you want to do – I want you to be inside me / I want to be inside you.

What you’re going to do – I’m going to move very slowly so you don’t come.

What you just did – Do you want me to lick you again? / Do you like it when I spank you?

You can also try:

- Pet names or use of actual names

I love you ____

Baby you’re so ____

- Requests for what you want to do

Will you flip me over so we can ____ .

Keep doing _____ that feels really good.

Focusing on things that are actually happening allows the dirty talk to flow more naturally. This is super important because it prevents the dirty talk from feeling forced, or fake.

How do I ask my partner to dirty talk to me?

Try to avoid asking your partner to talk dirty to you while you are already having sex. This can provoke an opposite reaction to the one you intended. It takes your partner out of the mood and forces them to think of something to say, which might not be a natural thing for them to do. This can decrease arousal and make your partner feel pressured or awkward.

Instead, talk to your partner about dirty talk when you are in a comfortable and intimate space. Maybe while you are in bed together or at the end of the evening when you’re both relaxed. Express an interest in being more vocal when you are having sex.   If the what you just did, what you’re going to do, and what you want to do doesn’t work, there are other things to try.

Dirty talk can be instructional

As mentioned above, you can throw in requests for what you’d like to do as dirty talk. In fact, most requests during sex should in some way contribute to the overall sexiness of the sex. This excludes asking your partner to stop or other safe words that are implemented prior to having sex.

However, things like:

– You want your partner to go down on you

– You want your partner to shift in your current position

– You want to change positions entirely

– You want your partner to kiss you somewhere

– You want your partner to touch you somewhere

– You want your partner to be rougher or more gentle

These things can all be communicated in ways that end up directing your partner and boosting the arousal. Learning how to communicate in this way can allow you to have more pleasurable sex with your partner. It can allow you to be consistently on the same page with one another.

Dirty talk might be time dependent

Have you ever tried watching porn just after or just before being aroused? If you’re not turned-on, things that are slightly kinky can run the opposite effect and actually turn you off. If you just had an orgasm and the last thing you’re thinking about is sex, it can be hard to hear your partner talk dirty to you.

For others, hearing someone talk dirty can turn them on. It is important to learn how your partner feels about these things. If you’re unsure, just ask them.

Not everyone is interested in dirty talk

Dirty talk flies on a spectrum. Anywhere from I love you baby to suck my dick you dirty cum slut. Some people have a preference to keep things light. Some people like it turned all the way up to 11. Often times, it depends on their mood. Do you always want your sex to be slut-time? Or do sometimes you want to go totally silent, and just go with it? It is important to tell your partner how you feel about dirty talk in general but also to briefly discuss what kind of sex you’re looking to have before you have it. For instance, if you’re looking to have rough sex and be degraded a bit, you may request this from your partner. They may or may not be in the same mood. If you are interested in making love, a softer more gentle sex, you might want to express this at the start.

Whether you enjoy a softer sex-talk or a dirtier sex-talk, how we use our voices during sex can make a big difference in our states of arousal. Learn to control this to the best of your abilities.

Do you have a question about sex or love? Submit at the top by hitting ask advice and I’ll answer it on my blog.

KB Speaks: Epic Ideas about Gender & Sexuality

Today Kate Bornstein came to speak to my Transgender Studies class. Wow. I’m still riding off the high of what she said and how she said it. The reasonable thing to do would be to take a breather and write this post later – when my hands weren’t shaking, perhaps. But instead I’m going to mind vomit it out before I forget all of the wonderful bits and pieces I picked up. To somewhat organize the thoughts, I’ll bold some general highlights so you can hop around.

If you don’t believe in the gender binary, why are we talking about transmen and transwomen?

We spent a lot of time going over this general idea of the gender binary and how it represents itself in transgender studies. If you truly believe that gender is a binary, why is it that we talk about trans men and women as men or women? There seems to be some underlying belief that even if you are trans, you are still either a man, or a woman. To break down the binary even further one has to recognize that not everyone is or wants to be a man or a woman. Some identify as both, or neither, or somewhere in-between. Not everyone gets surgery. Not everyone looks a certain way. It’s not so simple.

The Right Wing has pushed the Left Wing to cut itself into pieces. 

In my own studies I do see this a lot – where political movements will distance themselves from certain groups of people in order to make more progress. “We aren’t with them (kinksters/trans people/whoever) we’re just looking for our (whoever that is) rights.” Distancing all of these groups of people fractures the movement. everyone deserves rights. 

What does marriage equality really mean?

On a similar note, the marriage equality movement has focused on a certain type of gay couple. It ignores the fact that marriage is still a very broken institution – one that does not benefit everyone. If you are very poor, for instance, it may not benefit you and your partner to get married. Marriage equality also does not benefit people who are in polyamorous relationships – living in triads and so on. Which brings me to the next point.

What movement is coming next? If trans is the next movement, what comes after trans?

One person said gender fluidity. There was some murmuring that gender fluidity would be too scary for people because it wouldn’t allow for categorization. Kate believed that polyamory would be next up on the list. Rights and recognition for people who are polyamorous. I feel that this will take a while but I have noticed it’s become a part of the dominant conversation. The next question then is: what would polynormativity look like? (Hint: You can already see polynormativity taking places in certain news articles about poly families.)

Try shit that isn’t safe

Have safer sex – and choose partners you trust, but don’t be safe. So much of what you learn in sex and love is a result of jumping. Making mistakes. Learning from them. Making decisions based on what you might get to experience. Though there are things I have done in the past I know I wouldn’t do again in the future I look back on those stories with some (usually bittersweet) fondness because I pushed myself into new and at times uncomfortable places where I became stronger – and more myself.

Break down Queer or Restricted Spaces

This ideas is fairly radical and I really connected with it. There is the idea that queer spaces are being taken over by cis or heterosexual people. In Portland, one example is a popular queer/gay club. I have been there a few times both with lady friends and on lady dates. It is a fun, safe space to go, that feels very inclusive. I had been told that it felt like it was being overrun by people who felt like allies. People who were not necessarily gay identified but liked to use the space. Some felt that this wasn’t fair – that their space was being taken over.

This is how it was presented: we need to open up these spaces. Breaking them down presents a problem because we cannot truly know who does or doesn’t belong in those spaces. How can you tell someone is straight? or bi? or trans? or cis? How can you tell they are poly or monogamous? How can you tell someone doesn’t belong in a space by how they look? As long as they are being respectful – aren’t they a part of the group in one way or another?

Pushing boundaries on LGBTQIABCDEFGHIJK…

The idea is that there are never enough letters to sum up all the identities. Kate noted hundreds and hundreds of unique ways to identify oneself. Should someone who identifies as heteroflexible be allowed into a queer space? Why not? What about someone who identifies as gay for a while and then asexual a few years later? Do they lose their membership, so to speak? If gender isn’t a binary – and sexuality is fluid – don’t we all have a place in the alphabet soup? This isn’t to say that there can’t be some experiences shared simply between people who identify in a very specific way – but then we start to see problems. All woman schools is a very basic example of this. What does woman mean? Who decides who belongs and who doesn’t?

Is anyone really cis? Straight? Are allies discovering themselves?

I love this idea that allies are exploring themselves. That allies are there – supporting the cause – because there is something in themselves that they haven’t quite figured out yet. Whether they simply don’t feel 100% heterosexual or they are somehow related to the cause in another way, the idea of being cis or straight is broken. What does being cis mean? How can someone be cis? How can someone be 100% trans? Where are the rules – and how many of us are breaking them?

No one really passes, and passing isn’t just a trans issue

Passing is a gender issue, not just a trans issue, and no matter how you identify we all fit into this gender binary. If you identify as cis (female born, female identified – for instance) you can still be misrepresented as a male if you dress or behave a certain way. We are all a part of this system of male/female and how we pass or don’t pass is directly linked to how we are treated, no matter our gender identity. (Not to belittle the direct struggles that people who are trans so have, that people who are cis often do not see.) Instead, think of covering. We are all covering up parts of ourselves, or dressing them up. Our age, race, gender, class. How we portray ourselves and how we are read is a deep issue of non-verbal communication. Though trans people are targeted more directly for their appearance, we can all relate to this issue of passing and gender.

Use the language that you are most comfortable with

Do it. Kate uses the word ‘tranny’ and she clearly and beautifully articulates why. The history. Where it came from. Why it makes sense. And why she owns it. You have to use the language you are most comfortable with as long as you do not use that language for someone else.

Acknowledge language that is placed in time 

Some language is placed in time. Words like dyke, queer, tranny, they might have different meaning based on the time period you are using them, and the place you are using them. Different parts of the country still shudder at the word Queer – where in Portland it is a common word used to describe a type of identity or orientation. If you are talking about people in the 80s you may use language that suits that era while acknowledging that you would not use that same language if you were talking about current issues. Language has certain places in time and language changes fast, especially with respect to sexuality and gender.

Black men and Trans Women of Color are connected 

There was a brief discussion of how black mens lives are seen as worth-less. If black men are worth-less, black men who “are being women” are seen as worth even less because they are degrading themselves. This mentality – broken and horrible – was pondered by the class. How do the recent killings of black men and black trans women tie together and how can these people come together to fight together?

Jotted lines:

For further exploration, I am going to write larger posts about these ideas.

  • Suffering is grasping: Not letting go. Holding on to something and not knowing why. 
  • There are ways to untrigger once we have been triggered. How can one learn to take back the power that words have. 
  • How does gender identity tie into BDSM? Thoughts of men as dom and women as sum and how that makes us feel as we perform these roles. 

My. God. Okay. I am sure I did not articulate all of these huge and challenging ideas as well as I could have but I expanded on my scribbled notes as best as possible given my wondered-state. I would love to hear any questions or thoughts that you have. These are not all ideas I have necessarily pondered over (in the last thirty minutes, hello.) nor necessarily all ideas I agree with or would share. But they all pressed into me and influenced me in some way and I felt it necessary to share them with you.

Weekly Updates: Life, Love, and all things Graduation

I haven’t done a weekly update for over a month(!!) so I’ll backtrack a little bit and start at Valentine’s Day.

Jason crafted me a coupon for a new bookcase at Ikea, something I have been desperately in need of. I had run out of room on my main shelf and there was a bookshelf sized gap in the corner of the bedroom. Ta da, a day at Ikea ahead.

We decided to go eat dinner at Ken’s Artisan Pizza in Portland. It is quite good pizza if you’re looking for a pizza experience. We ordered a caesar salad to share, a bottle of wine to share, and two pizzas, which we devoured in expert time.

There was also some porn, so we really hit the trifecta. Ikea. Pizza. Porn. Did I mention doughnuts? There were doughnuts too.

We also got the chance to go wine tasting with a friend of ours. We hit up Argyle for my favorite champagne, and then meandered to Stoller and Dobbes. The weather was just the tip of the sun Oregon has been experiencing lately, so we got some pretty excellent views.

This last week I applied for graduation and signed up for my final college courses. I’ve said this before, oh. But this time it’s going to stick. I’ve knocked on all the wood I’ve seen for the past month.

  • Senior Seminar
  • Internship (cont.)
  • The Sex Industry
  • Gender & Body Image

I’m not sure if it’s something about Spring Term or the specific classes I chose, but my last term is going to be almost entirely online. That works for me. As I’ve mentioned to a few other people in the past few weeks, I haven’t met a single person at college. I’ve met hundreds of people since I’ve moved to Portland but not a single one of those friends has been gained and maintained through my actual classes. It is a bizarre sort of environment over there, and I can’t say I will be particularly sad to leave it.

Hope you all are well. Check in, whats up, whats new? Shoot me a comment here or follow me on twitter @suggestive.