Science of Sex & Mystery Box

This week I went to go see OMSI After Dark’s Science of Sex. OMSI is a science museum in Portland that offers rotating exhibits, and a monthly “21 and over” evening event. It was a lot of fun, with all kinds of exhibits, shows, performances, and things to play around with. (If you’re near Portland, there is a “Guilty Pleasures” event later this year which sounds equally entertaining.)

My favorite part of the evening was getting to hear my first Mystery Box show. This is a local series in Portland that I’ve been meaning to get to for quite some time. Storytellers stand up and speak to the crowd like friends, telling stories about sex and sexuality. It inspired me, as a lot of things have lately, to write about my own experiences. I thought of all of the exciting things that I have experienced in just the past few years and how much fun they would be to share in a storytelling format. (More about this… again, soon!)

It was interesting to see the crowds reaction. Laughter, giggling, gasping, oh my god, wow! Long silences, quiet room. I kept thinking of how many people could relate to her story, and how many people must be learning from her story. Stories connect us, they teach us about one another. They expand our reality.

If you have a chance to go to one of these shows, I’d recommend it, from what little I’ve seen so far. Check out the website for more information.

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Finding Intimate Sex

How can I get gentle intimate sex out of a boyfriend who can’t slow down? Me and my boyfriend have been having sex for about 5 months now and he’s fast and hard, it feels great and I love it, don’t get me wrong.. But I just want slow gentle and intimate love making. I talked to him and he said he can’t go slower if he’s on top but I can be on top and go slow and be intimate. The thing is, I don’t do well on top because I’m a bit of an ametur and he has experience. I don’t know what to do about this. Advice will be very appreciated!

This is a fantastic question, thank you!

One thing that gets really hardwired into men is performance. Sometimes this means that sex is rough, fast, hard, and powerful. This could be combined with the fact that they are horny, want to get off, and think you’re banging. What is important to remember is that all kinds of people like all different kinds of sex. Sometimes that preference changes every time they have sex, depending on their mood! It’s also good to remember that sex can be a whole body experience. Something that takes both body and mind, a connection forming between people. You can achieve this connection through that rough type of sex, but it can be a different and sometimes more gratifying experience to slow down.

It can take serious effort to change behaviors that are hardwired into us like that. Especially if, well, we like what we’re doing! But just because he might really like that rough sex, doesn’t mean he can’t change, and doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy the slower type of intimate sex that you are looking for.

This is especially important for women who might take longer to warm up. Kissing, touching, licking, biting, caressing, dirty-talking, lighting the room with dim light or candles, making the bed, putting on lingerie, and making sex an experience that stimulates all the senses can help. 

When he says he can’t slow down, he’s full of it. Either he doesn’t want to slow down, or he doesn’t know how to. He might have experience, but guess what? He’s not able to give you what you’re looking for, so what good is his experience there? You’re going to need to learn to work together so you can both have the experience you want in bed. That might mean for you that you ask him what types of things he likes that you can incorporate into slower and more intimate sex. For him, it might mean calming down a little bit and learning to listen to your body. Seriously, very important.

Being on top is a great suggestion because it will allow you to pace the sex to your liking. It’s okay to feel a little weird at first. Giving it a shot and practicing is what will make you feel more secure being on top. Try it in a variety of different positions. Sitting up on him, laying down flat, or even sitting up in a chair or on a couch. Sitting up can be great because you can grab onto the back of a couch or chair to help pull yourself up and down. Make a game out of it, maybe. Get on top and and get your man. It sounds like he has consented to giving it to you.

If he really doesn’t know how to go slow and be on top, tell him. And help teach him. There’s always room to learn, no matter how experienced you are. Maybe play a game where you see how slow you can go or how long you can go without orgasming. Maybe get into bed with the intention of not having penetrative sex. At all. The whole night. Try different types of sex like grinding against one another, oral sex, and more of that touching and kissing I mentioned earlier.

Here’s the tricky part: If he doesn’t start working with you, and you two don’t start working together, it’s not going to change. You want to do this as a team. So get working together. If he’s not willing to change, are you willing to give up the kind of sex that you want? (The answer is hopefully no.) Not all people are sexually compatible. Some people really like X type of sex and some people really like Y type of sex. If you can’t give up what you want, and if you’re not willing to change, that can be a big problem for your sexual compatibility.

Sit down and talk to him about it (when you’re not naked and in bed) and see if you can get excited about trying these new things together. Be willing to try on top – but also make sure that he puts in his fair share of the effort too. Good luck.

Have a question about sex or love? Submit to the top by clicking ask advice and ill answer it on my blog.

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The Foundation of Homophobia? Anti-Femininity.

For the first few weeks of my Men and Masculinities course, we’ve been discussing the idea that homophobia is formed due to anti-femininity. Boys learn from a young age that the worst thing that you could be, is a girl. This is reinforced by “burning” boys away from girly things. Dolls, nail polish and makeup, the color pink, crying, other soft emotions. Boys are taught in subtle ways to be tough. The implied opposite is that little girls are soft, need to be protected, wear makeup, play with dolls. (This type of thinking can also lead to Benevolent Sexism, or men “protecting women because they need protection.”)

How does this tie into homophobia? Well, if the worst thing that you can be seen as is a girl, the last thing you would want to be is a man who appears to be effeminate, or a man who enjoys the romantic and sexual relationships with other men. Most of the insults we have for men revolve around being gay, or a woman. Triggering! Pussy! Bitch! Hey, got sand in your tampon? You’re not a real man! Pretty boy! What a loser! Pervert! Dick licker! Fag! You’re queer bait. What a little girl. Cunt. Oh, sorry, did I hurt your feelings?

In other words, if you want to insult a man, make sure he knows that he did something that a real man wouldn’t have a done. And if you want to be a real man you have to be a certain type of masculine, a certain type of emotion-dead, a certain type of woman-loving. This course is called Men and Masculinties because it acknowledges that there are different types of masculinities. Through time, and across he world, what makes a man a man is seen differently. In the United States, despite how far we’ve come for gender equality, it’s still seen as the ultimate insult to be compared to a woman.

There is a theory that the more someone is afraid of being perceived as homosexual, the more anti-feminine they will be, to attempt to fit in with their gender. As though using offensive language and calling people fags will put an invisibility cloak over yourself, and your own sexuality, hiding you from potential discovery.

On the other hand, some men are so comfortable with their sexuality, and so comfortable with other men in general, that they actually worry that they might be gay. I’ve read more than one submission from men who “I think some guys are cute, I don’t think I could ever have sex with them or date them…” and presume that the acceptance of male attractiveness is a sign that they might not actually be straight. (How crazy is that?)

The thing is, we don’t really know much about sexuality. If you think that being gay means you’re less of a man, you’re not going to explore homosexuality, even if you feel that you may be attracted to men. How can you balance your sexual identity with your gender identity when they two consistently restrict the exploration of one another?

Homophobic statements often reflect an anti-femininity. The fear of not being a man, and the fear of being a woman. I am interested to see how gender equality may influence homophobia, and how homophobia may influence gender equality.

As men, do you often feel that being perceived as “womanly” or “feminine” is an insult? Do you actively try to act in ways that allow others to perceive you as a man, if not more masculine? Does behaving in more traditionally masculine ways make life easier for you? Does it help you gain more respect? 

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Poll: When do you masturbate?

I’m a firm believer in the sex-positivity of masturbation.

It can:

– Help you figure out the different parts of your body. Do you know where all your bits and pieces are, and what they’re called? That’s important.

– Help you recognize what is normal, and what isn’t normal. Was that spot always there? What about that bump or lump? Is that discharge normal? That smell? That color? Should that hurt? Does it normally?

– Help you feel comfortable with your body. It can help you feel comfortable touching yourself. It can help you feel “at home” with your body. You know what is what and you know that what you have is what you have.

– Help you know what turns you on. Not all people like to be touched in the same way. Some men like aggressive touching, some men like soft touching. Some women like having their clit touched, some women prefer the clit hood. Some people like fingering, some people don’t.

– Be more than a genital-based experience. It can be a whole body experience. I’ve advocated “taking yourself out” before. Get in a tub and light candles and explore all the different parts of yourself. Where are you most sensitive? Do you know?

– Allow you to have more powerful orgasms, or any orgasm. People who know what gets them off are more likely to be able to communicate those tips and tricks to their partners. Don’t expect your partner to be able to navigate your body without some help. Everyone is different.

Even if you are with a partner, masturbation can be a completely separate and still enjoyable experience. I think you should still have a sexual relationship with yourself even if you have a sexual relationship with your partner. Masturbation doesn’t mean you aren’t satisfied with your partner or your sex life. It can be a problem in some relationships if masturbation is taking the place of physical intimacy or if you are choosing masturbation over your partner. Masturbation can be an issue if you are wearing yourself out to the point that you can no longer have the energy for sex with your partner. There is of course a thing as masturbating too much – if you can’t make it to work, or if you cannot stop, and it begins to hurt.

When do you find time to masturbate when you are in a relationship, particularly if you live with your partner? (Married or Unmarried.) Do you actively seek out time to masturbate or is it something you do when your partner isn’t there and it happens to come to mind? Do you feel antsy if you don’t have that time to yourself to masturbate or is masturbation a secondary activity that you do, mostly, when you have no other form of sexual release?

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No Room for The Party Gay

Let me set the scene for you.

It’s a Friday night and you’re at a beat up, slightly run-down party house. The carpet is cream and stained in so many places it looks as though it might actually transform into some chic pale ale shade from one too many nights of beer pong. There’s the perfect amount of black light to accentuate everything white that you’re wearing, which is just your shoelaces, because no one told you to wear white.

You’re plugging away at your second refill of the red cup and across the room you see two women making out. It makes you feel warm all over, like your body just pissed itself with oxytocin. Two women are making out, and I feel fine.

There exists a certain bubble of safety for women which I’m going to call “the bubble of experimentation.” This bubble is mostly a privilege of normatively attractive women, but that gets a little tricky depending on who/where/what we’re talking about, so lets just stick with women.

If you’re a woman it is reasonable to say that you could kiss another woman and no one would question your sexuality. You may not even question your sexuality. Maybe you kissed a girl because you wanted to. Maybe it was because it was a fun thing to do. Maybe you were genuinely curious about whether or not you are/were bisexual. Maybe you’re gay. There are a lot of maybes. The point is that you can leave that party at the end of the night with your hetero-card intact. People may question “is she, isn’t she?” but the label isn’t really super-sticky. It’s like a name tag you wear out once and it falls off in the laundry. No big deal.

This same bubble of experimentation doesn’t exist for men.

Imagine again, if you will, a party of the same sort. The lights have been dimmed, people are smelling strongly of beer, and off in the corner two men close in on one another and begin to make out.

It is unlikely that anyone who caught a glimpse of this act would view it as “two guys having fun” or “simple experimentation.” There’s no such thing as a party gay. The label is much stickier for men. If they do something that is even slightly homosexual (lets say: remarking on the attractiveness of another man) it can be very difficult to avoid being labeled.

Some people believe that a certain strength of masculinity (or worse yet, homophobia) is a direct reaction to fear of being seen as feminine, or, in this case, homosexual. More simply put: dudes are going to avoid seeming weak, they’re definitely going to avoid seeming gay, because once that label is there, it’s there for good.

It makes sense that men would not have that same bubble to experiment because their sexuality is called into question much more frequently than a woman’s. It is also less acceptable – from a sociocultural perspective – to be a gay dude.

So how might a man experiment with his sexuality if he’s just not sure if he’s bi or not? 

I do think that in certain subgroups of men there exist areas where they can privately experiment with one another. There may even be some select parties that you have attended in which two dudes making out would be NBD. On a whole, we view the sexuality of men and women as two extraordinarily different beasts. Until there is a point where masculinity and heterosexuality aren’t tied together on a short leash, men’s sexuality seems to be a choppier sea to navigate.

Do you have experiences with experimenting with your sexuality as a man?

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Is Gender Fluid?

Sometimes when I’m taking notes I jot something down in a way that gives me a little epiphany. I was in a basic lecture about being intersex and I was writing about the sexual fluidity of sexual orientation. How you may at times identify as heterosexual, at other times bisexual, and maybe even flow into homosexuality completely. (My notes often diverge entirely from what subject at hand.) I then wrote, pressing the tip of my pen firmly into my notebook, can gender be fluid? 

What I had caught on to was the question: can men be women, and then men again, and then women? Can they flow in-between men and women in the third gender? Can the binary of men and women be broken? It only took a few moments before I answered my own question right next to it.

Gender Expression.”

I’ll skip the heavy stuff about the social construction of gender and go into some basic ideas about gender. If you’re not familiar with the idea, this might help.

When a baby is born they are observed by a doctor. Based on what that doctor observes, they then say “you have a girl” or “you have a boy.” The problem with this is that most of what makes a girl a girl or a boy a boy has been constructed by the time we are in, and the space we are in. If you think about what a boy is and what a girl is you can certainly come up with a list of characteristics and expectations in your head. The belief is that those things are created, and not an inherent part of what that baby is when it pops out.

Gender expression is how we express our gender. I am cisgender or “cis” which means my gender expression matches my sex that I was given at birth. I’m biologically a girl, I look like a girl, I have all the parts of a girl, I act like a girl. But what does that mean? If a girl doesn’t “behave like a girl” does that mean she’s not a girl?

Gender expression is interesting because it allows men and women or someone who is intersex to behave in ways that might not particularly align with what is appropriate for their assigned gender. It gives them the opportunity to go outside of what is normative (typical for their gender) and do/dress/behave/act in ways that are typical of the other gender or more androgynous.

So gender can be fluid, based on our gender expression and the way we interact with the world. We can exist within it, around it, outside it.

The problem is that the our society and most societies are set up in a way that accepts and runs on a binary. Most of how we interact in the world (including simple things like going to the bathroom, the clothes we can wear, the gestures we can make) are based on whether you are male or female. This makes it difficult for people who are intersex or people don’t want to or feel uncomfortable existing within that binary.

Understanding things like gender expression are important because we act as “agents” to tell people when they are or aren’t behaving like they should. We do this by making fun of or ostracizing people who behave in ways that we feel are inappropriate for their gender. If you’ve ever told their friend they “look like a dude” or “are acting like a pussy” or worse yet, played “guess the gender”, you have played an active role in silencing the chosen gender expression of the people around you. This is damaging because gender expression is for many or most people directly tied into their identity and how they view themselves as human beings.

A challenge, if there was one: Pay attention to the language you use. No matter who you’re around. It’s much more difficult than it seems.

Have a question about sex or love? Submit anonymously by clicking “ask advice” at the top of the page (or the bottom of the page – if you’re on mobile.) 

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Not all Blue Skies for Men

It can be difficult as a woman, and a feminist, to write about the difficulties that men experience with gender. Tiptoeing over that line can get you into trouble with people who aren’t comfortable with the idea that you may have conflicting points of view. Some believe that you cannot support and celebrate men without in turn degrading women. I disagree, and look towards my latest course work in Men and Masculinities to help me understand the difficulties of being a man.

What I found of particular interest was how men in my course and men in my life tackled a challenge we were posed. The men in the class were told to go out and interact in ways that were not traditionally masculine. Women were supposed to ask men they knew to try these things and report back.

  • Wear colored nail polish
  • Talk at length with a male friend about how much you love and appreciate your partner without talking about sex
  • Tell your male friend that you appreciate your friendship without being intoxicated
  • Spend 30 minutes talking with a group of people without telling a story or interrupting someone else
  • Walk to class with your books pressed against your chest
  • Cross your legs completely in a public place
  • Comment on the physical attractiveness of another man

While I thought about these tasks, I thought about a poll we took in my Deviancy course. We ranked things on a scale of 1-5 on how deviant we thought they were.

Things that ranked high in deviancy:

  • Soliciting a Prostitute
  • Using Heroin
  • Forgery
  • Witches
  • Prostitution
  • People in Cults

Things that ranked low in deviancy:

  • Women
  • Californians
  • Jazz musicians
  • Heterosexuality
  • Being left-handed
  • Homosexuality

Ignoring the straight out weirdness of some of these things, I thought it was incredibly interesting that women and homosexuality showed up on the “low deviancy” scale. We talked about how this is likely influenced by living in the Pacific Northwest, in Oregon, and in Portland specifically.

Thinking back to the masculine tasks, many men reported that they felt comfortable with all of the tasks. Many men had already done these things on a regular basis. They reported that they regularly told their friends that they appreciated them. Others noted that they frequently saw male intimacy in public (hugging, I love you man, etc.) I thought that perhaps the results from the men in course were similar to the deviancy scales. We don’t view men being emotional as particularly weird here.

I’m curious: If you’re not from Oregon, how often do you see men behaving in ways that are not stereotypically “masculine”? Would it be strange to see two men hugging? Would that behavior be seen as deviant where you’re from? If you’re a man and you have done any of these things, has there been an immediate “that is not okay behavior” reaction from those around you? How do you react when a male friend of yours does something that is not stereotypically male? Or /worse/ when they do something that is feminine? 

What interests me most about men and masculinities is that there isn’t much information out there about the struggle men go through to succeed in life. I think it’s important that we look at how boys are raised, especially if we’re looking at the conflicts that occur later in heterosexual or homosexual relationships. Why do we put so much pressure on boys and men to be big and tough? Why are so many personal narratives from men different than this “big and tough” cover story?

Looking forward to hearing what you have to say, especially if you have experience in other states, or other countries.

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Book Club: Using Disgust for Politics

There was a lot of new ideas in the next fifty pages of Perv. I hope those of you reading along are enjoying the book. It’s definitely a great midrange book for people who have some understanding of sexuality already. I was trying to figure out what to talk about for the second week and instead of breaking down my notes I wanted to talk about disgust in particular. It’s an idea from the first reading but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I hope you’ll forgive me just the same.

Much of what I want to talk about is on pages 40-41. Bering discusses how, when we discuss homosexuality, there is inevitably a discussion about anal sex. Specifically he quotes “If your personal identity revolves around your lust for other men’s stinking anuses,” and “a particularly disgusting form of depravity” and “when did we base special rights based on fecal diseased sex?”

The quotes were from an article on the Free Republic website on an article about gay pride.

So what does disgust have to do with politics? If a certain group of people associates something with disgust, it becomes much more difficult for that group to appear legitimate. We might not want to think about that group because it may provoke a negative reaction somewhere deep inside of us. The HIV epidemic was, for a long time, a gay problem. While HIV was an epidemic among homosexual people, it was also a way to remove power from this group of people, and way to keep homosexuality quiet. You can see a pretty powerful example of this in the film Dallas Buyers Club.

The interesting thing about homosexuality and anal sex is that we immediately and somewhat passively forget that people who are straight have anal sex too. They do it frequently and for fun. Some even argue that anal sex is becoming a norm, no longer taboo, hardly a kink. (This I believe depends on your social circle and where you live, although I would agree that it’s hardly rare.)

The point is that no one cares if you’re straight and engaging in anal sex because it’s not as dirty as two men having anal sex. (It should also be noted that girl on girl sex is very rarely seen as “dirty.”) We simply have a problem with two dudes getting it on and because we don’t like to think about that, the disgust is used as a social tool to prevent same-sex equality.

I think it’s important to separate sexual orientation and sexual practice. Not everyone who is homosexual enjoys anal sex, much in the same way that not everyone who is heterosexual enjoys anal sex. (Homosexuality doesn’t give you different anal anatomy.) The problem is that we view sexuality through a heteronormative lens. When we think about two people having sex we think about men and women, one penetrator, one receiver. When we have two men it becomes a problem of “so who is on the bottom?”

Hopefully most of us know that sexuality is more complex and fluid than this. Heterosexual couples have a wide variety of sexual interactions with one another including foreplay, oral sex, touching, speaking, grinding, vaginal, anal, toys, and so forth.

The use of disgust goes beyond the discussion of sexuality. We can think about how disgust is used to limit the reproductive health of women – currently, and in the past. If we think of women who are having casual sex as “dirty sluts” it’s a lot easier to say that they should just close their legs and stop having sex than it is to provide them with health testing, preventative measures, plan b, and access to abortion. Instead of giving it to women that they are able and wanting to have sex, we ignore the fact that men are involved in many of these situations, and put the blame on women for getting it on when they “didn’t have to!”

Keep an eye out for how often disgust is used in the language of the news that you read or listen to. It is often subtle and progresses over time as people become more comfortable with accepting a particular notion.

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The Lenses of Masculinity

A theory is a set of reasoned assumptions.

Since that’s kind of a boring way to think, let’s play a game instead. I’m going to give you a camera and I’d like you to look through the camera and tell me what you can see when you look through the viewfinder.

Somewhere relatively close to you I’ve placed a man.

I’ve handed you a camera with a fixed 50mm lens so you can only really see the face of this guy. How would you describe him? Well, you can talk about his hair, the shape of his face, his eyes, maybe his age or if he has bad eyesight. That’s about it.

Now imagine I swap in the kit lens and you were able to adjust the camera to see a full view of the man standing in front of you. You now might notice that he’s completely nude and is waving his penis in a circular motion at you. He’s also wearing a bow tie and American Flag Keds. These are all important details you missed because you were looking at the man from the wrong lens.

You could have had a perfectly reasonable theory about this man by looking at his face. But you weren’t getting the whole picture. Using a different lens – literally – you can make new deductions. Like, maybe, he’s crazy. If you were to use a wider lens yet, you might be able to see that he was actually at an art exhibition. If you were to go back even further, maybe he’s in Sweden. (I’ve never been two Sweden so I don’t know if this kind of thing is typical.)

My absurd example is a bastardized version of what I learned in my men and masculinity course on day one. If we’re looking at something like masculinity, its important to use multiple lenses (or perspectives) to have a more well-rounded idea of whats going on.

You can’t just look at masculinity through a biological perspective. Though testosterone plays an important role in the life of a man, it ignores other important perspectives, like social psychology, or evolutionary psychology. You’d be missing some important details that only other perspectives could provide. 

I’ve fallen into this trap on more than one occasion, especially when talking about polyamory. Since it’s relatively new, it’s easy to lock on to the explanations for behavior that make sense. There is a lot of evolutionary psychology that discusses polyamory and having more than one partner and what that all means. I think it’s unfortunate that this happens so often because polyamory is very interesting and, if we’re looking at it through an evolutionary psychology lens, we’re going to be primarily looking at polyamory as a sexual experience. (At least in my own personal readings this tends to be the trend.)

Back to men – I think that it’s easy to rely on the biological. Men are a certain way because “thats the way that men are.” Obviously we’re paying more attention to the social perspective now and taking note of how men are socialized and whether or not that shapes men and the development of various masculinities.

I took this image at a bike fair a few years ago in Portland, OR.

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