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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January Book Club: Week 1

I’m so excited to write about January’s Book Club Book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. (I’ll just call it Perv from now on.) I’m especially excited because I’m taking a course called “The Sociology of Deviancy” right now, so this is going to tie in great with the lectures and readings from that course.

If you haven’t started reading the book this month and you want to join in, there’s still time! Check the sidebar (I don’t believe it’s viewable on mobile) to view the reading schedule.

It seems like several books about gender and sexuality begin their preface with a short history on the perception of homosexuality. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of homosexuality this can be really helpful to see how society has made gay men and women deviant over time.

Bering talks in some depth about condemnation and the idea that understanding does not mean condemning. That’s going to be an important point in this book. Let’s use it for something that we still consider deviant as an example. This was also an example given in the book. If I were to come on to my blog and say that I understood why people were pedophiles it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that I sympathized with pedophiles or even felt that pedophilia wasn’t that serious. On the contrary, I think it’s important that we are able to separate understanding from our own personal judgements to clearly look at an issue with as little bias as possible.

I enjoyed the discussion on keeping secrets and how secret-keeping can develop deviance. Bering asked the reader to pick one sexual fact that might be embarrassing about themselves. They then imagined telling someone about that, and how they would feel about sharing that fact. That feeling is not “deviance” – it is human. Something that we all share, but do not confess to sharing. How much different would the world look if we were honest about our likes and dislikes and didn’t feel as though we were so different from one another?

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There was also a portion that I clicked onto about nature. The idea that what is natural is good and what is unnatural is bad. When we viewed homosexuality as unnatural it was bad. Homosexuals purposefully went out and committed unnatural acts of behavior because they were bad. As we began to view homosexuality as something that was natural or normal, something that was not a choice but a part of who someone was, we began to view homosexuality as natural. Then, even if the behaviors were still looked down upon, we could say that they weren’t doing it because they chose to, they were doing it because they know no other way. It is in their nature. See the difference? This also allowed homosexuality to change from a criminal behavior (choosing to do something illegal) to a mental behavior (they are different from us.)

I enjoyed the reference to Sex at Dawn. Bering talks about being lost in the “ethical  wilderness” – so lost, in fact, that we have to look at other species for clues about what we should think is right or wrong. Can we judge our nature by the nature of animals? Should we?

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Two final points to make, and these are some fun ones.

White Bear Effect:  Forcing someone to repress thoughts will cause them to think about it even more. An excellent game to play with your friends. Also a favorite explanation of many as to why some republicans are so preoccupied with “the homosexual agenda.”

(tw: real talk about conversion therapy)

On a less fun note, this also plays a role in why conversion therapy won’t make a gay boy a straight boy. One might think “I am gay, this is who I am.” Then they decide on their own, through societal pressures, or at the hand of family, to become heterosexual because “being gay is wrong.” Attempting to change a fundamental part of who you are can bring on depression. Many people who did conversion therapy became depressed or suicidal. If you are heterosexual, imagine being placed into therapy to “become gay” and having it repeated daily that being heterosexual was wrong, or immoral, or deviant, and that you were bad. Then imagine the overwhelming depression when you realized that you couldn’t change or, of course, that you had changed and you were increasingly unhappy with your life.

Moral Dumbfounding: (2001, Jonathan Haidt)

That moment when you struggle to explain why something is immoral but can’t quite do it. I love this term. So often people explain why something is immoral by saying it is wrong, or bad, gross, or against the laws of nature. Consider what it means if your answer strongly resonates with social disapproval. “Well, people know that that’s bad, isn’t that enough?” Nope.

Which leads us back to the beginning. Understanding something doesn’t mean condemning it. Do your best to understand the things that you think and feel because they will make you a stronger person.

Thoughts? Feelings? Questions?

 

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Doing Gender: The Nosebleed

One of my professors told me once that you do gender. Everything you do is in some way influenced by gender. Even if you don’t consciously notice it or even if you refuse to abide by it, it’s there, a living and breathing entity.

So I get one nosebleed per year.

It gets really dry out and I can tell it’s coming the same way I can tell when my vagina is about to remind me I’ve failed as a woman again. So I knew, with some sort of nasal sixth sense, that this was gonna be it.

I was sitting in the middle of the bookstore. I’d acquired a scone and a cup of coffee and sat down with the book of the month to get reading. Then came the tickle.

I knew with great sense and precognition that when I sneezed, I would sneeze out blood. The wibbly-wobbly dam that my nose had built was no longer willing to hold back the great flood. I held that napkin as hard as I could and I sneezed the most lovely valentines day card.

This is where gender comes in.

My first thought was of a rambunctious friend of mine who would, in my shoes, shout in his most manly voice, draw as much attention to himself as he could, and show everyone what his tissue had collected. As a chick, I became self-conscious about my bleeding cavity, and went to go sit down before someone noticed something was wrong.

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A few moments later it became apparent that the bleeding wasn’t going to stop, nor was it going to get any better. I’ll spare you the gory details. I quietly and calmly packed up my valuables, left my coffee and my notebook guarding my spot, and meandered my way cautiously to the bathrooms two floors above me. I managed “excuse me” and “sorry, excuse me” more than once as I walked in front of people who had arrived to scope out their favorite books. Don’t mind me. I’m fine. Look the other direction. Is that the new Stephen King?

I made it to the bathroom and hid in the stall to mask the crime scene being born on my face. The sight, smell, and taste of it all made me a bit light headed. Most of all, I was furious to have left my coffee behind. It took about ten minutes to slow down and I started to get worried about my desk neighbors. What might they think of the weird girl who dashed off with her iPad but forgot her lightly roasted artisan coffee? Priorities.

I made it back without much mess but my nose was still bleeding. I’ve had to go to urgent care more than once, so I was cautiously optimistic that it would slow down if I could learn to breathe out of one nostril, or somehow get on board with mouth breathing. My posture was supreme, I took small delicate breaths, and I opened the book to continue reading.

Eventually I realized that there was no sense in trying to look attractive, and I shoved some tissue up my nose, fuck it all, and got to writing.

Certainly not all women would react in the way that I did (and I certainly hope they don’t) but I do think that all women interact with the idea of femininity in their own unique way. The same goes for men and masculinity. For me, I like to keep the gross to a minimum, because that’s just what has been reinforced. Luckily at a certain point propriety is won over by common sense and I’m able to say “I feel slightly unwell now.” Though, certainly, I’m sure that’s not always the case for all women, all the time.

Learning to speak up about discomfort, pain, fear, sadness, anger, and all those other negative emotions is incredibly important. So is recognizing that women are often expected to be pleasant and minimize their impact on those around them.

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Deviant Acts: What is Deviancy?

My first course this term is The Sociology of Deviancy. I was absolutely stoked to get to take this course because deviancy plays such a huge role in a lot of the things that I’ve studied and put time and effort into writing about. When you think deviancy you might think about sex or sexuality or deviant sexual practices. This course looks further into deviancy by exploring things like gender, race, and urban policing, social structure, selling organs, crime, government, child abuse, smugglers and dealers, drugs, victimization of women in gangs, rapists, religion, underprivileged deviance, physical violence, war, drinking and alcoholism, marijuana, suicide, eating disorders, mental disorders, and of course sexuality and gender issues of all kids.

I’m thrilled to get back to a course that is heavy on reading and writing. I love courses that are focused on thinking and reflecting and sharing ideas. I love the open discourse between people who come from a variety of different upbringings and perspectives. One assignment gives us the ability to go do an act of deviance. A simple example given would be standing in the elevator the wrong way and noting how people react to you. (Ex: Standing and facing the wall.) I thought it might be fun to go a whole day interacting with everyone I came in contact with as some kinds of social communication can really be interpreted as deviant. Any other suggestions?

I thought I would share the basic notes from the first lecture! This is about different theories of deviance.

1. Statistical

Deviance is statistical. If we are unlikely to see something occur, it is deviant. It implies that people who are deviant are different from people who are not deviant. Imagine deviance on a bell-curve. People who are deviant are nowhere near average. Two problems with statistical deviance are a) How are the statistics obtained? If it’s by self-report, many people may lie to avoid being categorized as deviant. They may also know that the behavior is deviant and lie. b) Many behaviors are deviant but are also common. Speeding is deviant behavior but many people speed.

2. Absolutist

Deviancy is intrinsic to certain things. This is the universal good and bad. Typically the absolutist view is based on God or religion. The absolutist view is not based on social norms or the time period you’re in. People who are deviant are deviant, they will always be deviant, their behavior is wrong. The example given was Duck Dynasty. The people on the show understand the homosexuality is becoming socially accepted, that it is common, but according to their absolutist view of deviance it is still wrong and that cannot change.

3. Normative

There are two assumptions to the normative view of deviancy. That sociologists know what is normal, and that deviance is norm violation. This is often what I will reference when I discuss deviancy. This view is based on deviancy varying by time and place. This follows much of what I believe in, in regards to sexuality, as I have studied sexuality and have noticed how deviant behaviors have been regarded through time and in different parts of the world. This theory also suggests that deviance can exist in secret. People can be deviant and we don’t necessarily need to know about it – unlike statistical deviance, where deviance is based on how many people do a certain thing.

4. Reactivist

This is based completely on social reaction to behavior. People who believe in the reactivist theory believe that you cannot be deviant in private and that behavior must be seen and judged to be considered deviant. This theory may tie in with normative theories of deviance because over time and location the behaviors seen are judged and this may influence what behaviors are deviant or not. If a behavior isn’t seen or heard about is it more likely or less likely to be deviant? (Tough question.) Reactivists might say that you cannot be deviant if there are no consequences to that behavior.

These four theories are tied into two larger theories.

Positivism and Constructionism.

Positivists believe that there is deviancy, we can find it, it is objectively there, it was always there, it will always be there. This would be the first two theories.

Constructionists believe that deviancy depends on the where/when and that beliefs change over time. They are interested in who does the labeling and why people may benefit from labeling.

Do you think that there is a deviancy that is unchanging? Do you believe that deviancy changes over time? How would you define deviant behavior? Does deviancy have to be a behavior? What might someone gain from labeling someone as deviant? Who has the power to label someone as deviant? 

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Gaining Experience Later in Life

In my time writing I’ve come across all kinds of people who, for whatever reason, haven’t had the opportunity to have sex. For most of them, it seems like a combination of a few different factors:

1. They were not allowed to date when they were younger and didn’t get to dip their toes into the dating pool as early, preventing them from gaining experience at the same pace as other people their age.

2. They were told that sex and sexuality were bad things and developed a skewed sex-negative perspective of sexuality. They believed that their actions in bed would speak negatively of them and never experimented.

3. They wanted to wait until marriage or until they found the right person and that person never came along. They continue to wait but start feeling as though waiting might not be worthwhile for them.

4. They focused on other things when in school – like school itself, or work, or family, and didn’t have the right time or didn’t develop the right skills to foster a romantic or sexual relationship. They may have highly developed skills or a thriving career but may be lacking in important social skills. Sex was not a priority – by choice or necessity.

5. They fell into a social awkwardness that made it difficult to foster relationships. Certain normal personality traits might make dating hard for some people. Being shy, social anxiety, not knowing how to talk to the desired sex, hesitancy, etc.

When people message me with this kind of issue they have one of two questions:

Should I just get it over with? Should I keep waiting? 

Some inquire about prostitution or finding a casual partner over the internet. Others express frustration at dating, noting that even when you do dive in and give it a shot, it can be hard to find a partner who is interested in someone with little or no experience.

I’m torn on it and think ultimately it comes down to personal preference, like all matters of sexuality. While I wouldn’t over-hype the first experience, I do think that having a good first experience or at least a neutral drama-free first experience can help you develop your sexuality with less difficulty. What a “good” experience is depends on the person and, in many cases, their expectations of the experience. On the other hand I think getting a foot in the door can help you find new experiences and have a better idea of what to expect.

What advice would you give someone who felt they were late to the game and were growing impatient? If you have personal experience, is there any advice you would pass on? 

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The Influence of Casual Relationships on Finding Love

Somehow I killed an hour tonight looking at celebrity instagrams. The journey ended not because I decided I ought to do something more productive with my evening, but because I found inspiration. You need not look too far for the right kind of inspiration if you write a blog like mine. There’s examples of gender inequality, human sexuality, psychology, and relationships all over the place.

The photo was a photo-of-a-photo and the caption was this: since sex has become easier to get, love has become harder to find. 

I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that rubbed me the wrong way about this, and then I realized that it echoed sentiments from the virgin/whore dichotomy. Upfront, I agree. If you’ve ever tried dating, the pool can be hard to pick from. A lot of people, particularly in their early to mid-20s, are looking for more casual relationships. They want to enjoy themselves, have new experiences, figure out what kind of person they want to be with. They’re figure out what kind of person they want to be. Trial and error and enjoying yourself in the process isn’t such a bad way to go about it. It can be frustrating for people who want to have more traditional relationships or at least enter into the dating pool with more traditional expectations. (A date or two, some getting to know one another over conversation, a bit of restraint.)

The virgin/whore dichotomy is, very simply, the idea that a woman can either be good (a virgin) or bad (a whore). The problem is that many men (and women) expect certain behaviors or traits that are typical of a whore, while still wanting a good girl, someone who is presentable, intelligent, smart. A lady on the street but a freak in the bed. Once you are labeled as one or the other, stepping outside of either set of lines is met with resistance. Typically: slut shaming.

That line reflects the virgin/whore dichotomy because it presumes that women who want sex or women who are willing to have sex early in a relationship (or even prior to a relationship) are not acceptable life partners or are not capable of loving relationships. The sex has reduced their usefulness as “good” women and made them disposable.

Of course, many men and women who are looking for casual relationships do find love along the way. That one-night-stand might be someone you could spend your life with, if you gave them a chance. (Though this is a dangerous sentiment, as I think it’s perfectly acceptable to continue onwards with casual sex, and your one-night-stand might not appreciate being wooed post hookup.)

Ultimately I would say that there are plenty of people who are out there looking for love, even the ones who like to have sex. If you find that it’s too easy to find sexual partners and that it’s distracting you from finding love, it might be helpful to stop having casual sex and focus on finding partners who have a similar mentality as you do. Strictly: that you’d prefer waiting to enter into a sexual relationship until you’ve developed a more hands-off emotional relationship. No right or wrong way to do it, right? What’s right for you might not be right for me.

Sex is a lot easier to find than love because sex has the ability to be casual, whereas love in definition is not casual. It requires a whole variety of things including but not limited to: trust, communication, time, timing, weaknesses, commonality, chemistry, and attraction.

There are subtle examples of the virgin/whore dichotomy in every day life. I would expect that many women experience it growing up, and that it shapes how they feel about themselves, the relationships they have, and how sex-positive they are or aren’t.

Can you think of any examples from your life?

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How We Self-Shame

“As different as we all are, there’s one thing most young women have in common: We’re all brought up to feel like there’s something wrong with us. We’re too fat. We’re dumb. We’re too smart. We’re not ladylike enough – ‘stop cursing, chewing with your mouth open, speaking your mind’. We’re too slutty. We’re not slutty enough. Fuck that. You’re not too fat. You’re not too loud. You’re not too smart. You’re not unladylike. There is nothing wrong with you.”

– Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism

In continuation to my Slut-Shaming post, I wanted to write a bit about self-shaming. This is a pretty vast subject that I could not possibly do justice to in a singular post, but I think it is important to discuss it when we discuss the language we use to talk about one another. It is this same language that we often use when we think about ourselves.

We can think about “self-shaming” as patterns of self-destructive behavior. If you have the opportunity, I would suggest reading any of Jessica Valenti’s books (quoted above) to learn more about how women might fall into these patterns. By no fault of their own, women may often learn that their self-worth revolves around their body or their sexuality. One might “gain self-worth” by being sexually available. Adjectives to be used might be: fun, exciting, sensual, erotic, adventurous. The double bind here is that if a woman chose to use her body in a sexual manner (as is her prerogative) she may also collect a variety of other not-so-pleasant adjectives. Slut, easy, immoral, loose, crazy, or dramatic.

We are told that to be good we must be bad, but once we are bad we are no longer good. Without giving women messages about self-respect, confidence, and choice, we are sending them into sexual scenarios with mixed messages about what give and take means.  

I think it’s important that a woman is able to go out to a club and have safe casual sex with men if that’s what she wants to do. I also think its important that she understands why she is having safe and casual sex, and that she is choosing to do so because it’s something that she wants to do. Problems arise if she feels like, at some deeper level,  she has to do something. The narrative is unclear and the mixed messages are damaging.

There is no clear boundary between being the fun loving sexual nymphomatic and the girl next door. In truth, these two women blend together, creating one complex human being. The problem arises when we don’t understand how to reconcile that overlap for ourselves, or when others on the outside see the overlap and cannot process it.

I don’t think there is a quick way to stop self-shaming. I think it is more about becoming self-empowered that begins to erase the negative patterns of thinking. I have heard friends of mine say that they had to do something with someone to keep interest. At the very basic level, this is where the problem starts. Simplifying ones worth down to a series of physical attributes or sexual practices. We need to see ourselves as worth more than the sum of our parts – and the sum of our actions. Learning to do this in conjunction with appreciating sexuality and the power of sexuality is the most difficult part of all.

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