How To Negotiate Boundaries

I haven’t dated much and I am in a relationship with someone who has more experience than I do. Are there certain things that he is going to expect that I like to do or know how to do? What if I don’t? Do boundaries exclude these basic things? Help!

This is a great question! Boundaries are lines that you draw – like limits – in the bedroom. You always need to talk about your boundaries with new partners because it is unlikely that any two people have exactly the same boundaries. Boundaries can include both things we are uncomfortable doing, things we have tried and don’t like doing, things we absolutely hate, or even things we just don’t feel like doing that day. Boundaries can change over time – they can change immediately. Keeping a clear picture of what your partners boundaries are is very important.

How well do you know your partners boundaries?

Does your partner like to be called names? Are there certain names that are triggering for them to hear?

Does your partner like rough sex? How rough is “rough” – don’t talk on a scale of 1-10, discuss specific acts that you are interested in doing, and develop a safe word. (A safe word is something you can say to stop whatever it is you are doing immediately. Safe words are necessary within rougher play.)

Are there any sexual acts that your partner absolutely does not like to do? Are there any sexual acts that they have had a bad experience with in the past? Are there some things that your partner does not feel very confident with?

Does your partner use protection? What kind of protection does your partner want to use? Condoms are not always an assumed boundary – though they should be, particularly with new sexual partners. Talk about safety and sexual health when you discuss boundaries.

There are not certain things that your partner should “expect” you to do, but of course some people do develop a set of things they consider “normal” and they may not think about it. For many people, oral sex is a great example. Some people consider oral sex a regular part of their sexual routine. Others consider oral sex to be more intimate, or even something that they don’t like, or aren’t comfortable with. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy your sexuality.

Boundaries do not exclude basic things. We always need to seek consent with our partners. It is especially important to pick up on small and subtle cues with new partners who we may not know as well yet. It is also not expected that you know everything. Communicating what you like, what you know you don’t like, and everything in between, is very helpful in making sure that you have an open and healthy dialogue about your sexuality. Don’t be afraid of expressing how you feel. If your partner isn’t open to hearing it or pressures you in any way to do things that you are not comfortable with, that is not the right relationship for you to be in.

The important thing to remember is that every relationship starts fresh. Just because your partner might have more experience than you do, doesn’t mean he knows anything about your body. He’s going to have to learn, too, and you’re going to learn together.

Good luck!

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What is “Owning” Your Sexuality?

I talk a lot about “owning” your sexuality, but what does that even mean? If you’re new to the study of sexuality or even new to your sexuality, it can sound a lot more complicated then it really is. I believe that owning your sexuality is – at the core – about shedding preconceived notions of what sex is supposed to be like and finding out what you enjoy about sex and then learning to enjoy the things you enjoy. You can break it down into more management ideas, but actually pushing through and owning your sexuality is a serious proces. Some people find it easy to begin, and others find it takes serious effort to even comprehend. This is because there’s some serious psychology involved. Traits that we’ve developed, beliefs that we’ve grown up with. Sometimes we have to change how we think about ourselves and our bodies at a very basic level.

How about an example?

Many young women believe that masturbation is wrong and their body is inherently dirty. Some people come to believe this through parents who taught them to believe such things, because they too believed them. Other times this kind of mentality is passed down in abstinence only education courses. These classes often refer to women who enjoy their sexuality as used, or worthless of love.

Some people press against these ideas and come out stronger because of it. Others collapse under the pressure of having to perform to some unreasonable standards – to be chaste, but also desirable. To own ones sexuality is to look these “requirements of womanhood” in the face and come out on the other side with a healthy view of ones own body. To understand that masturbation is not wrong or dirty, but enjoyable, and healthy. It would be owning your sexuality to come out of that and know that if you had a sexual relationship you would not be less of a person for it and your worth as a human being would not be diminished. It’s about gaining power, regaining power, acknowledging power.

I would really like to write more about small things that we can do to own our sexuality. Simple, day-to-day things that we can do to improve our self-image. Things that reflect positivity back on the pleasure that we’re able to experience with ourselves or with our partner/s. This are lessons that should be applicable for any gender and sexual orientation – because we’re all targeted by these negative messages. I even think it would be fun to write up small challenges for interested readers. Things that you can do to make yourself feel self-satisfied and important.

I think owning your sexuality is incredibly important in having a satisfying sexual relationship – even that relationship is just with yourself.

Stay tuned for more!

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How do you feel female?

I noticed you’ve mentioned in a few of your posts that you’re cis. I understand how one can feel like one is in the wrong body, but I’ve never understood how one can feel emotionally that one is male or female, if that makes any sense. I suppose my question is…how do you feel female/like a woman?

I thought about this a lot, and I couldn’t figure out a good way to explain it. I started thinking about happiness. Everyone knows what happiness feels like but different things make different people feel happy. You know when you’re happy, but you also know when you are not happy. Being “happy” and “not happy” are two distinct things. This isn’t the best example because generally speaking people view happy as “good” and “not happy” as bad, whereas “cis” and “trans” are neither good nor bad, they just vary along the gender spectrum.

Just as everyone has different things that make them happy, different people have things that make them feel like a woman. There are also some things that I can do that make me feel more like a woman. Doing these things may not make other people feel more like a woman, but they do to me.

I also have to consider in all of this that gender is socially constructed. That means that when we’re born we’re told what it means to be a man or a woman. We are told that there are only two genders and that there are certain ways to behave and if you go outside of those strict columns that you are doing something that the other gender would do. Some things are genderless, but most things aren’t, or can be “gendered.”

When I hear people talk about their experiences in being trans* I hear stories of them just knowing. Sometimes it takes a while to “just know” because of how hard we’re pushed into one category or the other. I definitely felt that way discovering my own sexual orientation (I don’t feel straight, but I do like boys, and everyone keeps telling me I’m straight… so I must be straight, right?)

I don’t know if there IS a good answer to this question. You know. But you also do things that tell you. You slip and fall into pre-constructed categories. Then you can either let those categories continue to define you as that gender, or you can see them as two separate things. “I am a girl and I like rough and tumbling” or “I am a girl but I like rough and tumbling.” Does that make sense? I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes the things around us cement the gender we feel we are, or they tell us something about what we feel we aren’t.

If that’s all sort of exhausting to think about, we’re on the same page. I am certain that there are more fluid ways of expressing this, but I’ve never read one before, so I’m sort of working from scratch here.

My identity as a woman is unique – I know that I am female – but it is also fluid and ever-changing in what that means to me.

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Bisexuality in The Locker Room

Here’s the rundown:

1. Someone notable came out as being homosexual

2. Someone wrote about their discomfort in locker rooms

I’ve written about this in the past and have gotten some flack for my lack of empathy. This is why: Some people feel uncomfortable being in a dressing room with people who are homosexual. They don’t want to be “looked at” by people who are attracted to them. So while I might not be able to express empathy, let me express some understanding, or sympathy even. I get that it might be uncomfortable to think that there are people in the dressing room looking at you. Dressing rooms can be a breeding ground for insecurity and discomfort. You’re in a place where people are getting naked and taking care of personal things. The feelings that you have are valid. The problem is that we need to look at why we as human beings might feel the way that we feel and how they might invalidate others around us.

Let me make it personal. When someone says “I don’t want to share the ladies locker-room with someone who likes girls” I hear “You’re bisexual and I don’t want you to ogle me.” It presumes that, as someone who is bisexual or homosexual, you can be reduced to your sexuality as someone who simply leers at those they are attracted to. That might not be how someone feels when they are saying things like that, but it could be how it’s interpreted by the people they are talking about.

What is frustrating about it is that people have had these conversations with me unknowing that I am bisexual. They were comfortable with me, but were I to disclose that I was not entirely heterosexual, they would no longer feel comfortable.

When I’m in the locker room I’m not thinking about how cute naked girls are and how I want to go bang one. I’m thinking about my workout, how I smell, what I look like, my training goals. I’m thinking about what the combination for my lock is or where I tucked my second sock. I’m not staring at your breasts because I’m a perverted lesbian, I’m staring off into the distance thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner. I have the common courtesy to give you your privacy and space just as you would expect someone who is heterosexual to do.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a chance that I’m going to see what you look like naked. Anyone in there, gay, straight, or bi is going to see what you look like naked. And perhaps a stolen glance out of passing human curiosity for what-someone-else-looks-like-naked happens. But it’s not about sex, or your sexual orientation. I would suspect that most decent and respectable people would look away when they caught themselves looking.

I’m not saying you can’t feel discomfort thinking about it but I think it’s important to think about the experiences other people have as well and how we might be a little bit demonizing when we talk about this. Is this solution to split up dressing rooms for gay? straight? trans? cis? bisexual? sexually fluid? male? female? how many do we need for everyone to feel properly comfortable? Can we learn to manage our internal conflict and look at human beings as decent or invasive regardless of what their gender and sexual orientation are? That’s what I try to do, and I think it’s a good goal.

How do you deal with locker room discomfort? Do you grab a private room or do you bare it all out in the open?

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Words to Know

Crossdress – When a person dresses in clothing typically associated with a different sex. There is no one reason that someone may enjoying crossdressing. You can be of any gender or sexual orientation to crossdress.

Drag – When a person dresses up in clothing typically associated with a different sex for the purpose of entertainment. Drag is “over the top” or dramatized whereas crossdressing may be done more for the self or personal gratification.

FTM or F2M – Female to male, someone who was assigned female at birth who identifies as male.

Gender Queer – People who identify outside of the binary of male/female.

MSM – Male identified people who have sex with other male identified people. This is more inclusive to include people who may not identify as gay or bisexual, or for men who may not have been identified as male at birth. (Also “WSW”)

Words that are historically derogatory but are by some people being reclaimed: dyke, fag, homo, queer, hermaphrodite, transvestite, tranny, he-she, she-male. It’s not advised to use these words when talking to someone or about someone unless they have already referred to themselves in that way and have signaled that it’s appropriate for you to do so as well. It may also not be appropriate to use these words depending on the environment you’re in, the person you’re talking to, or the way in which you’re talking about them. Ex: You’re so queer vs. look at that queer over there!

If you have anything to add to these definitions, comment box it.

 

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WOTD: Whitewash

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IMG_6636 (Photo credit: Dan Nguyen @ New York City)

In classes about gender and sexuality we learn about “intersectionality” – the intersection of two or more things. For instance if we’re having a conversation about race or racism we may also have to consider the different experiences of a black heterosexual man and a black lesbian woman. A topic that often stems from this conversation, likely due to the issues of race, is “whitewashing.” Wikipedia defines as the biased presentation of data.

This was discussed in one of my classes recently in reference to the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots are often used to represent the visibility of the fight for equality. The moment that “started it all.” The problem is that people who were not present or people whose voices do not accurately represent what happened are speaking for the people who were there or the people who this conversation influences. There are a lot of great articles about this in reference to all the films and documentaries that have come out since Stonewall. I would recommend doing a google search for “whitewashing stonewall” or something similar. It may take a few reads to get the hang of why people are upset.

There came a point in my writing about these things that I realized you have to be careful when you’re talking about things that you 1) Haven’t witnessed or experienced yourself and 2) Could never witness or experience yourself. Are you letting the people speak for themselves or are you speaking for them? What is the intent? How could you let them speak for themselves? How does you speaking help or harm the efforts?

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what the heck is a pronoun?

Today I had my training for volunteer work with sexual minority youth. It’s the second such training I’ve had – the first being in 2009. No matter how basic the information we learn is, I feel like there is always some new information to take in, or some new perspective to look at something from. I was glad to be there and to have the opportunity to learn more or to refresh information that I’d already known.

The age ranges that I’ll be interacting with are around the ages of 12-24ish and often times are youth at risk. The training lasted for four hours and was, for the most part, gut-wrenching. We first learned what at-risk youth were. Examples could be at risk for: poverty, isolation, stds, self-harm, pregnancy, and homelessness. For all of the categories we listed, GLBTQ youth were more likely to be at risk. The woman leading the training noted that we don’t know a single area in which GLBTQ aren’t more at risk.

There was so much to take in, but one really special thing about GSA (gay straight alliance) or QRC (queer resource centers) is being able to be in a space where you can begin to feel comfortable expressing your identity safely. For some people they may not be able to come out, express their gender, or be open and honest about their fears or sense-of-self anywhere else. Places like this haven’t always existed. Kids are coming out and talking about these things much younger now than they used to.

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At the beginning of this (and my last) training session we talked about gender specific pronouns. In my college courses we’ve started introducing ourselves with our pronoun preferences. For instance, during roll, I would say “My name is Lorelei and I go by female pronouns” or “My name is Lorelei and I go by she and her.”

Pronouns are something really important to know because you can really alienate someone if you call them “he” when they identify as “she.” It’s also hard because we do have those snap judgements and want to quickly categorize someone in our minds. We may be curious to ask how someone identifies if we can’t quickly snap judge them into a category. Someone who is trans* or gender queer or androgynous, for instance, may not be as easy to “read” in a traditional sense. We talked about what that means and how people may use gender to identify themselves. We talked about how you can ask someone how they identify, if you are unsure of how to refer to them in conversation.

Preference varies – so we were told that generally it’s safe to call people by their name or go the gender neutral route by using “they.” This is an intentional act of being respectful of someone. Of course you don’t know what someone has gone through or how sensitive they are going to be. We came to the conclusion that it is okay to ask someone what gender pronoun they prefer, if it’s appropriate for the conversation. Instead of saying “are you a guy or a girl?” you could introduce yourself first “My name is Lorelei and I go by female pronouns, what’s your name?” This allows you to say “This is who I am so you don’t misread me, who are you so I don’t misread you?” Some people may prefer to be pulled aside. You also have to keep in mind that not everyone is “out” and so a gender pronoun that they prefer in a safe space might not be what they use at home or around family. There is a lot of variance and everyone is different.

Being respectful and listening to people talk and trying not to make too many assumptions is a great way to go.

If anyone has anything to add – please do.

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How is Sexuality Controlled?

I was asked to elaborate on a couple of subjects from my post about What I learn in Sex Classes. The first was: how is pleasure controlled and enjoyed? This question is in reference to the politics of sexuality, and is a subject of incredible depth. Let’s started with control.

How can pleasure be controlled? Can’t anyone have sex?

There are two notable cases within Portland History – the 1912 Greek Scandal and Vice Scandals. The Greek Scandal refers to Greek men who had come into the city for work, who lived in what is now Old Town/China Town. Because of the work that was available at this time many men were living alone or with other men in specific parts of town. Police at the time were anxious over what they considered to be dangerous racial minorities. At this time there was a fear that the white middle class could be broken down if tainted with lesser, perhaps “less moral” races. There was a fear spreading. While these men didn’t exceed 1% of the population, they accounted for more than 11% of same-sex transgression arrests. Simply put: they were controlling the sexuality of these men as a way to prevent race mixing. The YMCA scandal, though different, is similar in the fact that they used sex (in this case, sodomy) to target a male homosexual community. Both of these stories are incredibly interesting and can be expanded on in this book by Peter Boag.

What about outside of homosexuality? Women’s sexuality has been controlled in times throughout history. It is common to look back at the 1950s as the “golden age” when, perhaps, we forget just how far we’ve come. Women’s responsibility was often to be housekeeper, child raiser, caretaker for her husband. If for some reason the marriage failed or she wanted to leave the marriage, it would be incredibly difficult for her to do so without a job of her own or any work experience. This allowed men to experience affairs more easily within the bounds of the marriage without much worry that their wives would leave them. They couldn’t. Women had much less time for affairs if they were going to be the only care provider of their children as well as having to tend to the house, chores, errands, and so forth. Not to mention there was marital rape to do deal with – where it wasn’t considered rape if you were married. Not much control there.

Information about white sexuality during times of slavery is also interesting, and speaks to how sexuality can be used as a piece of control. White women (for instance) were seen as the keepers of virtue. If they were protected and did not sleep with white men, they would not produce any children with black men. How women’s sexuality is controlled is often much more interesting – to me at least – than how mens sexuality is controlled, because of how the double standard persists. Though white women were given this command, many white men fathered children of the slaves that they raped or sexually assaulted during this time.

How is pleasure controlled today? This goes back to my first point. Anyone can have sex, surely. But not everyone has access to the same benefits. Many people desire to have sex, but understand the likelihood of pregnancy if they do not use birth control of some kind. Some people don’t understand the likelihood of pregnancy because they are not afforded information. The limitations of birth control and abortion absolutely control sexuality. Many women may not have access to Planned Parenthood to receive STD testing, lowered birth control costs, breast cancer screenings, free condoms, or abortions. The availability of these services allows women to have control over their sexuality. Removing these services restricts the freedom of a woman’s sexuality. Can they still have sex? Physically? Yes. But they are risking their sexual health, they’re risking pregnancies they can’t afford to have or don’t want to have. Low income families are especially at risk. This is a type of control and it’s being enacted by upper/middle class, white, men – people who are never going to experience what these women are experiencing.

Sexuality is controlled in a myriad of ways throughout history and even today. Whether it be by gender, sexuality, the class you’re in, the state you’re in, or the relationship you’re in. You can see here, it’s controlled by the laws that we have. But it’s also controlled by the language we use.

Picture a man. He has a penis. He is interested in having a physical experience with another man. For men in our culture that both threatens his identity and his masculinity. The possibility of him touching another man in an intimate or exploratory way threatens the very being of who he is and how he will be treated within society. If you think that’s an exaggeration, you’re not paying attention. People are getting shot, murdered, abused, bullied, and people are killing themselves all over the world. Many people will withhold their identities, or even the simplest curiosities, because of how sex and sexuality is represented within our culture. They become depressed. They say no when they’d rather say yes. They lie. They hide. They have to. We box people up and we don’t let them cross those lines easily. We put shame on sex. We put shame on same-sex. And that shame – while not always – definitely controls the sexuality of people who either can’t or don’t want to be judged and labeled for the decisions they’ve made.

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