Ultrahedonist, personal shopper

This week I moved into a sweet new apartment, all by myself. Friends, my new bedroom features both a bay window and a light switch in the form of a tasseled rope hanging over the bed. I envisage many happy hours of sexual exploration in this space. But fancy new boudoirs don’t come cheap, and I’ve been thinking about what I might do to bring in some extra cash. Yesterday, inspiration struck…

Generally speaking, I don’t have much time for the kind of person who uses the word ‘sexualised’. We already had ‘sexual,’ a perfectly functional and economical adjective for describing people, objects and activities related in some way to sex. So why, all of a sudden, do we have this glut of commentators who insist instead on describing everything as ‘sexualised’?

I think it’s because that little ‘ised’at the end suggests that the sexual nature of a thing is external; imposed onto some person or into some domain where it has no business being. When I hear someone using the word ‘sexualised’ in relation to teenage girls or grown women, it’s a little red flag telling me they most likely fall into one of two camps with very wonky ideas about female sexuality. The first camp, the conservative one, believes that adult and certainly teen female sexuality doesn’t or shouldn’t exist hardly at all. The second camp is made up of self-identified progressives who grant female adults and possibly teens the right to be sexual, but only if that sexuality springs forth wholly from within, magically pure and, unlike anything else, untouched by the culture in which it formed.

Now I’m here to help

But there’s really nothing like the smell of money to encourage a girl to be a little more, you know, flexible with her principles. I’ve seen the Facebook post with its 60,000 odd ‘likes’, and I’ve read the Fairfax article with its 350 often frothing comments. Looks to me like there’s a vast, untapped market of parents who, flailing about in a nightmarish soup of fishnets and short shorts, find themselves unable to independently procure ‘age-appropriate’ clothing for their female children. They need assistance.

So now, if you’re the kind of person who utters phrases like  “trampy and cheap” in relation to children, I’m here to help. If you think parents are “turning their little girls into obese, lazy, selfish brats who dress like tramps”, I am extending to you my knowledge and expertise. I hereby offer you my services as a personal shopping assistant, specializing in non-whorish girls’ clothing. I can shop at two levels of modesty (modest and extra-modest), and am able to cater to your particular flavor of hysteria. For leftists, I will screen clothing for excessive pink as well as – bonus! – printed or embroidered embellishments that promote irresponsible, environmentally destructive consumerism and narrowly gendered interests, such as “I heart fashion” slogans or images of shoes and handbags. For conservatives, I can select attire that emphasises your little girl’s sweetness and purity and makes it difficult for her to climb trees or engage in the kind of rough and tumble play that is so obviously more appropriate for boys. I can craft ensembles that are stylish yet tasteful, or, if you’re intent on damaging your child’s social standing, utterly unflattering.

Why choose me as your specialised  personal shopper?

I have the skills. I wear clothes every day, and I also go shopping a lot. You might be thinking, but this woman is both childless and a total slut! What would she know about dressing a child in a way that doesn’t suggest she spends the school hols pulling in $250 an hour at the Daily Planet?

Well, I certainly can’t deny that I’m a slut, nor that I deliberately dress in way that I hope will result in a good pounding. But it is precisely this that equips me so well for the task of dressing children in a manner that will have as a happy by-product reducing my competition for the male sexual gaze. You see, having devoted so much time and attention to developing a sexually suggestive wardrobe, I have developed a finely-tuned knowledge of the sexxxx levels of various fabrics, colours, cuts and design features. This knowledge can be put to work for either good or evil! Moreover, as a seamstress, if required and for an additional fee, I can also select your daughter’s inappropriate-for-sex-work clothes for natural fibre content, fabric quality and workmanship, thereby ensuring not only her continued innocence but also her comfort and durability!

I wouldn’t expect you to entrust me with the critical mission of protecting your girl from a life of streetwalking  if I hadn’t already demonstrated my abilities. Hence, yesterday I spent an hour browsing the aisles of Target and Big W, covertly photographing clothing items that I think your precious daughter could slip into without stepping over the line from ‘adorable’ into ‘selling sexual services’.

Please note, this is just a tiny sample of the affordable and perfectly innocent clothing I saw during my brief reconnaissance mission.

Item 1: Cream blouse with lace detail and peter pan collar, $20, Target

Named for the boy who never grew up, no other design feature screams ‘child and not employed in the sex industry’ quite like a Peter Pan collar. Such is the curious power of the Peter Pan collar that it can even render a grown woman utterly infantile.

This adorable, on-trend blouse leaves arms bare and features lace which, while backed with other fabric, might be considered provocative by, I don’t know, a person with some particular kind of brain injury?

Rating: modest

Will suit: age-appropriately stylish children of middle-class leftists

Item 2: Caftan pant set, $30, Target

Perhaps you (or your child) prefer modest clothing of the downright ugly variety? This caftan pant suit features long sleeves, a low hem on the caftan, heavier, more opaque fabric over the breast region and long pants in an unappealing brown-green. Trust me, no-one will find this sexy.

Rating: extra modest

Will suit: parents and children with poor taste, long-legged offspring

Item 3: Elmo t-shirt, Big W, $14.88

Now, I can acknowledge this one is borderline. On the one hand, it has sleeves and a mid-level neckline and features infant t.v. show character Elmo. On the other hand, Elmo holds in his extended arms a banner reading ‘love’, and for all we know he might mean the sexual kind.

Rating: borderline-modest

Will suit: Tweens with an ironic appreciation for Sesame Street

Item 4: Knee length shorts, $20, Target

Longer black shorts in a poly-cotton blend, perfect for outdoor activities. Similar style in blue denim also available.      

Rating: modest

Will suit: Active, tomboyish girls

Item 5: Mod-style colour block dress, Target, $28

Another on-trend piece, this time in a resurgent mod-influenced style. A hallmark of this style is the lack of definition at the waist, which creates an illusion of shapelessness – just the opposite of a hooker! This dress also features a decidedly childish bow and heart-shaped buttons, and comes with a pair of tights to cover up seductive little legs. I mean what’s next Target? Buy one get one free burkhas?

Rating: extra modest

Will suit: Girls with attitude

Item 6: Ugly grey-brown pants, Big W, $9

These pants extend to the ankle, can be worn loosely fitted, and feature a reasonably high and adjustable waist. While this adjustability could, theoretically, come in handy in the case of teen pregnancy, I don’t think that was the manufacturer’s intention.

Rating: extra modest

Will suit: Tomboys, cool weather

So, there you have it! If you’re oddly incapable of locating any of the hundreds of items of non-hooker kids’ clothes in Target or similar stores, I can do it for you – please contact me to discuss rates and your particular requirements. Of course, if you find children’s bare forearms unbearably provocative or see sex in every scrap of lace, I’m not sure what I can do for you. And if maybe your real problem is that you don’t want anyone to be able to buy short shorts from Target, I’m afraid you’re all out of luck.

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Filed under In the news, Research

An untimely and fairly detailed account of my visit to Melbourne Sexpo

Last Sunday year I went to the 2011 Club X Sexpo, a “sexuality lifestyle expo” held at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. I would like to claim that it has taken me this long to finalise my post about it because I’ve been busy doing the kind of FILTHY THINGS YOU ONLY DREAM ABOUT, but the truth is only that I am incredibly lazy. I still want to share though, and I wrote notes, so you can please be assured that what you are about to read is rigorously evidence-based.

I believe I was the only one taking copious notes among the racks of polyester lingerie (XS-4XL) and the dildo-strewn novelty golf course.

DEDICATED IS ALL I’M SAYING

In addition, I believe I am also the only person who interviewed both the Fleshlight salesman and the elderly Christian bookstore proprieter.

I did it for you, dear internet friends! Please now let me tell you the story of my recent geologically speaking but many-moons-ago-internet-wise afternoon at Sexpo…

Approach and arrival

Approaching from a couple of hundred metres away I began to see people leaving the Exhibition Centre, laden with packages: nondescript white paper bags; opaque plastic gift boxes; and for the unashamed, glossy yellow bags branded ‘HUSTLER’. Reaching the entrance, I learned that Sexpo was through door number seven, right down the other end of the Convention Centre. I walked past “First Trimester Screening Australian Annual Update,” the cult-feel “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind Intensive” and “Australian Quilt Market 2011″ before seeing a woman whose diamante-script top suggested that I was close to reaching my destination. Sitting down next to Diamante Lady, I observed the arrivals for a few minutes. A group of two young straight couples. A middle aged couple. An older guy. A pair of male twenty-something friends all white shirts and gold chains. Lebanese perhaps? A young Asian couple. Another white pair in their thirties, comfortably plump. An aging biker whose leather jacket proclaimed “Harley Heaven”.

So what I noticed was that all of these people looked casual and oddly comfortable. None of the young women were tittering. The groups of young guys weren’t nervously ribbing one other. If any member of these couples was embarrassed, or was dreading their partner’s next attempt to reinvigorate a flagging sex life or ‘spice things up’, it’s wasn’t obvious on their faces. Maybe we’re not so stupid about sex after all?

Entry

I got up to pay, opting for a regular $22 pass rather than the heavily-spruiked $37 VIP ticket. As well as a free condom, a lube sample, a magazine, a shoulder bag and a non-specific ‘adult toy,’ a VIP ticket bought you ‘Priority Entry’ through a special gate just next to the regular gate. Hinting at the not-quite-right combination of sex and motorsports that I was to find inside, the VIP gate was somehow reminiscent of Formula 1. After all, as the website reminds us, “SEXPO is not just about SEX, it is about sexuality and adult lifestyles.” (That is not, technically, a lie. It’s just that edible glitter bodypaint sellers and vibrator-repair stalls outnumber alcohol and t-shirt vendors to such an extent that the latter’s presence just feels awkward.)

Being as I was a non-VIP, entry required me to walk past red-shirted security guards and two map-dispensing male greeters through this kind of semi-walled-off passage around 20 metres long. Large banners along the barrier showcased topless women and ads for paintball, and as I walked through I could hear the competing sounds of pounding ‘classic rock’, shuffling crowds and loudspeaker announcements inside. Ejected out of the passageway into the low-lit maze of stalls, just about the first thing I saw were the ripped abdominals of three exceedingly attractive and obviously shirtless men – ‘Hunkmania‘ strippers. I broke out into an enormous grin and started walking in their general direction, but found myself too embarrassed and shy to approach them, or even to look at them. So I walked right on past, stopping only when I reached the considerably-less-arousing stall of a man who paints portraits with his dick and calls himself ‘Pricasso.’

I accidentally the whole fleshlight

Fleshlights! They are masturbatory devices for men. I shall admit that even I find them a wee bit disconcerting because they look like disembodied vulvas embedded in a torch, making my own vulva blanch in terror. Obviously, however, that is unfair, because I do not find disembodied flesh-coloured dick-shaped things disconcerting in the least. To the contrary! QUITE to the contrary!

LADY OPENING!

Without approaching the ubiquity of vibrators, fleshlights were certainly abundant at Sexpo, which had a dedicated fleshlight stall and a special fleshlight corner inside Sexpo’s beating heart and the only shop with a ceiling – the central Club X World store. The fleshlight corner was manned by an ever-so-slightly weedy man who looked to be in his early twenties, and who answered my questions knowledgably and with a distinct and admirable lack of self-consciousness.

From Fleshlight Boy I learned that:

  • the celebrity-endorsed fleshlights, moulded from the pussies and assholes of porn stars, are the most expensive;
  • one can purchase various interchangable fleshlight ‘sleeves’ in a range of textures;
  • the blue fleshlights are because some men would like to fuck a Na’vi; and
  • women whose partners go away to work in mining towns often buy them fleshlights as a kind of consolation and a precaution against infidelity.

I was also treated to a demonstration of how easy it is to clean one’s fleshlight: simply rinse with tap water and, if you like, (this is when I really felt vulnerable in my pants) flip the vaginal sleeve “inside-out like so” and sprinkle with a little corn starch to keep the fleshy material in tip-top condition. Hiding my disembodied-vulva-discomfort and focusing on the positives, I told Fleshlight Boy, honestly, that it was good to see some quality sex toys being made for men.

The Five Languages of Love

It was just around the corner from the Melbourne BDSM Community space that I met Stella, an old woman with short white hair who was tending a small stall of books with titles like “Staying Pure,” “Becoming a Man of Integrity” and “No Sex in the City.” She also had pamphlets for an Australian branch of the Pink Cross, a controversial Christian organisation in the USA that ‘rescues’ women from the sex industry.

Stella was, frankly, lovely, and many of the things she said (in contrast to some of the batshit-crazy looking books she had) to me sounded eminently reasonable: some women in the industry hate it and want to leave, and her group was there to offer non-judgemental support to those women. She also talked to me at great, great length about The Five Languages of Love, a series of self-help books she was selling.

I had not been expecting to see a stall of this kind at Sexpo, and said as much to Stella. What she told me was pretty surprising: she’s being coming to Sexpo for years and the organisers love her. They ring her every year to see whether she’ll be coming and this year they helped her to move all her things. As I left she pressed into my hand a heart-shaped chocolate and a tiny coloured pamphlet about god loving me.

Ride me

As well as all the stores, Sexpo has rides and games which give it a vaguely incongruent carnivalesque vibe. One middle-aged spruiker in camo get-up  didn’t seem to be attracting any customers to his Throbbin’ Hood game, although he was really trying, yelling “Whooooooo’s gonna be our next lucky winner?! Gotta be in it to win it! Don’t walk on by, walk on in!! Whoooooo’s gonna be our next…” over and over in an endless loop.

THE DILDO-STREWN NOVELTY GOLF COURSE I MENTIONED EARLIER

I didn’t play any games, but I did partake of both the Sex Train (WARNING! “sexually explicit themes,” “may not be suitable for pregnant women”) and the Sex Maze. The curious thing was, the ride operators just obviously wished they were dead. The rather hot train guy asked me how my day had been as he took my ticket. “Fascinating!” I said flirtatiously, “How about yours?” It must have sounded like a genuine question because his initial cheer gave way and he responded emphatically: “Terrible!”

Similarly, the (less hot) ticket-taker at the Sex Maze was so bored and/or embarrassed that he took my tickets and then handed them straight back to me, saying “That’ll be two tickets thanks you can keep ’em.” I’d been inside the maze scarcely a minute when an arm appeared amid the be-dildoed mirrors, shining a torch in my face. A young male voice said over the maze’s soundtrack of sexual moaning, “this is the exit here if you’re lost.” Uh, I thought that was the point?

Big Richard

One of the last stalls I visited was that of condom seller Big Richard.

IT IS TRUE OF ME AT LEAST

I had assumed, some might say logically, that Big Richard condoms were manufactured specifically for the well-endowed. I asked the facially-pierced woman at the counter if this was the case, but she surprised me by saying no. Moreover, although they’d had some larger ones earlier in the week, they’d sold out and now only had condoms for Regular 5 to 6″ Richards. Why then, I asked, are they called Big Richard condoms? Piercing Lady told me it was “just marketing” and that she supposed a lot of guys just liked to think of themselves that way. But I honestly don’t think I know any men who’d be swayed by such transparently groundless flattery.

My Climax

Sex trains ridden, mazes navigated, condom-sellers interviewed… there was just one thing that I had to do before re-emerging into the workaday world. I felt intimidated and ugly and awkward, but those hard, tan abs were calling to me. I marched determinedly back to where I had began, and I procured for myself a Hunkmania “poster and photo – $15.”

The hunks sprung into action, assembling on their blocks and directing me to take a seat in the middle. To my indescribable delight, Eye-level Navel Hunk and Vaguely Exotic Hunk each took one of my hands and placed it firmly on his snug, soft penis, while Friendly Hunk postioned his knees at my shoulders and offered two thumbs up. I tilted my head and smiled, the camera flashed, and this photo I shall forever cherish – radioactively pale and with-child though I may look.

I left on a post-hunk high.

in closing

I hope none of this sounded too sneering because while the whole thing was a little tacky and confused, I had a pretty good time at Sexpo, and I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically bad about enormous stacks of fluffy handcuffs or adults dressed in giant wobbling genital-dinosaur mascot costumes. The stallholders were friendly, the crowds seemed happy to be there, and overall the vibe was lighthearted and open. It wasn’t a space that showcased the incredible diversity of human sexuality, but then again, I’m just a straight girl with for-the-most-part vanilla tastes and a weakness for conventionally hot men. I felt pretty damn comfortable there in the commercial mainstream, perhaps even more comfortable than I feel at alternative and self-consciously ‘inclusive’ sex-related events. But that’s a post for another day!

GET IT GET IT?!

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Filed under Interview, Man Candy, Research

Mrs Coolidge and me

There’s a story about President Calvin Coolidge that every evolutionary psychologist knows by heart. It goes like this: The president and his wife were visiting a commercial chicken farm in the 1920s. During the tour, the first lady asked the farmer how he managed to produce so many fertile eggs with only a few roosters. The farmer proudly explained that his roosters happily performed their duty dozens of times each day. “Perhaps you could mention that to the president,” replied the first lady. Overhearing the remark, President Coolidge asked the farmer, “Does each cock service the same hen each time?” “Oh no,” replied the farmer, “he always changes from one hen to another.” “I see,” replied the president. “Perhaps you could point that out to Mrs Coolidge.”

Whether the story is historically factual or not, the invigorating effect of a variety of sexual partners has become known as “the Coolidge effect.” While there’s little doubt that the females of some primate species (including our own) are also intrigued by sexual novelty, the underlying mechanism appears to be different for them. Thus the Coolidge effect generally refers to male mammals, where it’s been documented in many species.

- Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

This week Christopher Ryan, co-author of the fairly awesome bestseller Sex at Dawn, has been visiting our shores. Wednesday evening I went to see him speak about the book, in conversation with Melbourne University academic Justin Clemens, at Readings bookstore. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Uncertainty and anomalous sluttyness

These days I work, basically, as a lobbyist. That means I spend my time devising “policy positions” and writing them down in submissions and speeches and letters. You can’t open a submission with “I’m not sure,” but actually, I never am sure. Likewise, I’m not sure about anything I write here – I just say it because I doubt my opinions are much more hole-ridden than everyone else’s.

——

For years and years I have been raging, inside my little head, against dominant representations of female sexuality (and of female psychology more broadly) in which I – as a straight, non-monogamous, novelty-seeking, casual sex-loving woman – can find very, very little to identify with. Not being able to see much of myself in these descriptions makes me sad, which makes me angry.

I’m not entirely sure why I feel this way, because being anomalously slutty has undeniable perks. It has occurred to me to question why I’m so uncomfortable with the idea of being an outlier, and, specifically, of being an outlier not just because I disregard social norms that many other women observe, but because maybe I’m just a bit weird. Instead of trying to widen the definition of ‘normal’ female sexuality, I’ve wondered whether perhaps I should put my energies into being happily, proudly freakish. I remain undecided.

But back to Sex at Dawn

If you haven’t read the book (read the book!), its argument is that ‘human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners.’ It follows from this that monogamy, while possible, is not really ‘natural’. My favourite parts of the book find evidence for this thesis in the structure of the human body and in the behaviour of our closest primate relatives (basically, bonobos fucking all the time).

When I read Sex at Dawn about a year ago I though it was well-written, well-researched and well-argued. At the same time, though, I was suspicious of my own evaluation because I liked its arguments. I wanted to believe. As kinda-gross as the thought of a man’s penis as having ‘unusual flared glans… forming the coronal ridge’ evolved to draw competitors’ semen out of the vaginal canal like a squeegee is, it also puts my fondness for group sex in a whole new light of naturalness and normalcy. Likewise a chapter on the theory that ‘female copulatory vocalisations’ in humans and other primates are correlated with promiscuity and exist to incite other males to join the fun. A chapter refuting the denial of female libido… discussion of various cultures in which sleeping around is or was the norm… all of this is rather validating for a woman like me.

But then I hit chapter twenty, and suddenly I was a bit of a freak again. In this chapter, Ryan and Jetha describe women as mysterious, full of contradiction, sexually ‘fluid’ (when hooked up to a machine measuring genital bloodflow and shown pictures of naked men, naked women, naked bonobos – things get pumping, whereas men’s dicks only respond as their sexual orientation would predict), particularly responsive to emotional intimacy and more likely than men to be bisexual. I don’t dispute (most of) these claims, especially as they are presumably supposed to describe tendencies rather than rules. Still, they really don’t ring true for me,* personally, a super-straight INTJ (if you go in for that kind of thing).

It was chapter twenty-one, though, about men, that really pissed me off. It’s this chapter that contains the passage on the Coolidge effect, quoted above, and which tells the story of “Phil”, a handsome, wealthy, successful friend of the authors’ whose twenty year marriage ended when his wife discovered his affair. From there the chapter goes on to discuss why ‘so many men‘ have affairs, the health-giving effects of affairs for middle aged men, men’s desire to watch porn with heaps of different women, men’s  strong appetite for sexual novelty, the negative effects of monogamy on men, men’s singular capacity to separate sex and love, men’s being ‘constituted, by millions of years of evolution, to need occasional novel partners to maintain an active and vital sexuality’, the unfairness of demanding monogamy from men… you get the idea. The book then closes with a call for people to consider non-monogamy as an option, with this framed by and large (although not entirely) as a matter of women accepting the non-monogamy their partners will enjoy.

“But wait!”  I’m thinking, “what happened to the bonobos and the sperm competition and the female copulatory vocalisations?”

“Where’s the bit where I get to have group sex?!

Anyhow, back to the bookstore

I wanted a good seat (although there were no seats) so I got to Readings a little early and moseyed about in the politics/sociology/philosophy section, where the presentation was to happen, inspecting books and the other people turning up. Fortunately, just as I spied this:

RUH ROH!!

… some deviant friends appeared and saved me with chit chat until the presentation began.

Justin asked Chris a bunch of polite, intelligent questions about Sex at Dawn, often focussed on its social, political and cultural implications, rather than the fucking bits. The book itself devotes quite a bit of space, actually, to describing social organisation before the advent of agriculture, i.e., for 99 per cent of human history, and to refuting the bleak picture of pre-modern life painted by people like Steven Pinker. I love that stuff, and I do feel, intensely (much as I enjoy my smart phone and my pretty clothes and my access to reticulated water and sewerage), the kind of nostalgia for this egalitarian past that Chris evoked with this goddamned beautiful T.S. Eliot quote:

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Question!

And then it was time for questions. I’m not normally among the question-askers at events like this, but I really wanted to ask about why the book ended on such a the men have their needs, so suck it up ladies! note. So I got the microphone in my hot little hand and said:

“As a non-monogamous, high-libido, novelty-seeking woman, I obviously really liked your book.”

At this point Chris gestured at me like “she’s over here, dudes,” and several people laughed. It was pretty funny. I continued something like:

“But the last few chapters really irritated me. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that at the end, the book has a heavy emphasis on male desire and pleasure, and presents non-monogamy as being about male pleasure and female acceptance. So, I have two questions. Firstly, how excited do you think Mrs Coolidge was the night she had sex with Mr Coolidge for the ten thousandth time?”

There was another light smattering of laughter.

“And secondly, don’t you think that if we want non-monogamy to be an option for people, it would be ethical and practical to focus a little more on female pleasure, too?”

Chris said he had had that feedback from other women, and explained that the book initially ended without this section. But alas! The publisher wanted more material about the implications for modern life and how the lessons might be applied in our relationships. (On that, it’s interesting to note that the book’s subtitle in the US is not “The prehistoric origins of modern sexuality” but the far crappier “How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships”) They were tired and not enthused about the prospect of more writing, but there was “Phil” and his dilemma,  so they wrote that up and stuck it in.

OK, sure, I’ll pay that. It was the next bit where he lost me.

They perhaps should have balanced it out, he said, but women are just so complicated in their sexual response. If they had added the story of a woman’s affair it would have needed another fifty pages, not ten, because women are so much more complex.

At that point I interjected, somewhat petulantly, “I could write about my affairs in ten pages!” and Chris replied “Well you do that, and then I can criticize what you’ve written!” which, well, fair call. I kind of hate myself for having acted like those people who argue with speakers at events like this…

Anyhow, as it turns out, I wasn’t the only person in the crowd struggling with Chris’ take on the differences between the sexes. The next question was from a young guy (or young-sounding – he was buried in the crowd and I couldn’t see him) who was just about choking up as he said:

“The way you speak about men and women it’s like you think we are completely different creatures. Men are these simple, dumb things… and women can do no wrong. Do you… is that really what you think?”

Well, yes, as it happens, that pretty much was what Chris thought, but it’s not necessarily bad, he argued – “simplicity can be beautiful.”

Me again

I am a woman but do not contradict myself, I do not contain multitudes, I am not mysterious like the moon, at least no more so than any other human being. I don’t, generally speaking, have sex for reasons much more complex than sexual attraction. I am not in an open relationship because I accepted that men couldn’t be faithful, but because I realised, independently, aged 21, that I probably couldn’t be faithful, and definitely couldn’t be faithful and satisfied. I do know what I want, and it’s this: I want love (with one person is probably enough), friendships, and lots of sex with a variety of men I find attractive. Happily for me, I have all three.

And out of the I-don’t-even-know-how-many men I’ve slept with, there have been all types. Romantics and cynics, introspective analytical men and happy-go-lucky ones, men who sleep around a lot and men who like sex to be ‘special’, straight men and bisexual men (and possibly even one or two gay men), men who felt more for me than I did for them, and men who felt less…

Chris might be right and I might be wrong, and men and women might be more different than I suppose. But even though I know I might be kidding myself, I think I’ll keep living as though each person I meet is an individual for discovery.

A souvenir

At the end, because I could, I lined up to have Chris sign my book. We discussed for a moment whether ‘ultrahedonist’ should take a definite or indefinite article, I prattled a little, he was gracious, I thanked him, and then I half-tripped backwards over the bench on which the presenters’ water and wine were resting. Sometimes I have illusions/pretensions of being vaguely sophisticated, but something like that always happens to bring me back to reality. Anyhow, here – en español and everything:

Rad!

* Although I don’t doubt that if you hooked my genitals up they’d respond to all kinds of stimuli…

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Filed under In the news, Introspection, Literature, Research

Always with the gagging: a response to Cordelia Fine (Part 2)

Hello! It’s time for the second two-thirds of my rather extensive thoughts on Cordelia Fine’s essay The Porn Ultimatum. We’ll begin gently with a recap. In Part 1 I used 1,500 words and a mostly gratuitous oral sex story to make the point that ‘ew, gross’ is not a proper argument. I concluded that should she want me on her 95% anti-porn team, Dr Fine would need to show that porn causes some identifiable harm, and that this harm outweighs a lot of jizzy tissues and a smaller but not insignificant stack of wet panties. It is to this issue of harm – to performers, male users and women at large – that we shall now turn.

Performers, production and how humans are a  bit sucky

Fine’s essay doesn’t go into a lot of detail on the topic of porn’s effects on (female) performers, but it does include one curious little paragraph. According to Fine,  ‘astonishingly little is known’ about these women and apart from a vague reference to ‘the work of Dines and Tyler,’ she doesn’t mention or discuss any research into their experiences. The seeming lack of research, though, doesn’t prevent her from forming an opinion. She never comes right out and says it, but by describing the ‘permeability of the conceptual boundaries between pornography and prositution’ with its associated ‘high levels of dissociative disorders, post traumatic stress disorder and vulnerability to violence’, capped off with a question about what ‘personal and economic circumstances’ bring women to the job, well, it’s pretty obvious what she’s driving at.

And actually, I have to say that I think that’s quite a devious way of covering the issue of whether performers are harmed, and somewhat beneath a writer who’s arguments usually combine logic and evidence so carefully. To my mind, if research on the experiences of porn performers is lacking, then next thing you do is ask some porn performers, or do the desktop version and seek out some of their accounts. That’s not going to give you representative data about experiences and outcomes, but it will at least give you a sense of the possible range of views and experiences. Instead of doing that, Fine leaves the reflexive disgust I talked about in Part 1 do the heavy lifting: if you already think you know that porn is uncomfortable, painful and humiliating, why would you need to ask the performers what they think?

*I* don’t know whether porn performers are, on average, harmed more by their work than workers in other industries are by theirs. Certainly, I can see the potential for harm, and I believe the accounts of former porn performers who found the experience painful and damaging. I also believe the accounts of former and current porn performers who are positive about their time in the industry. It appears to me to that perhaps here we have another one of those things that is neither intrinsically good/beneficial nor instrinsically bad/harmful. Darn, there are just so many of those! They sure make life complicated!

My somewhat tentative conclusion, then, is that the critical issue here is ethical production. Porn producers, like factory owners, should not be exploitative fucks. Governments, in my practically Stalinist* opinion, should whack in a bunch of labour rights laws and regulations. And consumers of porn – of anything, actually – should care about how workers are treated, and ask for an ethical product. (They probably won’t though, because most of us can’t really be bothered. That’s pretty sucky of us, whether we’re talking about porn, or about coffee or sneakers.)

Porn sex, life sex

After touching briefly on performers, Fine goes on to discuss in more detail the effects of porn on wider society, starting with porn users, who are more or less assumed to be male. Much of the discussion here centres on whether porn spoils users’ sex lives, with Fine discussing two pieces of research. The first, a study of Croatian college students by Aleksander Stulhofer, Fine describes as finding that:

  • “variety in sexual experiences contributes to men’s sexual satisfaction”, but
  • “intimacy is at least as, and probably more, important for sexual satisfaction” for both men and women, and
  • “for men, the more their views on what makes for great porn and what makes for great sex merged, the less intimacy they enjoyed.”

Well and good, but note that the only porn-related claim Fine is making here is that men who think that good porn sex and good actual sex are more similar tend to enjoy less intimacy. Ok. But is the decreased intimacy this group experience associated with lower sexual satisfaction for that same group (as well as for the sample as a whole?). And, more to the point, do most porn consumers think that life sex and porn sex are – or should be – the same?

To jump back to personal experience for a moment, I’m not so sure that they do. I don’t actually watch very much porn – it’s too difficult to find porn with men I find hot and who are actually visible in frame. But when I do watch the stuff, I tend to go for MMF threesome, gangbang, double penetration and female submission porn.

Bi MMF threesome, ancient Pompeii-style

Some of these things I enjoy from time to time in real life, others I would like to try, others I like to watch but don’t want to do. And even though my tastes in porn run moderately hardcore, I have, enjoy, and want to continue to have other kinds of sex in my life as well, including loving, affectionate sex. I know from discussion with others that I’m not particularly unusual in seeing some demarcation between the porn sex  I’ll rub one out to and the totality of my sexual desires and practices.

And in fact, if we go back to the Stulhofer study’s abstract, we find it concluding that:

In light of contemporary concerns over the normalisation of pornography use, particularly among young people, our findings do not support the view that adolescent exposure to sexually explicit materials is a determinant of relationship intimacy among young Croatian adults.

What I take from this study (although I can only access the abstract), is that porn consumption does not generally but can, in some circumstances, impact negatively on sexual satisfaction.  Similarly, work by McKee, Albury & Lumby mentioned earlier in Fine’s piece found that a (non-random, self-selecting) sample of users reported mainly positive effects from porn consumption, but that 7 per cent reported negative effects. There’s a vast literature on this general topic that I won’t pretend to be familiar with and that may contradict these two studies. Still, it all sounds fairly plausible to me, and, while not completely unproblematic, hardly the kind of nightmare scenario that convinces me porn is bad, kids. 

No blank slate: porn and female sexuality

Whew. Writing this whole thing is really tuckering me out! But I can’t stop now, because we’re up to my favourite bit: the ladies! I feel a rant coming on…

For much of the essay, Fine’s language is tentative and her conclusions cautious. Not so, however, when it comes to porn’s influence on female sexuality. According to Fine, porn is ‘especially bad’ for women because it ‘encourages them to disengage from their own desires in favour of their partner’s’. Two pieces of evidence are presented in support of this argument:

  • Popular sex advice books – some even written by pornstars – ‘endlessly’ encourage women to try out ‘acts from pornography that they’d rather not.’  For example,  Gabrielle Morrissey’s book Urge: Hot Secrets for Great Sex gives advice on how to calm the gag reflex while deep-throating.** (By the by, also in the book but left unmentioned by Fine: kissing, managing mismatched libidos, condom use, masturbation, extended orgasms, tantric sex, celibacy, cunnilingus – and ways to encourage reluctant men to get into it, emotional intimacy, premature ejaculation, etc, etc.)
  • One study of more than 4,000 young adults found women were around 4 times more likely than men ‘to repeatedly engage in sexual acts they didn’t like (usually fellatio and anal sex)’. Unfortunately, the study isn’t referenced and though I tried, I haven’t been able to track it down.

Finishes Fine: ‘Hands up anyone who sees liberation in this ‘looks disturbingly like prostitution without pay’ model of female sexuality?’

Boy oh boy did that paragraph rub me up the wrong way! Oh man!

I thought a lot about just exactly why Fine’s take on female sexuality bothered me so much before I could put my finger on it. It’s not just the unfair characterisation of Morrissey’s book, the presentation of deep-throating as intrinsically bad, or her insulting insinuation that porn stars couldn’t possibly have any useful information to share with other women (who, by the way, would mostly need to seek it out by buying the book). And it’s not just the way her argument again erases women with edgier, kinkier tastes, like we don’t exist or are perhaps suffering some form of false consciousness.

It’s also the way the argument presents porn as though it is the only cultural influence on an otherwise natural, unencumbered female sexuality. But female sexuality in 21st century Western societies isn’t a blank slate, it’s a battleground. Any pressure on women to engage in porn-style sex acts comes on top of a whole range of other conflicting pressures, influences and messages. And I’m not just talking about the harshest end, like aggressive slut-shaming. I’m also talking about apparently more benign things, like the pervasive messages in sex education.

For example, we hear over and over again, especially when we’re teenagers, that we can say no to sex and that we don’t have to do sexual acts that we are not comfortable with. Fine. That’s wonderful! Who could disagree? But when that’s practically all we hear from authorities, parents and allies it paints a very narrow picture of normal female sexuality. To get a bit postmodern for a moment, this advice doesn’t function only a a guide to what to do. It also contributes, I think, to how we young women understand our own sexuality. What I mean by this is that if you tell a young woman one hundred times that she can say no to unwanted sex; twice that she can say yes to wanted sex; and never that she can propose it, or be exploratory and adventurous with it, then you help to create in that woman’s mind the idea that her sexuality is about gatekeeping and avoiding unwanted experiences, and not about seeking pleasure.

Take a powerful cultural narrative that presents female sexuality as weak, receptive, timid, and often inorgasmic, add to it porn-induced pressure to engage in varsity-level sex and yeah, I think we probably have a problem.  But don’t pretend that porn is the only issue, because porn isn’t one evil influence alighting upon what would otherwise be a healthy, liberated female sexuality. Instead, ours is a culture in which women are simultaneously encouraged to be scared of sex and to fuck like a pornstar. It really is rather confusing!

Surprise – COMPLEXITY!

There’s a lot more I could write, but I think I’ll wrap this up. I must say, I’m not at all convinced that porn is so nearly completely bad as Fine thinks it is. I don’t think it’s simply good, either. If you ask me, it’s all pretty complicated! Acknowledging that porn is complex phenomenon superimposed on an already complex world is less satisfying than declaring that it has no place in a just society, and it’s less fun than deciding it’s completely unproblematic as you rub out another one, but it’s about the best I can come up with.

Porn is like a fractal

* JOKES! Obviously I’m not really a Stalinist!

** Oh! If you’re up for a little disengaging from your own desires in favour of your partner’s, you might like to read Harlot Overdrive’s fab Deepthroating Primer!

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Always with the gagging: a response to Cordelia Fine (Part 1)

Another day, another post substantially devoted to the sexual act of gagging on cock. I swear I’m not doing it deliberately.

Cordelia Fine is really smart and she thinks you shouldn’t be watching that

Early last year, reading The Age, I was surprised to happen upon a beautifully written, compassionate and even-handed opinion piece that presented an impeccably logical argument and supported it with research evidence. I was so impressed by this extraordinary occurence that I looked up the piece’s author, Dr. Cordelia Fine, and sent her a gushing email. When her book, Delusions of Gender, came out soon afterwards, I bought, read and enjoyed that too. I really admire and respect Dr. Fine’s work.

Certainly, she’s no Gail Dines, but she did just write, for The Monthly, an essay titled The Porn Ultimatum: The Dehumanising Effects of Smut. It’s anti-porn, it’s humorous* and pretty great, and you should probably read it. As a research dork, I particularly love the parts of the essay in which Fine’s coverage of porn studies’ findings incorporates discussion of how the studies were done. That’s a lot more work for a writer than cherry-picking appealing findings, but by doing it she cuts through a lot of the noise in the porn debate.

Fine’s argument isn’t unfamiliar, although it is put much more carefully and convincingly than you usually see.  To briefly summarise (although again, you really ought to read the whole thing) her argument is that the majority of contemporary porn depicts sex that is degrading, aggressive and violent towards women. Although the women in this porn are mostly portrayed as enjoying that kind of thing, they really don’t, and their show of enthusiastic consent to what is not actually pleasurable doesn’t magically make the degradation or aggression okay. The effects of porn on viewers are, she acknowledges, contentious and uncertain, but she suggests that on balance they are negative, especially for women, who are encouraged by porn culture to “disengage from their own desires in favour of their partner’s”. She also argues that porn has had a powerful de-civilising influence on social norms. The essay ends with what I think is an only half-serious (?) suggestion: that until there’s proper gender equality, only women be allowed to make and watch porn.

Ridiculous conclusion aside, perhaps surprisingly, I’m in substantial agreement with quite a few aspects of Fine’s argument. Yet, while she mostly avoids sloppy, Dines-esque hyperbole, Fine still falls back on many of the same flawed ideas and unwarranted assumptions.

Reflexive disgust is not enough

To start with the most basic of observations, the essence of the porn debate is disagreement about whether porn is good or bad. There are those who think porn is bad most always and everywhere, and those that think the opposite, and then another hundred or so positions in between.

One way in which many in the anti-porn camp try to establish its badness is to simply describe common porn acts, relying on audiences to automatically recoil in disgust. In this vein, Fine’s essay is strewn with passages that reference porn-style sex or particular acts as though they were intrinsically bad and/or could not be pleasurable for women. For example:

I like to think that many men watching this material would simply find it very off-putting if the woman showed how she really felt about being doubly penetrated [...] or having ejaculate shot in her face.

The men in porn are little more than scaffolding for their erections but it is the women who are the product, and who endure the discomfort, pain and humiliation.

What economic and personal circumstances bring women to end up being filmed with a penis in every orifice…?

In a New York Times article in 1914 William T Sedgwick [...] warned “the militant suffragettes” that, were they to succeed in their goal of female liberation, they would “find that the knightliness and chivalry of gentlemen have vanished, and in their stead will arise a rough male power that will  place women where it chooses” [...] The depictions of popular pornography in these books [about porn] – women penetrated by three or more men simultaneously (you do the maths), women gagging on penises, women fellating penises just removed from their own or others’ anuses without washing, women drenched in or drinking the ejaculate of any number of men – would leave Professor Sedgwick, in search of his prophesised rough male power, crying out, “Ah, there it is!” without hesitation.

Quite possibly it would. Evidently, for Fine and for many others it’s a very short mental journey indeed from triple penetration or gagging to revulsion and then to the conclusion that the woman involved is suffering or being oppressed.

But when you’re a woman who enjoys gangbangs, or gagging, or bukkake or whatever, the mere fact that they are featured in pornography is not self-evidently bad. It could instead be arousing. And you might even be, I don’t know, annoyed by the presumption that you don’t exist, or don’t count, or don’t get to have your own meanings and preferences taken at face value like they would be if you only liked cunnilingus and long walks on the beach.

The simple fact is that there exist women (and men, for that matter) who enjoy, consensually and ethically, sex acts that involve power play, discomfort, pain, humiliation or risk, and that might shock or disgust other people. And even if we are a minority (and without researching this, I’m not ready to concede we are), we present a conceptual problem for those who would rely  on reflexive disgust to show that porn is bad.

Storytime: why I’m so sure that gagging is not the devil

I know I have this innocent look about me, but it’s true that I rather enjoy gagging on a nice dick. It’s weird and mysterious and I don’t quite understand it, but I’ll try to explain. I hadn’t really ever gagged properly on a cock until recently (to be quite precise, just a few weeks before Gail Dines visited Australia). That first time, I wasn’t really expecting it and it certainly wasn’t my idea. The guy I was blowing, well, he just kind of slowly kept going until I gagged. He would have stopped, I’m very sure, if I’d indicated I wanted him to, but I didn’t.

I felt a bit like I couldn’t breathe, and a bit like something very awkward was happening in the back of my throat, and a bit embarrassed and helpless with that funny noise being produced. Tears welled up in my eyes, because that’s just what happens. It *was* uncomfortable. But it was also, at the same time, oddly pleasurable. Not, obviously, a clit-stimulation type of pleasure, but a mental and emotional one. It was a turn-on. And I don’t know if there’s something physiological about crying that does this, but it felt very intense. I liked it. I liked it even though it wasn’t my idea, and even though he almost certainly got it from porn.

The next day I got up and went to work, ate, had relationships, showered, thought about stuff, commuted, talked to people and just, you know, continued to be the same fairly content and confident person I had been the day before. Given all this, I struggle to think of anything wrong about me gagging on his cock, or about me or him enjoying it. Actually, I’m really quite completely certain that gagging on cock is an act without any intrinsic goodness or badness. The  same goes for other acts that horrify Cordelia but excite me. And I guess, logically, it must also go for those that make me want to vomit (unpleasurably!) but excite some other women, like drinking cum in any substantial volume or even – dare I say it – ass-to-mouth.

the issue of harm

If reflexive disgust and assumed intrinsic badness isn’t a solid basis for evaluating the morality of a sex act or its depiction in porn, what criteria can we use? To get all ethics 101 on you for a moment, my approach to this is more or less utilitarian. I think that whether porn is good/right or bad/wrong comes down to its consequences and to the issue of harm. Quite obviously, porn is responsible for a lot of viewer pleasure. To convince me that porn is bad, the anti-porn camp will need to demonstrate that a billion or so orgasms are outweighed by some harm porn causes to performers, viewers, those with whom viewers interact, society as a whole, or all of the above.

Jeremy Bentham’s head, FYI

That’s gonna be a whole lot more complicated than counting how many orifices are being penetrated at any one time, and I’m already up to 1,500 words. Let’s reconvene in a week or something!

____________

* Choice funny quote: ‘Towards the end of The Porn Report the authors refer to writer Angela Carter’s hope for pornography “as a critique of current relations between the sexes” that “might begin to penetrate to the heart of the contempt for women that distorts our culture”. That’s a really lovely idea but I don’t spot ‘Feminist Critique’ on the list of options between ‘Facials’ and ‘Gangbangs’

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In praise of superficiality

Lately around here I’ve been doing a lot of trawling through media detritus for things to make fun of. That’s kinda amusing, but on the other hand, it’s surprisingly taxing, what with the reading and the analysing and the hyper-linking and so forth. Consequently, today it’s time for a change of pace. Specifically, it’s time for a post that requires very little work on my part. I’m going to spout one of my theories. I’ve sat on this post for a little while, concerned that it was self-indulgent. But then I was like, whatevs, redundant, blog-haver!

Now, anybody who has known me for any length of time will have noticed that I talk about hot guys a lot.


In case you were wondering, yes, I am quite conscious of the fact that this makes me seem like a bit of a tool. Perhaps I am. But! Here’s the thing. It’s political! I’m an activist, trying to change the world, one inappropriate-in-the-workplace-or-at-nana’s-80th-birthday-lunch-comment at a time. Because, you see…

I have a theory:

Without wading too deeply into the murky waters cesspool of evolutionary psychology, when it comes to sex and sexual relationships, it appears that the average contemporary western woman reports placing less value on a partner’s physical attractiveness than the average contemporary western man. My cursory look at the literature suggests that there’s evidence for that, but whatever, it could be totally dodgy. On these topics, I think it’s always important to recognise that how people describe their motivations and behaviours in surveys and suchlike is not necessarily accurate. But whether women tend to value looks less or only think or report that they do, I think it’s fair to say that many of us feel we aren’t supposed to be superficial. And I think there’s a broader cultural idea that caring ‘too much’ about looks means one is immature and shallow.

But I think that’s bunkum!

My theory is that straight women would be more sexually fulfilled if they allowed themselves to pay more attention to and revel in looks and physical, chemical attraction. I’ll just come right out with it now and say that I do not have any evidence at all for my theory, unless you’ll allow me to count My Personal Experience. Why, just the other week I was defiling a pretty Toorak streetscape having sex with this chap in his car, and was suddenly struck by the beautiful shape of said chap’s thigh/backside illuminated in the streetlight, and felt instantly 24% more fulfilled. It was wonderful! But things weren’t always so…

Storytime!

As a teenager I was a quivering, boy-obsessed bag of hormones. My Catholic girls’ school* didn’t provide any stimulus, but from the age of 15 for a couple of years I worked at a McDonald’s. There I had intense and overlapping crushes on Simon, Doug, Dean, Vinnie and, most obsessively, Scott. Scott was gorgeous all over, and had the most beautiful arms. I specifically and vividly recall admiring his forearm as he scooped lard into the fry vat on one of my first days at work. I knew nothing of his personality because I was too awestruck to talk to him; my interest was wholly physical.

But while I was very attuned to my aesthetic tastes in men, my first boyfriend was someone I was barely attracted to, physically speaking. He was, though, the first boy to show any interest in me, and he was decent and fun and very intelligent, so that was enough.

My second boyfriend, Cameron, was 30 when  I met him at 18. I went out with him mainly for his political values (something I will never, ever do again), but I was not very physically attracted to him either. It didn’t help that he put close to zero effort into his appearance, regularly wearing, for example, torn old singlets covered in holes and bits of food (for realz!). He didn’t necessarily shower every day, even during Queensland summers, and even though he cycled everywhere, and once explained to me that he didn’t like to wash before seeing me because then he felt as though he was only doing it for sex-related reasons. (LOLWATTFWASITHINKING?!) I never really objected to any of these things because I was then as now averse to telling anyone what to do, but the rancid ball sweat sure made it harder for me to muster my sexual enthusiasm.

When Cameron and I broke up after a couple of years, it prompted a few major revelations about men, sex, and relationships. I realised that I was an incorrigible hornbag and that monogamy wasn’t for me.** I also decided that I was  going to stop settling for personality alone when it came to sex and sexual relationships, and start allowing myself to care a lot more about base physical attraction. And ever since then I’ve been much more, you know, satisfied.

Qualifications, clarifications (I’m not a terrible person, honest)

I want to be clear about what I’m saying here. I’m not saying that a person’s human worth, or how they deserve to be treated, is related to their physical attractiveness. I’m not saying that sex or relationships are or should be based wholly on physical attraction, that personality is not important, or that personality doesn’t play its part in attraction. And I’m not saying that I think there’s an objective beauty standard, for men or for women. Obviously, different physical features are attractive to different people, even while, at the same time, some features are more widely liked than others. That is, of course, cosmically unfair – but not anybody’s fault.

All I’m saying is that I think sexual satisfaction is closely linked to sexual attraction, which in turn has a lot to do with physicality, how our partners look and feel (and smell and taste). If you value sexual satisfaction in your life (and I do), then I think you’ll do well to put aside the saintly exclusive regard for personality and pay attention to what really gets your motor going.

Because there are these two things about sex:

1. We can’t really control our desires

As anyone who has tried it knows, fighting against your inner sexual nature is tiring because it’s a battle that’s never won. You might be able to avoid acting on your desires, but you probably won’t be able to change them or or stop having them.

2. Enthusiasm is pretty key

Most all of us want to be having sex with people that really truly want to be having sex with us. Even if you try (as I have) to have sex with someone you like (or even love) but are not attracted to, because you feel you should want to, that’s usually not going to quite do it for your partner. They want you to want them!

I think that this means we’re not doing anybody any favours when we don’t allow ourselves to be superficial. We’ll struggle mightily to maintain sexual enthusiasm and activity while failing to give our partners the genuine desire that they probably want, and that someone else might have given them. Nobody wins.

Footnotes!

* Which is not to say that I or my parents were Catholic, I should note.

** By the by, if this non-monogamy caper is of interest to you, I have written about how I came to it in detail in an essay, in an actual book, printed on paper, and published by a publisher! Amazing! The book is called Naked: Confessions of Adultery & Infidelity.

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OMG TEEN SEXTING!!! Part 2

Oh hey!

Since we’ve had more than a fortnight to assimilate the revelations contained in Part 1, I think it’s high time that we resume our investigation of teen sexting! Before we go on, and because it’s been a while, a brief recap of what we discovered in Part 1:

  • nobody quite knows how prevalent teen sexting is, mainly because complete morons have been in charge of all the surveys. We can make an educated guess, however, that it’s somewhat more common than teen double-penetration threesomes but somewhat less common than teen masturbation.
  • even though the media is hysterically concerned about anybody looking at photos of semi-naked teen girls unless they do so in the process of reading an article in the newspaper that is illustrated with a photo of a semi-naked teen girl, it actually appears that both boys and girls are making and sending sexts at approximately equal rates.

So Part 1 cleared up some of the most pressing questions, but we want to go deeper, don’t we? Let’s, because the whole thing is just a wee bit titillating! Tonight, in Part 2, we’re going to peer into the minds of the youth, trying to establish why on earth they would do such a dirty thing. After that we’ll sort through the rubble of the post-sexting landscape, searching for signs of life.

ignorance + pressure = sext!

Why send a digital image of your cock to another person? Perhaps you have a beautiful cock that you are quite proud of, and you think it would be fun to show it off? Perhaps some girl you know asked nicely? Personally, I think both of those would be perfectly good reasons to sext someone. In fact, you should probably e-mail me a picture of your cock, now-ish, should you own one.

Cocks, yes, but we’re getting off-topic. Why would a teenager send a sext? Apparently, they do it because, when it comes to technology, they are real know-nothings! The Victorian Privacy Commissioner, Helen Versey, quoted in one article, claims that ‘‘children are confiding and communicating with their friends online and don’t realise the potential for that information to be picked up by others.’’ Educational experts in another opine that teens incorrectly perceive online space as private; a Detective Senior Sargeant in a third says teens just aren’t getting the message that photos can be distributed.  And on and on. They need, clearly, to be educated.

Educators agree. “More and more young people seem to be distributing highly suggestive or even sexually explicit photos of themselves,” warns the NSW Education Department’s Safe Sexting: No such thing factsheet, “often without a real understanding of the consequences.” It goes on to suggest that as well as monitoring phones and Facebook accounts, parents should warn their children about “the consequences of sexting.”

Far be it from me to deny that teenagers are, on the whole, stupid and ignorant. Still, it strikes me as funny that today’s youth, who’ve been suckling at the internet teat their entire lives, are so often presumed not to understand that digital images can be easily transmitted and are difficult to erase once in circulation. In fact, in the American TRU survey, three quarters of teens 13-19 said they thought that sending ‘sexually suggestive content’ could have ‘seriously negative consequences’. I guess the ignorance assumption persists in the face of the facts because it’s a comforting thought for scared adults: if the problem is that teens don’t know stuff, all you have to do is tell it to them and voilà, behaviour change!

Next, into the fertile ground of the ignorant teen mind are deposited the evil seeds of pop culture. According to the article in The Age that initially set me off:

Experts believe sexting is a product of our highly sexualised celebrity culture, in which young women are encouraged to be sexually rapacious.

Maybe, if by ‘rapacious’ you mean ‘hot’. Specific celebrities singled out for blame for ‘sexualising’ presumably-otherwise-asexual-teens include Ke$ha (take a dirty picture for me, take a dirty picture), Rihanna (feels so good being bad oh oh oh oh oh), Kim Kardashian with that ass of hers, and Vanessa Hugdens of High School Musical, who doesn’t look this wholesome everywhere you find her on the internet:

Finally, forming an unholy alliance of pressure with said starlets, enter the teenage boy. Good-for-nothing, deranged with hormones, lacking both ethics and genuine affection, he cajoles the girl – weak, naïve, absent any sexual desire of her own – to do the deed. If the journalist or education deparment bureaucrat feels like laying it on real thick, our leading man will even plead you would if you loved me, like the dolt in Part 1’s film.

fun, fun, fun, fun!

But akshully, when sexting teenagers are, you know, asked why they sext, they say something a little different. In the TRU survey, the most common reason both boys and girls gave for sexting was to be ‘fun or flirtatious’ (around two-thirds). Other common reasons were to give ‘a sexy present’, as ‘a joke’ and ‘to feel sexy’. Lots of teens in the survey thought that other people sext because they’re pressured to, but when sexters themselves were asked about their own reasons for doing it, only 12% of teen girls and a similar proportion of boys said they’d felt pressured.

Similarly, researcher Nina Funnell makes the insightful observation that “if there was nothing pleasurable about it ever, nobody would be doing it.” As reported in an anomalously decent article in the Daily Telegraph, Funnel has spoken with hundreds of teenagers about sexting, and they’ve told her it’s about flirtation, pleasure and exploration. Fascinatingly, some young men and women told Nina that they see sexting as a way of experimenting with sex while exercising control (choosing angles, lighting etc), and without risking pregnancy or STIs. The research has also found that that teenagers “place a fundamentally different value on privacy and what it means to be seen naked.” They just don’t think it’s quite such a big deal.

consequences

But of course, teenagers don’t even have fully developed and ossified brains, so what would they know? In fact, naked pictures are a Very Big Deal, and have the following consequences:

  • circulation beyond the intended recipient: “and boys being boys, the first thing they do is share it with their mates”
  • viral distribution: “they can be across the world within seconds” “go to… 1 million people”
  • embarrassment: “social humiliation” & “social rejection”
  • bullying: “being bullied and harrassed at school” “these images are then used as weapons against them”
  • images can’t be erased: “Anything on the internet has a footprint that can be there forever and a day”
  • discrimination from employers & universities: “employers might be… making fundamental employment decisions on the basis of what they see”
  • familial disapproval
  • romantic rejection
  • supplying photos to pedophiles: “supply to a market amongst sex offenders who are trawling the internet for sexualised images of children for their sexual gratification”
  • charged with creating/distributing child pornography: “from a legal perspective they are producing and disseminating child pornography” & “you could end up on the sex offenders’ list and be branded a paedophile”
  • emotional distress: “years of anguish” “poor self esteem and self-image” “it ruins your life” “grim consequences”
  • suicide: “18 year old Jessica Logan hanged herself after weeks of ridicule at school”

All of these are presented by media and government alike as sitting somewhere on a scale from Highly Likely to Inevitable. But all the evidence is anecdotal, so it’s entirely possible that only a very small fraction of teen sexting incidents end with hanging oneself. It’s entirely possible, too, that a lot of teens send sexts to their boyfriends and girlfriends and nothing really happens at all beyond a mastubatory session or three. Curiously though, none of the surveys which deal with teens’ sexting habits ask for their perceptions of the actual consequences (bad, and certainly not good) that their sexting had, so we just can’t say.

in closing:

One of the things I remember from my all-too-distant teens is the way everyone was always rambling on about self-esteem this and believe-in-yourself that. You couldn’t go a day without some authority figure reminding you to follow your dreams, to be yourself, to resist peer-pressure and on and on, ad fucking nauseum.

But when it comes to sexuality – unless you’re saying no to it – no-one seems to be spouting the saccharine self-belief line to teenagers. Being slut-shamed? You’re on your own, baby! Probably should have thought of that before you went around being all sexual, like a biological human or something!

What gets my goat most of all in the teen sexting discussion is the way that all these awful sexting consequences are rattled off without any ethical context to counter to the harmful, sex-negative assumptions they are all rooted in. The only – really, only! – reason that a circulated sext can be used as fodder for harassment or discrimination is because sexuality and sexual expression are falsely seen as reflecting (negatively) on a person’s human worth and moral character. Yet the judgement and discrimination that could - could – be prompted by sexting is presented by educators and authorities as a natural and inevitable consequence, rather than an injustice to be fought.

The most obvious example is bullying. Teens already know that there’s a chance any sext they send could be circulated, and if they live in an environment where bullying based on sexual shame is likely to occur, they’re probably aware of that too. They don’t need to be told that they might get ridiculed if a photo gets out, they need to be told that IT’S BULLSHIT. They need to be told that if anyone tries to harass or insult them for being sexual, they would be in the right to look that person right in the eye and tell them to FUCK RIGHT OFF and brush up on their logic.

And what of the claim that naked photographs could affect future employment and university entrance? This rests, I think, on fairly shaky factual ground, but that aside, why do none of the people trumpeting these dire consequences ever mention that such discrimination would be illogical and utterly unjust? Or that it could be fought?

It’s so blindingly obvious that it shouldn’t need stating, but possession of a body and a sexuality has zero bearing on a person’s capacity to do 99.9 per cent of jobs, or to study successfully. Nor does having taken a photograph of that body. There are dozens of naked shots of me on assorted hard drives and in the web-tubes, and I will cut the bitch who suggests that this somehow affects my ability to sit at a desk eight hours a day exchanging use of my brain for cash. (In fact, you know, that spring in my step? That cheerful energy in the office? That’s from the kinky shit I did last night!)

Not *even* to mention that anyone who won’t date you because you once took a naked picture of yourself is sanctimonious and messed-up, and most likely a dud lay to boot. You’re better off without them! And that, my friends, is what I’ll be telling the kiddies in my sex ed class of the future.

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OMG TEEN SEXTING!!! Part 1

Hi kids!

In today’s post, and in Part 2, I shall be tackling the important and contemporary issue of teen-aged sexting. I’ve been prompted to do this by:

My plan *was* to compare the research, media coverage and government propaganda (‘educational resources’) on teen sexting, all the while mocking the latter two for looking nothing like the first one. However, as I worked on the post I was sucked deep into a terrible vortex of research FAIL from which it was difficult to extricate myself. I do apologise!

So anyhow, with only the flashlights of our intellects to illuminate the dark caves of misinformation, we are going to search, together, for the truth about how much sexting is going on; who is doing it; why they are doing it; and whether they then drop dead, instantly!  I’m going to cap it off with some nostalgic reminiscences at one end and a self-indulgent rant at the other. We’ve a lot to cover, and not a moment to spare!

that was then, this is now

I got my first mobile phone the same year I finished high school, in 2000. It was right around the time it was becoming common for school students to have mobiles. Of course, the phones in those days didn’t even have shitty cameras, so we had to let off steam having actual teen sex, rather than transmitting photographic representations of our nubile body parts. Oh, it was an innocent time!

Today, on the other hand, we have “Ke$ha“, and “new technologies” combining to produce the “alarming”  “trend” of a “surging” number of teens “falling into the ‘sexting’ trap“, even, *gasp*, “the girls you would least expect,” were you to be a teacher who goes around judging students’ sluttiness levels when you’re supposed to be writing lesson plans.

Everybody’s doing it, or something

Journalists can’t quite make up their minds how prevalent teen sexting is. On the one hand, alarming surges sell newspapers. But on the other hand, exceptionally dreadful  -  ideally, deadly – consequences sell newspapers. Since most teenagers we see out and about on the streets appear to be very much alive, the prevalence angle and the death-and-destruction angles sit uncomfortably, some might say contradictorily, alongside each other.

Anyhow, a few studies – none of them awesome, methodologically speaking – have tried to establish how common sexting is among teenagers. In the USA, a 2008 survey found that 20 per cent of teenagers (13 to 19 year olds) (by the way, in this context it’s freaking stupid to lump 13 year olds in with 19 year olds) had sent nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves. It’s impossible to say for sure, but this is probably an overestimate: the survey was done online with a self-selecting sample, so you’d expect kids who are tech-savvy and interested in the topic to be more likely to both sext and to take the survey.

More recently, an Australian survey was done as part of the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Cyber-Safety inquiry into cyber-safety, which reported last month. This survey – also done online, and also with a largely self-selected sample – came up with quite different figures. Around one-fifth of 18 year olds (adults!) said they had sent sexts, but this dropped off dramatically at younger ages – closer to 5 per cent for 15, 16 and 17 year olds.

However, it’s here that things get rather curious. According to the same survey, more than 20 percent of FIVE YEAR OLDS answered ‘yes’ to ‘do you send nude or semi-nude pictures?’ which, WAIT, WHAT THE FUCK?

research mystery investigation tangent…

I stared at this page and re-read the surrounding text a good few times:

I mean WAT?! Obviously, four-fifths of five year olds (often the ones you wouldn’t expect?) are not sexting. But also, who the hell administers a survey – one with questions about sexting – to a five year old? Can five-year-olds understand these concepts? Can they even fucking read?

Intrigued by all these questions, and still sure my eyes and/or brain must be broken, I headed deep into the report’s bowels i.e. Appendix D – Survey Methodology. There I was able to confirm that yes, five-year olds filled out this survey, which was written “in partnership” with some unnamed and massively incompetent “external consultant”.

There I also discovered that while the report says that the respondents “answered that they would send nude or semi-nude photos” or “[identified] that they send nude or semi-nude photos to others”, that is not the question the young people were asked and answered. That’s a research no no, people! The actual survey question was:

What information about yourself is ok to put up on a webpage or over the internet that strangers might read?

Then there was a list of items, one of which was:

  • Nude or semi-nude photos to others via text message or email [Yes /No /I don’t know]

You don’t have to be a genius to notice that saying something “is okay” is fairly different to saying you have actually done it. But the Committee reported it that way, and so we find ourselves mired in total idiocy, even before any journalists have got their grubby little paws on it… (but they will!)

Boys and girls

According to researcher Nina Funnell, who is just about the only person in Australia who seems to have anything credible to say on the matter (and more on her in Part 2):

girls and boys are sexting to each other at approximately the same rate and male-to-male sexting in the gay community is widespread.

This is another thing these awful surveys have looked into. The general finding has that teen boys and girls are sexting themselves at nearly equal rates – girls are slightly ahead, but not by much. Of respondents to the American survey linked above, 22% of female teens reported have sent a sext of themselves, compared to 18% of male teens.

In the Australian survey we’ve been looking at, the difference was similar among 18 year olds: 22.8 per cent of female respondents and 17.3 per cent of males said they’d sent nude or semi-nude pictures. (Or maybe they would have, if they had been asked, but, Moving Right Along!). Interestingly, for 17, 16, 15 and 14 year olds, boys were actually answering ‘yes’ at around two or three times the rate that girls were. Not only that, for every age group except for five, six and 18 year olds, a higher percentage of males than females answered yes. This may be partly a result of the ambiguous wording of the question, which doesn’t make it clear whether they are asking about photos of oneself or of another.

Anyhow, now we will look at what happened to those results once journalists became involved. Reporting on the very same survey results, the Courier-Mail in Queensland led with this headline and opening sentence:

Report suggests cyber-safety education should start at kindergarten after a fifth of teen girls admit to ‘sexting’

One in five Australian girls aged 18 has sent nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves over the internet, according to a new Federal Government study.

Apart from being wrong in myriad other ways, this completely distorts the findings of  the already-shoddy survey by suggesting that sexting is something done mainly by teenage girls.

And it’s not just this article, or this survey. I read nearly two dozen news articles on teenage sexting. The anecdotes they include almost universally feature a female sexter and a male recipient, and if the article is illustrated, it’s with a girl. Taken all together, the media is very much pushing the impression that it’s overwhelmingly girls who are making sexts.

That’s also the impression given off by educational resources, which also tend to go with the girl-pressured-by-boy-into-sending-sexts narrative. This NSW Education Department fact sheet ‘Safe Sexting: No Such Thing‘ suggests that girls are ‘most at risk’. And seriously, watch this terrible film, “Photograph”, which has been promoted by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development:

In case the subtleties of this eluded you, there’s another film that breaks it down:

Well, I think that’s quite enough for now, don’t you? Next up, in Part Two, we will, among other things, delve deep into the strange teen psyche in an attempt to discern just how much of this whole thing can be blamed on Rihanna.

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We have a problem

Current and future swingers, fellow deviants, assorted perverts, we have a problem. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. You have an internet connection, you know what I’m talking about. If we ever want to be restored before the eyes of respectable society, we are going to need to move beyond web 1.17.

My eyes, my eyes

Here in 2011 there are dozens of easy ways to create a free or low cost website that doesn’t make visitors want to stick forks in their eyes. There are templates, created by designers. There is free advice to be had, reams of it, on the basics of good web design.

Despite this, Melbourne swingers’ party websites are almost uniformly hideous, and about the best that can be said for them is that none uses comic sans. I can’t quite decide which site is the worst, but it’s probably between these two.

EJ’s even tells us that they *know* their website causes suffering:

With a bit of luck and hopefully figuring out how to drive our site navigation, you might even find out something about our swingers parties!

Stilettos probably comes a close third with this mashup of late nineties photography on fuschia and black:


These two also offend me deeply:

Copy

I’m not usually one to make fun of or moan about poor writing, and I’m not expecting anybody to completely master hyphenation or overcome cheesy language and run-on sentences. But I do think that when you’re trying to get people to give you money in exchange for services, it makes sense to run spellcheck.

Looking like you care is particularly important, I think, with swingers parties. Every swingers’ party holds within itself the potential to be either the pinnacle of pleasure or a horrifying trauma, and which of these eventuates depends a lot on the efforts of the organiser. When an organiser has such low standards in writing about and advertising their parties, it’s harder to be confident that you won’t be assaulted, saddled with a new skin condition or forced to eat kabana sausage.

Hence my concern at rampant misplaced or missing apostrophes;

GANG   BANG   SUZIE and her freinds (we will know which one or one’s as the date gets closer) …

5. If its your first time at one of our parties and had booked earlier on in the week we then will phone you back on either the Thursday or Friday before the party to re confirm your attendance,if you cannot be contacted eg phone goes to voice mail a message will be left, you then need to phone us back to confirm attendance.

misspellings;

When you way it all up, it makes good sense to become a member and experiment in a safe sexy well run club.

Memberships get you cheeper party Tickets and you can send messages to other members

and random capitalisation (my favourite!):

All parties, Fun & mutual respect is what we demand.

Regard less of your sexuallity Safe sex practices are always  advisable.

In addition to simple bad writing, some copy suggests outright hostililty:

Compulsory Dress code; underwear or nothing, upon entry.

For those that need this explained this means;- clothes worn under the outer garments and next to the skin, underclothing*.
* If you needed this explained this party is not for you.

My favourite thing on any of the sites are Attunga’s hilariously irrelevant testimonials:

I did have a good time on Thursday night, even though I left maybe a bit earlier.
But I do have a bit too travel home. Next time will be longer.
As I was leaving, you mentioned something about a password to me as I was going out the door.If this is what you was talking about I have not received one from you, if this all makes sense to you.
Look forward to the next one with the guys or even a bi night.
Regards, Jeff

So…

It seems to me that there’s a business opportunity here for someone to run sex parties that are, and that look, like, good. I hope that somebody in Melbourne decides to do that sometime soon.

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The news in numbers 1: Female gazing

Released, this week, from my usual 9 to 5 toil, I’ve had time to devote myself to something far less consequential: an investigation into the abundance or otherwise of hawt men in the Australian online media landscape! Today, I am excited to unveil the results of my miniature study.

I’m going to give my geek free reign on this one, so your three options are to:

  1. get your geek on too;
  2. forgive me and endure; or
  3. skip straight to ‘Results’

Here we go!

Aim

To assess the extent to which major Australian news websites show attractive men on their homepages.

Rationale

While images of hot women are hard to avoid modern Australia, images of hot men appear to be a scarcer commodity. This makes people who are attracted to hot men sad. By determining which online news site tends to feature the most hot men, my project will empower hot-men-attracted persons to navigate the media landscape in the most pleasurable way.

Research question

How many photographs of attractive men are displayed on the homepages of major Australian news sources?

(entirely skippable section on) Methodology

Daily, over the period 6 June to 11 June, I visited the homepages of four major Australian online news sources: The Age, The Australian, the Herald Sun and ABC News. Each visit took place in the early afternoon.

On each visit I classified each photograph on the main site as either:

  • attractive woman
  • not-so-attractive woman
  • attractive man
  • not-so-attractive man
  • other.

I counted totals for each and entered them into a spreadsheet. At the end of the week I calculated some daily averages and made some pretty stacked column graphs – my favourite!

So what is a physically attractive man and how is he different from a not-so-attractive man? How do we operationalise this concept? Obviously, hotness is subjective, and, recognising this, I didn’t go through measuring the moistness in my panties or anything. Instead, I made most classifications based on the way the person was presented, their occupation and their reason for being in the news. For example, a photograph of a politician, columnist or similar public figure was classified as not-so-attractive, unless the related article actually focused on their attractiveness, or if their attractiveness was really played up in the photo, or if they just happened to be undeniably super-hot. For example, Andrew Bolt = not-so-attractive, Fairfax blogger Katherine Feeney giving you a seductive sideways glance = attractive.

A photograph of a young celebrity or entertainer was classified as attractive by virtue of profession and presentation, rather than my own view of their hotttt level. The exception to this is was the celebrity is generally considered unattractive, but somehow still managed to get famous. For example, in a group photograph of tv show hosts Dannii Minogue, Kyle Sandilands and Brian McFadden, Dannii and Brian were counted as ‘attractive’ but Kyle was not. Come now, this is entirely fair.

Athletes and sporting figures with their tight, glistening bodies were classified as attractive unless they are most definitely not so. This was pretty generous of me, I thought, and really upped the count of attractive men, perhaps unfairly.

Where a photograph featured more than one person and each was clearly visible and an equal focus of the photo, I counted each of the people separately.

Photographs of groups of ordinary or hard-to-see people and of children, along with non-photographic images (cartoons, graphs, etc.) were classified as “other”. I counted large, medium and small photographs, including those in automatic slide rotators, but not teeny-tiny thumbnails or photographs in advertisements. Where the exact same photo appeared more than once on the homepage, I counted it only once.

Results!

On all of the websites, there were more photographs of men than women (Table 1). Perhaps this is a good sign for hetrosexual ladies eager for visual stimulation! Then again, perhaps not! We shall not jump to conclusions.

Table 1: Average photographs of men and women

The ABC led the pack in display of the male form, with a daily average of 13.75 photos of men on its homepage (74% of people-pictures). With 73% men, the Australian also did well on this measure, while delivering a higher total number of pictures of men (average of 17). The Age was disturbingly egalitarian, with nearly half of all people in photographs being of the female variety. Boo!

Now let’s dig a little deeper. Figure 1 below shows the average proportions of hot and not-so-hot men and women on each of the homepages.

Figure 1: Average proportion of hot and not-so-hot men and women

Figure 1 shows that The Australian got our hopes up only to dash them cruelly. Despite their admirable focus on men, a paltry 1.4 of them were hunky – a ratio of not-so-hot to hot of around 11 to 1! The ABC, on the other hand, put in a decent effort with hot men representing a respectable 19% of all people photographed.

The clear winner, though, is the Herald Sun. The Herald Sun averaged 7.6 hot men per day, which was, incredibly, exactly equal to the average number of hot women displayed. Even though The Age had more hot men in total (9.4), one is forced to wade through many, many pictures of unbearably cute women to find them. One caveat, however: many of the Herald Sun’s physically attractive men are footballers or similar, which might not be your thing.

Discussion

Like all the best studies, this one did not add to human knowledge but simply confirmed what everyone knew already. Pictures of pretty women are everywhere, and pictures of pretty men are not. For those of us who like to look at hot men, though, there is a surprising oasis in the media desert: the Herald Sun. The very worst thing you can do as a lover of male beauty is to peruse The Australian or the ABC.

As well as providing a basis for newsmedia decision-making, the study sheds some light which types of people are likely to become famous, in the news. If you are woman who is neither super hot nor Our Nation’s Leader, you are not very likely to get your face in the paper. Sorry! Best focus on baking or something like that, rather than fame. If you are a not-so-attractive man, but you can write above a fifth-grade level and enjoy kicking poor people in the teeth, you should probably get in touch with The Australian as they may have an opening for an opinion columnist.

Limitations

Like all research, this project had its limitations. Most importantly, alone, the results of this study may not provide sufficient information for media consumption decision-making. You might wish to take other factors into account when deciding what news source to rely on, such as journalistic quality, ease of navigation, and whether Andrew Bolt is likely to make you lose your breakfast.

While I tried to judge general attractiveness, I am human, and I’m sorry, I just don’t think Rafael Nadal is anywhere near so hot as Bear Grylls. You may disagree.

Also, I was not all that careful in my counting. Slide rotators, in particular, are really annoying to look at, so I probably fucked up a bit with those. Whoops.

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