Celebrate Love…Self-Love That Is!

So…it’s Valentine’s Day weekend.

Seems like a good time to talk about love.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to rehash all of the tired tropes about obligatory, commercialistic love that tends to dominate this time of year.

Instead, I want to turn my attention to a topic that is at the foundation of every relationship but rarely gets talked about: self-love.

Also, don’t worry. While I could spend a good deal of time talking about ways to love ourselves by liking ourselves better, I’m actually here to talk about loving ourselves by…doing ourselves better.

Yup! This week, Valentine’s Day, I’m going to write about masturbation and how fucking awesome it is!

I’m taking a class on sex and sexuality right now, and we’ve been going over some really important shit about couples and relationships. I’m sure I’ll use the information, treatments, and resources that I’m collecting…but I noticed that something was missing from the discussion that seems far more foundational to sexuality than the dozens of different ways to treat erectile dysfunction.

Take a moment and think about the way that you think about masturbation.

Is it something you were taught was shameful and dirty?

Is it something you see as “sub-par” to other forms of sex? The thing you turn to for a quick release when you can’t get laid?

Is it something you “get over” and do quickly?

Most likely, it’s not something that you celebrate or think of as super special.

And I was right there with you several years ago. Never would I have chosen to have an evening with myself and my vibrator over a partner. At least, not until I read Sheri Winston’s fantastic books on sexuality.

The way that Sheri approached sexuality was transformative for me. She wasn’t the first to introduce me to the idea of using masturbation to explore what I liked and to learn about my body…but she was the first that I’ve encountered who portrayed sexuality as primarily about my relationship to myself. And she was the first to open my eyes to the potential of self-pleasure to be a sacred, powerful experience.

So, in protest to both the cultural hype around what Valentine’s Day should be and the cultural bullshit about sex being something primarily shared between people, I am going to list my reasons for why we should all rub one out for ourselves this weekend.

  1. Health benefits: Orgasm is freaking good for you, for your heart, your stress levels, your sleep, your mental health. While partnered sex might have some things to offer that masturbation doesn’t, one of the consistent things with both (if the partnered sex is done well) is that you still get the health benefits.
  2. Self-focus: Some might say that masturbation is actually wrong because it focuses solely on the self and its pleasure; however, for me, that’s a big reason why it’s so fucking right! Partnered sex can be amazing. It can be so rewarding to give pleasure to someone else that you care about. It can be really rewarding to have a sense of mutuality in bed. But sometimes you just need to be a recipient and not a giver. During those times when life just seems to be over-extending your resources, masturbation is one way that you can give give give to yourself, taking as much time as you want or need to linger over the pleasure, come as many times as you want, and never have to worry about whether anyone else involved is bored, tired, etc. because there is no one else involved.
  3. Creativity: One of the most interesting things I learned from Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina was that sexuality can heavily influence creativity. If that’s not a reason to rub one out frequently, then I don’t know what is.
  4. Better Partnered Sex: If you don’t know yourself, it’s going to be hard to communicate what makes you really tick with a partner. Masturbation is like doing dance drills in between ballet class. Sure, you can still make it through class if you don’t practice at home, but you’ll be far better if you do.
  5. Spirituality: If you’ve never masturbated while meditating, you seriously need to try it! Like, right now! There’s nothing quite like having a spiritual experience while you’re having an orgasm. And, as with numbers 1 and 3, spiritual experiences can also happen with partnered sex, it’s a different kind of spiritual experience. It’s the kind that is shared and connected to things outside of you. Orgasmic meditation and spiritual masturbation are the intense spiritual experiences that take you deeper into yourself where you can connect with and meet parts of yourself normally inaccessible. Sheri Winston even talks about using the energy of orgasm for healing purposes.
  6. Independence: This is one of the most important reasons, in my mind, especially given the context of when this post is being written. Single people often feel like absolute shit on Valentine’s Day. And so far with my sexuality class, no one has mentioned the possibility of a single person coming into therapy to grow their sense of sexuality. And it’s bullshit! You don’t need a partner to be sexual or sexy. The same goes for married people who may feel like their sexuality is defined and/or controlled by their partner/s. Just as a person’s sense of self shouldn’t reside in whether they do or don’t have a relationship, their sense of sexuality shouldn’t reside in whether they do or don’t have partnered sex.

So whether you are celebrating Valentine’s Day with a significant other or trying to celebrate being single, give yourself a little attention this weekend…and actually make it momentous. Light some candles and incense. Put on your sex music. Say your own name. Let yourself be the best you’ve ever had.

 

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A Sex-Positive Play List

I’m super excited about my classes beginning this semester. I get to take two electives in which I’m extremely interested, one of which is a class on sexuality. In preparation for a full semester of reading about and discussing all things sex, I’ve developed a sex-positive, badass playlist that is as representative as I can find.

I’ve gotten requests to pass on the playlist from a number of friends, so I’m posting it here.

I’m also really interested in continuing to expand it, so if you notice that there is a song you know about that I don’t have, feel free to make a suggestion in the comments. I’m currently strapped for songs by male artists that are sex-positive and respectful.

Enjoy the following playlist! (I’m having a hard time getting the new WordPress format to cooperate with YouTube videos, so I’m linking also to the song through the title).

  1. Love Myself by Hailee Seinfeld
    Everyone needs to celebrate masturbation! Can you scream your own name?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMpFmHSgC4Q
  2. Touch of my Hand by Britney Spears
    Another good masturbation anthem.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SnQcYcG41U
  3. Sexercize by Kylie Minogue
    Work it!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3VjJKKVNew
  4. Shut Up and Drive by Rihanna
    Because someone needed to make the obvious innuendo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up7pvPqNkuU
  5. Made to Love by John Legend
    An all-around beautiful song with a beautiful music video celebrating beautiful sex in diverse forms
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRpjsFcb2uo
  6. Worth It by Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink
    What could be better than women celebrating their sexuality by saying exactly what they want?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBHQbu5rbdQ
  7. Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt n’ Pepa
    Isn’t it time we destigmatized the topic?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydrtF45-y-g
  8. S & M by Rihanna
    A little celebration of some kink needs to be represented, of course.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdS6HFQ_LUc
  9. Candyman by Christina Aguilera
    Just and all around fun song
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ScjucUV8v0
  10. LoveGame by Lady Gaga
    Of course Lady Gaga needs to be on here!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mB0tP1I-14
  11. Three by Britney Spears
    Not everyone is monogamous. Britney gets that.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTs6oQx1WJY
  12. Blow by Beyonce
    Possibly one of the sexiest songs on the list, and obviously an anthem to oral.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIELYkfoKy8
  13. Lick It by God-Des and She
    As much a celebration of women loving women as it is a tutorial on how to do a woman…Unfortunately, I can’t find a non-censored version of this song, but if you buy the actual version it’s explicit. 🙂
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Why2n9XtlNw
  14. Lady Marmalade by Patti LaBelle
    Although sex work requires a much more nuanced conversation, I included a sex-positive prostitution song because I think it needs to be represented. I would never presume that all sex workers feel positive about their work, especially given the deplorable way our nation treats them and the rampant sexism and violence of patriarchy; however, I also would never presume that all sex workers hate their jobs because that’s just not true. So, my disclaimer is that I recognize this song is a limited perspective, romanticized view of prostitution that may have limited applicability.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4LWIP7SAjY
  15. None of Your Business by Salt n’ Pepa
    For all the haters
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Q96-e042bk
  16. Sugar in my Bowl by Nina Simone
    I had to end with a throwback to the dirty blues!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCTP5zjQTWE

Living the Scarcity Myth in a World of Abundant Love

I just began watching the season of Once Upon a Time where Elsa is introduced. There’s a ridiculous love triangle building between Robin Hood, Marion, and Regina. Robin and Regina are clearly in love, but when Robin’s “dead” wife comes back, he feels compelled to return to her and hold true to his marriage vow. However, when Marion falls under a freezing spell, Robin is unable to save her with “true love’s kiss” because he is in love with Regina.

The whole situation was such a blatant illustration of the scarcity myth of love. Love triangles are annoying even as it is, but it’s even more infuriating when the love triangle involves a supposedky dead loved one come back to life simply because it implies that in order to love someone else after losing a spouse or partner that you have to stop loving the one who is presumed dead.

Regina lives out a fear that I’m sure many people feel—that as the “second,” they are not loved as much as the first. If the first were to return, the love they experience now would be taken away.

But why would Robin’s love for Marion necessarily have to cancel out his love for Regina?

One of the most important ideas that I’ve picked up as a sex-positive bi-feminist is the concept that love is not finite. We aren’t all equipped with a limited supply that we have to dole out in rationed doses or give entirely to one single person.

The poly community espouses the motto that it’s possible to love more than one person.

It’s true.

What often gets left out of the conversation is that everyone already loves more than one person, even monogamous people.

But we don’t think about it as being polyamorous because society has conditioned us to view romantic love as “real love”…or at least the most important kind.

Whether it’s the continued love for a lost (or not lost) partner that doesn’t diminish the love for a current partner or the love for one friend that doesn’t cancel out the love for another friend or family member, we all can look to various relationships where we love multiple people, sometimes in similar ways, sometimes in different ways.

Ironically, the whole point of Frozen, from which Once Upon a Time is drawing its curse, was that an act of true love didn’t have to be strictly limited to romantic love.

Love was love, regardless of whether it was coming from a romantic interest or a sister.

Are there clear differences between love for friends, partners, or family?

In my experience, no.

There are differences in boundaries, commitment, sexual attraction, and other things that can be tied up with love, but none of those is love itself.

Perhaps thanks to hook-up culture, more and more people are realizing that love and attraction can be separate.

I’m not sexually attracted to everyone I love…and I don’t love everyone I’m sexually attracted to. Learning to separate the attraction or the ability to act on attraction from care, affection, and concern for someone’s well-being is eye-opening in terms of understanding the depth that love can take.

Learning to recognize that a love that includes attraction isn’t more valuable or valid than a love that doesn’t include attraction is just as eye-opening.

Absolutely it’s possible to have more than one person that one is “in love with” in the sense of true love’s kiss, and maybe one day I’ll live to see a movie or show acknowledge that reality.

But more importantly, love doesn’t need to be confined to the “romantic interest” box in order for it to be valid, true, or magical.

And that is something that I think we should expect to see in our current entertainment.

 

 

I’d Rather Be a Unicorn Than Exist On Your Terms

While I’ve heard some cheering about how bisexuality is no longer being erased, I’m not celebrating the recent study that articles are brazenly proclaiming proves that “women are never straight.” This is not a halt to bi-erasure; it’s just another form of it. We’ve gone from declaring that bisexuality is not an identity to making it ubiquitous.

Moreover, it carries forward the biggest problem with sexuality research in academia. This study is not interviewing women to find out how they identify. Nor is it seeking to understand their subjective experiences around attraction and arousal.

Just like the previous studies that “proved” bisexuality “doesn’t exist,” this one relies on the manipulation of people’s states of arousal…which is then interpreted by a stranger to determine their identity. The audacity of power and privilege that assumes that a person’s individual experience of themselves in relation to others isn’t as important as whether or not you, as a researcher, can get them off is quite impressive.

Unfortunately the flaws in logic that jump from “they are/are not getting aroused” to “they must be/must not be straight/bi/gay” should be obvious. There are lots of reasons why hooking someone’s genitals up to some sort of equipment would give less than accurate readings on their sexual orientation.

If achieving arousal with pornographic material can determine sexual orientation, then what does that say about lesbians who enjoy gay male porn? Are we going to declare that they’re really gay men now? What about if a gay man watches lesbian porn?

People find all kinds of porn enjoyable without actually wanting to go out and do those things themselves. Sometimes, yes, people get ideas of things to try. But sometimes they just want to explore something that feels different and out of character. That doesn’t determine their identity, certainly not better than their lived experience of who they find attractive and with whom they would build a relationship.

Not only is determining someone’s orientation from their arousal to porn a ridiculous way of studying bisexuality, studying someone’s arousal in the lab is problematic as well. It’s an artificial environment, presumably where people know they are being studied, even if they don’t know their arousal is being studied…but who couldn’t figure that out with the measurement methods? Seriously. It’s pretty safe to assume that there would be some differences in how they respond to stimuli on their own.

The biggest flaw, though, is the failure to take into account the importance of mirror neurons and empathy. Someone who becomes aroused at certain stimuli may be aroused because they find the material hot and would want to participate. Or perhaps they just recognize that the person in the picture or video is receiving pleasure and have a sympathetic response to that. Or maybe they’re thinking about how nice it would be for their partner to do that to them.

There’s also the binary flaw of failing to take into account anyone outside of cis people. Once again, bisexuality is being reduced to a binary attraction, despite the repeatedly vocal ways that bisexual people have said that it’s not binary. Moreover, the study is trying to categorize types of arousal or behavior as “masculine” or “feminine,” with lesbians, of course, being described as more “masculine” in their arousal. Apparently sexism goes hand in hand with heterosexism and cissexism. But I didn’t need a research study to tell me that.

I don’t doubt that bisexuality is far more common than we assume, but saying “all women are” or “no men are” in direct contradiction to their stated experience simply because of a badly designed study is something that science really needs to stop doing. It’s an abuse of power and bad research. If someone really wants to study bisexuality, start with a phenomenological study, interviewing individuals about their identity and their experience with their identity. Build from there. Don’t further steal their voices and contribute to prejudice. Use science to highlight and empower who they are. Better yet, have bisexual people conduct their own research on bisexuality. Then you won’t get people who mistakenly think that genital engorgement is the end all be all of sexual orientation.

Silly Girls, Orgasmic Sex is for Divas

Should it be news when a woman expects to enjoy sex?

Probably not in a world that isn’t completely fucked up…but actually, yeah, I think it should be news in today’s world.

It’s certainly turning heads that Nicki Minaj stated in her Cosmopolitan interview, “I demand to climax.”

Some are cheering her on. Some, however, think that she’s a “diva.” Because…apparently expecting sex to be pleasurable is such an unreasonable standard.

Sex. Orgasms. Celebrities. Who cares, right?

Well, I care. It’s a big deal.

The very fact that Nicki can create such a fuss over that statement and that she can get such backlash for holding that opinion reveals pretty strongly that even in our “advanced” society, female sexuality is still considered “for others.”

No man—absolutely none—needs to declare that he expects to climax every time he has sex. It’s a given. It’s expected that men will enjoy sex and that sex will lead to orgasm for men.

But women who expect the same…that’s shocking, unheard of, bitchy, demanding, diva-ish.

We live in a society where the female orgasm is extra. Movies and porn center themselves on male pleasure and ejaculation but hold no expectation of showing a woman climaxing. Women’s sexuality is used to sell everything from beer to cars to deodorant, yet women enjoying sex and climaxing during sex is no one’s first concern.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we hope to change the way our culture views women, we need to change the way our culture views women’s sexuality, not by fighting for fewer displays of sexuality but rather by fighting for displays of sexuality that demonstrate clearly that a woman’s sexuality is for herself.

We need more women declaring that they enjoy sex…and that they only have sex that they can enjoy.

The traditional ways of fighting objectification too easily play into the mindset that a woman’s only reason for being sexual is for the male gaze, male pleasure, etc. It reinforces the myth that women don’t have desires of their own.

Women, and girls especially, need role models who demonstrate…not modesty, but agency in sexuality. We need media that shows sex being rooted in respect, consent, and mutual pleasure. Expecting orgasmic sex shouldn’t have to be a newsworthy story. It’s time for women to take back their right to their own sexuality and demand that sex is as pleasurable for them as it is for their partners.

A Sex-Positive Reading List

I’ve been on a quest to reclaim my sexuality over the last several years, which has been a beautiful and wonderful journey. That journey has required a lot of education and re-education, both about the physical basics of “doing the deed” and about the attitudes I was taught to hold towards sex and my body. There have been a number of books that have been particularly influential in that quest, which I list below. I highly recommend them to anyone else on a similar quest to positive and celebratory sexuality.

The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

This is, hands-down, the absolute best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read. While the majority of relationship advice in other books is formulaic (do this and you’ll be a strong couple and have great sex; don’t do that or you’ll end up divorced, alone, and very sad), this book recognizes that everyone is different and has different needs, desires, and goals in relationships. Despite being a “guide to polyamory”…or maybe because of being a guide to polyamory…The Ethical Slut offers great tips on boundaries, honesty, working through and owning your own emotions, working through differences with your partner/s, exploring your sexuality, and so much more. Whether you’re single, monogamous, polyamorous, or just plain promiscuous, this is a great book to read to gain a fantastically positive attitude towards sex. Show that judgmental, puritanical voice in your head the way out with a book that celebrates all consensual relationship styles and sexual desires.

Vagina by Naomi Wolf

A little heterosexist, but overall a really great way to start to get to know the female body and introduce yourself to the ways in which others, past and present, have found to honor and love female sexuality. It touches on anatomy and history enough to give you some really interesting information without making you feel like you’re reading a textbook. This is the book that introduced me to the possibility that the physical trauma of my sexual abuse could be treated, and it is thanks to this book (as well as gynecologist who was up on the latest developments) that I was able to seek physical therapy to treat my injured pelvic floor.

What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman

This is a really great book that touches on a lot of the stuff that I loved so much in The Ethical Slut but in a way that is less overtly trying to reclaim the idea of “slut.” Each chapter has exercises and journaling prompts to explore your sexuality as well as references to great resources. It has one of the most in-depth guides to talking about sexual safety and sexually transmitted diseases that I’ve come across, which is great if, like me, you were basically led to believe your body would mimic pregnancy if you masturbated and that you could get an sti by holding someone’s hand.

What I love most about this book is that she doesn’t just expect readers to know how to have the conversations necessary with their partners. She infuses the book with excellent information but also incorporates advice on how to have those conversation with partner/s and suggestions of how you can practice them in advance. So, instead of just telling you to tell your partner what you want to do with him/her or if you want to stop at any point, she actually guides you through ways of communicating your needs and desires…which is also really important if, like me, you were basically taught that you didn’t have a right to have your own desires and that sex was something you endured because God expected you to fulfill your wifely duties. Friedman is also wonderfully inclusive of all genders and sexualities.

Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston

If The Ethical Slut is the best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read, this is the best body and sex book I’ve ever read. Written with incredible beauty and wit (and illustrated with some of the best erotic art in history), this anatomy book is hardly the stuff you’d find in a textbook…yet surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) it covers far more information on the structure and function of a woman’s arousal and reproductive system than I’ve seen anywhere else. This book goes into depth on what Naomi Wolf only touched on and explains in mesmerizing detail how arousal works. Throughout the book, exercises are given to help you learn about and explore your own body and arousal network. Although this book is more about solo learning and play, tips are given for partners to learn how to navigate this amazingly complex system as well.

Succulent Sexcraft by Sheri Winston

I just started reading Sheri’s second book. Although I haven’t finished it yet, I feel pretty confident in recommending it to those on their own sexual journey. The same beauty and wit are present in the writing, but rather than being solely focused on women and women’s anatomy, this book is for anyone, partnered or solo, who is interested in expanding their sexuality in a more positive way. I can’t say yet what will stand out the most to me about this book, but so far it accompanies all of the others beautifully and is inspiring me with yet more reasons to love and honor my sexuality.

Reclaiming Negative Emotions: Lust and the Prohibition Effect

Lust.

It’s one of the seven deadly sins.

Depending on which religion or denomination you ask, lust is anything from mere sexual desire (i.e. all sexuality) to “wrongfully directed sexual desire” (Christianity Today’s “Understanding Lust” by Jim Vander Spek)

There’s no denying it gets a bad rap.

At first in my own journey, I separated “lust” (the wrong version of passion and attraction) from sexuality (a healthy version of attraction and love). It worked at a time when I was trying to reclaim my right to experience sexual pleasure. Being able to say that lust was what someone experienced when they objectified and dehumanized another person or longed to have sex with someone who wasn’t “theirs” to have sex with helped me to separate it from my own feelings of desire and find ways to embrace them, love myself, and love my partner.

I stopped actively thinking about it years ago, and my journey towards sex-positivity hasn’t really missed the equivocation of definitions. I didn’t consciously reclaim lust as a “negative emotion.” But I did consciously reclaim sexuality, and now I think it’s time to wed the two.

Here’s my definition of lust: sexual desire. That’s it.

Wherever you find a demonization of lust, you are guaranteed to find a group of people trying to dictate and control the sexual desires of another. It’s okay in “this” context, but not in “that” context. It’s okay with “this” person, but not with “that” person. It’s sacred and holy in “this” way, but it’s an abomination in “that” way.

But what happens when you stop placing value judgments on internal feelings and desires? What happens when you just let them be?

For one thing, they lose the stigma of shame.

As with most “negative emotions,” lust gets ingrained in our minds as a destructive thing to experience because the only time it is brought to the forefront of our minds is when we see its destructive expression. Just as anger is associated with violence, lust is associated with sexual impropriety, sexual violation, and sexual obsession.

Mostly because we’ve been conditioned to label it “lust” only if it’s problematic.

But sexual desire does not come with the mandate to cheat on your partner, sexually assault a person, or lose all sense of balance. Many of us experience sexual desire frequently as humans without those elements being present.

But society, especially religion, would have us believe that if we just accepted lust as a benign feeling, that all hell would break loose. We need the “this” but not “that” controls in place to prevent all manner of harm and evil.

But do we?

My partner and I were chatting the other night about what we’ve termed the “prohibition effect”—the phenomenon where something relatively benign becomes destructive as a result of prohibition, thus creating a false sense of the need for that prohibition.

For example, how many times have we heard a similar story to the following? A gay man is taught that he is sinful in his attractions to other men and is promised that if he gets married to a woman he will be cured of his sin. He doesn’t come out. He gets married to an unsuspecting wife. He struggles with trying to suppress his natural attraction, but eventually gives in to a one-night, anonymous encounter in a dark room.

He returns to his wife, distraught by the destructive power of his desire. He “repents” and tries to once again suppress his desire. A few months later it happens again.

At some point, his wife and church find out about him being gay, maybe because he contracts a sexually transmitted disease, maybe because he’s caught in the act of cheating, maybe because he just can’t handle lying about who he is anymore.

His marriage is destroyed. His and her health are both at risk. He is despised in his community. And everyone points to the “sin” of homosexuality being at the root of all of this destruction.

But his attraction isn’t the root!

Had he been given accurate information about his orientation when he was younger, had his attraction not been portrayed as deviant or abominable, had he not been talked into marrying someone he couldn’t love, had he been taught how to have safe sex, and had he not been driven into desperation and secrecy, he might never have lived out that vicious cycle.

He could have easily gone on to have a normal, happy, healthy life with relationships that were honest and with partners with whom he could be open.

It wasn’t the fact that he was gay that created the problem. It was the prohibition of his natural, normal, innocent desires.

That is the power of the prohibition effect, and its fingerprints are all over our sexual ethics. Those who wish to control the sexual behavior of others conveniently attach the label of “lust” to anything sexually prohibited. Then when people step outside the lines of prohibition, everything from eternal damnation to name-calling (slut) is rained down on them in an attempt to shame or scare them back into the confines of approved sexual expression.

But there are those of us out there who are tired of being shamed and punished for something that is arbitrarily decided to be bad. There is a movement of sluts, feminists, and queer activists who are redefining sexual ethics to be not about what others think of what you do in the bedroom or with whom you do it but about what is right and good for you and your partner/s on an individual basis, even if it’s taboo for another.

We free ourselves from the negative connotation surrounding lust. And we return to a far more basic version of good vs. bad sexual ethics. It’s easy to remember. It leaves room for everyone to be themselves.

It’s called consent.

In the world of The Ethical Slut, the only right or wrong about sexual desire is whether each person is consenting to the actions that follow.