Tag Archives: sex

On Being a Badass

A young woman biker zipping up her leather jacket.   (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Photo: Keystone Features/Getty Images

“Mac McClelland is used to being called a badass. “I’m always very flattered, always very honored that they say that,” she told Mother Jonesrecently. It makes sense: She’s a journalist who made her namehanging out with refugees of Burmese genocide, chasing a warlord in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and interviewing sexual-assault survivors in post-earthquake Haiti — in other words, doing a really tough job. “At the same time,” she continued, “it sort of depends on your definition of badass. I think that the normal definition is that you don’t have any feelings, right? So it’s like you don’t care, you’re not really comfortable, and you’re not touched by things, and you can do whatever you want.”

This isn’t always the connotation of badass. Sometimes the term is applied to people with palpable confidence and an uncompromising attitude whodo feel comfortable shedding a few tears and displaying nurturing characteristics. But McClelland is right that, as it’s most commonly used, badass implies both toughness and disaffectedness. It’s rare to look at someone whose chief qualities are measured thoughtfulness and open emotionality and declare her a total badass. As women carve out careers and comfortably adopt traits that were once considered “masculine,” there’s strong social pressure on them to mimic the stoicism that men have traditionally been expected to maintain in the face of hardship. By now, we know the drill: Lean In if we want to succeed, and Go Outside if we have to cry.

As one of the people who has referred to McClelland publicly as a badass — as well as her friend and former editor — I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read her new book, Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story. It’s an incredibly personal memoir about her experience with trauma and falling in love while trying to heal. Much of McClelland’s PTSD struggle is acknowledging that she had the right to be traumatized even though she was merely threatened and witnessed horrible things, not physically harmed, in the line of duty. During her panicked breakdowns, she tells herself things like, “These are the sorts of bullshit excuses you make for yourself when in fact You. Are. THE WORST.

It’s almost scary to realize how deeply many women — especially those who are pushing the boundaries of what’s traditionally been considered feminine — have internalized the message that toughness and feelings don’t go together. There is something very appealing about adopting this no-feelings badass approach when you’re a woman who’s outnumbered professionally or who’s chosen a line of work that, historically, women have been shut out of. There’s pressure to prove that you’re just as capable as men are, which can turn into pressure to ignore your emotional responses and downplay the tendencies you have that are traditionally considered “feminine.” I’ve internalized this myself: When I was a boss, Istruggled to downplay my emotions, even in extremely difficult moments. More recently, when an editor I respect tweeted about crying during her workday, I felt a pang of disgust. Keep it together, I thought.

Nothing throws a wrench in this desire to downplay the feminine quite like a pregnancy. Photojournalist Lynsey Addario also recently published a memoir that is, in part, about her decision to keep up her grueling and dangerous work while she was pregnant. “With the exception of military embeds, I took on all my regular assignments, hiding my growing belly beneath loosefitting shirts, cargo pants and sometimes, fortunately, a hijab,” she wrote in an excerpt for the New York Times. She pushes aside her growing fears about jeopardizing the safety of her child and her guilt about making her husband worry. She certainly doesn’t talk about it at work. “I adamantly didn’t want any of my editors or colleagues to know that I was pregnant until I could no longer hide it. I worried about being denied work or treated differently.” The fear is understandable. Most of her colleagues covering foreign conflicts were men. And once she told her story, exposing her competing concerns for her job and for her child, the backlash was swift. “I found Lynsey Addario’s behavior absolutely reprehensible!” wrote one commenter. “How a mother could put her own ambitions and ego above that of her child is beyond belief.” Wrote another, “I feel so sorry for the baby.”

The particular pressure to be a certain type of badass woman is not unrelated to the “cool girl” phenomenon — you know, how sexist stereotypes about “most women” pressure certain girls to be the womanwho puts away burgers and beers, laughs at sexist jokes, and sets herself up as an exception to the rule that women are soft and gentle and high-maintenance. The cool girl is just as hot but with far fewer feelings. While I’m sure McClelland and Addario would be the last to refer to feelings as a sign of weakness, both of their memoirs reveal how tempting it is to fall into gendered, old-school definitions of toughness. Badasses don’t worry about being assaulted! Badasses don’t get PTSD! Badasses don’t let pregnancy stop them from venturing into a war zone! If they have to cry, badasses go outside!

Although McClelland and Addario are journalists, this phenomenon is much broader than women war reporters. It’s tempting to think that a certain level of thick-skinned posturing will solve women’s problems. We advise women who are harassed online to simply toughen up, shake off their haters, and get on with their lives. In a more extreme example, conservative politicians are recommending women arm themselves in order to prevent sexual assault. “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head,” said Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. Anyone who knows anything about sexual assault knows that guns won’t solve it because most assaults happen between acquaintances, not as a result of brute-force attacks. Anyone who’s been the victim of hate-filled online attacks knows that the “block” button is not enough. The answer doesn’t lie in removing or ignoring all perceived vulnerabilities. It lies in recognizing those vulnerabilities exist — mostly owing to deep-seated cultural factors. And women are no less badass for feeling traumatized by them.

It strikes me that as women continue to break into traditionally masculine professions and defend their right to exist in unsafe spaces, the rest of us have a responsibility to do more than cheer them from the sidelines. We should also make clear that we understand this work is hard, that it often takes an emotional toll, that there are no easy answers, and that, when they acknowledge their feelings and admit their struggles, they’re all the more badass for it. This wouldn’t just help women with challenging jobs or in dangerous situations. It would also benefit men who have long been expected to bury their emotional responses and carry on as if they are unaffected by trauma. It’s not “badass” to survive a horrible situation without shedding a single tear. The real badass move, as women like McClelland and Addario show, is to fearlessly acknowledge how something has affected you and make space for others to do the same.”

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Parents Are Freaking Out Over This Textbook’s Sex Advice

Parents Are Freaking Out Over This Textbook’s Sex Advice

“…Becky Bruno, another parent, planned to sign the petition to ban the book, but then stopped herself after she actually read the book. “I was expecting to see explicit pictures, expecting controversial information, and I didn’t find that in the book,” she told the Mercury News. “Yes, there is a section on sexual health, but the pictures are drawings of anatomy and would be the same thing they were exposed to in elementary and middle school. I didn’t see anything that would be categorized as pornography, and that’s what some of the parents are saying.”..”

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Next Time Someone Says Women Aren’t Victims Of Harassment, Show Them This.

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http://www.robot-hugs.com/harassment/

Used with permission from Robot Hugs.”

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10 Everyday Sexisms and What Do You Do About Them

 
Posted: 07/31/2014 4:44 pm EDT Updated: 4 minutes ago
CONFIDENT WOMAN

This post is updated from an earlier version that appeared on Role Reboot.

Research shows that most people don’t see sexism even when it’s right in front of their noses.

“Women endorse sexist beliefs, at least in part, because they do not attend to subtle, aggregate forms of sexism in their personal lives,” wrote Julia C. Becker and Janet K. Swim, the authors of this study about the invisibility of sexism. “Many men not only lack attention to such incidents but also are less likely to perceive sexist incidents as being discriminatory and potentially harmful for women.”

How do you think about and respond to these 10 examples?

1. Religious sexism and discrimination. Do you really believe women are incapable of religous authority? This ritualized silencing of women is practiced by practically all major religions which, with minor exceptions, bar girls and women from ministerial leadership. That means access to the divine is mediated exclusively by men and their speech. This is legally unchallenged discrimination and its effects go way beyond places and practices of worship. From the moment a girl realizes that she is not invited to participate in clerical rituals because she is a girl, she learns that her voice is powerless and not respected. So do the boys around her. But, hey, at least we pay to undermine the public good through tax credits and subsidies. What if you objected? And stopped supporting this discrimination?

2. Double standards — lots of them. We live with an infinite number of hierarchy-building double standards based solely on gender, which restrict women’s freedom and impair our ability to lead secure, rewarding, autonomous lives. 50 of these are explored in Jessica Valenti’s book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut. They range from expecting girls to exhibit more self-control and politeness to grossly different treatment of men and women when they age and when they use their bodies to express themselves, to distorted ideas about boys and girls “natural” capabilities.

3.  Chivalry, otherwise know as benevolent sexism, is part of our “manners.” A man who opens a door for you and doesn’t mind if you do the same for him is one thing. But, one who categorically refuses your offer speaks to a much bigger problem. Benevolent sexism, the kind that is passed off as “protective” and “gentlemanly,” is a core characteristic of how masculinity (and by binary contrast, femininity) are constructed in conservative cultures. Studies have shown that themore entitled people are, the more likely they are to hold sexist beliefs — which says an awful lot about #WomenAgainstFeminism. It’s defined as “the negative consequences of attitudes that idealize women as pure, moral, pedestal-worthy objects of men’s adoration, protection, and provision.” A lot of this starts in childhood and comes under the mantle of teaching girls and boys to be “ladies” and “gentleman” instead of just civil and kind human beings who care for one another equally. In other words, what many people think of as chivalry, gentlemanly and “real man” behavior. The negative effects on women are well documented, particularly in the workplace.

There is a well-documented correlation between benevolent sexism and women’s acceptance of biased gender roles. Take the ways in which denial of the wage gap is expressed. For example, Phyllis Schlafly recently announced that closing the pay gap (she admitted it was real) would result in women being unable to find husbands. Ideas like this are deeply related to systemic support for an ideal worker who is male and a single breadwinner. That idea is a recurring theme of conservative policies about work and gender.

Our not seeing sexism where it is evident enables people with power to speculate out loud that “money is more important for men” and not lose their jobs for incompetence. I want you to imagine a political today saying money is more important for Jewish people. Or Black people. Or tall people. The pay gap amounts to $431,000 over a lifetime. Men make less than women in only seven of 534 job types, so, of course, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander recently demanded to know what gender gap legislation would do to help them. Benevolent sexists are definitively hostile to women’s workplace success. If we don’t challenge this very quiet form of sexism then we make sure it pays, but only a very small portion of the population. How much is chivalry worth to you? Because you can, after all, open doors on your own. Giving yourself a raise however, is impossible.

4. The high costs of “staying safe.” Every day women absorb, and are expected to pay, the costs of the safety gap. This gap costs us time and money and limits our movement. It can limit our employment opportunities, because some jobs can become very dangerous in an instant if you are a woman. Just ask reporterstruck driversmigrant workersactivists.

Ask yourselves, men, do you feel safe on your neighborhood streets? Do you choose where and when you shop or commute carefully? Do you have parking strategies, like not parking near vans? Do you use your keys as a weapon or take other similar measures? Do you avoid paying for a gym because you can exercise outside with no problems? We teach our children that these things are “normal” and to be expected. Talk about the costs to you with the people around you.

5.  Sexism in media is entertaining. “Family-friendly” media marginalizes and objectifies girls and women, creates damaging ideals of masculinity for boys, and sustains mythologies that support a violent, male-dominated status quo. Not only do we live with this media, but most people, genuinely otherwise concerned with their children’s well-being and future livelihoods, don’t actively challenge entertainment companies or related media to do better. When you see a movie and there are 20 men for every one woman (usually just one or two) on screen, do you say something? Do you think about the fact that that’s 20 times the number of onscreen jobs for men than for women? Or what that imbalance means on and off screen?

6. Women pay more for “our” products just because we are women and considered not “standard.”  A Jezebel article put it like this a few years ago: “Being born a woman is a major financial mistake.” Marie Claire published a similar list. Until recently gender pricing for insurance, which resulted in women paying up to 31% more for apples-to-apples coverage, was perfectly legal. Think I’m kidding? Here’s a 10 pac of Bic Cristal ball point pens for $5.89. Here’s the $10.14, six-pack version “for her.” Stop buying this sh*t.

7. Our language is profoundly biased, related to our social structure and affects the way we think. We pervasively use male generics and that has negative effects. I do it all the time — I can’t seem to break the “guys” habit. We still use male words, usually to denote positive categories, like “mankind,” but female terms for negative ones, “hos,” and “sluts.” We don’t, for example, sit kids down and talk to them about the social harms of “b*tch,”even when used affectionately. Women are routinely referred to as “girls” (childlike and dependent) and men “men.” This is part of a larger problem with the infantilization of adult women. We’re more likely to be referred to as animals, and with a purpose. It goes on and on. But, words are important — if only because they show the dynamic interplay between ideas. This may sound trivial until you consider that Japan has gendered terms for all three pronouns, whereas the Nordic countries are trying to introduce gender-neutral ones. Why does this matter? Well, Japan is the least gender equitable place when it comes to men and women’s labor and the Nordic countries the most. I’m not suggesting causality, just significant cultural correlations that we are not immune to.

8. We engage in prejudice against men that inhibits equality. I’ve seen women take babies away from their fathers in parks in order to change their diapers because “men aren’t good” at that sort of thing. Or maybe you’ve listened to men call themselves their children’s “babysitters,” or sat through television ads that portray men as incompetent idiots, slobs, sexist dolts or children when it comes to taking care of domestic life. More dangerous, however, is the repetition of rape and abuse myths that endanger boys and men by perpetuating discriminatory ideas about who gets raped — drunk girls who ask for it or make the mistake of stumbling into dark alleys.

9. We pretend street harassment, the public regulation women and LGTB people either doesn’t happen or doesn’t matter. I’d warrant that very few people talk to their daughters or non-gender conforming sons about street harassment before it happens. The effects of this harassment and really can’t be underestimated.

10. We let our schools teach sexist lessons and perpetuate gender hierarchical systems of organization. First, our education system erases the contributions of women in history and fails to provide an accurate portrayal of the past or sufficient role models. Girls go into our schools with assuredness and ambition, but they don’t leave that way.

Second, schools are filled with social norms that, if left unexplored, undermine diversity and equality, for example, dress codes enforcement.

Third, many remain structurally based on complementary models for men and women, from boards, which tend to be run by more men (because, you know, that’s where the hard job of money is done) to everyday volunteering and PTA involvement(mainly, still, women). School administration and coaching continue to be male dominated in an industry, education, that is made up mostly of women. So, children are immersed in educational environments that continue to sideline women’s historical labor, that sexualize girls with outdated rules about appearance and morality, that provide gender hierarchal examples of social structures and, for good measure, where classroom dynamics have been shown to fail at fairness in ways that hurt both boys and girls.

By the time boys and girls leave high school and enter college, boys are twice as likely to say they are prepared to run for office. I know hardworking individual teachers trying their hardest to offset these effects, but as institutions and cultures, many of our schools remain profoundly patriarchal. What if you challenged your school to make paying attention to core gender issues a priority instead of dancing around symptoms like homophobic and mean girl bullying, math problems, boy crises and more?

***

This is a short list. Setting aside the real physical harms that people can and do encounter, living with everyday sexism is like fighting a low-grade infection for your whole life. When women take note of sexism during their daily lives — for example, talking openly about street harassment or workplace bias — and name it for what it is, they stop accepting it as “normal.” For female politicians dealing with biased commentary and political opponents all too comfortable in the boys’ club of the public sphere, openly confronting sexism works. When men start to notice, when they think about the differences, they can empathize. Its the first step to understanding, as Jamie Utt put it, that “as it currently exists, masculinity is fundamentally an expression of patriarchal oppression.” But, before this can happen, women have to tell their stories and register their legitimate objections and people have to listen and understand why its important. Prevailing cultural attitudes continue to minimize gendered harms.

However, women are clearly in a double bind because calling out sexism can result in real penalties. A recent study very depressingly showed what we all know: Women who advocate for equality, in the workplace, for example are actively penalized for doing so.

The sad fact is that while it is polite to express sexist ideas, confronting them is considered the height of rudeness and humorlessness and this social politeness prohibition is a significant impediment to positive, everyday change. When a man at a neighborhood party comments openly and rudely on my breasts or when another in a meeting interrupts me incessantly, it is me, not them, who is considered hostile, “strident,” and unpleasant for saying, “My face is up here,” or “Would you please stop interrupting me?”

The fact is, we are engaged in a tidal process of awareness-raising that requires everyone to look at the role that sexism plays in their lives. Are you acknowledging it when it happens, and what do you do about it if you do?”

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‘We’re married, we just don’t have sex’

 
Paul Cox and his wife

Paul Cox: ‘On our wedding night, we invited friends over to play Scrabble’. Photograph: Sarah Lee

“People wonder why asexuals bother to get together, but Amanda and I have been happily married for nine months now and we’re both still virgins. Some people even think asexuality doesn’t exist. It’s so underrepresented, I can understand why people are skeptical. I was too, even though I was perfectly used to thinking of myself in this way. For years I just thought I was the only person in the world who felt like this.

My parents are agricultural scientists, so I’ve lived overseas since around the age of 10. I was in India until I was 16, then Zimbabwe for two years, and then Kuwait. I studied in China and New York, before settling in London. Even at 10, I had a sense that I didn’t want to get married and have children. I know a lot of kids say things like that, but I didn’t change my mind about it later on. I wasn’t interested in relationships or finding a girlfriend, and was very sure I didn’t have an interest in boys either.

Gradually my school friends spent more and more time talking about girls and pursuing relationships, but I could never grasp what they were expecting to get out of it. There were family parties in India where all the kids would gather outside in the garden.

I was 13 and had a best friend, Kasim, who was a year younger than me. He had a crush on an Australian girl called Jessica – everyone seemed to think she was the prettiest. We had lots of whispered discussions about what he could say to her, and even though I thought it was a ridiculous game, I wanted to fit in, so I pretended I had a crush too – on a French girl called Sylvie. She was a safe bet because she was so unlikely to reciprocate. I knew she wasn’t at all interested in me. I’d just discuss her with the boys.

There were times as I got older when girls did seem interested in me, but I always deliberately ignored their signals. I wanted to avoid getting into a situation I’d feel uncomfortable with, so I never even kissed a girl. The first girl I kissed became my wife.

When I was 13, my father gave me a book on sex education. I felt as if I was reading about a foreign culture; I just couldn’t see why anyone would go to so much trouble just to have sex. I tried looking at pornography on the internet. I wasn’t disgusted or appalled – it was just boring, like looking at wallpaper.

Masturbation was another topic of conversation in those days, and I did masturbate. It wasn’t a sexual urge for me, I didn’t fantasise, it was just something my body decided to do. People say about asexuals: “But if they masturbate doesn’t that make them sexual?” It’s hard to explain, but if you’re asexual you don’t necessarily feel an explicit connection between masturbation and sexual orientation. It’s just part of having a human body – a physical, biological process.

After we moved to Zimbabwe I went back to visit my old friend Kasim. The last time we’d seen each other we’d been into computer games, drinking Coke and going for pizza. Two years on, it was a shock to see how much Kasim had changed. Sex was his major preoccupation. He had a girlfriend and was on the brink of going all the way with her. One afternoon we were with some of Kasim’s friends, and he began goading two of the girls into kissing each other in front of a camera. The whole atmosphere was really charged, and I felt out of my depth. I’d fallen behind. Kasim had been my friend a long time, but he’d entered this different world without me.

By the time I went to university, I was happy to let people wonder about my sexuality. I wasn’t pretending to talk about girls any more. Some people assumed I was gay, but my best friend Simon was the first person to confront me directly. We were studying in Hangzhou, in China, just south of Shanghai. It’s a very beautiful city, on a lake with mountains, and we were walking through the streets when Simon asked me outright. First he made a joke about whether “I liked girls … or boys?” I laughed but he persisted and said “So what are you?” I just said, “I’m not straight and I’m not gay, and that’s it, full stop.” Back then I didn’t know what term to use.

The following summer I was surfing the internet when I read a post from a girl who wasn’t attracted to anyone. Someone had suggested she should be aware of “asexuality”, and gave the address of a website:asexuality.org. When I went to the site and read the material, I was quite dismissive at first, because you just don’t hear about other asexuals. Since Freud and Kinsey, and even to an extent the sexual revolution of the 60s, we tend to believe anyone without a sexual orientation must be repressed or delusional. Asexuality is therefore an impossibility. Kinsey labelled us “X”, a statistical throwaway category for anyone damaged to the point where they can’t express any sexuality.

Gradually, though, through visiting the site, I came to realise that these were just ordinary people; people who were writing things I’d thought myself, but had never heard anyone else express. It was such a relief. Finally I had a label – a way to explain myself that could settle all the awkwardness and questioning.

I told my close friends straightaway. Only one female friend didn’t really believe me. I think she thought I was secretly in love with her.

Back at college I decided to get it over with in one day by wearing a T-shirt saying: “Asexuality is not just for amoebas”. I was nervous, but I’d already told a dozen or so people, and was used to answering the same questions over and over. No one has ever reacted really badly to me – I’ve been lucky.

I told my mother shortly after finding the asexual website, and she said: “Well as long as you understand the possibility that one of these days you’ll meet someone and want to settle down with them.” I wasn’t so sure. I’d already resigned myself to a solitary existence. I’d convinced myself I could form strong friendships and was independent enough to fare OK. Luckily my mother always ends up being right about everything.

When my studies took me to New York, I got more involved with the asexual community there. I posted messages on their website and there were regular meet-ups in a little pink tea shop in the East Village – I guess you could call it the asexual equivalent of a gay bar.

One day I got an email from Amanda. She was asexual, living close by, and offered to show me around the neighbourhood. In case she was cruising for an asexual boyfriend, I responded with a warning that I was “vehemently anti-romantic”. But we met up anyway, for tea and ice-skating, and we took to meeting a lot.

I loved Amanda’s attitude to life and enjoyed hanging out with her. And she was pretty. At first I tried to treat it like any other friendship. Then I found myself travelling four miles downtown to deliver sandwiches when she told me she was hungry. Two months in, we were at a gig and it seemed like a good idea to hold her hand. I felt cautious about it but just wanted to. I wondered if I could. Then I found I couldn’t let go.

That evening ended with us agreeing that our friendship was an important thing. We wanted to commit for life. In the asexual community we don’t form relationships lightly. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a person, there’s no reason to make such a special commitment.

When we announced our engagement, our families were happy for us, and our friends in the asexual community were particularly pleased. On our wedding night, my mother-in-law insisted on booking us into a honeymoon suite, so we invited all our friends to an after party. We played Scrabble late into the night and everyone stayed over and slept on the hotel-room floor.

People always ask how our marriage is different from just being friends, but I think a lot of relationships are about that – being friends. We have built on our friendship, rather than scrapping it and moving on somewhere else. The obvious way we differ is that we don’t have sex, though we do kiss and cuddle. We like to joke that the longer we’re married the less unusual this is. By the time we’ve been married five years we’ll be just like everyone else.

Do I feel as if I’m missing out on something? Not really. We’ve decided that if either of us wants to try sex out in the future then we will see what we can do. We would both be willing to compromise because we’re in a relationship and that’s what you do.

When it comes to the future and to children, we’re big advocates of adoption. We’re not so fussed about passing on our own genes. Right now we’re quite happy with what we’ve got. After moving around so much, I can say now that wherever Amanda is – that’s home.

· Paul Cox was interviewed by Bridget O’Donnell. Some names have been changed.

· Do you have a story to tell about your life? Email it tomy.story@guardian.co.uk. If possible, include a phone number.”

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This Is What Sex-Positive Parenting Really Looks Like

This Is What Sex-Positive Parenting Really Looks Like

Posted: 07/29/2014 11:47 am EDT Updated: 07/29/2014 2:59 pm EDT

“It happened yet again. As I was sitting at the table for dinner with my children, I noticed my daughter’s hand fishing around under her skirt.

“We don’t play with our vulvas at the table. Go wash your hands and finish your food,” I scolded. She nodded, ran off to wash her hands, and resumed picking at her dinner instead.

Small children, they touch themselves. A lot. It’s fascinating to them. And when you’re a small child, you have no sense of shame or disgust or fear of your body. Your body is what it is. It does what it does. And everything that it does is kind of amazing, because you’re not old enough for lower back pain. It’s not sexual, it’s just… fact.

The first time I caught one of my kids playing with their genitals, I said absolutely nothing. I was momentarily paralyzed with indecision. One thing I knew for a fact I did not want to do was to shout, “No!” or “Stop!” What good could that possibly do? Sure, I would be spared the awkwardness of catching my child playing with her genitals on the living room floor, but what kind of lesson is that? To fear or ignore your own vagina?

I thought about it almost constantly for two days, and of course she gave me a second chance to react.

“Sweetie, we don’t play with our vulvas in the living room,” I said. Which sounded ridiculous and strange, but nonetheless true. Why is everything with little kids “we” statements? “It’s OK to touch your vulva, but people are private, and it’s a private thing. The only places where you should touch your vulva are in the bathroom or in your bedroom. If you want to play with your vulva, please go to the bedroom.”

And she smiled and did, without question, because compartmentalizing where you do certain activities makes sense to little kids.

“We don’t eat in the bathroom, and we don’t touch our vulvas in the living room,” became the new mantra. And yes, eventually it became, “We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.”

I’m what some people call “sex-positive.” That doesn’t mean I talk with my 4-year-olds about how great sex is and how good it feels. It means I don’t pretend it’s something other than it is.

As parents, we lie all the time. About the Easter Bunny or Santa or the Tooth Fairy, about how long 10 minutes is, about whether or not we remembered they wanted to have grilled cheese for dinner again… We lie a lot. But one thing I never lie about is sex.

I don’t want them to grow up ashamed of their bodies or confused about what they do. I don’t tell them about cabbage patches or storks; I make an effort, always, to be honest about human reproduction. Every aspect of it.

I’ve had talks with lots of other moms about having “the talk.” I don’t think my kids and I will ever have that particular talk, because they already know. And we talk about it often — kids are obsessive creatures. We read Where Did I Come From? andWhat Makes A Baby, which together cover every aspect of the subject. We can talk about IVF and C-sections, because both of those are part of the story of their births, and we can talk about the fact that yes, mommy and daddy still have sex regardless. And when they’re older, we’ll start talking about contraception.

Because lying to your kids about sex helps nobody. Telling them that sex is “only between mommies and daddies” is a lie that leads to confused, hormone-charged teenagers. Telling them that sex is “only something that happens when two people love each other very much” is a lie that causes hormone-charged teenagers to confuse “love” with “lust,” or “obsession.” It leads to leaps of logic like, “If I have sex with this person, we must be in love.” Or worse: “If I love this person, I have to have sex with him or her.” And how many teenage tragedies are based on that misconception?

The truth is that human beings, almost universally, like sex. It feels good. And it’s supposed to feel good. If it didn’t, the human race would die out. The truth is that sex isn’t special and magical just because it’s sex. The truth is that you can have spectacular sex with strangers whose names you don’t even know. The truth is that just because you can, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

And that’s what sex-positive parenting really is. Not telling my kids lies about sex to keep them from behaviors I don’t think are healthy. It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices.

It’s telling them that sex is good, but that it’s dangerous if you’re not careful. It’s teaching them to require their partners to use condoms, to buy their own condoms if they’re planning on having sex. It’s teaching them that while sex feels good, they can feel good on their own too. (Just not at the table.) That while sex combined with love is often the best sex — transcendent sex — that grows the bond of love and builds a closeness that is almost impossible to find otherwise, sex isn’t always like that, even with people you love. That sex can lead to pregnancy, even with protection, so engaging in it is a commitment to deal with any consequences.

It’s telling them they’re not wrong, or sinful, or bad, if they have sexual feelings. Or even if they have sex. It’s teaching them that sex happens, whether people always make good choices or not. And it’s giving them the tools to ensure that when they’re ready, they’re smart and cautious and conscientious.

There’s a lot of black-and-white comparisons when it comes to sex education. Some people think that once kids hit puberty, if they don’t have a strong fear of sex they’ll have as much as they can, as often as they can. There’s a lot of abstinence-only sex education, based on telling kids, “SEX IS SCARY! DON’T DO IT!” and it appears to be about the least successful program anyone has ever invented.

Telling children the truth about sex isn’t giving permission for them to have it — and this is the most important part — because when the right time comes, nobody has the right to deny them permission for sex but themselves.

And that’s the thing I try to keep in mind when I say things like, “We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.” Sex is something that ONLY happens when both people WANT it to happen. And that means that the only people in the entire world with any kind of say over whether or not my daughters have sex is them.

I don’t get to tell my daughters they have to have sex, but I also don’t get to tell them they can’t. They’re in charge. Your body, your decision.

I never want to be responsible for setting the precedent that another person gets to tell them what to do with their bodies, and especially with their sexuality. I don’t want to be the gateway for a manipulative, potentially abusive boyfriend.

So I teach boundaries. Appropriate places. Hygiene. I teach my children that nobody is allowed to touch their bodies without permission. When we get in tickle fights and they say, “Stop!” I stop.

And when we talk about pregnant friends, we talk about uteruses and sperm and eggs.

And most of the time, it’s not uncomfortable. Most of the time, I’m verifying information and the conversation lasts 15 seconds.

And someday the conversation is going to be a lot uglier. Someday, we’ll have to actually talk about rape, and explicit and enthusiastic consent, and contraception. Someday we’ll have to talk about healthy masturbation and pornography and realistic expectations of sex and sex partners and body image and a lack of shame for their bodies. And those conversations are not going to be as brief or straightforward.

But I’m ready. Whenever that day comes, I’m prepared. Because the groundwork is there.

“We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.” It’s absurd, but it’s got all the important pieces. It’s a micro-lesson in safety and consent and social propriety. I don’t think I’ll be able to say “We don’t lose our virginity in the backseat of a car after a prom party” with a straight face, but I will be able to say, “We don’t have sex without thinking long and hard about it first, and we certainly don’t do it without being careful, and being safe, and being totally confident in the maturity of our partner and our ability to handle the repercussions if we get a disease or get pregnant.”

Because it’s true. We don’t.

But I like that when that time comes, I’m part of the “we.” Because if I can tell my girls, “we” have to be careful, they’ll know that no matter what happens, I’m still in their corner. I’ve still got their backs. Even if “we” make bad choices, I’ll still be there to help make things right again.

Originally published on Becoming SuperMommy

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Psychologists Have Figured Out Why Some Americans Get So Mad at “Promiscuous” Women

Psychologists Have Figured Out Why Some Americans Get So Mad at “Promiscuous” Women

“Ever wonder why people keep calling women who use contraception “sluts“? Apparently, shaming women who need birth control (which is 99% of sexually active women by the way) wasn’t invented as a way for conservatives to belittle women. It’s actually a trend rooted in socio-biologically theory. Well, sort of.

In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, scientists from Brunel University in London found that people who tend to oppose female promiscuity on moral grounds also tend to believe that women are financially dependant on men, even when researchers controlled for political and religious ideology.

The researchers, whose aim was to provide a glimpse at the “evolutionary logic of anti-promiscuity morality,” found that “such opposition will more likely emerge in environments in which women are more dependent economically on a male mate.” They came to this conclusion by noticing how women with lower incomes and men with higher salaries tended to be more strongly opposed to people with the sexual habits of independent women.

These findings — which are frustrating in isolation — become downright infuriating when one thinks about what that means about societal progress in America. If the research findings are true, and the vitrol so often spewed at so-called “promiscuous” women is really motivated by women’s dependency, why has there been so little change in the past few decades? Despite lingering systemic problems like the wage gap, women are more financially independent today that they were 40 years ago. So why hasn’t that increase correlated with a reduction in preconceptions about women’s sexuality? 

It’s 2014. There is a record number of women more educated than their husbands, and in some cities are making significantly more money than them. So shouldn’t we all be cool with women having independent lady sexy time? Shouldn’t we see Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly getting off their high horse? Shouldn’t we see “Beyoncé Voters” (defined as unmarried women by Fox News) humming “Independent Woman” on their way to the free birth control shop? Conversely, what explains the fact that the birth control “debate” has gotten worse in the past few years, while women have been leaning in and making great strides economically, politically and in the workplace?

Part of the problem has to be traced back to messaging. One network in particular has insisted on its mission to remind women (and men) of the dangers of female emancipation.

Image Credit: Fox News

Fox is consistent in its unflinching commitment to reinforce the very scripts that — according to this latest research — make for misogynistic segments as a recent meditation on the potential “problem” of female breadwinners. In the same vein, the conservative behemoth loves chatting with people who shame unmarried women to the point that they are calling them “Beyoncé Voters,” or instructing those who are married to stop being so darn self-serving and start pleasing their husbands

Image Credit: YouTube

But it’s not simply cable news that’s the problem. Cultural stereotyping runs much deeper than that. Not convinced? Try Googling birth control to see what the most popular auto-completes are for the search engine. 

Image Credit: Google

Honestly, there are more important issues we need to be debating. Now that 1 in 3 children are growing up fatherless in this country, a better use of our debating energies would be to focus on the growing trend of absent fathers deserting their families. Where’s the Rush Limbaugh segment talking about how men’s promiscuity is tearing apart American values? By the same token, seeing as Bill O’Reilly has been going on and on about Beyoncé’s alleged effect on teen pregnancy, it seems like an investigative report might be warranted on the way the term “Gold Digger” has contributed to young boys growing up to believe you don’t have to take responsibility for their offspring. Where’s the Supreme Court case debating the fact that companies pay for men’s recreational sexual health medicine like Viagra or penis pumps

Image Credit: Fox News

Perhaps the most depressing part of the research paper is the finding that women are more opposed to promiscuity than men. It’s no surprise that women have internalized this destructive double-standard because they are reminded of it every time they are called a bitch, a slut or a whore for cutting in line at a bodega or not returning a cat-call with a smile. I challenge anyone rolling their eyes right now to think about one common insult for women that does not reference her level of promiscuity. It’s no coincidence that women believe that engaging in lots of sex makes them mediocre, they are reminded of it every single day.

The silver lining is that the “perceived dependency of women” in the study had a bigger effect than a female subject’s actual dependency on a man based on her income. In other words, the social norm reinforcing female dependency was a larger predictor of attitudes towards promiscuity than a woman’s financial situation. This conclusion suggests that if Fox News stopped promoting the idea that women are dependants or incapable second-class citizens, we could match up social norms with reality.

Until then, we’ll be enjoying the catastrophic aftermath of the conservative’s “Beyoncé Voters” trend and the lovely re-appropriation of the term by online feminists with this Tumblr. At least some good came out of Fox News’ latest lady hysteria, and who knows, they may have just came up with a term to define the voting block that may just swing our next presidential election.

Image Credit: beyoncevoters / Tumblr

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