"It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience -- it wasn't no damn riot."
- Stormé Delarverie
From the Bronx LGBTQ Center I learned of the passing of Stormé Delarverie, who was an icon of LGBT civil rights, a key participant in the Stonewall rebellion (by many accounts, Stormé threw one of the early punches at a police officer who was beating up a young man) and by many online accounts someone with a deep capacity for love, acceptance, and resistance.
I only knew Stormé Delarverie's name as one that was tied to the resistance and rebellion that began outside the Stonewall Inn on the night of June 27, 1969. I'm grateful to be able to read about Stormé now, an experience that offers both a history lesson and adventure (in geography, gender, musical performance, not to mention the less pleasant experiences of racism, prejudice, violence, and isolation).
Several of the remembrances point to this 2010 profile that the New York Times did on Stormé. Having just finished Inside the Dream Palace I was not at all surpsied to learn that Stormé was a long time resident of the Chelsea Hotel. Reading about Stormé you feel that the world has lost someone who made this a much better place. But all is lost, as long as we remember. It's not enough, but it's something.
National Masturbation Month is almost over, and while the event is mostly a grown up celebration (probably because it was started by adult sex shops who aren't that focused on the youth market) it seems like a good excuse for parents and people with kids in their lives to think about about where masturbation does or doesn't fit into conversations about sex.
We should start by acknowledging that not all learning happens the same way, and those differences matter.
We learn how things work often by trying, failing, and being instructed. Or by watching others do something and mimicking them. We learn new words when we hear them, don't know what they mean, and either we ask someone older than us to explain the meaning or the definition is volunteered by the person using the word. We learn about social rules by being punished or corrected, sometimes before we do a thing, sometimes while we're doing it, sometimes after.
When it comes to our bodies and sex learning often happens in less direct ways. Because adults don't talk about sex the same way they talk about tying your shoes or learning what the word cooperation means, we often teach by responding without words (and sometimes without really thinking much).
Kids learn that some body parts are okay to touch and some aren't maybe because we explain it, but often because we tell them simply to take their hands "out of there". We tell them to pull their pants up, to keep their dress down. And they learn from what we say but also from our tone, from our energy. They learn by watching us respond to them.
This is nowhere more evident then in how we teach kids about masturbation. In fact there is an added layer of complexity because when infants and toddlers are touching themselves I would argue they aren't masturbating (at least not in the sense of the word as it's used to describe a sexual activity). They are touching themselves because it feels good, yes. But it lacks the intention we usually give to masturbation and I would suggest it lacks the directed sexual energy that comes with later sexual development. Another way to put this is that when your 4-year-old touches their body to feel good it isn't the same as when your 14-year-old does it. And those differences matter.
The added complexity comes from the fact that our response to what they are doing is very much a response to the idea of masturbation. We are in some ways responding to much more than what is happening. Which can be very confusing if you're on the receiving end of all that responding.
So in answer to the question at the top, yes, we should be talking with kids about masturbation. To me the more important questions, the ones that are harder to answer, are what should we say and when. If you're ready to dig into those questions, here's a place to start.
Read More: How to Talk to Kids About Masturbation
Four years ago the FDA rejected an application by drug maker Boehringer for a little pink pill, called Flibanserin. Boehringer claimed that their drug could be used to treat women with low sexual desire. The FDA rejected the drug based on a lack of evidence regarding effectiveness and concerns about side effects.
The drug passed hands, and now Sprout Pharmaceuticals has brought the drug back to the FDA, armed with two new studies, and a new marketing technique. Their new argument for why the FDA should approve the drug (which is mostly being made by publicists for the company, scientists who have financial connections to the company, and at least one women's health organization that receives funding from the company) is that the FDA is being sexist. They point to the number of "sex drugs" available for men and the fact that there are none available for women.
True liberation, apparently, comes in the shape of a little pink pill.
It's a smart move. For one thing, of course the FDA is sexist (also racist, classist, homophobic, transphoibic, ableist, and more). Oppression and prejudice don't just happen on the street corner, in a bar, in a classroom or police station. Sexism is embedded in our culture and society. So you can't expect an organization that is part of the same society to be free of sexism.
But just because the organization is sexist doesn't mean they weren't right to reject this drug. For the record desire (which is what Flibanserin is supposed to "help") is not the same thing as erection (which is what all the drugs for men "help"). Producing a physiological response and altering brain chemistry are two completely different enterprises, just as being able to get an erection and actually wanting to have sex are two completely different experiences. I know we get them confused. But the confusion is in our meaning, not our bodies.
Last week ABC's Nightline ran a story about Sprout's new tactic with the FDA. If the piece is a harbinger of things to come, it's looking good for Sprout. Most of the focus was on this spurious idea that women's equality means women should be able to be as over medicated as men. It wasn't until the last third of the piece that they included this point:
"Some doctors believe Flibanserin was rejected for a very simple reason: it's an ineffective drug for a non existent problem."
The final word came from the "regular woman" who says she can't wait to fill her first prescription. When the drug is ultimately approved it will be interesting to see if women are any happier with it than men are with Viagra (a not so often cited statistic notes that more than half of first prescriptions for Viagra are never refilled).
It's interesting to compare the Nightline story to another story that ran in Slate last month, taking apart the claims of sexism in the Flibanserin case.
When I talk with sex researchers and scientists I often hear them say that what they do is not political. It's "hard science" it's about numbers and evidence and results. But all science is political.
And we shouldn't forget that this isn't the first time a small number of women's groups have teamed up with the pharmaceutical industry to tell us that liberation does come in pill form. Back then, as now, we should be asking a lot of questions, among them: Liberation for who? Liberation from what?
Feels on Wheels: Toronto's Rose Centre (The Grid)
A young couple in Toronto are trying to make the sexual change they want to see, one adorable and sexy profile at a time.
10 Things You Should Say to Someone with a Chronic Illness (Pins and Procrastination)
Not every one of these is going to really be great for every person, but I love the many simple points made in this companion piece to 15 Things Not to Say to Someone with a Chronic Illness.
Criptiques Explores the Provocative Side of Disability (Bilerico)
An interview with editor and provocateur Caitlin Wood on how her new anthology of disability writing got so queer.
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Parents anxiety about their kids sexuality isn't new. But there are a few particularly modern situations that parents today find themselves in. Several of them have to do with porn.
Porn isn't new either, but the ease with which anyone (with Internet access) can find it, and the level of explicitness it offers is. What's also new is that instead of just finding porn (as other parents once did tucked under the bed or in underwear drawers) now parents are stumbling over both the porn sites and the search histories that got their kids there.
It may be the dictionary definition of too much information.
But there it is. Now you know it, and you've seen some of it and the question becomes: what do you do with that knowledge?
Read More: I Found Out My Kid Is Searching for Porn
Related: About.com Sex Questions and Answers...................................................
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Masturbation in our society is something of a paradox. On the one hand, it's the most common sexual act globally and locally. It happens more than any other act and for most of us it's the sexual activity we'll do more than anything else in our lifetime. You'd think this would mean that of all the sex we have, masturbation would be the kind we have the most to say about.
But try asking someone what masturbation is. Not how they do it, but in general, what it is. Usually there will be a pause, followed by some embarrassment on being asked to describe something that's so common but so invisible, and quickly the person realizes they haven't done it before. They need to choose the words, and figure out what the essential part of masturbation is.
I find when I do this in workshops it opens a discussion about what distinguishes masturbation from other kinds of touch and from other kinds of sex. And once people do start talking about how they masturbate you discover that it's a more diverse practice than you assume. It doesn't always involved the genitals. It doesn't always involve orgasm. People aren't always alone when they do it.
So what happens when we put aside our assumptions about what masturbation is, and try to talk about it from scratch? I gave this a try recently:
Read More: Masturbation for Everyone...................................................
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National Masturbation Month turns 19 this year. Its popularity has waxed and waned, but I like to think of it as the holiday that won't quit. At least not until someone finally creates and markets a line of greeting cards.
A few years into the annual celebration, back when I was a member of a sex store worker co-operative, I wrote an article about my own relationship to masturbation for our local alternative weekly newspaper. Today I went back to read it. Aside from cringing at how I wrote 11 years ago I found myself feeling a bit nostalgic. And it got me thinking.
Most of the time when we talk about sex we're talking about sex with other people. And when we're asked to recall our sexual histories how often are the askers really asking about our solo sex histories?
When do we have time to reflect on what is, for all of us, the longest sexual relationship we'll ever have; the one with ourselves?
No better time than the present. In fact looking back seems like a fitting way to look forward to this month full of solo sex and self love. To get your memories flowing I thought I'd offer this short masturbation history questionnaire for you to fill out. As with masturbation, this is meant to be something just for you. Don't put your name on the paper and only share with someone who has asked (and who you trust).
Greatest Longest Love
1. What is your earliest memory of masturbation?
a) How old were you?
b) Where were you?
c) Did anyone notice and if so did they make you feel bad about it?
2. Thinking back 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, how has your masturbation changed:
a) Did you do it differently?
b) More or less often?
c) In different locations?
d) Were your fantasies different from the ones you have today?
3. What was your most memorable masturbation experience?
4. Do you masturbate more or less when you are in a relationship? Has that changed over time?
5. What's the longest time you've gone without masturbating?Read More - Key Moments in Masturbation History ...................................................
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Image credit: Yagi Studio/Digital Vision/Getty Images
It's hard to believe a year has passed since we last came together to celebrate National Masturbation Month. Of course one of the nice things about this month is that it isn't something we have to do together. Masturbation is primarily a solo activity, even though you might choose to invite someone in, or along, for the ride. And that's what I love about this month.
When people find out that I write and teach about sex for a living they expect me to be thinking and talking about people having sex with other people. After all, that's what real sex is, right? Wrong.
There are limits to sexual exploration on your own, but of the few gross generalizations I make when talking about sex one of them is that we should all at least start by focusing on ourselves. Whether you have a partner or not, whether you want one or not, if you want to head out on any sexual journey it helps to know where you're starting from. It's not necessary, but it helps.
For most of the year I cater to expectations (to a point). Most of what I write about here does have to do with people having sex with each other. But I maintain that some of the best sex any of us have is when we are alone. And I'm happy to have at least one month to indulge in that. Stay tuned all May for more.
Read More: Paul Krassner on National Masturbation Month...................................................
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After a few years of working in a sex store you stop being surprised by people and their desires. It doesn't take that long to reach the point where you understand on a basic level that we're all different and all a bit weird and that we're also all a bit ashamed of our weirdness and hide it from others.
But there were other things that were surprising. Realizations that have more to do with society than with individuals. One of them has to do with mother's day. Mother's Day wasn't the biggest holiday for the sex shops I worked in (unsurprisingly that title goes to Valentine's Day, followed closely by Christmas) but it wasn't insignificant either. The days before Mother's Day always saw a little uptick in people coming in to buy something for their partner, and often mother's coming in to buy something for themselves.
This surprised me. And every year I would be a bit surprised again. It's not the story we usually tell about mother's, and it's certainly not the story we're told about Mother's Day.
Last year photographer and mother Ali Smith released a beautiful collection of 40 portraits of mothers in the act of mothering, called Momma Love. There aren't any sex toys in it, and it's not specifically about sexuality, but it is about mother love in many of its surprising and counter intuitive forms. And it offers as many surprises about love and motherhood as any of those Sundays in May I spent working.
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This is over stating it somewhat, but authors of study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health are interpreting data about cancer risk behaviors drawn from 9,435 adolescents enrolled in the Growing Up Today Study (and yes, they do call it GUTS) in the context of gender conformity.
They report that boys who describe themselves as "very masculine" are 80% more likely to use chewing tobacco and 55% more likely to some cigars than boys whose self reported masculinity scored on the lowest levels. And the "most feminine girls" were 32% more likely to use tanning beds than the least feminine girls.
It's hard not to cringe while reading the way gender is conceptualized, but this isn't a problem with this study alone (we are meant to be reassured that the measure they use has "excellent discriminant validity"). And while the findings aren't in any way written to promote gender fluidity, or even gesture at the fact that those who don't fit neatly in the binary have many strengths and not simply deficits, it's data worth considering in a variety of lights.
Read More: Masculine Boys, Feminine Girls More Likely to Engage in Cancer Risk Behaviors
Underage Sex Trafficking: Nicholas Kristof Has Some Explaining To Do
Not really. Nicholas Kristof couldn't care less about research that doesn't fit his white knight agenda, and besides, this research involved spending significant time listening to sex workers (and in some cases those who either identify themselves as pimps or would be identified by others as such) which is something many of the most high profile rescuers don't have time to do.
But reading the study, "Conflict and Agency among Sex Workers and Pimps: A Closer Look at Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking" which uses data from the largest dataset ever collected in the U.S. regarding minors working in the sex trade, one is called to address some glaring inconsistencies between what we hear from the media and the police and what we hear from the people they are busy rescuing. It's not that the news is good, it's just that when we only pay attention to the media and the police, we clearly aren't learning anything about what is actually happening.
Read More: Slate.com - Most of What You Think You Know About Sex Trafficking Isn't True
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