Sex-negativity is a slippery slope (and lubrication is our BFF).

Some of you may have read former MMA superstar and champion Ronda Rousey talk sex advice with Maxim magazine yesterday. When asked about what men “should” (which is an iffy word to use when talking about other people’s lives, and particularly sexual lives, in general) never do in bed, she said that one of the things was adding lube. She said using lube is lazy. 

In my journey so far as a sexuality educator to various populations, I have heard variations of this thought, usually along the lines of lube being unnecessary if you “do things right”. So I decided to share some thoughts on lube and sex and why #lubeislove.

I think it is fair to assume that Rousey was coming from a particular place with particular assumptions. I would take a wild guess and say that she was thinking about cisgender, heterosexual couples having penis-in-vagina (PiV for short) sex. So let’s start with that. There are plenty of situations, conditions, illnesses and medications (to name some contexts) which can make natural vaginal lubrication difficult, insufficient or impossible. Cancer, anti-depressants, age and just your garden-variety sunny-day dehydration are a few of the things that come to mind as factors that can influence one’s need for additional lube. Saying that these women – and other vulva-owners – are being lazy is dismissive of their situation, putting the blame on them for their very normal natural processes, and shaming them for needing/wanting some slippery assistance.

“Sliding” out of the vagina and into other very common, equally-legit types of sex, the anus, nipples, as well as most of the human body don’t produce natural lubrication. Anal sex, solo sex with toys, “rough” sex, and many other types of sex that I do not have time to fully explore (right now, anyway) may require or at least greatly benefit from artificial lubrication. Not using some, or shaming those who do, is not only insensitive and ignorant, it is also dangerous.

Let’s do some best/worst case scenario analysis of lube, yeah? The worst consequence I can think of (you can correct me if I’m wrong) of having too much lube is to have too much lube inside an external (or “male”) condom and having it slide off. Which can be really bad, yes, and one should try not to have that happen. I’m having a tough time thinking of any other negative thing. Maybe having your hands so full of lube that you accidentally drop your magic wand and your orgasm is stopped mid-way? I would say that’s pretty manageable.
Possible and probable consequences of not having enough lube, however are pain, chafing, tearing (and infections that can be more easily transmitted as a consequence of these tears), bleeding, a condom breaking. Not to mention a negative sexual experience, which can influence our psychological health as well as our relationship with our body and/or partners. These are sad-to-possibly-disastrous outcomes that can be easily helped with a few drops of magic.

Needless (but apparently still very needed) to say, sex (of any kind) is had by more people than “vanilla” (non-kinky) heterosexual cisgender young able-bodied people into PiV sex. 

I will repeat myself on this: There are so many situations, contexts, bodies and activities in which extra lubrication may be wanted or needed, and in calling men lazy for bringing lube into the equation, she (or anyone holding similar views, because Rousey is not alone in her opinion, unfortunately) is assigning blame. Natural lubrication is a chemical thing, and chemicals know nothing about blame. You can do everything “right” (whatever that means for you) and still need or want lube. Men can absolutely use listening to their partners, and everyone could use taking as much time as they need in everything they do with regards to sex, but using lube is not losing manhood points, or failing as a man, or being a lousy partner, or being lazy.
There is another problem that I see in Rousey’s ‘advice’, but this is not her fault at all. The importance of pleasure is not talked about enough in most mainstream media (sex advice columns and magazines included), in general. Even when one does not *need* lube, it can make many activities more fun and pleasurable and smoother for people using it.

The way I talk about lube and other sex toys and aids when I talk to (particularly straight) young people is that I don’t *need* chocolate, for example, but I still love it and it makes me super happy and that’s why I eat it. Sex is not about the “bare” (I cannot help the pun) minimum, or “just enough”. Sex can be so much more than that, and many people could benefit from asking “what can be done to make the sex I am having even better?” That’s not lazy, like Rousey suggests. It is the exact opposite of lazy, actually. It is striving for the best you can get out of the experience of sex – whatever that means for you – and your partner.

I obviously agree that everyone can take as much time as they and their partner need, and I relate to Rousey’s sentiment and intention on that wholeheartedly, but lube is not a substitute for that, and is not meant as such. What would be lazy, if anything, would be not having frank conversations with your partner about what they really want and what (if anything) is missing from their sexual experience. Including lube.

 

We no longer live in a time where the only lube we had besides what our bodies produce was olive oil or mashed yams. We have silicon-based lube (which is long-lasting, water-resistant and usually silky, but bad to use with silicon toys) and water-based lube (lasts less and is not the best for anal but can also be super smooth and can be used with any toy) and oil-based lubes (which are a no-no if you are going to use a condom but are pretty good in most other ways). There are flavored lubes and scented ones and heat-enhancing ones and tingly ones. There are some that are creamy, others are silky, others feel like the “real thing”, and others are more of a gel. We have them vegan and glycerin-free and enhanced with vitamins and others that are supposed to make your vag high. There is literally so much to be explored, if one wants to. I never want to shame people for not using or trying or wanting lube, but shaming people for trying it and calling its usage lazy seems like such an odd, inaccurate, sex-negative thing to do.

 

The main thing in this whole situation that I see as lazy is ignoring and failing to research all that is out there on how lube can potentially make your sex life better and instead making snap judgments, missing out on the fantastic world of lubrication.

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Notes on The Feminist Porn Book | Take 1

I recently read The Feminist Porn Book by Tristan Taormino. It is such a great book, and Taormino, as well as all the other authors who contributed essays to it, have amazing brains.

I love talking about porn with people and listening to their opinions. This book definitely helped me in polishing and re-conceptualizing my own, and has equipped me with more information and perspectives to be able to help and guide others in their journey through porn & porn critique.

I decided to write a series of (shorter than usual) blog posts about different quotes from the book that are thought-provoking, fun, and/or great to talk about. Please comment, add to, disagree with, and share through the comments, on social media or wherever you feel like bringing up porn (hey, Easter is coming up!). Communication is what keeps us learning and growing!

I will start with a quote from the Introduction which I think is VERY relatable to many, and I think speaks to one of the reasons I love feminist porn.

“Feminist porn does not shy away from the darker shades of women’s fantasies. It creates space for realizing the contradictory ways in which our fantasies do not always line up with our politics or ideas of who we think we are.”  – Constance Penley, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Mireille Miller-Young, Tristan Taormino

It is very simply put here, which I love about the quote, but really it speaks to a complex, ongoing process of deconstruction, critique and mindfullness that feminism has always dealt with in different ways with different phenomena.

The internal battle between desire & politics, fantasy & activism, the personal as political, is not exclusive to porn, of course. For decades certain currents within and outside of feminism have criticized femme identity of being internalized misogyny, sex work of being a weapon and a victim of the patriarchy, fetishism as being just another form of female objectification, to name a few instances. Hell, even being attracted to cis men is sometimes subject to feminist, queer criticism. Ask bisexual communities.

The thing about porn, and about sex & sexuality at large, is that we do not pick and choose what turns us on. Sure, desire is to an extent malleable, but it is hardly voluntary. Either something has orgasmic potential or it doesn’t. What we protest against during the day may very well be what we ask our partners to (consensually!!) act out with us at night.

Think about BDSM, abduction fantasies or rape (role)play, D/s relationships, maid/slave/schoolgirl role-play. These are all things for which (primarily people raised as) women who enjoy them, in particular when these women want to play out the submissive role, often face external and/or internal criticism, shame, accusations of betrayal to the movement. “Am I perpetuating rape culture?” “Why do I want a man to be physically/verbally violent with me in bed?” “Am I furthering the stereotype that (all) women WANT to be submissive (outside of bed too)?”

My answer would be NO, people whose desires take them to submissive roles, feminine attitudes, and/or ANYTHING ELSE for that matter, are not perpetuating anything. They are (consensually, duh) enjoying their sex lives, which is awesome, healthy and empowering. And they are acting upon their own bodies as they please. Isn’t choice and self-determination what feminism is all about?

Now, we – the book & I both, I mean – aren’t saying that fantasies, BDSM, porn, etc should be exempted from intersectional feminist critique. Feminist porn is about allowing that critique to happen – in front and behind the camera, as well as in the audience & under the sheets, there should be discussion & reflection of why and how and when these things are happening, ways to be ethical & humane about them, etc.

But feminist porn – and sex-positivity in general, I would say – is about acknowledging that our politics are no less valid because we don’t get off on them. It is also about being mindful that our desires are just as big a part of us as our ideologies, and that paying attention to both is not an impossible contradiction but rather a useful tool in knowing ourselves and others better.

Feminist porn does not pretend these “darker shades of women’s fantasies” don’t exist, nor does it judge & police them. It exposes them, is highly aware of them, comments on them, and ultimately allows them to be. This is something to love and admire and try to bring to our lives: feminist porn allows (or tries its best to allow) all shades of human emotion & sexuality to just be.

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If you are looking for this mighty book on your local (buy local pretty plz) bookstore or library, here is the bibliography:

Taormino, Tristan; Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young (eds). The Feminist Porn Book: The politics of producing pleasure. The Feminist Press: New York, 2013.

Related bits (re: fantasy, feminism, BDSM):

Laci Green’s vid on Female Sexual Fantasies

The Pervocracy: “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM?”

Feminist Halestorm: Consensual Non-Consent. Trigger warning for discussion of rape.

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What do YOU think about fantasies, feminist porn & the politics of desire?

The one where I talk about why I talk about toys.

“Why do you talk about sex toys so much?” I have heard this question in some form or another more times than I’ve cared to answer it, but I will. Again. [I won’t even address for now the slut-shamey tone this question is often accompanied by. Or rather, the “are you a perv or something?” question behind it. Because DUH, goes without saying.] Now. My first instinct is to answer: “Because I can.” I know my shit decently well, for one. I also try to flutter about in social circles in which I am safe and accepted enough regardless, or at least in spite of, talking nonstop about brands and materials and how to clean them properly and “that new adorable thing that just came out”. Not every social circle or situation makes me feel equally safe and okay with talking about sex toys, of course *insert mental image of me putting the Leaf line as centerpieces for Christmas dinner*, but I know how to filter, most of the time. But really, why are you asking me that question? You’re probably asking because you’re not used to hearing much about sex toys, except for jokes and hush-hush anecdotes of friends going into sex shops and looking at dildos (because every sex toy is a dildo, DUH). You’re probably even less used to a woman talking so freely about sex. And there is part of your answer. I talk about sex toys because people joke about them out of shame-y feelings, out of guilt for being actually interested underneath that nervous laughter.I talk about them, too, because a lot of people want to and yet most people don’t. You might also associate sexuality education with some powerpoint presentation featuring pictures of genital warts, or at the very least a silver-bullet Cosmo article by an “expert” who is there to tell you the single best tecnhique to please your person. That’s another reason. I talk about sex toys because pleasure should be a part of conversations about health and a part of sex as much (or more, I would argue) as STI prevention & contraception. Sexuality education often fails to acknowledge or discuss the most common sense thing about sex, which is that IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.  I talk about sex in general because there is no silver bullet to pleasure, we have to find it ourselves, and what better way than to play and flick around stuff? I talk about toys because they can help people have more fun, alone or with others. They can help with body image, with technique, with confidence, with dysfunctions, with disability, with intimacy, with libido. Hell, they can even help those teenagers that some adults SO want to deter from having sex “too young” by giving them a fun gadget to hump instead of each other. I also talk about sex toys because sometimes someone has to. People often don’t know about all the possibilities, the variety of aides and positioning devices and applications for them, or where to get them, or how to distinguish safe from unsafe toys, or how to clean & store them. And people often don’t know these things because we won’t talk about them. We are scared to ask, or don’t know who to go to, or even what to ask. Not only that though. It isn’t even about the toys. They’re often expensive and sometimes tricky to get (if you live with and depend on your parents for money, for example) and some people don’t like them. All of these things are legit and I don’t just talk about my undying platonic love for the Stronic to make you all want to run to your local (please, buy local) sex shop and spend a third of your month’s rent on a pulsating product of sexy wizardry. I like bringing up stuff that is good to say but people feel uneasy or shame-y or guilty about. I like helping provide the space for conversations about toys, sure, but more importantly about pleasure, about ways to make our (sex) lives better, about what works and doesn’t work for us and why. I have had a woman tell me that after I brought up anal beads in a random conversation – that’s how I make friends at parties – , her girlfriend told her she would like to give butt play a shot. That’s awesome! Communication – and having the tools and the will and the space for it – is awesome. Like Megan says, our hands are our free, first sex toys that Jimi gave us, and they are wonderful. We don’t NEED sex toys (but then again, I also don’t NEED Nutella, but want it most days anyway), but we do need better communication skills and tools. We need to be able to say the words for things. We need better sexuality education, we need more conversations about pleasure and how important it is. We need to talk about shame in order to be able to deconstruct it. Why do some people still think that sex toys are just for pervs, or for single women (thanks a lot, Carrie Bradshaw)? Or that they replace your partner? Or that strap-ons are just for lesbians, or that butt play is not for straight men? Or that BDSM is for “dysfunctional people”? Or that there are no toys for penises? Or that certain bodies can’t have certain kinds of sex? Or that porn is just for men? I know I am getting into a lot of questions (and a lot of inaccurate ideas), but they all come from the same problem: we are not talking about these things enough.

So tell me, why AREN’T we talking about sex toys enough?

Do you have a question about sexuality? Where to find particular information/how-to guides/porn/ toys/ workshops? About feminism, gender, sex-positivity? Ask here on the comments and I will try my best to answer! Or ask me on my Tumblr! (Or if you know me and feel comfortable, ask me on Facebook or in person. I love talking about sex toys, hence this entire blog post.)  

OH HEI HERE ARE SOME (NOT ALL) ONLINE STORES THAT ARE SEX-POSI AND FANTASTIC: Canada: Ohhh Canada, Joy Toyz, DNA Toys, Good for Her, Come As You Are The US: Smitten Kitten, Good VibesBabeland Mexico: Erotika Lovestore *I don’t feel comfortable recommending stores from other places but if you have a strong recommendation for your country, let me know and I will check it out & add it.

You want a blog post on consent? Yeah?!

I have talked – and heard, and read – a lot about consent in the past few months. I am starting to give workshops on it, too, which is great experience. One thing that I have noticed most people struggle with is the practical part.

I will explain myself. Although a lot of people still have the concept of consent itself still a bit fuzzy, many people know what it is, textbook-definition-wise.

For those of you a bit unsure, or if you think you know but you really don’t, here are some characteristics of consent:

– Mutual: That means everyone involved in whatever is going on is giving it.

– Continuous: That means that it is not a yes at the beginning and then you are good to go forever and ever. It also means the people involved are responsible for checking in with the other and making sure everyone is enthusiastically into whatever is happening. AND it also means that it can be withdrawn at any point.

– Act-specific: This goes without saying if one truly understands the previous point, but consent to one thing does not mean consent to every (or any) other thing that follows. Consent to one thing now does not mean consent for that one same thing forever. This also means that relationship status does not mean consent: just because you are married does not mean both people consent to everything the other person wants.

– Freely given: This means that if a “no” carries with it negative consequences (of any kind – blackmail, emotional or physical violence, financial trouble, getting fired), then a “yes” means nothing. The space has to be a safe one in which a “no” can be said and received. (We’ll get more into this later.)

– Enthusiastic: This means many things: that a lack of a “no”, or silence, do not mean “yes”. That “not sure”, “not tonight”, “I am tired”, “could you not?”, “stop”, “I feel weird about this”, etc should be checked in and discussed and anything that is going on should STOP.

– Explicit: That means that, although non-verbal cues help, and the body should definitely (ideally) match the words, explicit verbal consent should happen. If not verbal, how can one be sure? (Hint: You can’t.)

 

Now, many people will say this list, or a variation of this list, but when it comes down to it, they will object that explicit consent is kind of unrealistic or boring or awkward or unnecessary even. I think it is in that last point, the point about being explicit and verbal, that many people get stuck and scream IMPOSSIBLE! and leave me broken-hearted.

Many people will say it is boring to explicitly ask and give consent. I find this kind of funny because I have thought this way too, until I realized what explicit, enthusiastic, consent can actually look like: dirty talk. I think people who see it as boring think of a very dry police-questioning kind of interaction: “Would you agree that now is a good time to perform manual stimulation on each other?” “I agree, certainly. But perhaps we could start by osculating for 5 to 15 minutes before proceeding” OF COURSE THAT THIS WOULD BE BORING AND UNREALISTIC.

Other people still will argue that it is often unnecessary. The “c’mon, dudebroman, I’ve got mad game! I know when a chick wants the D, y’know?” argument. Well, dudebroman, and any other person reading this: you don’t “just” know if another folk wants the D or any other letter you might want to give at that point in time. No one does. You gotta ask. The one initiating any sexual contact should always check in with the other person. Of course I don’t mean a ridiculous play-by-play “can I touch your left butt-cheek? Can I touch your right one? Can I touch both simultaneously?” so don’t be the jackass who makes that joke when someone is explaining consent to you, okay?

Many other people will argue that it is awkward and therefore unrealistic because you’d kill the mood or scare the person away.

First of all, as I like saying about any other situation that certain people see as awkward: it is only so if you make it or think it so. Furthermore, it is only awkward the first couple of times you do it – like anything else. We get this idea from the media and other people that sex “just happens”, and that there is no need for verbal communication. People are not born with this knowledge of what goes where and how fast or slow and how every D and P and A likes it and what to do with your genitals to help them become the very best they can be. People aren’t – usually, anyway – born good at sex (whatever that even means). You get good at your own, and you get good at communicating in such a way that the other person gets good at doing you and you at doing them. Same with consent, people aren’t born good at it. People are often raised to be bad at it, actually (not because they are raised to sexually abuse – although that point is arguable -, but because they are taught that you don’t need to ask, because “game” means you just intuitively know stuff). You have to learn consent, and practice it, though.

Now, let’s go back to the dirty talk. I love talking about dirty talk because it is literally what sex ed activists mean when they say this clichéd “Consent Is Sexy” line. “Do you want my dick in your mouth?” Giggle all you want, and take your time to blush and do a backflip if you need to, but that shit’s hot.

Dirty talk, furthermore, works for both questions and checking-in (“Do you like it when I do this? how much do you like it, huh? or this?”) or initiatives (“You know what drives me nuts? When you do this”). Initiatives are great because you can use them to both state what you want but also check in (“I would love to kiss you right now”). And, call me crazy, but there is no sexier thing than having someone saying to you that they really want you. As one of my faves sex educator /magic person, Megan Andelloux says, you want someone pulling towards you, not pushing and stopping you every step of the way (which is the kind of rapey “playing hard to get” model, btw. Let’s save that convo for Christmastime, though).

Now, of course dirty talk and consent (beware, I am not saying they are the same thing, and dirty talk should be consensual and checked-in for too) take some time to get used to and good at. Hell, I am speaking from no high horse of ultimate-consent-power (can that be a superhero? one that jumps into bed – or wherever consent is needed – and hits offenders with a sparkly dildo-hammer?) here. But anyone can get up there.

It takes a lot of unlearning, for sure:

Unlearning our shame with wording body parts (if you can’t say the word for it, how can you ask if someone wants something in/around/on it?) and with verbalizing desire (especially those raised as women, who are most often taught that wanting something sexual, or to show it, is slutty and shameful). Unlearning that to tell someone (or hear someone tell us) what they want means they (or we) have failed as lovers. Unlearning that “kinky” (whatever that means to every and any one of my readers) is a bad thing and that certain behaviours are inherently bad, or of this and that kind of people or orientation or gender. Yes, I am talking about guys that are still scared of their butts because “homo!” or whatever. You don’t know what you are missing (or so would a prostate-owner say).

It takes a lot of learning: about our own bodies (how are we supposed to instruct the other/s if we don’t know ourselves?), about communication, about the body (do you know that a penis-owner can have an orgasm without an erection? – if you did, a cookie for you! If you didn’t, well, there you go. Something I know (and you didn’t) about your gens.

More often than not, too, I hear arguments towards it being awkward to explicitly ask/give consent when you are starting off with someone, and arguments towards it being unnecessary when you have been with that person/people for ages. It seems then that it is never truly a good time to explicitly ask for consent, when it is ALWAYS  a good time to do so. Not only because it makes you an actually decent human being (which should be enough of a reason), but it can also make you a better partner in crime.

When you are starting off with someone, asking if they want something or other can give you a better sense of what makes them go nuts in a good way, and what is a definite OFF switch. If you have been with someone/s for ages, it spices things up a bit: you can see if they are willing to try X or Y, you can tease them about things. And c’mon, dirty talk is fun, and surprisingly new for a lot of “old” (time together-wise, not necessarily age-related) couples.

I guess what I want to say is, learn and practice consent. I would say “it’s not that hard, for fucks sakes”, but for many of us it is, because of what we’ve known all our lives, and because it takes time and willingness and thought. But hey, on the plus side, it makes you a non-rapist. And it can make sex much better. And it can make your relationships (both the one-night-stand and the lifelong partnership) much better too. Is it awkward at the beginning? Sure, but so is sex, and yet you did it anyway (that time with the sweaty palms and the parked car that was way too small and uncomfortable and the is-this-supposed-to-go-here’s ), didn’t you?

Hopefully not ON the car?

Or maybe you did do it on top of a car in January, in the Yukon. And with practice you learned that that was shitty and now you do things in ways that are better? In ways that are sexier in a way you thought that maybe on top of a car was sexy but was really just a bad idea? Right?! Okay not the best example, but there ya go.