men, masculinities and gender politics

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What does "pro-sex" mean? And what can one read for GREAT SEX education?

sex+++

or

sexism+racism
+heterosexism
+capitalism?

[This is a modified version of a blog post, which I welcome you to comment at *here*. I hope it works fine here as a story.]

I just saw the second part of a program on television in which an audience of men spoke out, who were sexually abused as children. What was clear from listening to them and their partners--male and female--was that they had few words and a very limited vocabulary to discuss what had happened or why they couldn't lead healthy, fulfilling lives. These were mostly middle-class people and they were predominantly if not only white. These were the people who were once said to be living The American Dream. And they were crying, sad, lonely, and distant from one another and torn up within themselves.

The rate of sexual abuse of female children by all official estimates is twice the rate of sexual abuse of boys. Girls are molested or incested at a rate of one in three. With boys it is one in six. At any rate, it is appalling. Some say the stats are too low because they are determined based only by what is reported. And most children don't speak out about having been sexually abused--whether female, intersex, or male.

The stats for women I know is about 80% were sexually abused as children. (Most of the rest were sexually abused when adults, as were most of those abused as children.) And I'd say about 20% of men I know were. That would be one in five boys. And that would be at least four out of five girls.

But even assuming "half of all girls" and "half of all boys" were abused this way, let's consider for a moment what that means about how half of all children learn to not be in their own bodies, to be detached, to become compulsive and addictive and depressed and withdrawn? And, of course, there's also physical and emotional abuse without sexual components. And there's plenty of neglect to go around too. This paints a picture of a lot of people who are hurting. And yet pro-sex websites tend to ignore this very stark reality, let alone factor in how that might shape the kind of sex we are able to have, or the kind of people we are able to be.

I'm going to attempt to demonstrate that what gets passed off as "good, sound, safe" sexual advice just might not be any of the above. And how completely shallow our own understandings of ourselves and our bodies have become. The loss of our own imaginations ought to concern us. Are we unilaterally handing over our sexual selves, or is our humanity being bought wholesale by corporations, fed back to us cut up and devalued, like taking whole food and producing McDonalds? Are we pretending that being offered a "Happy Meal" (with a prize toy inside) or taking whole people, individuals with complex histories bound up in social systems, and feeding that back to us as over-simplified and highly fetishised, dehumanised bodies and parts of bodies is "good"? Or is it just "good enough" given our own expectations and conditioned needs? This is what we have: mass produced sex. This is the time in which we are living: unsustainable lives. Deeper questions are needed. Deeper explorations of who we are and what we can be are required if we are to move beyond the status quo's version of our sex lives and ourselves.

Let's have a look at what a typical "pro-sex" website (it was top of the list when I googled "pro-sex") offers us for wise counsel on how to have good sex. What follows are recommendations from the Just Say Yes "pro-sex" website. What's in brackets was added by me, Julian, who is not going to let this text go unchallenged and unanalysed. Not when it comes to sex, I won't. Because unexamined sex is one of the silliest and most dangerous concepts around.

So this is how this post works. You're going to read the contents of a page from that "pro-sex" website. Just as it is presented. You can click on the link in the last paragraph to see it as it is presented there. THEN I'm going to take us through the exact same material, but with some editorialising by you-know-who. And please tell me how much you noticed what gets pointed out. And please tell me what you noticed that I didn't.

First up, the uninterrupted text:

Sex is everywhere -- on beer commercials, billboards, and in music lyrics. But most messages we get tell us that sex is something dirty that we shouldn't talk about or an act of violence. Most of us learn that our bodies, and our sex, are things to be ashamed of. Most of us learn that sex means a man on top of a woman, and that the only other choice is abstinence. But sex can be lots of things ...

Women have sex with women, men have sex with men, women have sex with men -- and sometimes the best sex is with yourself!

There are lots of safe and fun ways to get off, which you probably won't learn in school. You can do many of these things all by yourself as well as with others, and you can talk about them even if you don't want to do them. Don't feel like you have to do everything on this page, but don't feel like anything is automatically off limits either. The important thing is that everyone involved clearly says what they want and can make it stop when they want.

Just remember, sex is only fun if everyone agrees on what they're going to do.

you could ...

* suck, kiss, touch, bite, fondle, nibble, squeeze, and lick someone's body, nipples, calves, toes, neck, ass, dick or vulva ...
* jerk yourself or each other off, dry or using lots of lubricant ...
* kiss for a long time, using lots of tongue ...
* have sex in front of mirrors, or watch each other jerking off ...
* get into role play (for instance, tie someone up and pleasure them) ...
* look at sexy pictures and videos ...
* make up or act out fantasies, talk dirty, dress up, strip down, or cross-dress (dressing in the clothes of the other gender) ...
* call your friend and tell him or her your hottest fantasies ...
* use cock rings, nipple clamps (or clothespins), or vibrators on your own or someone else's body ...
* shower together, or grind against each other with your clothes on (dry humping) ...
* cum on someone's belly, back, feet, chest -- instead of in them ...
* play with your own or someone else's ass or vagina, put your fingers, dildoes, vegetables, or buttplugs into them.

If you're putting something into a butthole, make sure it has a flared base and looks something like the picture [a drawing of a butt-plug is on that website]. That way it can't go all the way in and get stuck.

It's important to play safe. Use condoms and plastic wrap. Don't get blood or cum in a wound. See Safe Sex for more information.

Next, the same text with some questions and commentary.

Sex is everywhere -- on beer commercials, billboards, and in music lyrics. But most messages we get tell us that sex is something dirty that we shouldn't talk about or an act of violence.
[Hold on. So would "talking dirty" to one another a way to have HOT SEX be considered something that makes sex dirty or not dirty? Is sex-made-dirty healthy and good or not? And, "the messages we get tell us sex is an act of violence"? Where? When? When I was being assaulted at twelve? When my female family members were being incested? No one talked to them about how "sex can be violent". No one talked to me, ever, about that. So this opening remark from the website posits a universe in which there is no dangerous sex, no threatening sex, and in which those who speak of it as possibly dangerous, or violent---pssst: "radical feminists!"--are the ones who are distorting what sex is, not the incest perpetrators, child molesters, rapists, pimps, and corporate ad execs who fuse "sex" to "violence" and violation constantly. And isn't it often suggested that causing our bodies pain, or hurting them, can be "good HOT sex"?]

Most of us learn that our bodies, and our sex, are things to be ashamed of.
[And who teaches us that, and how? Through what means, practices, institutions? Religion. Check. Child molesting priests. Check. Incesting fathers. Wait--the "pro-sex" website's writer doesn't mention them? Child molesting neighbors and friends of the family? No mention. Abusive and neglectful parents? Not a word. Emotionally abusive systems in society, that embed racism and misogyny into children? No mention of that, because really, all there is in the social world are props and roles and people who have no personal histories at all; people who do not live inside political systems of exploitation and abuse and neglect. This isn't a specific critique of this one website. According to most "good sex" advice sites, this awareness is usually missing. Which makes those of us who DO have "issues" with our bodies and with "sex" feel even MORE ashamed, not less.]

Most of us learn that sex means a man on top of a woman, and that the only other choice is abstinence. But sex can be lots of things ...
[First, that's not "sex" that's everywhere. That's corporate, manipulative, propagandistic racist, heterosexist, misogynistic sexism. To call that "sex" is to not really grasp what's being sold to us. If it is only described on that website as "sex"--if people "come to believe" that what corporations sell us is "sex", then this alone perpetuates the idea that we need to buy stuff (packaged fantasies, ideas about domination and submission, pencil thin body-hating models, plastic toys, etc., in order to have "sex". We don't need any of that to have great sex. Believe it or not.]

Women have sex with women, men have sex with men, women have sex with men -- and sometimes the best sex is with yourself!
[And trans, intergender, and intersex folks too: you all can have sex too! Not according to this list, but you can.]

There are lots of safe and fun ways to get off, which you probably won't learn in school.
[There's a lot you won't learn in school, period. Like how many American Indians were slaughtered by butchering, thieving white men. Like how the enslavement of Blacks in the U.S. and elsewhere, like the Caribbean, still manifests in people's psyches and actions. Like how much slavery there is right now. Like how frequently incest and child sexual abuse happens. Like how being emotionally neglected shapes how you act out sexually.]

You can do many of these things all by yourself
[How about "It would be wise to do ANYTHING first when alone, by yourself, to see how you feel about it before, during, and after, emotionally and physically. And how about reminding people that one in three girls and one in six boys--not sure about the stats on intersex children--are sexually abused? So what we do alone by the time we reach puberty might well incorporate what we were taught by those we love who violated us, betrayed us, caused us pain, and called it love.]

and the as well as with others, and you can talk about them even if you don't want to do them.
[Does this mean "phone sex" or "sexting"? Or is this the only place so far when honest self-aware communication and the ability to know what we feel and think and want gets recognised as a centrally important feature of "good sex"? And does this mean that the porn-addicted boyfriend can keep asking about the anal sex, when the partner has already said no?]

Don't feel like you have to do everything on this page, but don't feel like anything is automatically off limits either.
[Anything? Sex with pigeons isn't off limits?? Sex with babies isn't off-limits? Rapist seduction tactics aren't off limits? Mixing sex and inebriation isn't off limits?]

The important thing is that everyone involved clearly says what they want and can make it stop when they want.
[Would it have been too much of a not-hot thing to put that at the very top of the page, instead of father down here? The sites states: "everyone involved clearly says what they want and can make it stop when they want". That is about as ludicrous a concept as I've ever heard. In what universe does that happen? In what social space does "everyone involved" get the same levels of permission and entitlements to speak, let alone know WHAT they feel about something that may be happening at too fast a rate to proces? What about those of us with triggers, dissociation, and old patterns of "letting things happen" because once upon a time, when we were very, very young, to not let things happen might have meant we'd be dead--or at least our body-minds feared it could happen? What about those of us whose bodies register terror in an instant, when nothing terrifying is happening? What about those of us who feel "nothing" and "numb" when something scary or dangerous IS happening? How are we supposed to be able to communicate then?]

Just remember, sex is only fun if everyone agrees on what they're going to do.
[Bullshit. That's one big load of CRAP. Because if you haven't done something yet, agreeing to do it is agreeing to possibly be able to consent to what's about to occur--because you don't know what's about to occur. Consent is relatively weak and unstable as an ethic, isn't it, if what you're agreeing to do is something you don't understand or know how your body and mind will experience? Like, say, if I agree to take crack cocaine for the first time. Or to try a new kind of alcoholic drink before having "sex". Or if I agree to be tied up because I've learned to do what is asked of me as soon as I enter a bedroom, but don't recall that my uncle did that to me when I was seven. What, exactly, am I agreeing to do when something new is asked of me?]
you could ...

* suck, kiss, touch, bite, fondle, nibble, squeeze, and lick someone's body, nipples, calves, toes, neck, ass, dick or vulva ...
[The very first recommendation is for us to think of people as body parts--and sexual pleasure as figuring out which parts feel what, rather than understanding what a person feels about sex is more complicated than what happens when you lick a nipple. This is a very mechanistic, non-holistic view of sex. So far, we don't need capitalism, however. Whew.]
* jerk yourself or each other off, dry or using lots of lubricant ...
[Uh oh. We need capitalism already to get that lubricant at a store. And no mention of what sorts of ingredients are in those store-bought or online-ordered lubricants. If petroleum based, then we're talking about something that isn't healthy to put into the body.]
* kiss for a long time, using lots of tongue ...
[or not using lots of tongue; spreading around saliva and/or deep penetration doesn't equal "a good time". The best sex I've had, when I was sexual, involved virtually no penetration at all and a very moderate amount of saliva--never leaving the mouth, either.]
* have sex in front of mirrors, or watch each other jerking off ...
[now we're kind of into class and capitalism. Lots of homes don't have lots of mirrors in which to pose oneself while being sexual with someone else. Besides that, we've arrived at sex being voyeurism and exhibitionism, small scale. See, with this simple list, we're going to ease our way deeper into the realities and "necessities" of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. Stay tuned...]
* get into role play (for instance, tie someone up and pleasure them) ...
[Ah, yes. "Role play". Curious that the example involves bondage. Because right there we're led to think that "role play" means someone has less movement, capacity to escape an unwanted situation, or even to participate equally. And the doors to white supremacy have now been opened. Also to patriarchy. Why isn't "role play" ever: "you be the person I adore and enjoy being with, and I'll be the person you adore and enjoy being with". Not sexy enough? Not "pro-sex" enough?]
* look at sexy pictures and videos ...
["sexy" meaning what? Objectifying? Exploitive? Mechanistic? Images and videos of people who are trafficked? How are we supposed to know which people in which videos and images were there "consensually"? No mention or regard for that. Just find pix and vids that get you hot. No worries. Except, well, we've now combined capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy all into something that is allegedly and unambiguously "good sex".]
* make up or act out fantasies, talk dirty, dress up, strip down, or cross-dress (dressing in the clothes of the other gender) ...
[From roles, to videos, to fantasies. If you've been acting out roles and watching the videos, what might the content of those fantasies be? The same as what you've been consuming and acting out? Talking dirty?? I thought we were supposed to be promoting sex-as-not-dirty???? Dressing up--capitalism. Strip down--well, that tends to go with having sex, often. "Cross-dress"? Hmmm. So we're supposed to be buying into a hetero/sexist dress code, a set of roles that rigidly define gendered sex as happening between people who dress differently? If I wear by boyfriend's t-shirt and jeans and he wears mine, are we "cross-dressing" yet? Or does one of us need to put on garments that pimps require prostitutes to wear? I'm guessing not so much with the t-shirt and jeans, and a lot more of the stuff pimps and procurers want women to wear. I could be wrong.]
* call your friend and tell him or her your hottest fantasies ...
["hottest" fantasies? What about most emotional, deepest, most liberating fantasies? What about the fantasies of liberation from capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy? What? That isn't "hot"?? Oh, you mean "hot" refers to superficial, buying what corporate racist patriarchy sells us as "hot"? Gotcha.]
* use cock rings, nipple clamps (or clothespins), or vibrators on your own or someone else's body ...
[now we're not only dealing with capitalism, but we're dealing with things that can harm our bodies. But it's all "good" and "pro-sex" right? Why isn't sexual practice that can't harm our bodies not "hot" or "good"? How about non-penetrative sex between full human beings, not people-with-toys as "hot" and "good"? Does corporate-produced plastic and corporate-produced electricity need to be present for us to have sex? Really? Was what everyone was doing prior to the advent of electricity and plastic not having enjoyable sex? Why just because products exist, sold to us for a profit, are we required to buy them in order to learn how to have enjoyable sex?]
* shower together, or grind against each other with your clothes on (dry humping) ...
[no complaints here. Well, except for one: we are always thinking, in this list, about ourselves as having to do shit to feel a certain way. There's truly no mention at all of "get to know who the person is" or "be together".]
* cum on someone's belly, back, feet, chest -- instead of in them ...
[Is this being addressed to women? How exactly might a woman enjoy cumming on someone else's chest? Oh, right, sex is androcentric and phallocentric, so "cum" means "male ejaculate" or "semen". The dead give-away is "instead of in them". Because while women can ejaculate fluid, it's not likely she's choosing between doing that "in" someone else, or outside of someone else. It's not like her partner is saying, "Hey, hon, just for kicks, why don't you ejaculate OUTSIDE my body this time!" So fun sex means heterosexist males who regard penetration using their penis as "normal", and shooting their semen onto people's bodies as "something different to try". Not for me. No thanks.]
* play with your own or someone else's ass or vagina, put your fingers, dildoes, vegetables, or buttplugs into them.
[The whole pre-occupation in this list with penetration as "necessary" or "normal" is truly invalidating of a lot of us who don't/can't/won't penetrate someone with parts of our bodies in order to have sex. It's able-ist, in some ways ageist. It's also terribly phallocentric and androcentric. Playing with someone else's body kind of goes without say, doesn't it? Oh, wait. Skype and webcams. Maybe not.So we're talking about solo masturbation as a way to find sexual intimacy and pleasure, then? Or are we just "performing" for someone who is looking at us? This notion of "sex" as "performance" is one of the most capitalistic ideas yet. As opposed, say, to "sex as intimacy" or "sex as sharing" or "sex as communication" or "sex as finding out who one is and who the other person is: "sex as discovery". What? Not "hot", huh? Oh, and you should wash any vegetables and probably wrap a condom on them if they are phallic shaped. And very hard vegetables aren't so good and can puncture or bruise soft internal flesh.]

If you're putting something into a butthole, make sure it has a flared base and looks something like the picture. That way it can't go all the way in and get stuck.
[Into "a butthole"--it doesn't belong to anyone? Do buttholes just walk around? Well... kind of, yes. "Politicians" is what they're called in English. And again with the purchasing of objects to use in body parts also written about as if they are objects. More classism here; and more "penetration" AS "sex".]

It's important to play safe. Use condoms and plastic wrap. Don't get blood or cum in a wound. See Safe Sex for more information.
[This is one of my pet peeves, I'll be honest. Because none of these sites discuss what "safe" sex is for those of us who were incested, molested, assaulted, raped, exploited, trafficked, and enslaved sexually. The assumption is that no one has traumas; difficulties being present; triggers. The assumptions, in fact, about the people having sex are not "normal" at all. Most people have challenges, whether due to traumas or dysfunctional childhoods, depression or substance misuse, other mental illness or physical disability. So we have to wonder whether this imaginary person even exists in actual life. How do we have emotionally safe sex? How about psychologically safe? Politically safe? Mentally safe? Why is the only "safety" caveat about using rubber and more plastic? Do you get what's so fucked up here? And, yes, we ought to be fully informed about STDs and STIs, but also about emotional coercion and physical manipulation that may be a normal part of a teenager's life and relationships. Oh, and PLASTIC WRAP ISN'T SAFE. It has holes in it that can pass disease and illness. So that's not even something that should be promoted even if we are going to pretend no one has "issues" and society isn't deeply fucked up in oppressive ways, not just "repressive" ones.]

I will leave you with two pieces of writing, and I welcome you to compare the depth of feeling, the breadth of insight, in each, compared to the material you read above.

Here are the links, and this is what is being linked to:
Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, by Audre Lorde, in her book Sister Outsider. I know of no other single essay that so completely tears away what the status quo expects of us, to get down to the possibilities that lie beneath--for our sexual lives, which is also to say, for our lives. This essay, delivered first as a speech, if taken seriously, could radically transform how we experience sex, and what we come to understand is "good" about it.

"Communion" by Andrea Dworkin, a chapter in her book, Intercourse, analysing and discussing the work of James Baldwin--a gay author of amazing depth. The analysis really gets brilliant, for me, about a page and a half into the chapter, when she begins talking about what sex is that the dominant society won't tell you about, leading into Baldwin's work, which also discusses those exact same themes usually kept hidden and secret, unspoken about by the adherents of and apologists for dominant racist, capitalist patriarchal societies' core values.

A snippet, from each:

As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge. We have been warned against it all our lives by the male world, which values this depth of feeling enough to keep women around in order to exercise it in the service of men, but which fears this same depth too much to examine the possibilities of it within themselves. -- Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic

There is no imagination in fetishlike sexual conformity; and no questions are being asked in political discourse on sex about hope and sorrow, intimacy and anguish, communion and loss. [...]
There is an awful poverty here, in this time and place: of questions; of meaning; of emotional empathy; of imagination. And so we are inarticulate about sex, even though we talk about it all the time to say how much we like it [...].
-- Andrea Dworkin, Communion