@

Photograph of Novelist Katie CrouchBestselling author Katie Crouch (Men and Dogs; Girls in Trucks) has a new book out. Abroad is a quick-moving, high-action read that plays out both our best and worst fantasies of being a young, beautiful foreigner in Italy. Her characters are so perfectly drawn, so wonderfully vivid, you might just confuse them for people you actually know (or have read about in the news!).

Riding SoloOn the online w4m casual encounters section of Craigslist, real women write ambiguously desperate posts like: let’s grab a drink and then… or spend some time together… or wanting it now!  They have grainy camera-phone self portraits taken in their bathroom mirrors. My laptop’s battery heats my thighs as I wait for these lonely women to come home—from what I imagine are evenings of failed dates, leftovers, and season finales of the Biggest Loser—and hop online for a quickie.

Prior to our firsts, we call ourselves virgins. Afterwards, we call ourselves people. This transition serves as one of the basic story arcs in western literature, the crux of our mythologies and our odes, the drama of our novels and climaxes of our plays. It has formed the backbone of our libraries from the time of parchment to the age of the printing press, and it remains a viable tale even in the age of the e-book.

There’s a particular mouth, a kind of mouth, that certain men I know possess. It’s not a sensual one, not the thick lower lip or the wide easy smile, the soft tongue, or fierce white teeth, or the smell of nicotine. It’s really just a sort of pucker, a tightness, yes, a bit like that. But really it’s about the set of the jaw, the control behind the setting of the jaw, a muscle contraction, a well-managed temper, the second before the jaw is set, the moment before the mouth draws tight, lips together, eyes burning with irritation, usually ice blue, where you can see the impatience briefly flash and then be harnessed, again. They are intelligent. They burn. It’s unintentional. It’s not for my benefit. It simply is, and I see it and I burn when I do, or my chest fills with inhale.

When Secretary Sebelius says that Plan B could pose health risks for teens, is she really thinking straight?  After all, Dr. Megan Evans, in RH Reality Check, writes, “Tylenol is over-the-counter and far more dangerous with far more potential for adverse outcomes. Oh, and pregnancy in a ten- to 11-year-olds also has far more adverse outcomes than a small, but effective dose of Plan B.”  Wise words.  In fact, according to the Guardian, for every 100,000 American women who give birth to live babies, 16.7 of them die.  And that’s not to mention the damage that post-natal depression can cause.

Evans’s grounded, intelligent point will doubtless be ignored by many.  Witness that since news of the Plan B decision broke, parents have been stating how brokenhearted they’d be if their own daughter didn’t ask their advice before taking Plan B.  This, they argue, supports Sebelius’s decision.  But the ruling isn’t just about parents who adore their kids.  It is also about young people who come from abusive families and are afraid to turn to their guardians for support.  It’s about those who live in the middle of nowhere and can’t drive themselves to the doctor.  It’s about those who have been date-raped and can barely think straight.

And it’s also about all of us, regardless of sex, gender and age, because when you control human sexuality, you control intimacy, life and the body itself.

I’d be surprised if that wasn’t a power trip.

Given these recent events, my political fantasy world has gone wild.  I mean, what if young people felt so afraid of pregnancy that they decided to stop screwing the opposite sex, but decided, instead, to all start having same-sex relationships.  “Don’t risk pregnancy,” they’d shout, “be gay!  There are fewer risks!”  I bet parents and politicians would be hitting the roof, showing their true homophobia, and Plan B would be in the bubblegum aisle sooner than you could say FDA.

Or what about if all the heterosexual under-seventeens who live in states where sex toys are illegal each ordered a vibrating rubber duck from Good Vibes, figuring this was safer than partnered sex without Plan B?  This could prompt the Vibrating Duck Revolution of 2012.  Fifteen year-olds throughout America would be sinking into their bubble baths, pledging their virginity to their rubber ducks.  And what would the police do?  Storm into these bathrooms and arrest these young rebels?  I’m not being entirely ironic when I say they might. I’m sure families, religious leaders and politicians would go nuts.  There’d be complaints about police pocketing ducks that weren’t theirs to pocket and there’d be anti-masturbation posters everywhere.  “We do not have evidence to prove that vibrating ducks are safe for under-seventeen’s,” the politicians would announce.  “Further testing is needed.”

See the mad place this is sending me to?

If Plan B is safer for an eleven year-old than Tylenol and they can also buy condoms in the bubblegum aisle, then the decision on Plan B is definitely a political one.

So.  What’s Plan C?

 

 

A Final Note:  This is the final installment of Hot Topic.   I have so enjoyed writing at TNB and receiving all your wonderful comments.  Thank you all so much for reading!  I will still see you all on the TNB site, as part of the community.  In the meantime, please do keep up with me.  I blog, most days, at www.lanafox.com.

Be safe, be proud, be you.

-LF

 

I learnt a lot about mistakes when I was a literacy teacher.  Literacy teachers aren’t just role models in terms of reading and writing — they’re also responsible for modeling self-esteem.  In fact, back when I was a literacy teacher, I’d intentionally misspell a word on the board, then look at it sideways.  “Hmm, did I spell that right?” I’d muse.  “Tom, would you check the dictionary?”  Not only would Tom leap at that dictionary, but he’d also love telling me how to spell the word correctly.  I’d correct my spelling, publicly, without any shame, and the more I did this, the more the kids would check their own spellings and help one another other out, instead of bullying one another.  Peace and much learning ensued.

Mistakes are how we learn.  It’s the same with sex and gender.  And in a culture of perfectionism, it’s hard to remember that.

I was musing about this when I read that sex columnist Dan Savage had been glitterbombed at the University of Oregon while he was giving a talk.  The glitterbombers, who called themselves the “Dan Savage Welcoming Committee,” announced that Savage was transphobic, a misogynist and a rape-apologist.  But Savage doesn’t dodge such accusations.   “I certainly have had a journey in the last 20 years — as have we all — on trans issues,” Savage recently said.  “When I started writing Savage Love 20 years ago, and you can yank quotes 15, 18 years ago and flat them up today and say, ‘You know, that’s transphobic,’ I’d probably agree with you. Fifteen years ago I didn’t know as much as I know now — nor did anybody.”

What I like about this is what it models for the rest of us:  We all slip up.  We all make mistakes.  What’s more important is that we try, learn, grow.

A friend of mine got upset recently when we were discussing the “gender binary” (the myth that there are just two genders and nothing in between).  We were talking about men’s and women’s restrooms, and whether, today, we needed them to be separate.  (My friend, incidentally, had always believed they should be separate).  I mentioned how hard it is to be a transgender male (for instance) in that situation.  Do you go into the women’s room, when you identify as male but are female in terms of biological sex?  Confusing, right?  Going to the restroom becomes a stressful experience.  People glare if you use the women’s because you are clearly male-identified, but you might have to wait for the stall if you go into the men’s.

In response, my friend felt terrible.  She hadn’t intended to leave anyone out.  But I reminded her that there was nothing to feel bad about.  When society teaches us untruths, it’s society’s fault.  And this is why we have to keep airing these issues and making mistakes, so we’re able to learn.

But while kids are attending sex education classes where the teacher is scared to speak, the students are afraid of being mocked, and the lessons themselves keeps to a careful script, how will they ever learn to ask the stupid question, receive a thoughtful answer, and change their minds?  They need to see adult role-models slipping up and owning it.  Not with condoms, consent and safe sex (those are basic building blocks) but with political correctness, sexual skills, and gender binaries galore.  They need to understand that making mistakes is how we grow.  Intellectually, they need to be adventurers, thirsty to explore, happy to learn.

So let’s go out there, adult people, and not blush terribly when we muddle up our pronouns, or say “fuck” when we didn’t plan to, or feel confused about the difference between water-based and gel-based lube.  Let’s get out there, and in it, and muck ourselves up.  Let’s ask the stupid question.

Because if we won’t grow, who will?

 

I went to Berlin on vacation a year ago. Because it was my first time in Europe I did all the typical touristy things, including indulging in the city’s numerous museums. I occasionally went high brow (i.e. giving devil horns at the Altar of Pergamon), but much of my time was spent at places that offered maximum thrills and minimum thought.

At some point I wound up at a sex museum. I was greeted first thing by a wall of plaster genitals, both male and female. While I was led to believe they all belonged to humans, I’m not entirely convinced. Surely no man could fit a ten inch member the width of a soda can into a normal pair of pants. But there it was pointing at me in the hall, along with several other startling configurations.

Berlin is unabashedly sexual. Ads for couples’ sex clubs were all over, porn played free on the hotel television, prostitution is legal and generally not frowned upon. The sex museum was no exception. I was embarrassed for half a second, until it occurred to me that I should probably abandon my puritan mores at the plaster dongs if I wanted to enjoy myself. From there I took it all in shamelessly, snapping pictures with abandon, laughing at slide shows, inspecting ancient sex toys.

My boyfriend and I came to a display that asked visitors to find the respective g-spots on mannequins representing either sex. The idea was you prodded the sweet spot on the mannequin’s body, then the thing would let loose with some prerecorded howls of pleasure. My boyfriend had the female mannequin wailing in seconds flat. I wandered over to her male counterpart.

“Male g-spot?” I asked myself aloud, before remembering where it was, or at least where it was rumored to have been.

This is not something I have a lot of experience with. Most American men don’t appreciate a finger in the bum. I remember a girl confiding in me that, after reading some ill-advised sex tips in a woman’s magazine, she tried this on her boyfriend. He commanded her to remove the offending digit and asked her to leave, even though it was in the middle of the night and they lived together.

While the female mannequin appeared multi orgasmic at the hands of my boyfriend, I could not find the male mannequin’s g-spot. It was just a smooth piece of plastic and the ins and outs of anything’s asshole, including my own, remain thankfully mysterious. But I finally found it. Boy, did I find it. The female mannequin was subdued in comparison, this thing went off like a land mine.

“OH YEAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” it echoed across the quiet floor, causing everyone in ear shot to whirl around and find me knuckle deep in a mannequin’s asshole. For a moment they all just stared and my previous lax attitude vanished. I could see it now; dumb American girl gives mannequin ball shattering orgasm, gets kicked out of Europe. Or so I thought until everyone in the place started cheering, including my boyfriend.

A group of British guys came over to congratulate me on my apparent sexual prowess, giving me high fives and patting me on the back as they did. One dude jokingly held his hand up to his ear and whispered, “Call me.” I was the hit of the sex museum, which is saying a lot for a place featuring a 3 foot golden dong.

I left my new friends and walked on to some other exhibit, still laughing about what happened. On the way I could hear the orgasmic moans of the male mannequin, now quaking at the behest of the British tourists. While many other awesome things happened in Germany, this remains my favorite. How many girls can brag that the made an inanimate object come on their summer vacation?

So I’m at a party and a stranger asks what I do.  When I tell them I’m a sex columnist, they laugh and joke that they should send me a letter.  “I’m not that sort of columnist,” I say.

Their brow creases.  “Well then, what do you write about?”

When I tell them sexual politics, they often look twice as confused.  “What’s that?” they ask, or else they shrug and say, “Isn’t that quite a limited topic?”

It isn’t their fault that they aren’t aware.  In most communities, sex is so taboo that people just don’t register the sexual side of political issues.  They know Michele Bachmann’s anti-gay stance is destructive, but they don’t particularly consider it a sexual topic.  Neither do they think that the Miss Universe contest, or Anders Beiring Breivik’s sexist manifesto, impinge on people’s sexual lives. That’s not to say they don’t care, because often they really do.  But the word “sex” doesn’t enter their minds.  Brothel closures, sex workers’ rights, condoms in porn, gay suicide…once I mention these topics, a light goes on and they’re with me.  But the fact that we’re not encouraged to view these issues as sexually political speaks to the effect that sexual silencing can have.  (In fact, in a recent column, I wrote about Michele Bachmann and the damaging power that her silence can wield).

The truth is, when we don’t talk about a powerful human issue, suddenly it’s everywhere — the elephant in the room.  That elephant can be so darn hard to ignore that we have to play psychological tricks with ourselves to keep it invisible.  Our unconscious gets used to automatically suppressing the sexual so that our conscious minds stop making the connection.  This could be viewed as an adaptive quality.  (You should see how often people glare at me because I even mention sex).  But I believe we need to start reversing this process, especially since so many are missing the lies we’re being told about sexuality.

Seeing as you are reading this post, I’m confident that your eyes are open to sexual issues.  So I thought you might be especially stirred by a list I created in order to answer the question, “What is Sexual Politics?”  I’ve entitled the list, “What Sexual Politics Is,” and it contains some (but by no means all) of the political issues that fire me up, right now:

Sexual Politics is:

When you work in a brothel where your clients dodge payment, until the brothel building is deemed structurally unsafe, and, much to the delight of the neighbors, is eventually closed down.  The fact that you were working in dangerous conditions isn’t mentioned by the local press. (And will you get arrested?  And Jesus, where will you sleep tonight?).

When five year-old children in Amsterdam ask their teacher “What is sex?” and he tells them it is a loving act, and none of the parents prosecute.

When your teenage son commits suicide because he was bullied for being gay, and then, after his death, the bullies continue to chant “We’re glad you’re dead,” when a grieving family member is near.

Sexual politics is a  vibrator that’s illegal, even when it’s shaped like a rubber duck.  It’s when queer sex and queer love are looked on as sinful.  It’s when you want to marry your lover, but aren’t allowed.

It’s when a porn movie, with consenting actors, is more shocking to many than the war scenes on the news.

It’s the boy who says no to condoms.  It’s the girl who says no to pleasure.  It’s the kid who feels neither female nor male, but is told that isn’t good enough, and wants hir life to end.  (If this is you, dear one, please look to Kate Bornstein who is amazing).

It’s the man who spends time with a sex worker and suddenly feels embraced and at peace, even though, technically, he’s just made himself a criminal.

It’s a world that doesn’t understand when a trans woman is having sex with a male partner and they identify as gay.  Or a world in which people who are attracted to both men and women are told that they aren’t real unless they choose.

It is a woman who has experienced deep trauma and decides to bravely enact a rape fantasy to deal with her pain.  Then, after this role-play with a trusted partner, she feels significantly healed, but is described by so-called “feminists” as as victimizing herself.

It’s a Facebook wall of rape jokes by men who, apparently, are making jovial confessions online, yet Facebook refuses to remove the conversation.

It’s when the word “cunt” is considered more offensive than “cock,” or when you’re in love with more than one person, yet society tells you you’re not.

(And that’s just the start of it).

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Bachmanns continue to “correct” gay sexuality, I keep teaching erotic writing classes.  These multi-week courses are always a joy.  Writers with a rich range of sexual identities come into a safe classroom where they are actively encouraged to express desire and discuss its importance.  As artists, we ask questions about sexual expression:  Why do so many people think “cunt” is an objectifying word to use in a sex scene when “arm” and “hair” are perfectly fine?  Why is the vulnerability and power of desire, along with all its peacemaking qualities, seen as more denigrating than gunfire?  Why is erotica that is written to bring sexual pleasure, viewed, by many, as immoral or cheap?

There are countless answers.  Here’s an important one:  Many people are ashamed (beyond measure) of their own sexuality, so they project that shame onto those who aren’t.  The sexually attuned human beings of this world are attacked as if we are dirty.  Why?  Because if you make everyone ashamed of their erotic freedom, expression and pleasure, you control a heck of a lot.  And you get to feel superior while you’re doing so.

One of the biggest hurdles for the beginning sex writer is the rejection they often feel in their writing communities.  Suddenly, those who have always been supportive are asking, “But why is this piece of writing just about sex?  Can’t you write about something pure?  This is shallow, this is meaningless, this is frivolous, this isn’t your business.  This is sinful.  This needs correcting.”

Does that string of statements remind you of Michele Bachmann?

We’re in a dangerous time, right now.  We’re fighting anti-queer violence, both physical and psychological.  Religious rhetoric is often frightening to those who are already afraid.  And the message is that all of us, regardless of our sexuality, should be ashamed of human desire, intimacy and sensual connection.  The Bachmanns put sex in a box and say “This is separate to everything else,” which of course makes it easier to control.  But sexual identity and expression are about so much more than the body.  They’re about acceptance, openness and truth.

When debating the power sexual attunement, consider this:  In a multi-week erotica class that I taught in the UK, one of my students came up to me at the end of the course.  She told me how life-affirming it had been for her to write about sex in a supportive community, and how self-embraced and aglow she now felt.  “When I started this class,” she said, “I hadn’t had a period for ten months.  Two weeks ago, I had one.”  She put this down to the fact that she was feeling alive in her body.  Proud and unashamed.

Here’s my take:  When we feel good in our bodies, we’re also likely to feel good in the rest of our selves.  And if we all felt good, there’d be less war.

And where would the politicians be then?

There is a Medieval story in which King Arthur is given one of his stickiest challenges.  He will die unless, in just one year, he can discover what women most desire.  And you know what he finds?  Women want sovereignty over themselves.

Oh, eureka.

Yet look at how long it’s taken for society to accept that gazillions of women freely enjoy porn.  Thank heaven the myth that women aren’t aroused by visual images has now been exploded many times, notably by Sex and Tech expert Violet Blue whose Our Porn Ourselves campaign has taken the internet by storm. Blue incited many women – myself included – to declare that we were turned on by porn and that any generalizations to the contrary were attempts to control our sexuality. Many men also champion Our Porn Ourselves, relieved that we are shattering erroneous notions of porn as “so warped that only guys will watch it” – a belief that contains so much prejudice it’s hard to know where to start. But the sexist lies still run deep. I myself was devastated when a beloved sexpert hero of mine declared porn as “basically male entertainment.” In fact, my very first reaction to her statement was, “What if I love lesbian porn? Where’s the ‘male’ in that?”

But perhaps part of the problem with the term “pornography” is that its meaning shifts with time and usage. What is porn, exactly? Explicit visuals? Well, yeah, if you video-record sex with your lover, hoping to turn yourselves on with the images, that’s surely porn…but what if you record the sex aurally rather than visually, and listen to the noises at another time? Or what if you don’t record the sex, but just carry the memories around in your head, reliving the moment when he licked your breast or pulled your hair just right? That’s a visual used to arouse, right? So doesn’t that count? While we’re at it, can a oil-painted nude in the Musee D’Orsay be porn if it turns you on? And what of BDSM porn, in which, for legal and/or aesthetic reasons, genital contact doesn’t tend to take place?  Is such a dom/sub spanking vid only porn when it actually arouses the viewer? Is porn defined by the creator’s intention or the way the consumer uses it?

Whatever the answers, our attitudes are still shifting. This year, Oprah interviewed Violet Blue about women in porn (woohoo! A win for sex-positivity in the media!), plus mags such as the Atlantic Monthly have featured the topic. Porn itself is changing too, especially in terms of its availability. In fact, consumers of free internet porn are also becoming its performers and directors, especially now that sites like YouPorn are popular. Indeed, as internet porn becomes increasingly “real life” we may well see a rise in self-confidence among its viewers – what a great way of proving that you don’t have to be a big-boobed, California blonde to get your partners and viewers off.

As society changes so do its art forms and stereotypes. Take what women want from porn, for instance. Coyote Days, Purchasing Manager at Good Vibrations says “Women often want to see very raw sexuality and more hardcore content than would be assumed by some.” That said, her female customers also buy porn for educational reasons, seeking answers to questions such as “How would I go down on another woman?” or “Would I really be aroused by a threesome?” But however we choose to use it, we need to keep defining porn for ourselves rather than letting the haters do the job. Lady Porn Day (the creation of Rachel Rabbit White) opened up this discussion by asking women “What’s porn for you?” Answers included erotic movies, pieces of classical art, feature films, and photos. For my part, I think of porn as a sensual trigger that I choose in order to turn myself on. And I want that route to pleasure, be it solo or partnered.

There you are, King Arthur.  Suck on that.

***

For experimental research into women being aroused by explicit sexual visuals, take a look at Professor Ellen Laan’s study, which is discussed here.


If I were to see Radislaw again, which I most likely never will, I should like to fuck him.

This does not mean that it would necessarily be a particularly good idea, that it would be worth the cuckholding of my own husband, or that I assume Radislaw would necessarily be a good lover. Though, based on the delicious kiss he quite literally stole from my face, drunken at 7 am after a night of caviar, champagne and success before he drove off to Poland, scorned and blueballed (and married), he might well be quite good between the sheets. I laughed as I slid onto my own empty bed, scratching sheets, imagining through the cruel filter of my own lust and drunkenness, his terrible, frustrated drive. Desperation makes a good bedfellow at dawn, after a week or two in a tight single bed on the road, at any rate. Maybe. He rarely sees his wife. She does not understand him. He is certainly handsome enough. He was very kind. He was not the one upon which I chose to target my flirtations, my arts, but, seeing the photos now, I was the one he chose. This disturbed my sleep and I woke up only a few hours later, upset and craving the attentions of another man. Any man. I became ill.

I’ve been married some little time now. Long enough for the blush and newness of requited love to sober me, though it could be four months or four decades, as much as it has, in actuality, been four years. It’s been a series of weeks and years of expectations, unmet. He is older. He’s a fine man, I love him duly and very much. It is a good man that I married, very kind and from a good family. Some money is involved. I did not doubt that we should marry. But my fires are reflected in him as wet matchbooks. I strike and strike and strike, and there is simply no spark.

There was a spark. It was a potential. Any man with a libido and a large cock knows that here, with a slut as I am, eventually, one may reap great rewards. Great obedience. But a little fuck on the rooftop was too dangerous and obscene for him, later on. I was too prudent to reward him with my panties under the table at dinner, between the third and fourth course, early on. He was pretending, or playing. He thinks sex is fed with love. He does not know my innermost thoughts. Perhaps he guesses them, but he does not know for certain, at any rate, and I do not feel the threat of violation that I so crave. For all I know, its a world apart from his own sweet, obedient and kind love. Chivalrous love, gentle and still and soft. Hated and feminine and yielding.

I despise his kisses. I would throw them back at him if I could. I would gather them up in my skirts, if I wore them, work spells, and cast them out, turned to curses and fires. His kisses are death, are sickly domestication, and though now I simply turn my head, a new weapon, perhaps one day they will fill me with hate and bile and I will spit. I will never feel the delicious sick twist of conquest with him, his goodness and his sweet ways. My god, what was I thinking? I dream, I confess, of the men I thought, once, that I might marry. Deviants, bastards, scoundrels and addicts. My daydreams grow, they take over and transplant my waning reality, the incessant I-love-you’s and intolerable It’s-so-nice-to-be-with-you’s that torment me.

I was a lioness, a beast and a despicable person, the rotten half woman that all women hate, with good cause and little self esteem. I hid the fact that I stole boyfriends and husbands, only for moments! Moments are nothing, when they had all of time, and Chinese take-out in bed, and Thanksgiving, and beautiful weddings and beloved sisters-in-law who called long distance. I devoured the feeling of want and lust, and lived from these stolen memories and feelings. I was an idiot, I was weak with power, and I enjoyed everyone. These moments were not serious, I was not a serious person. I was promised a great deal which was never meant to be granted; nobody can take themselves seriously under those circumstances.

Now I reap my debts to women I barely knew. Trapped with a man who, with a little more temperament, would be wild with fury, trying to understand why his wife is always just a bit out of reach. But he knows his place, as I mine. We serve our sentences together; though I thought it was an escape, our wedding was, actually, a gift, meant to placate his own treason.

It has not been enough.



According to this week’s presses, a 28 year-old U.S. Army officer named Justin Dale broke into a Virginia sex store and was caught screwing in the closet. Was it partnered sex? Kind of. See, the woman in question was a blow-up doll.

Now don’t get me wrong. Everyone deserves a damn good toy. But no matter how fiery your lust, I’m guessing it’s worth getting away with the loot before taking your pleasure. In fact, according to the store’s owner, the doll in question was so reasonably priced she was already a steal.

Irony aside, inflatable dolls have often been the subject of mockery. Perhaps this is to do with the erroneous belief that sex only counts when you’re with another human. That said, the vibrator is in danger of becoming quite normal – most sex-positive women seem to own one, not to mention some porn and a bottle of lube. But if you own a blow-up doll, I’m guessing you keep her/him well-hidden. Society hasn’t yet learned to accept that a fake partner is ay-okay.

Evidence for this attitude isn’t hard to find. An article in The Smoking Gun has garnered all manner of witty quips, which is hardly surprising – let’s face it, I gave my own snort-laugh when my friend first showed me the piece. But I do think the story would have a different tone if the thief in question was caught jerking off to porn, and it would have seemed more flattering were he found with a real lover. Yes, it’s the sex doll that makes the story so bizarre. Not to mention the fact that our thief couldn’t wait, even though the object of his attentions was a mere inflatable.

However, those who’ve seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl will know sex dolls can prove poignant. In the flick, the main character, Lars, has a fear of intimacy, but works out his problems through a female inflatable whom he truly believes is his real, serious girlfriend. I won’t give any spoilers, but let’s just say that Lars’s psychological journey proves both problematic and healing. What we project onto our sexual objects, dolls included, can make them powerful indeed – so much so, they can help to change our lives. And yet with their reputation as being a substitute for “real” partners, coming out of the closet about a passion for such dolls can’t exactly be easy.

In fact, perhaps there’s something truly human about lusting after a fake lover. I suppose what we might truly desire isn’t necessarily a doll, but rather a breaking of the rules, or a flesh-and-blood partner, or a defiling of what is fake, or a longing to make something real. With a vibrant sexual imagination that doll may have become very alive for Dale. Maybe his act gave the finger to society’s fakeness, or proved he was “man enough” to both trespass and fuck. Or perhaps it was simply an urge to release or connect. We may never know, but I’m sure the reality carried some sort of meaning. Fantasy isn’t necessarily logical. That’s what makes it fantasy. What seems stupid to one can feel enticing to another and it would be a sorry world if this wasn’t so.

For my part, once I’d laughed at the story, I began to realize how sad it was.  All that crime for so small a pay-off.  To quote The Smoking Gun, Dale “was charged with burglary, grand larceny, and destruction of property.” If he hadn’t taken time to screw the doll, would he have got away clean?

What a gamble to risk so much freedom, all for a moment of lust.

There is a common misconception that submitting in the bedroom makes a person weak.  Frankly, the myth isn’t surprising.  In our society, kink is often so taboo that sex education rarely covers the topic.  And if you’re not in the habit of crying, “Spank me now!” it can be hard to wrap your head around submissive empowerment.  The truth is that most of us submit or dominate in one form or another – if not in the bedroom, then in the rest of our lives.

Even if you don’t buy into BDSM, you might well have been touched by submission and domination.  Have you ever longed for a lover to throw you against the wall, or bite your neck, or order you around?  These acts are absolutely domination and submission.  You choose to either submit or master.  In fact, the notion that submissives don’t choose their suffering is entirely erroneous.  Ever heard of the phrase topping from the bottom?  It’s used to describe a situation in which the submissive is ordering a dom around, insisting, “Tie my handcuffs more tightly!” or “You’re just not spanking me right!”

Perhaps BDSM can be tough to come to terms with when it involves violence and pain.  That said, the power to withstand pain is a very favourable characteristic in everyday life. Think of ear piercing or training for a marathon – these are all chosen acts of suffering.  In fact, I’ve heard Greta Christina argue that submission is rather like eating spicy food.  Once you can withstand a certain heat-level, you crave a hotter dish.  Apparently, the reason chili peppers are spicy is because they contain a chemical that directly triggers our pain receptors.  Think about that a moment.  We eat curry because we love the pain.  And what about stiletto heels and Brazilian waxing?  As for the latter, Rachel Kramer Bussel says it best:  “Because I lean toward being a masochist, sometimes I can eroticize the pain [of Brazilian waxing]. I think of it like candle wax in a scene, and use my kinky training to get through the momentary pain for the reward of sleek skin.”  You can read more at Rachel’s column at Sexis, which I heartily recommend.

Of course, the ultimate infliction of pain is the non-consensual kind – and that is chilling stuff*.  Outside of the bedroom, social attitudes towards brutality are often clear.  For instance, fans of the 2006 remake of Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell) will remember the scene in which James Bond (Daniel Craig) is bound to a chair and brutalised.  In spite of agony and restriction, he goads his torturer – and that’s “topping from the bottom” on a grand scale.  Considering our society views Bond as resilient in these moments, it is surprising that those of us who cry “Bring on the pain!” are so often dismissed as weak.

As a matter of fact, submission can be tremendously healing.  The first time I subbed was a direct result of watching the movie Secretary (directed by Steven Shainberg).  To give you the gist, a young woman starts taking charge of her life because her boss starts to spank her for minor transgressions.  Talk about hot!  I had never believed that pain could bring such pleasure, and once I’d had a go at masochism, I was surprised by how it affected my life.  Subbing taught me a lot about sexual assertion because I learnt to be both upfront and tuned into what I do or don’t want.  With a safe word, it’s not so difficult to learn to actively say no with words like “Enough,” or “Not so hard,” and this spilled over into the rest of my life.  (These are issues of consent – read more here). A friend recently told me that she was amazed I subbed in the bedroom because I’m such a dom when I’m teach, so I told her that part of being a sub is learning to assert yourself.  I’ve become a lot better at expressing my needs and defending others since I learnt to withstand erotic pain.

And if you think BDSM can’t be inspiring, think again.  When a lover finally ties you up, just as you’ve always wanted, and takes you with rough passion, the bond can be quite powerful.  You yield to your partner, who expresses his/her aggression directly – and that’s pretty intense.  In truth, this faith runs in both directions:  When, as a dom, you hit someone in the bedroom, you trust that they’ll say what they need.  You also trust that they’ll know this is a scene, not a real-life conflict, and that this violence is an expression of intimacy and passion.  In fact, I’ll leave it to Anais Nin to show us how subbing/domming can be breathlessly romantic.  Check out this excerpt from Henry & June, her unexpurgated diary 1931-32:

“He asks to see me again.  When I wait in the armchair in his room, and he kneels to kiss me, he is stranger than all my thoughts.  With his experience he dominates me.  He dominates with his mind, too, and I am silenced.  He whispers to me what my body must do.  I obey, and new instincts rise in me.  He has seized me.  A man so human; and I, suddenly brazenly natural.  I am amazed to be lying there in his iron bed, with my black underwear vanquished and trampled.  And the tight secrecy of me broken for a moment, by a man who calls himself the ‘last man on earth.’”

*I don’t think this can be reiterated enough:  You must always be aware of your power and rights in a BDSM scene.  Have a safe word and use it when you don’t consent.  This is key.  For more on consent, look up Charlie Glickman’s blog.

Photo on main page: Clarence Risher (via Wikimedia Commons)

When I was in the UK last week, a waiter in Betty’s Tea Rooms said their little iced cakes, which picture William and Kate, have been selling in vast quantities. Well who wouldn’t devour the fairy tale dream of a prince and princess who live happily ever after? But as many Brits pour an extra cup of Typhoo while cooing at the bridal gown, the rest of us are down the pub with a nudge and a wink. Because we know the wedding night is seldom as white as the dress and that happily-ever-after is a pretty big ask – especially if you’re a royal.

How negative I am!

But seriously, consider: It seems to me that, in many ways, the English wedding ceremony was created to permit hanky-panky, thereby encouraging the birth of kids who would soon be baptized. On the wedding day, the bride’s white dress was the color of virginity and her veil represented her sealed hymen. (In fact, the hymen is often misunderstood – there’s no layer of skin that seals a woman’s vagina like cling film, just a corona or fringe of tissue that can sometimes tear). Yup, when the groom tenderly lifts the veil from his new wife’s face, though he may not be thinking about screwing, he still symbolizes it. Indeed, at an Elizabethan ceremony, the wedding night was on everyone’s minds – for example, if a new husband didn’t wave his blood-stained sheets out of the window next morning as proof that his new wife was a virgin, the town grew suspicious. Back then your wife was your property. What if she wasn’t “fresh produce,” hmm? Irony aside, Elizabethan women were at it left right and centre – and besides, not everyone bleeds when they first have sex – so in true porn-flick fashion, the faking of fluids ensued and the sheets were indeed bloodied. Bravo.

Let’s face it weddings can be pretty extreme affairs, especially where sex and flirtation are concerned. Carl Jung was one of the first to teach us that whatever we try to repress will only appear more strongly. Deny sex enough and you’ll suddenly find it’s everywhere. Lust, it would seem, is hard to bin. At some weddings the purity myth is so intense that everyone’s at it like bunnies – after all, what’s more exciting than breaking the rules? Yet society continues to thirst for the Disney fairy tale in which prince and princess are starry-eyed perfection. Castles in the sky apparently lack bedrooms, and if you know Sleeping Beauty was a minx in the sack, chances are you’ve been reading the Anne Rice version.

But unrealistic as a fairy-tale wedding might seem, we should all own the right to have one. Sadly this isn’t the case. If you fall in love with a same-sex partner in America, the castle doors often slam shut, depending on which state you’re in. Even in Britain, where gay marriage is legal, I can only imagine the hubbub if Prince William had wanted to marry a guy. “Aw,” folks croon, “but the royal family’s so lovely!” And yet, if you’re coming out as a gay prince I doubt it’s a barrel of laughs. See, the problem is that fairy tale castles arise from Victorian tales that are entirely hetero-centric, and if you think that doesn’t impinge on the heterosexual reader, think again. A society where one kind of love or way of being is held above another is a dangerous place. Last month, a transgender woman named Chrissy Polis was beaten by her coworkers while an eyewitness recorded the brutal event and posted it on the internet. Why did they attack her? Because their erroneous notion of gender as a binary construct was shattering in front of their eyes. In 2010 we saw many queer teenagers taking their lives because they couldn’t see a way to be both living and happy. Did anyone ever tell them a gay fairy tale? I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

Of course, such fairy tales do exist, often in the form of children’s books. And Tango Makes Three (by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) for instance, is a gay fairy tale based on the true story of two gay, male penguins who cared for an orphaned egg and ended up raising their adopted chick together as fathers. Many homophobic parents flare up when kids have been taught such a tale in school – in fact, the book hit a record number of ban requests in 2006-7. But where there are stories, there’s hope. And hope is good.

What’s more, I’ll fight for it.

So when people say weddings have nothing to do with sex, I’ll continue to ask them why they think gay marriage is often forbidden, and when they tell me there’s no harm in traditional wedded bliss, I’ll agree, but only to a point. While the royal wedding certainly gives us a chance to feel proud, until marriage is an option for everyone – not just legally but socially too – such ceremonies will always be bittersweet, even when the couple seem as deeply in love as William and Kate. That’s why we must continue to harness the power of story by sharing tales of gay romances, weddings and lovemaking. Because happy endings shouldn’t be dependent on sexuality or gender. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m all about the love.

Photo on “Sex” main page – John Pannell

On April 3rd, an estimated 3000 to 4000 protestors walked the streets of Toronto armed with banners saying “Stop Slut Shaming” and “Reclaim the Word Slut.” Many who attended the Toronto Slut Walk wore classically “slutty” attire, including low cut tops and brightly colored fishnets. Here’s why they were protesting:  At a local community meeting about women’s safety, Constable Michael Sanguinetti had recommended that if women wanted to avoid sexual assault they shouldn’t dress like “sluts.”

Recently, I’ve seen many debates about how to fight such slut shaming. There are too many people who will call a woman a slut in an attempt to control her sexuality. “Be less sexually empowered,” they tell us, “because if you don’t, we’ll brand you.” Well, announcing that those who dress like “sluts” should cover themselves up to help prevent violence does even more damage. Imagine if you’d been assaulted in a short skirt and heard a thing like that. “Was it my fault?” you might ask yourself. The answer is no, no, no.

Sanguinetti has apologized for his remark, and I’m glad to hear it.  Holy heck, you should be able to walk down the street wearing anything you like without being attacked, regardless of gender, sexuality or aesthetic. Any fool knows that.

But as sex educator and call girl Veronica Monet reminds us, the “slut” archetype is deeply engrained in our culture, and many of us don’t even realize. On In Bed with Susie Bright (The Sex Remedy interviews) Monet explains that when lecturing at San Francisco State University, she asks the guys in the room to think back to when they were last called a whore. “There is a lot of laughing, giggling and shuffling around,” says Monet. But when she then asks the girls to reflect on the last time they were called a whore, the room goes deadly silent. In response, Monet tells the students, “Let me explain why sex worker rights apply to you.”

Of course, she’s spot on.  Whenever any woman is attacked because of her sexual behavior, all of us feel the impact; and when women are threatened, so are other groups, because how can we not be affected by one another? Monet also speaks to the power of reclaiming language – like many sex workers, she uses the word whore with pride. Also, it’s worth remembering that there are male and transgender sex workers too – when slut or whore are used to control women sexually, these terms mess with the rights of sex workers of all genders.

By being ready to educate society, Monet’s response to such problems is similar in many ways to the concept of Slut Walk.  When we start to confront problems like slut shaming, our response has to be creative – moving away from widespread stereotypes demands breaking free from social constraints and that’s a creative endeavor.  I’m reminded of Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” in which the artist displayed her actual bed, along with its clutter, as an artistic installation.  The piece was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1999 and has become a classic.  Complete with dirty underwear, condoms, and urine-soaked sheets, many call it an intimate “confession” about a young woman’s way of life.  But I like to look at Emin’s “My Bed” as a vehicle for the artist to shout the truth:  We’re not always virgins with clean sheets, she seems to say, and we’re done with being ashamed.

Well, as a dear friend recently reminded me, creative activism must exist in small ways as well as big. Slut Walk Boston is taking place on May 7th and I will be there. But if you can’t attend, do keep speaking out and if you don’t feel you can stand up for your rights at the time, you can always do so later.  An email, some sharp wit, or even a raised eyebrow – these are all creative responses and they count.

It’s been said that one flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a tornado. And I don’t doubt it for a second.

For more on the topic of slut shaming, including how to fight it, check out these resources from Betty Dodson & Carlin Ross.