Category Archives: Philosophy Of Sex

The right to say yes, no, maybe

Lessons from the BDSM community on why consent is not a one-time thing

By Jaya Sharma

She asked for it,” they say. Really? To be groped on the street by strangers when all one is trying to do is have a good time on New Year’s eve? Some years ago, at a sexuality workshop with teachers in Rajasthan that I was conducting while working with a feminist non-governmental organization, one of the men said, “Uski naa mein toh haan hai (When she says no, she actually means yes).” The men sat on one side, and women on the other (not by design), of the big hall at an ashram in Pushkar where the workshop was taking place. One of the women turned around and asked this man, “If a man makes a move on a woman, and if, instead of an initial no, she says yes, what happens? She is instantly labelled a slut.” The discussion concluded with what to me, in my 30 years in the women’s movement, seemed to be a pearl of wisdom: Women have the right to say no only when they have the right to say yes. It makes perfect sense, therefore, to discuss consent in the context of our ability to say yes, precisely at a time when the country around us is rife with conversations, online and offline, on gender-based sexual violence.

There is clearly an urgent need for a fundamental shift in our thinking about consent; about adding “yes” to the existing focus on “no”. We need to recognize that our ability to say “no” and our ability to say “yes” are inextricably linked. And, if I may move full steam ahead, there is also a need to recognize that there is a range of possibilities beyond “yes” and “no” in sexual encounters, which we may not talk about or bring into our struggle against sexual violence, but which exist nonetheless. And only a discussion on consent which acknowledges a woman’s freedom to say yes opens up the space for this.

I’m talking of the space for “maybe”, which allows us to explore, change our minds halfway through, surrender control completely—ways of “doing” consent that are in sync with the nature of our desires. I say “do consent” rather than “give” it, because consent is not a one-time-only thing to be given and never sought again. The most widespread and insidious assumption about consent is that it already exists—it is presumed. Another assumption is that negotiations around consent will kill the intense, spontaneous passion that we feel. If talked about at all, it is considered to be a thing that people are meant to do only before they have sex. “Are you okay with this?” In any case, what is “this”? I suspect it might be the ultimate peno-vaginal penetrative act (one act among thousands, but more often than not, considered a synonym for sex). None of this is necessarily any individual’s fault. In the midst of all these assumptions is the truth that societies, globally, don’t have a culture of talking, teaching, or learning about consent. Let’s move to a better scenario.

I am part of a community that has great expertise on consent—the Bondage Domination Sado-Masochism (BDSM) community. In BDSM, consent is sacrosanct. There are a range of mechanisms to ensure that consent is given and taken proactively and enthusiastically. Although not everyone uses the same mechanisms, these include “hard limits”, which are acts identified beforehand that can never be attempted. “Soft limits” refers to those acts which don’t fall within one’s comfort level, but which one is not entirely averse to trying or experiencing. Then there is of course the safe word, which is a predetermined, typically easy-to-recall word (many friends and I choose “red”) which would instantly and unconditionally end whatever is transpiring. The limits are negotiated beforehand. The process of negotiation can be hot.

Although I always ensure that I have a safe word, I have very rarely used it. Having a safe word gives me tremendous confidence to explore my desires and allow my boundaries to be pushed. The safe word also gives the other person the confidence to push my limits. I am not referring only to pain when I talk of pushing limits, but also to giving up control. In my experience, dominants often stop short of providing the extent of control that submissives desire, because they fear that they might push them too far. In this context, the safe word gives each person the confidence to continue going much further than they otherwise might have. I hope that others would like to try to use the safe word in their sex lives, however kinky it may or may not be.

Other than soft limits, hard limits and safe words, the other useful consent mechanism in my experience is the conversation that happens after the session, talking about how one felt about what happened. Such conversations have really helped me to connect in a deeper way with what turns me on or off, about my triggers and resistances. The honesty, directness and trust that has typified these conversations, even with virtual strangers whom I have played with (we call these BDSM sessions “play”), is precious.

The significance of these mechanisms goes well beyond BDSM. In the Kinky Collective, the group that seeks to raise awareness about BDSM and of which I am part, we share a lot about consent because we believe that everyone can learn and benefit from the ways in which consent is understood and practised in our community. It shows us ways of “doing” consent which are sexy, which help move us out of the embarrassment associated with negotiating consent, which don’t interrupt the flow of desire but, in fact, enable and enhance it. Most importantly, these ways of understanding and giving consent are in sync with the nature of human desire and with our need to explore, give up or take control, and importantly, our need to pursue pleasure, and not only protect ourselves from harm. BDSM shows us that making consent sacrosanct is not only the responsibility of the individual, but of the community. A lesson worth learning from the BDSM community is also that “slut”, whether used for a woman, man or transgender person, can be a word of praise and not a slur. It is not surprising perhaps that a community which enables this space for agency and desire, beyond the constraints of shame, to say “yes”, is also a community which has at its core consent.

Complete Article HERE!

Assertive sexuality – yet again, we must fight the politicisation of sex

Everyone has the right to have sex as they choose and we must make sure we protect that right

A gay couple kisses during the Gay Pride Parade in Medellin, Colombia, in 2015.

By Emily Witt

Sexual equality – the right for consenting adults to love who they want, the way they want it – is a human right. In 2017 the right to have the kind of sex we want is still under threat.

Once again gay people, single women, the non-monogamous, the kinky, and many other people whose sexuality does not conform to the heterosexual, child-producing marital bedroom, will be forced to articulate their right to sexual freedom. For many adults, merely having sex, and being sexual, will become a political act. Welcome to the year of assertive sexuality.

In the 21st century the state wields control over sexuality through access to healthcare. In the United States, Donald Trump has appointed an orthopaedic surgeon, Tom Price, as his secretary of health and human services. Price has a record of opposition to LGBTQ and abortion rights and has voted in the past to deprive non-profit organisation Planned Parenthood of taxpayer support.

Even if Trump chooses not to revoke the Affordable Care Act, it’s likely the mandate that covers contraception will be repealed. A woman’s sexual freedom depends on her ability to access affordable contraception, treatment for infections and abortion services. Trump, who has a lifetime of boasting about his sexual promiscuity (both consensual and not), wants to impose a paradigm of risk on women, who will lose autonomy and safety and will face unnecessary and prohibitive expense and inconvenience in their pursuit of sexual happiness.

The United Kingdom also saw an attempt to thwart sexual freedom by denying access to healthcare in 2016. It was only after a successful lawsuit filed by the National Aids Trust and persistent lobbying by activists that the NHS announced in December that it would fund a three-year clinical trial that will make pre-exposure prophylaxis available through the NHS to 10,000 people at risk of contracting HIV. This was a shift from earlier in the year, when the NHS had made it clear that it would limit availability of PrEP to 500 men “most at high risk”.

Denying healthcare to certain populations in a misguided attempt to influence their sexual behaviour is a form of social control and exclusion that arbitrarily codes certain sexual acts as good or bad and certain lives as more dispensable than others. The point of such efforts – and other forms of sexual censorship, like the attempts of the Conservative government to block pornographic websites that show female ejaculation or that break the “four finger rule” – is to assert a hierarchy of sexual cultures in which heteronormativity occupies a place at the top and alternative sexual preferences are maligned as risky or obscene.

Tom Price, US secretary of health and human services, has a record of opposition to LGBTQ rights.

Attempts to re-establish a notion of “normal”, “conventional” and “responsible” sexuality come at a time in which consensus about what an adult life should look like is rapidly dissolving. In the United States and the United Kingdom, adults are getting married later or not at all. In the years of their lives in which they are dating and having shorter-term sexual relationships, technology has offered new ways of meeting people, of fantasising and of finding sexual community.

A shift in cultural morals has opened space for the articulation of a broad spectrum of sexual identities, orientations and gender identifications. If the first decade of the new century was about broadening access to institutions such as marriage, the second might be about taking pride in sex as an end in itself.

The culture finds itself at a crossroads: either attempt to restore a false consensus about what constitutes a legitimate sexuality, an ideal of monogamous fidelity that always contained hypocrisy, that not even the president-elect of the United States can claim to have upheld; or embrace a more honest view of the contemporary way some people relate to each other.

For the growing population of adults who have failed in one way or another to live up to an ideal of what a “good heterosexual” looks like, either because they have never married, or have divorced, or because they are not heterosexual at all, attempts by politicians to marginalise their sex lives would be comical if they didn’t come at such a high cost.

The only response that feels right, at this juncture in history, is to dispense with euphemism. Don’t call contraception “family planning”. Don’t limit the idea of sexual freedom to the right to marry (although even that right remains threatened.)

Don’t let the enjoyment of pornography be pathologised. Don’t meekly try to make your sexuality palatable to the people who are determined to deny its legitimacy.

In 2016 cautious appeals for responsibility lost out to ostentation and lies; 2017 is not a time to be demure.

Complete Article HERE!

5 Radical Ways People Do Non-Monogamy That You Need to Know About

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You might know about the type of non-monogamy that gets most mainstream media attention. But do you know about these other relationship styles outside the status quo?

This comic sheds light on the types of non-monogamy that tend to get ignored.

Whether non-monogamy’s for you or not, you can probably learn something from these examples of how people create options to put feminist values at the core of their relationships and reject oppressive expectations.

Do they challenge what you think a healthy partnership means?

Complete Article HERE!

How I Went From Being a Psych Major to a Sex-Toy Creator

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alex-fine-janet-lieberman

Like many little girls, Alex Fine wanted to change the world.

Her approach was a little uncouth — by young adulthood she decided the best way to make things better would be to give people a better understanding of human sexuality. Alex and her partner Janet Lieberman founded Dame Products in 2011 to do just that — and to ensure every single woman could have an orgasm when she wanted one.

The women designed toys that could work WITH couples during sex to ignite arousal and pleasure. Their first product, Eva, launched on Indiegogo and quickly became the most successful crowdsourced sex toy in history. And Dame’s latest invention, the Fin, made news as Kickstarter’s first-ever sex-toy crowdfunding campaign.

“I grew up empowered by sexuality, but aware of its dark side. I have felt empowered by my sexuality since I was very young…”

Even very young, I was aware of my femininity. The only epiphany I ever had about sex was when I grew boobs. I remember waking up and being like, “Oh my God! I officially have boobs.”

I first experienced slut-shaming in sixth grade, when I kissed three boys in one night. They were all my good guy friends and they were like, “What would it feel like to kiss a girl?” and I said, “I’m a girl, I could show you what it feels like to kiss.” I’m an open person. That’s me.

It only bothered me the next day, when I got to school and everybody was talking about it. People were so mean to me that day and called me a slut. I did not kiss a boy for like two years after that.

I caught on early to the power of sharing stories about sexual experiences

In high school, I dated the same guy from freshman to senior year. I lost my virginity to him… and got HPV. I wanted to share what I went through with my health class. My teacher told me not to — she said it would be a really awful idea because kids can be so cruel. I told her that was wrong: “You are telling me not to share my experience and you are perpetuating the cycle.” I refused to shut down and pretend these things hadn’t happened. So I kept talking — and other girls started coming to me to talk through their own stuff.

As high school graduation approached, I was seriously considering becoming a sex therapist. I am so fascinated by the psychology of gender and sex and how it shapes our society. I wanted to be a part of this conversation. I ended up going to Columbia University for a masters in clinical psychology. It was during that time I realized this dialogue was one I wanted to have.

My goal was to figure out how to make the biggest impact

Growing up, my father really instilled in me the entrepreneurial spirit. It was a belief that there were no limitations on what I could do — and if I didn’t know how to do something, I could look it up on the internet and get the answers I needed. I think a good entrepreneur has this really ridiculous belief that they can figure out how to do anything.

I remember mapping possible futures out for myself in grad school. I could become a sex therapist, sex educator, teacher… And then I added, “I could make a vibrator.”

I circled that last sentence on my idea board. The thought resonated with me. My goal has always been to help people — especially women — feel empowered and aware of their own sexual identities.

So, it was in that headspace that I ended up working in a consumer goods company. I wanted to learn about what it means to be a brand and sell a product around the world — and that’s when I started drawing out what would eventually become the Eva hands-free vibrator for women to wear during sex in order to close the orgasm gap.

Complete Article HERE!

What’s Your Sexual Destiny? Your Sex Life Can Be Helped Or Harmed By Your Mindset

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Our inherent beliefs about sex can have a far-reaching impact on our relationships, finds new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The way we think about sex may influence how satisfied we are with our relationships and sex lives, new research reveals.

The way we think about sex may influence how satisfied we are with our relationships and sex lives, new research reveals.

University of Toronto researcher Jessica Maxwell, a PhD graduate, and her colleagues created a new scale to measure people’s general attitudes on sexual compatibility. They then tested their scale out across a variety of six different studies that involved nearly 2,000 participants. Overall, they found that people who strongly believe in sexual growth — a mindset that a fulfilling sex life takes effort and hard work from both partners — had better relationship and sexual satisfaction than those who didn’t. Meanwhile, people who believed in sexual destiny — that a good sex life is more a matter of finding the right person for you — had worse relationships when they started having disagreements about sex with their partner.

“People who believe in sexual destiny are using their sex life as a barometer for how well their relationship is doing, and they believe problems in the bedroom equal problems in the relationship as a whole,” explained Maxwell in a statement. “Whereas people who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.”

The differences between sexual destiny and growth aren’t easily apparent at first, Maxwell added, since many new relationships have their “honeymoon” phase when sexual desire is at its peak. It’s only later on in a long-term relationship that they begin to show up.

“We know that disagreements in the sexual domain are somewhat inevitable over time,” Maxwell said. “Your sex life is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it.”

Interestingly enough, women were more likely to have a sexual growth mindset, which may reflect a reality about female pressure. Said Maxwell: “I think that this could be because there is some evidence that sexual satisfaction takes more work for women, so they rate higher on the sexual growth scale.”

Most people rarely belonged exclusively to one camp or the other, which is often the case in psychology research. For instance, some might be all for the concept of a sexual soulmate, while still believing that any good sex life requires communication. And even wholeheartedly believing in sexual growth doesn’t guarantee a successful relationship. But Maxwell believes their findings can be a source of relief to both the average person as well as therapists trying to reassure their clients that a flagging sex life isn’t necessarily the end of the road. And she does think believing in sexual destiny may be more trouble than it’s worth.

“Sexual-destiny beliefs have a lot of similarities with other dysfunctional beliefs about sex, and I think it’s important to recognize and address that,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!