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Sexual & Racial Politics in the Age of Grindr

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Much like Facebook and Twitter, Grindr is a community of people interacting politically, revealing how our desires are shaped and politicized by culture.

By Senthorun Raj

Why am I on it? What do I want? Who do I talk to? Which profile picture should I use? Where should I hook up? When am I going to delete this?

For those of us who use Grindr, these questions probably sound familiar. I know that they haunt my subconscious pretty much every time I load the app. Some of my friends even like to joke that I spend so much time talking about Grindr, as opposed to talking on Grindr, that I’m just a “Grindr Academic.” To them, I’m the person who writes about my sex life (like I’m doing right now) and then cites Michel Foucault to give it academic legitimacy. I find the joke endearing. But, we should not trivialize the politics of Grindr.

So, what can this space of hooking-up teach us about sexual and racial politics?

Whether you are cruising for casual sex or complaining about love or procrastinating online, Grindr has rapidly transformed the way we negotiate intimacy and frame sexuality. Erotic, platonic, and/or romantic relationships are now just a “click” away on our smartphones. With millions of users worldwide, Grindr has become a source of sexual sustenance. From the moment I tap on to Grindr, I’m connected to a range of other profiles via my geographical proximity to them. I am enmeshed in a process of—as one user so neatly describes—“window shopping.” What I choose to shop for as I scroll through profiles, however, tends to vary. Some profiles display semi-nude selfies that invite “NSA” (no strings attached sex) while others display a photo of a night out in a club to indicate their interest in “friends, dates and maybe more.”

I can use Grindr to organize casual sex, professional networks, neighborhood parties, friendship, and dating. There are infinite intimate possibilities. In the words of Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, these new “sexual counterpublics” emerge to facilitate new forms of emotional and sexual labour that do not just revolve around the traditional imaginaries of reproductive or matrimonial relationships.

With such titillating possibilities, I could easily herald Grindr as a transformative and revolutionary space for queer connections. My optimism, however, comes with concern: filters cannot block the everyday cruelties of ignorance and inequality. Grindr, for example, relies on standard categories of defining bodies (ethnicity, height, weight, age) in order to mediate sexual desire. Many of the app users fashion their online identities through both visual and written statements that they are “masc” (masculine) and “str8 acting” (appearing heterosexual). In doing so, Grindr users mimic and reproduce norms of what is socially desirable.

Discussing our desires can evoke feelings of embarrassment or anxiety. We like to protect our intimate attachments from public interrogation. Apps like Grindr, however, blur such distinctions. When “personal preferences” take shape in rhetorical statements like, “Don’t be another old, ethnic, nelly bttm” or “If people can tell you’re gay … you’re not masculine,” private desires are woundingly public. Even if it is a virtual platform, much like Facebook and Twitter, Grindr is a community of people interacting politically.

Grindr users respond to these disaffecting profiles in various ways: some people angrily use the block button, more patient people try to challenge the rhetoric online, and others just take screenshots and vengefully send them to Douchebags of Grindr. For those who have not stumbled upon it, it is a website where we can revel in shaming those who shame. The idea of shaming arrogant Grindr users seems both fair and funny. But, despite this, the public “outing” and breach of privacy involved raise a number of ethical questions about how we should respond to the “Douchebag Politics” we encounter online.

We need to recognize that bigotry is a social malaise—not a personal pathology.  Grindr makes bigotry painfully apparent but this is not unique to the online platform. In making spectacles out of the purported douchebags on Grindr, we can make the more insidious forms of racialized activities seem palatable by comparison. After all, why does using overtly racist words in your profile attract moral opprobrium, while using an automatic filter to exclude certain kinds of bodies does not?

Making spectacles out of unrepentant bigots may satisfy or entertain us, but it does little to ensure that the intimate worlds we are building are inclusive and respectful. Whether we are on public transportation or networking online, racism is a systemic problem that is not just isolated to highly visceral tirades. Isolating people or profiles in order to stigmatize the individual person, rather than challenge the problematic behavior, is counterproductive. It just makes most of us more defensive (no one likes being labeled as a racist or homophobe even if they obviously are). Moreover, this usually limits our ability to confront the more insidious forms of prejudice that underscore such problematic behavior or that which is coded in terms of “preferences.”

This is not to suggest we can turn to anti-discrimination law in order to redress our sexual grievances. We should not treat desires as justiciable. There is little value in policing ourselves to desire others on the basis of exclusion. Finding someone solely attractive because of, or in spite of, their difference—whether it is their perceived “Asianness” or a specific body type—turns people into fetish or pitied objects to be consumed.

But, we do need some uncomfortable reflections. We live in a society that privileges certain kinds of body types, genders, ethnicities, and ages. From eroticizing heterosexual masculinity or whiteness to repudiating effeminacy or fatness, Grindr is saturated with social hierarchies that are pervasive in society. Grindr shows us how our desires are shaped and politicized by culture. Few of us would deny that.

While we are often quite willing to confront the scenes of bigotry that our visible to us in public forums, we need to extend this ethic when reflecting on the prejudices that operate at the most banal and emotional level of our lives.

Grindr is a tool for sex. It’s also a tool for politics. In the words of Audre Lorde, “our visions begin with our desires.” So, let’s be open about that. The political is personal.

Complete Article HERE!

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What does ‘sex positive’ mean?

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Sex positive. It’s a term that’s been adopted and broadcast by celebrities, feminists and activists alike over the past few years. Joining the ranks are Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Ilana Glazer, to name just a few of the celebrities opening up dialogue about sex.

But sex positivity isn’t just another buzzword to look up on Urban Dictionary. It’s a framework that counselors, medical professionals and universities are using to educate and talk with young people about issues relating to sexuality and sexual health.

What is sex positivity? And what does it mean to be “sex positive”?

Carl Olsen, a program coordinator in Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center, says sex positivity is a philosophy — an outlook on interpersonal relationships.

He said the term “sex positive” can be interpreted in different ways. For most, it involves having positive attitudes about sex and feeling comfortable with one’s own sexual identity and with the sexual behaviors of others, and destigmatizing sex.

“Most of our programming lands in the area of consent and prevention,” Olsen told USA TODAY College. “Most of the students here have had zero sex ed or abstinence-only [sex education], and that can lead to uncomfortable situations talking about sex. … We are just absolutely cool with however many sexual partners you have had, however many times you’ve had sex or if you’ve had zero sex at all — as long as it is all done consensually.”

Overall, Olsen says sex positivity is about establishing healthy relationships.

Yana Mazurkevich, an Ithaca College junior and activist, went viral last year for her photo series “Dear Brock Turner.” Since then, Mazurkevich has advocated for sexual assault prevention and awareness. Mazurkevich says she assumes the label of sex positive. To her, sex positivity is putting away shame or feelings of embarrassment in order to learn more about healthy sex.

“It allows you to open yourself up to facts, to educate yourself and pass that along to other people,” Mazurkevich says. “Getting yourself out of your comfort zone and learning how to talk about sex is the most vital thing so that you can be comfortable to open your mouth and not be too scared to do anything or say how you feel.”

What are the common myths or misconceptions regarding sex positivity?

Contrary to what some believe, Olsen said that sex positivity is not about having lots of sex.

At its core is the idea of consent and owning your own sexuality in the most comfortable way possible. For some people this means having lots of sex. But for other people it might mean abstaining — and that’s okay.

In current U.S. culture, and often in the college setting, Olsen said women are shamed for wanting and having pleasure from sex. The “virgin vs. slut dichotomy,” as he calls it, dictates that women can only fall into one category or the other, with stigma attached to both.

A lot of this, he says, comes down to socialization. Men can be socialized to believe that they need to have a lot of sex to show masculinity, while women are socialized to fear or feel shame about their bodies.

According to CSU’s Women’s Advocacy Center, another misconception is that sex positivity is only for women. Sex positivity challenges these notions by encouraging people of all genders to understand their own sexuality and to engage in relationships that affirm their desires. This includes people who want to abstain and those who love one-night-stands. As long as it’s consensual, there is no judgment.

However, some students still find that they encounter criticism for being open about their sexuality.

Mazurkevich says her sex-positive attitude has caused some people to judge her. “I hate the word ‘slut.’ It should be out of the dictionary,” she told USA TODAY College. “I think people should have as much sex as you want as long as they are safe, smart and consensual.”

Is there an app for that? You know there is

The University of Oregon has taken a unique approach to using sex positivity as an educational tool on campus. In a joint effort between the Office of Title IX, the Health Center and numerous student groups, the school released a smartphone mobile app titled SexPositive.

The app combines technology and language targeted at 18-23 year-olds to help students make healthy sexual decisions. The goals of the app are to decrease transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and sexual violence, and to increase healthy communication.

“The university takes a broad approach to educating our students about behaviors and choices that may affect their current and future health, and their overall quality of life,” said Paula Staight, health promotions director for the university health center in a statement to the campus community last year. “Being informed and adding to a student’s existing knowledge is a powerful prevention effort.”

How long has sex positivity been around?

The term sex positive has only become widely acknowledged during the past decade, though the foundation has been around since the 1920s, when psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud, argued that sexuality was normal and healthy, and wrote that a good and healthy sex life led to improved overall well-being.

As feminist movements grew, changed and popularized over the years, the term has been used and molded to help liberate communities from patriarchal or heteronormative assumptions about sex and relationships.

And today, sex positivity is more common than ever. Take for example, the women of Girls or Broad City. Sex positivity has come to be categorized by realistic and unfiltered portrayals of sex and what that means to the young people navigating it.

Complete Article HERE!

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What is sexuality?

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By Kim Cavill

What is sexuality? When we talk about sexuality, what do we really mean? Are we talking about how many times a person has sex, or with how many different partners? Are we talking about who a person wants to have sex with?

Sexuality is all of those things…and none of those things. It’s actually a relationship, which means that it’s complicated. Lucky for you, Sex Positive Parents, I’ve got a simple way to explain this complicated relationship:

First, we have a person’s identity. I’ll use myself as an example: I identify as a cisgender female. This means I was assigned the female sex at birth, I have consistently identified as female, I perceive myself as female, and I identify as female today. This is my identity.

Next, we have a person’s sexual orientation, which refers to the identity of the people that person is attracted to. Examples of sexual orientations include, heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or pansexuality, among others. I am heterosexual, meaning I am consistently attracted to men and those who are male-identifying.

Lastly, we have a person’s sexual behavior. Sexual behavior is not necessarily constrained by a person’s identity or sexual orientation, or societal perceptions thereof. The Kinsey scale, which is the result of groundbreaking research into human sexuality, speaks to the non-linear nature of sexuality. As an example, a person might identify as a cisgender male, see themselves as heterosexual, and sometimes have sex with other men. Perhaps a transgender woman is homosexually oriented, and sometimes have sex with men. Or, a cisgender, heterosexual woman regularly fantasizes about having sex with women.

Sexuality is the relationship between identity, orientation, and behavior. For some, those things stay pretty consistent through time, which means their sexuality is fairly static. For others, however, those pillars may shift or evolve, making their sexuality more dynamic.

Why am I telling you about this? Because it’s important to focus less on labels and more on specific behaviors when we talk to our kids about sex and relationships. Focusing on behaviors allows for human difference and it also prevents leaving inadvertent gaps in traditionally heteronormative sex ed conversations (which unplanned pregnancies and STI’s are all too happy to slip through).

In practical terms, focusing on behaviors looks like this:

“You should to wear a condom because the birth control pill doesn’t protect against STD’s” becomes:

“You should wear a condom during any kind of sexual activity, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex.”

“You need to be serious about saying no because guys only want one thing” becomes:

“Healthy relationships involve mutual respect where no one feels pressured and sex is always consensual.”

“You don’t have to learn about anything except for condoms because you’re gay” becomes:

“There are a lot of different STD prevention and contraception options on the market and it’s good to be aware of what they are, how they work, and where you can get them.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Toddler play may give clues to sexual orientation

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A controversial study finds children who engage in more gender-stereotypical play are more likely to self-identify as heterosexual later in life.

By Michael Price

The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings.

“Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.”

The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.”

In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings.

Seeking to improve on this earlier research, Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, turned to data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The study includes thousands of British children born in the 1990s. Parents observed and reported various aspects of their children’s behavior, which Hines and her Cambridge colleague, Gu Li, analyzed for what they call male-typical or female-typical play.

An example of stereotypical male-typical play, as defined by the study, would include playing with toy trucks, “rough-and-tumble” wrestling, and playing with other boys. Female-typical play, on the other hand, would include dolls, playing house, and playing with other girls.

Hines and Li looked at parental reporting of children’s play at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.75 years old, and arranged them on a scale of one to 100, with lower scores meaning more female-typical play and higher scores more male-typical play. They then compared those results to the participants’ self-reported responses as teenagers to a series of internet-administered questions about their sexuality.

Beginning with the 3.5-year-old age group, the team found that children who engaged mostly in “gender-conforming” play (boys who played with trucks and girls who played with dolls, as an example) were likely to report being heterosexual at age 15, whereas the teenagers who reported being gay, lesbian, or not strictly heterosexual were more likely to engage in “gender-nonconforming” play. The same pattern held true when they expanded the teenagers’ choices to a five-point spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual.

Teens who described themselves as lesbian scored on average about 10 points higher on the gender-play scale at age 4.75 (meaning more stereotypically male play) than their heterosexual peers, and teens who described themselves as gay men scored about 10 points lower on the scale than their peers, the researchers report in Developmental Psychology. Questions of transgender identity were not addressed in the study.

“I think it’s remarkable that childhood gender-typed behavior measured as early as age 3.5 years is associated with sexual orientation 12 years later,” wrote Li in an email. “The findings help us to understand variability in sexual orientation and could have implications for understanding the origins of this variability.”

The paper “is just a well-done study in terms of getting around some of the problems that have plagued the field,” says Simon LeVay, a retired neuroscientist whose 1991 paper in Science sparked interest in brain differences associated with sexual identity. “It shows that something is going on really early in life and points away from things like role modeling and adolescent experiences as reasons for becoming gay.”

Others dispute the paper’s methods and significance. Parents’ own beliefs and biases about gender almost certainly influence how they described their children’s gendered play, which could skew their reporting, says Patrick Ryan Grzanka, a psychologist who studies sexuality and multicultural issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But more worrisome to him are the cultural assumptions underlying the study itself. The authors appear to regard gender nonconformity as the primary marker of gayness, which doesn’t align with current research suggesting that your individual preferences for either stereotypically male or female behaviors and traits has little to do with your sexual orientation, he says.

Grzanka is also dismayed that the paper fails to critique the history of similar research that investigated whether childhood behaviors lined up with eventual sexual orientation. It wasn’t long ago that such research was used to stigmatize and pathologize gender-nonconforming children, he says. “I think it’s important to ask why we’re so invested in this purported link [between gender conformity and sexuality] in the first place.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How your sex life can be improved with mindfulness

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Being more present with each other can lead to better sex, therapists say

 

By Olivia Blair

People have turned to mindfulness to make them happier, less stressed and even more able to deal with their mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression – but could it improve your sex life too?

Being mindful essentially means being present and aware of both yourself and your surroundings. The brain is trained to deal with negative and anxious or depressive thoughts through breathing and meditation exercises all stemming in part from ancient Buddhist philosophy.

While therapists are increasingly using it as part of their individual counselling, sex and relationship therapists have also adopted the advice.

“In its broad terms, mindfulness means focusing on the present moment so with couples, because they are often so distracted, stressed and over-committed, it can lead to lots of couples’ mind being elsewhere. A classic complaint is that a partner is distracted,” Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist and a trustee of the college of relationship and sexual therapists says. “Mindfulness can mean you are really present with your partner and actually experiencing them in the moment and really paying attention to them.”

This in turn can then lead to better sex – because when partners really feel like they are being listened to, focused on and paid attention to is when better trust is going to be built so they are more likely to be intimate with someone.

“Really being in the moment, noticing their partners body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and what is actually being said is hard to do but it is being present,” Woodbridge says. “… It builds rapport. It you don’t have rapport, you don’t have trust. If you don’t have trust you are not going to be intimate with that person as you are not going to allow yourself tp be vulnerable with them.”

When clients put mindfulness into practice with each other, even if it is a struggle because they are so used to being distracted, it often has a “massive impact on their relationship and sex lives”, Woodbridge says.

Additionally, if someone is struggling with an issue in their sex life such as a performance issue like impotence or the inability to orgasm, mindfulness can also help in this aspect.

“In a sexual scenario what can happen is ‘spectatoring’, which is when a person is not paying attention to arousal or enjoyment and are instead observing and over-analysing themselves fearing the worst. If it is an erectile problem they will be hoping it does not fail or will feel anxious about whether their partner is enjoying it,” Woodbridge explains. “Spectatoring is often quite self-fulfilling so the person might not be able to maintain their erection, will experience sexual pain or they will just feel completely unconfident so they get into a horrible cycle.”

Sex therapists will therefore instruct the client to be mindful and to notice how they are feeling, even if that feeling is anxiety. Once they are aware they feel anxious or nervous they can focus on bringing the mind back to the physical feelings, such as arousal, and divert their focus to this instead.

“Mindfulness gets the person to notice when they are ‘spectatoring’, notice that they are distracted and not focusing on their arousal and physical sensations. It is hard in that moment as the person is anxious but if you don’t the mind will wander and go elsewhere,” Ms Woodbridge explains.

Ammanda Major, a trained sex therapist and head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate told The Independent they regularly introduce mindfulness to their sex therapy sessions for couples.

“We use mindfulness in sex therapy to help people experience more pleasure by being able to relax and stay focused and present in the moment.  Mindfulness can also benefit our relationships as a whole by relieving stress, building intimacy and enhancing inner peace. This in turn allows us to have more positive interactions with our partners,” she said.

She says couples can try mindfulness exercises at home, such as the following:

Individually: 

“Set some time aside every day to focus on your breathing. It doesn’t have to be long to begin with – maybe start with just five minutes a day and work your way up to 20. 

A good way to start is on your own with no distractions.  Close your eyes, relax and start to become aware of how you’re breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this and gradually become aware of sensations in your body. Recognise and welcome them and then allow those thoughts to drift away to be replaced with other feelings as they arise. Notice what you’re experiencing and feeling. The aim is to let go: rather than reject intrusive thoughts, just let them drift away.”

With a partner:

“Once you’ve practised the breathing exercise a few times on your own, why not with your partner?  Sit facing and look into each other’s eyes.  Breathe slowly in through your nose and exhale through your mouth as before but this time synchronise your breathing.  Do this for several minutes – it may feel a little strange at first but stick with it and it can have powerful results, increasing feelings of relaxation and intimacy.”

Complete Article HERE!

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