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Love All: The Art Of Polyamory

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As polyamory enters the mainstream, could a relationship revolution be under way?

By Rowan Pelling

One bright spring day last year I was idly browsing Facebook when my friend Dr Kate Devlin (a lecturer in artificial intelligence at Goldsmiths) updated her status from “single” to “in an open relationship”. Since I’m 49 and live in uptight, windswept Cambridge, rather than a sex-positive community in San Diego, this was a social-media first for me. It seemed clear the polyamory movement in Britain had finally achieved critical mass. There had been plenty of portents. First, the fact that the term polyamory, coined in 1992, entered the Oxford English Dictionary in September 2006, defined as “having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals… the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned”. Meanwhile, female friends on Tinder kept being asked if they’d consider forming part of a love quadrangle. And I noticed people in my circle citing Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities (the bible for consensual non-monogamists).

Then there were the celebrity polyamorists. Author Neil Gaiman and his musician wife Amanda Palmer have never made a secret of the fact that they both took lovers, with each other’s consent; although their set-up has reportedly become more conventional since they have had a child. Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith once posted on Facebook, “Will and I both can do whatever we want, because we trust each other to do so. This does not mean we have an open relationship… this means we have a grown one.” Which sounds pretty much like your average polyamorist explaining why their ménage is an expansive, loving set of mutually agreeable arrangements, rather than a free-for-all. And Tilda Swinton became the poster girl for every mother who feels that, much as she loves the father of her children, she wouldn’t mind shifting him to another part of the house while she moves in her drop-dead sexy lover.

When news of Swinton’s unconventional domestic arrangements first broke, my husband said: “That’s the life you’d like, isn’t it?” I pointed out that John Byrne, the father of Swinton’s twins, has a croft he can escape to on his own, to read books and write: “You’d love that, wouldn’t you?” It seemed an excellent quid pro quo – especially for couples who aren’t each other’s gatekeeper and don’t give a fig what curtain-twitching moralists think. Throughout our 24-year relationship, my husband has never attempted to curtail my movements, and confesses himself “infinitely puzzled by men who are physically possessive”. Indeed, I’ve only been able to pursue my line of work (delving into erotic literature and sexuality) because he’s totally unruffled if I say, “I’ve got to go to San Francisco to interview the leader of the Orgasmic Meditation movement.” In similar spirit, I don’t question my spouse’s deeply entrenched desire to do no socialising whatsoever, to eschew travel and to potter round the house pondering metaphysical dilemmas as well as the contents of our two boys’ school lunch boxes. We have lost four parents and a beloved step-parent between us, as well as our first pregnancy (a baby with a terrible chromosomal disorder), so we know what heartbreak means and that profound love entails a level of kindness and support that goes way beyond sex.

But then nobody is too surprised when editors of erotic magazines, aristos or bohemians lead unconventional lives. For me, the significant thing about my friend Kate Devlin’s post was that it marked the moment when I first witnessed a bunch of well-heeled professionals all nod and say, “Good for you!”, rather than falling silent or expressing surprise. I sent her a message offering congratulations and suggesting polyamory would make a great article for my magazine The Amorist, which explores passion and sexuality. She replied, “I’m already halfway through.” The finished piece caused a bit of a stir, and a version was reprinted in The Times. Kate explained that she had one lover who occupied more space in her life than the other, who she saw once a month (both men also had at least one other regular partner), but that it worked for all of them, and she concluded, “I am content though. Happy, definitely, in a way that I couldn’t be if I were with just one person. I am fascinated by people and delight in learning more about each one… I know polyamory is not for everyone. There are degrees of it that are not for me. I’m tentatively feeling my way blindly because the familiar social structures aren’t in place, but it’s OK. It’s OK. I remind myself that it’s OK. For every pang of insecurity, I have an equal and opposite panic about being trapped. Then my heart lifts as I remember: I’m not.”

For decades, the notion of a complex, open-sided set of mostly heterosexual relationships has been associated with the more baroque excesses of the 1970s – along with key parties, pampas grass, shag-pile carpets and the bearded man from The Joy of Sex. It’s no surprise that this is viewed as the decade of carefree sexual exploration. Lovers benefited from the advent of the contraceptive pill: the first time an entire generation of women had been freed from fear of pregnancy. It was also an age of relative innocence, before the Aids pandemic and doomy sexual-health ads terrified the populace back into serial monogamy. But it was also an age when the bearded man had the upper hand. The general consensus was that “free love” was imposed by randy men on unwilling women, and that it never really worked; someone was always left sobbing and abandoned in the corner. Joni Mitchell spoke for many when she said, “It’s a ruse for guys.”

The only problem with that point of view is that monogamy clearly doesn’t work either. One-on-one is clearly the best way to proceed when you’re in those electrifying early years of love: the space when you’re so narcotically in thrall to your beloved that everyone else seems faintly repugnant. And monogamy certainly works while your cultural inhibitions, religious sensibilities, or sense of loyalty and duty to shared family, friends or children outweigh all other considerations. But, eventually, so the statistics tell us, only the fortunate minority feel a deep, abiding, unconflicted contentment in one person’s arms over an entire lifetime. The other 70 or so per cent of humans in the Western world will be unfaithful at least once in their lifetime. Divorce rates now run at well over 40 per cent in Britain and America. The certainty of adultery, heartbreak and pain is the other great inconvenient truth of our times. Which is why New York-based relationship guru Esther Perel recently published The State of Affairs, which attempts to explore the myriad reasons for infidelity and to look at how couples can not only survive betrayal but learn from it and even become stronger. The prevalent myth Perel seeks to dispel is the notion that one person can be everything to another: soul mate, lover, best friend, fellow adventurer and co-parent. In her view, adultery is often about the desire to reinvent the self and become fresh and fascinating in another’s eyes, rather than an active wish to reject the best beloved.

So what does a pragmatic, ethical individual do if they don’t ever want to behave like a lying, cheating love rat to the person they adore? For increasing numbers of people admitting to an enduring libido, the logical answer is polyamory. Now if, like me, you’ve knocked about a bit, you’re going to find the concept far older and more familiar than something supposedly invented at the tail end of the 20th century. Many in the LGBT community laugh at polyamory being some form of novel arrangement. The gay writer and comedian Rosie Wilby, whose book Is Monogamy Dead? was published last year, told me, “The LGBT community has experimented with forms of non-monogamy for decades. If you’re already doing something that has been widely viewed as ‘deviant’, then trying out another deviance from the norm has never felt like too big a jump. So it’s hardly a new concept for us.”

Indeed not. Think of the sexually fluid Bloomsbury set, who Dorothy Parker famously described as having “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles”. Many Edwardians – generally intellectuals, radicals and the upper classes – thought a free and open pass on fidelity was a practical way to go about things. After all, this was an era where the king himself – Victoria’s playboy son, Edward VII – was known to have taken many mistresses, including actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry. It was also an idyll, a long-skirted, Arts and Crafts summer of love, which followed the more fixed morality of the Victorian era and flourished before the terrible devastation of the First World War. Proponents of unusual erotic arrangements were everywhere, from Vita Sackville-West (lover of Virginia Woolf) and her husband Harold Nicolson to the children’s author Edith Nesbit, who shared a house with spouse Hubert Bland and his mistress Alice Hoatson. Nesbit even raised Hoatson’s two children by Bland. Sexual experimentation started at the top. Meanwhile, last winter’s arthouse cinema hit Professor Marston and the Wonder Women dramatised the story of psychologist William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, who lived with wife Elizabeth and mistress Olive Byrne.

Complete Article HERE!

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No Fetish Required: You Don’t Need A Kink For A Great Connection

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It’s fine not to have a fetish

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There have been times when friends, family and random strangers will ask why I don’t just write about ‘normal sex’.

I’d love to. Believe me, I enjoy it as much as the next person.

It might save that awkward moment on the phone when I have to explain I must dash off in order to finish a blog about small penis humiliation, or have to leave a coffee date because I’ve had a great idea about foot fetishists.

I went on a date recently and had to awkwardly explain what I did for a living.

The reply was a meek: ‘I just like vagina, is that OK?’

Of course it’s OK. It’s absolutely OK. You like vagina all you want, buddy.

Unfortunately, it does seem that unless you have a fetish, your sex life is automatically thought of as somewhat underwhelming.

Not true. Unfair. I call a stewards enquiry on that.

Instead, it’s perfectly fine not to have a fetish.

Not everyone wants to cater a kink, and that’s OK.

We have so many terms for various sexualities these days, but when you’re happy being kink-less, you get lumbered with the term ‘vanilla’, and not even a spot on a rainbow flag.

Vanilla is such a rubbish phrase. Vanilla is boring, it’s plain. It’s the last ice cream in Tesco.

Vanilla shouldn’t mean what it does: that you don’t enjoy kinky sex.

You are not plain, or boring, and the kink community really needs to stop using disparaging words to describe people who aren’t into BDSM (Bondage, domination, sadism, masochism)

On the flip-side, they also need to stop using rather audacious terms to describe themselves.

My red flags go up when I see someone’s dating profile refer to them as ‘interesting, adventurous, or experimental’.

Somehow, they believe a Fetlife account and spreader bars have turned them into Bear Grylls.

I’ve seen enough ‘kink-lover’ profiles in my time to assure everyone out there that no-one is a better human because they like kinky sex. That’s not how life works.

Unfortunately, this use of language seems to put a lot of pressure on people to ‘spice things up a bit’, and their first port of call is kink.

Here are a few of the worst reasons why, if you’re just not into it, you shouldn’t do it.

‘It might spice up our sex life’

Many things will spice up your sex life without BDSM being involved.

Think really hard about what makes you tingle. Is it being tied up? Cool, but consider what the chances of your partner also getting turned on from tying you up are.

What if they like to be tied up too? And after that, what then? I’m afraid you really will have to put some effort in.

Couples seem to jump to kinky sex without stopping at communicating with each other.

One of my most popular requests as a sex worker was ‘tie and tease’, where I would tie someone up and was supposed to tease them with activities they would enjoy.

When I asked them, however, what it was they would like to try, their answer was always, ‘Do whatever you want.’.

This would give me carte blanche to f*** off and watch EastEnders for an hour.

Basically, if you’re not committed to telling your partner what you want to try, and are the kind of person who will say, ‘Just do whatever you want’, then it all seems a little half-arsed.

Do some research, find some beginners’ guides, and try to state what things you would definitely like to do.

‘It’ll make me interesting’

‘Well, it’s OK, I guess’

It won’t.

In my experience, partners who I have met on the kink scene pretty much only talk about the kink scene.

TED have worked out that the best amount of time for someone to talk about a subject and keep people engaged is 18 minutes.

If you go beyond that then I am ready to dig your tongue out with hot knives, no matter how great you are at Shibari.

What makes someone interesting is passion, drive, knowledge – not what they like to get up to in the bedroom.

‘Maybe my partner will like it?

Oh hunny, no.

Don’t ever go doing something because you think your partner will like it.

If they do, what then? You’re stuck doing something you don’t really get much of a kick out of.

If anything, kink and BDSM is about reciprocal appreciation. As a dominant, a lot of submissiveness felt gratification from our activities together because I’m getting off on it, and vice versa.

It should be a lovely Fibonacci spiral where you’re both feeling pleasure from each other’s enjoyment, not an abyss you fall into because you both think that’s what each other wants.

That, right there, is a black hole.

Know who else like vanilla sex?

Christian Grey. Yep, I said it. If you actually watch the films – because god knows I’m not reading the books – he doesn’t actually do very much in the way of BDSM.

He ‘likes to f***. Hard’, but everything else is just gilding the lily.

Sure, he might tie Anna up sometimes, but otherwise he’s as vanilla as custard.

It’s not hard to discover if something turns you on or not, but don’t launch into something because you think the other person might like it or because you think it will add a new and interesting dimension to your personality.

At the end of the day, I’m super happy with my dates giving my vagina a thumbs-up.

If anything, that’s pretty integral to the whole shebang.

I’m happy for anyone to have a fetish, or a kink, but the main thing I want, and I think I speak for most people here, is to be able to have a great conversation, easily won laughter, and a connection that will survive an onslaught of bad puns.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to build sexual confidence

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Having sex for the first time is nerve wracking but it isn’t the only time when the thought of sex can feel daunting. Many of us will go through periods of abstinence later in our lives and the thought of engaging in sexual activity again can spark feelings of insecurity.

There are a variety of reasons why someone might have experienced an extended amount of time without having sex (divorce, a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or difficulty meeting the right person) and often by the time we get round to having sex again it feels as if we are back to square one with our sexual confidence.

Here, we speak to Valeria Chuba, PhD, MS, ACS, a board certified clinical sexologist and a certified intimacy coach. She helps her clients overcome sexual shame and anxiety, achieve sexual confidence, and create pleasure-filled intimate relationships. She is the creator and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast, which offers expert information and guidance to listeners around the world.

“Finding that special spark with a new partner can often take a long time,” she explains. “Regardless of the reasons why we may find ourselves without a lover, when the time comes to get back into the groove, most of us experience feelings of fear, anxiety and low self-confidence.”

So to help anyone who is feeling less than empowered about the idea of a new sexual encounter, we asked Valeria to give us some practical advice on how to feel less nervous and more confident when starting a new sexual relationship…

1. Learn from the past

Each new relationship offers a promising beginning, which means an opportunity to do things differently and better than before. “Now is the perfect time to look back at your past sexual experiences,” Valeria advises.

“What were some of the things that worked well (or didn’t work) in your intimate relationships? What partners were the most memorable, and why? What would you like to do differently this time around? For example, would you speak up more about your need for sensual foreplay, or share more of your sexual imagination with your partner? Getting clarity around your needs and boundaries will help you start a new sexual relationship in a more proactive way, which in turn will help you feel more safe and grounded.”

2. Know what gives you pleasure

“As a sexologist, I often tell my clients that masturbation is the foundation for partner sex,” says Valeria.

“The more you know about what turns you on and helps you experience pleasure and orgasm, the better you’ll be able to share these things with your partner, leading to a more positive intimate experience.”

Reacquainting yourself with your body in this way will help you to first accept and then to gain confidence when it comes to being with someone else. It’s easy to forget the positive things about our body when we are feeling insecure and focusing on the parts we don’t like as much.

“If you are new to self pleasure or just want to broaden your sexual repertoire, sex-positive books like Come As You Are or fun and instructional sex ed DVDs will both inform you and spark your sensuality. It’s important to note that you should always consider seeking professional help for specific sexual concerns, like trouble experiencing orgasm with a partner, early ejaculation, erectile difficulties, or performance anxiety. Working with a sex-positive, compassionate professional can be a huge boost to your sexual confidence.”

3. Communication is key

“I often tell my clients that they should begin a new relationship as they mean to go on; and good communication is a big part of any successful sexual relationship,” says Valeria.

“There are few things more attractive in a lover than the confidence to speak up about his or her needs and desires, and the ability to listen to his or her partner. Speaking up improves your chances of getting what you want from your sexual relationship; and being accepting of your partner will make him or her feel special and appreciated. Either way, you will come across as a generous and thoughtful lover, which is sure to boost your self-confidence.”

4. Focus on pleasure and not performance

Whenever we begin a new relationship, especially after a long time without partner sex, we tend to feel anxious about things like our attractiveness; our size, shape and weight; and how well we will ‘perform’ during sex.

“This mindset keeps us caught up in our heads and disconnected both from our bodies and pleasure, and from our lovers and the process of lovemaking. Whenever you feel yourself getting caught up in performance pressure, focus instead on your body sensations. Breathe deeply and if need be, slow down. Pay attention to how things feel as opposed to how perfect you appear to be. As a bonus, a lover who is focused on pleasure and sensuality comes off as a lot more empowered and confident than someone who is insecure about their ‘performance’.”

5. Have a sense of humour

Sex can be complicated and intimidating at the best of times, let alone when we’ve been celibate for an extended period. Because of this, we tend to forget that at its core, sex is about connection, pleasure and fun. And since partner sex happens between bodies, it can also be a messy, embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious experience. Using this as a point of connection with your lover, rather than something to be ashamed of, can help you lighten things up. Chances are your partner is also feeling nervous, so bonding lightheartedly over your shared anxiety and the absurdity of it all can be both relaxing and very, very sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Sex Invades the Schoolhouse’

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Fifty years ago, panicked parents helped spread sex-ed programs to schools across the country, even as panicked critics mobilized to stop them.

By Conor Friedersdorf

Earlier this month, The New York Times Magazine published “What
Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn,” a feature that probed the frontier of sex education: a 10-hour course for high schoolers titled, “The Truth About Pornography.”

The course aims to make teens in this age of ubiquitous porn “savvier, more critical consumers of porn by examining how gender, sexuality, aggression, consent, race, queer sex, relationships and body images are portrayed (or, in the case of consent, not portrayed) in porn,” the Times reports. One of its creators, Emily Rothman, explained that the curriculum “is grounded in the reality that most adolescents do see porn and takes the approach that teaching them to analyze its messages is far more effective than simply wishing our children could live in a porn-free world.”

While the conversation that ensued focused on porn’s place in American life, the story struck me as a useful point of comparison for a look back at sex-ed 50 years ago. In 1968, The Saturday Evening Post ran its own feature on the frontiers of the subject, billed as “The Truth About Sex Education” on the cover and “Sex Invades the Schoolhouse” on the page. The story documented a rapid shift in attitudes.

Until 1965, biology students in Chicago schools “might scarcely have imagined, for all the teachers ever told them, that humans had a reproductive system,” it reported. A principal in Miami said that, only recently, a pregnant pet rabbit couldn’t be kept in the classroom. Superintendent Paul W. Cook of Anaheim, California, was quoted as saying, “Not long ago they’d have hanged me from the nearest telephone pole for what I’m doing.” By 1968, all had formal sex-ed programs.

“America seems to have suddenly discovered an urgent need for universal sex education—from kindergarten through high school, some enthusiasts insist—and is galloping off in all directions to meet it,” the journalist John Kobler reported. “The trend is nationwide. Nearly 50 percent of all schools, including both public and private, parochial and nonsectarian, are already providing it, and at the present rate the figure will pass 70 percent within a year. Clergymen, including many Catholic priests, not only do not oppose sex education, they are often members of the local planning committees.” The impetus behind the change: “parental panic,” he wrote.

Venereal diseases among teenagers: over 80,000 cases reported in 1966, an increase of almost 70 percent since 1956—and unreported cases doubtless dwarf that figure. Unwed teen-age mothers: about 90,000 a year, an increase of 100 percent in two decades. One out of every three brides under 20 goes to the altar pregnant. Estimates of the number of illegal abortions performed on adolescents runs into the hundreds of thousands. One of the findings that decided New York City’s New Lincoln School to adopt sex education was a poll of its 11th-graders on their attitudes toward premarital intercourse: the majority saw nothing wrong with it.

Teen-age marriages have risen 500 percent since World War II, and the divorce rate for such marriages is three times higher than the rate for such marriages contracted after 21. Newspaper reports of dropouts and runaways, drug-taking, sexual precocity and general delinquency  intensify the worries of parents. But these evils are only the grosser symptoms of a widespread social upheaval. Communications between the generations has stalled (“Don’t trust anyone over thirty”), and moral values once accepted by children because Mom and Dad said so have given way to a morality of the relative. In addition, parents’ own emotional conflicts, and reluctance to recognize in their children the same drives they experienced … make it all but impossible for them to talk honestly … about sex.

Giving young people more information suddenly seemed less risky to many than the alternative. And in this telling, many parents preferred to let teachers do the hard part.

In Talk About Sex: The Battles Over Sex Education in the United States, Janice M. Irvine noted that the first calls for in-school sex education came in the early 1900s “from a disparate group of moral reformers including suffragists, clergy, temperance workers, and physicians dedicated to eliminating venereal disease.” They disagreed among themselves about the purpose of sex education, but united against Anthony Comstock and his anti-vice crusaders in arguing that expanding public speech about sex would better advance social purity and retard vice than restricting it.

A similar divide endured as sex-ed began to spread rapidly in the 1960s. Its proponents believed that talking openly about the subject would help cure social ills, as they had since at least 1912, when the National Education Association passed its first resolution calling for the introduction of sex curriculum in public schools.

1960s social conservatives countered that “if we talk to young people about sexuality, it should be restricted so as not to lead to destructive and immoral thoughts and behavior”—and that “controlling or eliminating sexual discussing best allows for the protection of young people and the preservation of sexual morality.”

For them, too much information posed the greater threat.

Some conservatives even saw sex education in schools as a Communist plot, causing local controversies like one in Utica, New York, where a contemporaneous newspaper article reported that “Joseph Smithling of Syracuse, a member of the Movement to Restore Decency, told an Oneida County Patriotic Society meeting that the national sex education movement is part of the ‘International Communist conspiracy.’ He said local teachers are being fooled by a Communist plot to take over this country by getting American children ‘interested in sex, drawing them away from religion and making them superficial and less rugged.’”

The era’s most far-reaching anti-sex-ed pamphlet was published in September 1968. Selling at least 250,000 copies, Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex? took aim at the Sex Education Council of the United States, the biggest and most influential group creating sex-ed curricula and spreading them to public schools.

The pamphlet’s first section portrays its opponents as a bunch of sex-positive relativists who can’t even be counted on to declare premarital sex morally wrong. “The public school is intruding into a private family and church responsibility as it frightens and coerces parents to accept the teaching of sex,” its second chapter begins. One can only imagine how these conservatives would regard media that children are exposed to in 2018 when reading their take on teaching materials circa 1968:

Sex education, as a symbol of curricular innovation, is in the classroom with all of its rawness, its tactlessness, its erotic stimulation. The flood of materials for classroom use includes books, charts, and unbelievably clever models which even include multi-colored plastic human figures with interchangeable male and female sex organs––instant transvestism.

The sexologists, who we cannot help but feel are Johnny-come-lately pornographers, are devoting their full creative powers to inventing sexual gimmickry.

Other passages could as easily be critiques of sex education (and especially porn education) today. “The embarrassing frankness of many sex education programs force the sensitive child to suppress his normal, emotion-charged feelings in listening to class discussion,” the pamphlet’s authors fretted. “This may develop into serious anxieties. On the other hand, he may either become coarsely uninhibited in his involvement in sex, or develop a premature secret obsession with sex.”

The pamphlet ended with a rousing call to parents to resist sex education and the notion that only teachers—“the professionals”—are qualified to decide what kids should be taught. In its telling, “the sex educators are in league with sexologists—who represent every shape of muddy gray morality, ministers colored atheistic pink, and camp followers of every persuasion, from off-beat psychiatrists to ruthless publishers of pornography. The enemy is formidable at first glance, but becomes awesomely powerful when we discover the interlocking directorates and working relationship of national organizations which provide havens for these degenerates.”

While the spread of sex education in the late 1960s undoubtedly changed the socialization of young people, giving progressive educators more relative influence and social conservatives less, claims that the curriculums were “sex positive” or grounded in “moral relativism” were very much exaggerated, as scenes from the Saturday Evening Post feature and other contemporaneous accounts illustrate.

The birth-control pill was deliberately excluded from many curricula. In Evanston, Illinois, which boasted a well-known sex-education program, “a junior high school teacher responds to the frequent question ‘Why is premarital sex wrong?’ by handing around a list of horrifying statistics on venereal disease, illegitimacy, abortion, and divorce,” Kobler wrote. San Diego described its goal as promoting “wholesome attitudes toward boy-girl relationships and respect for family life.”

In Miami, a youth counselor answered a common question posed by ninth-grade girls as follows: “Should a girl kiss a boy on their first date? Certainly not. A kiss should be a token of affection, not a favor freely distributed. Going steady? It’s too easy to slip into an overly close relationship.” In a separate classroom, boys were told, “Don’t you and a girl go pairing off in a corner. It’ll only lead to frustration. You’re not prepared for sex except as animals. Don’t start a relationship you’re not ready for.”

Only the most liberal educators were advocating for co-ed sex-education classes, that no position be taken on the morality of premarital sex, and that students be given “full information.” Fifty years later, Americans remain divided on many of these same questions. One change is that “full information” back then meant a curriculum that covered, for instance, birth control and homosexuality; by the 1990s, advocates of “full information” favored teaching students about masturbation, a taboo that cost Joycelyn Elders her job in the Clinton administration when she forthrightly broke it in response to a question.

And today? That New York Times Magazine story on porn noted a survey of 14-to-18-year-olds. Half said they had watched porn. And among them, “one-quarter of the girls and 36 percent of the boys said they had seen videos of men ejaculating on women’s faces (known as ‘facial’)… Almost one-third of both sexes saw B.D.S.M. (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism), and 26 percent of males and 20 percent of females watched videos with double penetration, described in the study as one or more penises or objects in a woman’s anus and/or in her vagina. Also, 31 percent of boys said they had seen ‘gang bangs,’ or group sex, and ‘rough oral sex.’”

Put another way, if sex educators today are to cover just the terrain that millions of American teenagers have already been exposed to through the Internet, they will be covering acts that even the most liberal sex-education teachers of 1968 would’ve found unthinkable to teach, and that they had more than likely never seen themselves. Imagine the confusion typical adults of that bygone era would feel if told about the content available to today’s teens—and then told that alongside porn’s rapid rise, teen pregnancies, abortions, and STDs have fallen simultaneously and precipitously.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Sex Toy Shops That Switched On a Feminist Revolution

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The “White Cross Electric Vibrator Girl” as pictured in a 1911 Health and Beauty catalog.

BUZZ
The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy
By Hallie Lieberman
Illustrated. 359 pp. Pegasus Books. $26.95.

VIBRATOR NATION
How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure
By Lynn Comella
278 pp. Duke University Press. $25.95.

Think back, for a moment, to the year 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. The Beatles released the “White Album.” North Vietnam launched the Tet offensive. And American women discovered the clitoris. O.K., that last one may be a bit of an overreach, but 1968 was when “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” a short essay by Anne Koedt, went that era’s version of viral. Jumping off of the Masters and Johnson bombshell that women who didn’t climax during intercourse could have multiple orgasms with a vibrator, Koedt called for replacing Freud’s fantasy of “mature” orgasm with women’s lived truth: It was all about the clitoris. That assertion single-handedly, as it were, made female self-love a political act, and claimed orgasm as a serious step to women’s overall emancipation. It also threatened many men, who feared obsolescence, or at the very least, loss of primacy. Norman Mailer, that famed phallocentrist, raged in his book “The Prisoner of Sex” against the emasculating “plenitude of orgasms” created by “that laboratory dildo, that vibrator!” (yet another reason, beyond the whole stabbing incident, to pity the man’s poor wives).

To be fair, Mailer & Co. had cause to quake. The quest for sexual self-knowledge, as two new books on the history and politics of sex toys reveal, would become a driver of feminist social change, striking a blow against men’s overweening insecurity and the attempt (still with us today) to control women’s bodies. As Lynn Comella writes in “Vibrator Nation,” retailers like Good Vibrations in San Francisco created an erotic consumer landscape different from anything that previously existed for women, one that was safe, attractive, welcoming and ultimately subversive, presenting female sexual fulfillment as “unattached to reproduction, motherhood, monogamy — even heterosexuality.”

As you can imagine, both books (which contain a great deal of overlap) are chockablock with colorful characters, starting with Betty Dodson, the Pied Piper of female onanism, who would often personally demonstrate — in the nude — how to use a vibrator to orgasm during her early sexual consciousness-raising workshops in New York. I am woman, hear me roar indeed.

Back in the day, though, attaining a Vibrator of One’s Own was tricky. The leering male gaze of the typical “adult” store was, at best, off-putting to most women. Amazon, where sex toys, like fresh produce, are just a mouse click away, was still a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Enter Dell Williams, who after being shamed by a Macy’s salesclerk while checking out a Hitachi Magic Wand, founded in 1974 the mail order company Eve’s Garden. That was quickly followed by Good Vibrations, the first feminist sex toy storefront; it’s great fun to read the back story of Good Vibes’ late founder, Joani Blank, along with radical “sexperts” like Susie Bright and Carol Queen.
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The authors of “Vibrator Nation” and “Buzz” each put in time observing how sex toys are sold, so have firsthand insight into the industry. Whose take will hold more appeal depends on the reader’s interests: In “Buzz,” Hallie Lieberman offers a broader view, taking us back some 30,000 years, when our ancestors carved penises out of siltstone; moving on to the ancient Greeks’ creative use of olive oil; the buzzy medical devices of the 19th century (disappointingly, doctors’ notorious in-office use of vibrators as treatment for female “hysteria” is urban legend); and the impact of early-20th-century obscenity laws — incredibly, sex toys remain illegal in Alabama — before digging deeply into more contemporary influences. In addition to feminist retailers, Lieberman braids in stories of men like Ted Marche, whose family business — employing his wife and teenage children — began by making prosthetic strap-ons for impotent men; Gosnell Duncan, who made sex aids for the disabled and was the first to expand dildo production beyond the Caucasian pink once called “flesh colored”; the Malorrus brothers, who were gag gift manufacturers (think penis pencil toppers); and the hard-core porn distribution mogul Reuben Sturman, who repeatedly, and eventually disastrously, ran afoul of the law. Although their X-rated wares would supposedly give women orgasms, unlike the feminist-championed toys they were sold primarily as devices that would benefit men. Much like the era’s sexual revolution, in other words, they maintained and even perpetuated a sexist status quo.

“Vibrator Nation” focuses more narrowly on women-owned vendors, wrestling with how their activist mission bumped up against the demands and constraints of the marketplace. Those early entrepreneurs, Comella writes, believed nothing less than that “women who had orgasms could change the world.” As with other utopian feminist visions, however, this one quickly splintered. Controversy broke out over what constituted “sex positivity,” what constituted “woman-friendly,” what constituted “woman.” Was it politically correct to stock, or even produce, feminist porn? Were BDSM lesbians invited to the party? Would the stores serve transwomen? Did the “respectable” aesthetic of the white, middle-class founders translate across lines of class and race? If the goal was self-exploration through a kind of cliteracy, what about customers (of any gender or sexual orientation) who wanted toys for partnered play or who enjoyed penetrative sex? Could a sex store that sold nine-inch, veined dildos retain its feminist bona fides? Dell Williams solved that particular problem by commissioning nonrepresentational silicone devices with names like “Venus Rising” from Gosnell Duncan, the man who made prosthetics for the disabled. Others followed suit.

Even so, Comella writes, the retailers struggled to stay afloat: Feminist stores refused, as a matter of principle, to trade on customers’ anxiety — there were none of the “tightening creams,” “numbing creams,” penis enlargers or anal bleaches that boosted profits at typical sex stores. Employees were considered “educators,” and sales were secondary to providing information and support. What’s more, Good Vibrations in particular was noncompetitive; Blank freely shared her business model with any woman interested in spreading the love.

Consumer culture and feminism have always been strange bedfellows, with the former tending to overpower the latter. Just as Virginia Slims co-opted the message of ’70s liberation, as the Spice Girls cannibalized ’90s grrrl power, so feminist sex stores exerted their influence on the mainstream, yet were ultimately absorbed and diluted by it. In 2007, Good Vibrations was sold to GVA-TWN, the very type of sleazy mega-sex-store company it was founded to disrupt. Though no physical changes have been made in the store, Good Vibrations is no longer woman-owned. Although the aesthetics haven’t changed, Lieberman writes, the idea of feminist sex toys as a source of women’s liberation has faded, all but disappeared. An infamous episode of “Sex and the City” that made the Rabbit the hottest vibrator in the nation also portrayed female masturbation as addictive and isolating, potentially leading to permanent loneliness. The sex toys in “Fifty Shades of Grey” were wielded solely in service of traditional sex and gender roles: A man is in charge of Anastasia Steele’s sexual awakening, and climax is properly experienced through partnered intercourse. Meanwhile, the orgasm gap between genders has proved more stubborn than the pay gap. Women still experience one orgasm for every three experienced by men in partnered sex. And fewer than half of teenage girls between 14 and 17 have ever masturbated.

At the end of “Buzz,” Lieberman makes a provocative point: Viagra is covered by insurance but vibrators aren’t, presumably because while erections are seen as medically necessary for sexual functioning the same is not true of female orgasm. Like our feminist foremothers, she envisions a new utopia, one in which the F.D.A. regulates sex toys to ensure their safety, in which they are covered by insurance, where children are taught about them in sex education courses and they are seen and even subsidized worldwide as a way to promote women’s sexual health.

In other words: We’ve come a long way, baby, but as “Vibrator Nation” and “Buzz” make clear, we still may not be coming enough.

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