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Dismantling the myths of rape culture

By Matthew Wade

slutwalk

It’s a double edged sword: as a queer woman, your sex life is objectified if you’re too femme, or dismissed if you’re too masc. In light of the recent SlutWalk rally in Melbourne to protest slut-shaming and victim-blaming, Matthew Wade spoke to queer women about how their sexual identities are policed in Australia.

Men often fetishise the sex lives of queer women or erase them completely, with little elbow room in between.

When she first came out and started dating women, Natasha Smith was femme-presenting, and her sex life was a point of objectification.

“A common question at the time was around what I did in bed, but not in a way that made me feel empowered,” she told the Star Observer.

“People would ask if what I did was really sex, and who the ‘man’ was in the bedroom.

“When there’s no man involved other men have to try and figure out what this tantalising thing is… when a woman’s sexuality isn’t defined by them they turn it into a form of entertainment.”

On the flip side, Smith believes the sexualities of queer women that are more masc-presenting are often invisible, as they’re not seen by men as ‘real’ women.

“Queer women live in this weird dehumanising space where they’re stigmatised as sex objects for the straight male gaze or they’re denied,” she said.

For her Master’s thesis Smith focused on the impact homophobia and sexism had on same-sex attracted women.

She interviewed women aged 18 to 60 and many told her they had experienced street harassment and ogling, with men yelling at them for holding another woman’s hand.

“There’s this idea that you’re an object but if you fight back and resist that, it comes with the threat of escalating violence,” she said.

For many of her interviewees, revealing their sexuality to a male who may be flirting with them in a nightclub would have damaging repercussions.

“As soon as they said they were a lesbian, they’d be called a slut, a dyke, and would be subject to public humiliation,” she said.

While shame and stigma are commonly heaped on the sex lives of queer women, this becomes much more apparent when a queer woman has a more grievous encounter with sexual assault or rape.

According to the United Nations, Australia has one of the highest rates of reported sexual assault in the world, more than double the global average.

However, because men often try to delegitimise the sexualities of queer women, their voices and experiences are left off the table.

Smith believes rape culture affects society at large, but that for queer women it can be particularly damaging.

“If you’re a queer woman and you happen to be more masc-presenting there’s a weird sort of erasure of your sexuality,” she said.

“And because people misunderstand rape as something connected to sexuality, many think queer women aren’t likely to be raped.”

When it comes to survivors of sexual assault and rape, Smith wants to debunk a common misconception: that rape is about sex.

“There’s an assumption when it comes to sexual assault and rape that they’re inherently sexual acts – but they’re not,” she said.

“They’re violent acts of power that use sex as the weapon.

“The myth that rape is somehow related to the sexual attractiveness of women is what leads to the dismissal of the experiences of queer women.”

Beyond the masculine and feminine gender binary that subjects queer women who present either way to sexual fetishisation or erasure, queer women who sit somewhere along the spectrum also face stigma around their sexual identity.

Where Smith recalls being asked intrusive questions about her sex life as a femme-presenting woman, Melbourne resident Luca Vanags-Smith is at times assumed to not have one.

As someone who now identifies as gender queer, Vanags-Smith has seen a noticeable shift in the way her sexual identity has been perceived.

“I think if you’re femme you’re hyper sexualised, and if you don’t fit the stereotypical model of femininity you’re invisible,” she said.

“I’ve had the lived experience of being gender queer for about two years and I’m viewed by many men as being sexless, or as being an asexual creature.

“I think there’s also this idea that two people that have vulvas can’t really have sex because there’s no penetration involved, so men see women sleeping with each other as entertainment for them.”

The desexualisation and dismissal of masc-presenting or gender queer women can also lead to homophobic views around Vanags-Smith’s sexual identity and her relationships with other women.

“I think when I was more femme-presenting people didn’t take it as seriously, but now my relationships often get pushed into a more heterosexual lens, which isn’t the case at all – after three or four months at a job I had, I had to break it to my boss that I wasn’t in fact a man,” she said.

“It can definitely erase the queerness of my relationships.

“People just assume I must be the one that uses the strap on, when one: that’s none of their business and two: that isn’t the case at all.”

Vanags-Smith has also found that heterosexual men will treat her as ‘one of the guys’ and attempt to engage her in a sexist conversation.

“Men will come up to me, point out a particular woman and say, ‘she’s got a great ass mate,’” she said.

“I know how awful that can make someone feel, especially a same-sex attracted woman.

“I’ve also had guys calling me love and telling me I just haven’t had a good fuck, and asking me how I have sex.”

As a means to combat this, Vanags-Smith believes sex education in schools needs to become increasingly sex positive.

She also added that sexist attitudes and misogyny are the bedrock of homophobia, transphobia, and whorephobia.

“With same-sex intimate relationships between women, men don’t really fit into that equation,” she said.

“And some see that as affronting.”

Melbourne recently played host to the annual SlutWalk rally, a march developed as a means to protest the slut-shaming and victim-blaming of women around the world, irrespective of gender or sexual identity.

It was created in Canada in 2011 after a police officer said “women should avoid dressing like sluts” if they wanted to avoid being sexually assaulted.

In Melbourne the rally sees speakers with a diverse range of experiences speaking out against misogyny and rape culture, and how it affects women.

Smith believes SlutWalk does well at being as inclusive as it can be, particularly now that the conversation around trans and queer identities has become more prominent.

“When I started going to SlutWalk I wasn’t as out as I am now, and it was through being emerged in the march that I found a community of feminists that understood me,” she said.

“They enabled me to grow into someone I’m very proud of and to be comfortable in my sexuality.”

Vanags-Smith said she loves SlutWalk because it changes people’s opinions of what a sexual assault survivor might look like, to include women of different ages, cultural backgrounds, and sex ual and gender identities.

“It acknowledges that there may be people who are femme and attractive, but there may be women who don’t fit these archetypes who may also experience sexual assault,” she said.

“The idea that some women are more at risk than others is a massive myth in rape culture that SlutWalk seeks to dismantle.”

Complete Article HERE!

Science can’t explain sexual orientation. Here’s why

By Rafi Letzter

first_kiss_still

Why are you so straight? Why are you so gay? Why are you so bi? Science doesn’t have any definite answers.

I reached out to Ritch Savin-Williams, a developmental psychologist at Cornell University and author of several books focused on sexuality. I asked him what we know about why and how people develop their sexual preferences. He explained that the answer is not all that much, and that the problem is that there’s no good way to do the necessary research.

“We have some sense that some major part of [sexuality] is biological. But what part of biology? Is it a gene? Genes? Hormones? Prenatal hormones?” he said.

This issue is prevalent across the field, he explained. The roots of attraction are a mystery.

“Why are we attracted to what we’re attracted to?” Savin-Williams asked. “For example: pedophiles. How does someone get to be a pedophile? We have no idea. We don’t even really know why someone is straight versus gay versus bi versus all the other pan-sexuals, asexuals, all of the different sexuals. We don’t know why.”

(To be clear, Savin-Williams was not morally conflating pedophilia with being straight, gay or bi — just explaining how little we understand about how attraction forms.)

The problem, he said, is that researchers in his field aren’t able to do good research on children.

“We can’t ask children about their sexuality. Take a 5-year-old and say ‘What are you sexually attracted to?’ and you’ll get put in jail. So we can’t ask children about their sexuality at all.”

There’s are obviously good reasons society frowns on asking detailed sexual questions of children. But the reality is that so much of sexual development happens at that phase of life that it’s impossible to form a complete picture without it.

“We don’t know anything about it. And yet we all know that children masturbate … We know that their sexual attractions are there before puberty. And that they’re sexually interested in themselves and other people. And yet we can’t do research on that,” he said.

What’s more, there’s reason to doubt people’s memories of their childhood sexualities once they grow up, even though that’s usually what the research is relying on.

“All of my data that I’ve collected is on adolescents and young adults, and I struggle even to ask high school kids,” Savin-Williams said. “It’s all retrospective.”

There are a few studies on children from Scandinavian countries with looser cultural norms around sexuality and childhood, Savin-Williams said. But the data is still a trickle. And without it, so much of why we develop the sexual feelings we do remains a mystery.

 Complete Article HERE!

American Men Are Pretty Happy With Their Penises

By

penis-satisfaction

For understandable reasons, society’s conversation about body satisfaction tends to focus on women. Women, it can safely be argued, face a lot more social pressure to look good all the time, to feel ashamed of their bodies, and to harp on minor imperfections.

Men aren’t immune from all that, though. And one particularly painful area where it manifests, according to sexual health researchers, is in insecurity about their penises. This can lead to some bad outcomes. As a team led by Thomas Gaither, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, point out in a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, “Case reports have shown men undergo risky procedures, such as silicon injections, to lengthen their penis and increase penile girth.” In addition, “Genital piercings, silicone injection, and subcutaneous implant are increasingly common and are associated with numerous complications.

Gaither and his colleagues wanted to better understand how men view their penises, so they conducted what they say is the first nationally representative survey using a newly developed scale called the Index of Male Genital Image, or IMGI. It consists of 14 statements ranked on a score of 1–7 involving penis length, girth, and so on — a score of 1–3 is coded as “dissatisfied,” while 4–7 is coded as satisfied. They got results from 3,996 men, the sample drawn from 18-to-65-year-olds who weren’t institutionalized.

Comparing those who landed in the “satisfied” (greater than 4.0) versus “unsatisfied” (4.0 or lower) buckets when the scores were averaged, the researchers didn’t find any statistically significant differences in penile satisfaction when it came to age, “race, marital status, education, location, income, or sexual partners.” Penile (dis)satisfaction appears to be pretty much constant across these categories.

Overall:

A total of 3433 (85.9%) reported an average greater than 4 per item on the IMGI and thus were classified as satisfied. Men reported highest satisfaction with the shape of their glans (64%), followed by circumcision status (62%), girth of erect penis (61%), texture of skin (60%), and size of testicles (59%). Men reported dissatisfaction with the size of their flaccid penis (27 %), length of erect penis (19%), girth of erect penis (15%), amount of pubic hair (14%), and amount of semen (12%). Men reported neutrality with the scent of their genitals (44%), genital veins (43%), location of urethra (42%), color of genitals (40%), and amount of pubic hair (36%). Of note, those who were extremely dissatisfied (score of 1 or 2) reported dissatisfaction with their flaccid penis (10.0%), length of erect penis (5.7 %), and girth of erect penis (4.5%).

There were some decent-size differences in terms of the sexual experiences of men who were satisfied versus dissatisfied with their penises. Those who were satisfied were less likely to be sexually active (73.5 percent versus 86.3 percent), and engaged in less daily and weekly sexual activity. There were also slight but statistically significant differences in the percentage of dissatisfied versus satisfied men who reported having had vaginal or receptive oral sex (85.2 percent versus 89.5 percent, and 61 percent versus 66.2 percent). The obvious question here is what’s causing what: To what extent are men who are dissatisfied with their penises less likely to seek out sex as a result of their insecurity? A correlational self-report study can’t answer that, nor can it answer whether these mens’ likes and dislikes were shared by their sexual partners.

It’s interesting that a sizable minority of men reported dissatisfaction with their testicle size or glans shape. On the one hand, in a survey like this you are explicitly asking about certain features, so these responses don’t mean that they are wandering around obsessing over this stuff. (It would be another thing entirely if you asked men to generate an open-ended list of body features they didn’t like and these kept popping up.) But on the other: It’s an interesting comparison to what women go through, because it highlights the fact that at least some of the things both men and women worry about probably aren’t, in fact, of much import to anyone else. If you’re a guy, the odds that a partner is going to care that much about the size of your testicles or the “shape of your glans” — that’s something I can honestly say I had never even thought about before reading this article, and which the researchers note “has little anatomic variability” — are probably pretty low.

More broadly, the main takeaway, as a first-pass attempt at understanding this stuff, is that men mostly feel pretty happy with their penises. Which can maybe explain the epidemic of unsolicited photos.

Complete Article HERE!

Could my wife’s circumcision explain her lack of interest in sex?

Our sex life has been underwhelming. I wonder if what happened to her as a child could be to blame

By Pamela Stephenson Connolly

I cannot even try to guess your wife’s experience’

I cannot even try to guess your wife’s experience’

I am in my mid-40s and have been married for 16 years. Our sexual life has been very underwhelming. I have tried everything I know but my wife seems to have little or no interest in sex. I do know that she was circumcised as a child. Could that have affected her sexuality?

A person’s sexuality is created through a complex combination of physical, psychological and physiological factors as well as the messages about sex they received from childhood onwards – religious beliefs, parental warnings, societal judgment and formative experiences. You have told me little, but the fact that she was circumcised suggests that she may have been raised in a society where the notion of female sexuality was not exactly appreciated. In many of the world’s societies – including our own – it is judged by some as inappropriate, and even feared, suppressed, or punished.

I cannot even try to guess your wife’s experience, or the motives of those who performed it, but I am sure it has had some effect on her conceptualisation of sex and her ability to experience pleasure. This would be particularly true if her clitoris was removed. Gently ask her if she could try to express what the circumcision was like for her, and how it might have affected her ability to enjoy sex. A gynaecologist could shed some light on how nerve loss or damage might have affected her ability to orgasm or even become aroused, and a psychosexual counsellor could suggest alternative sexual approaches. After 16 years, your wife and you deserve some understanding and hope.

Complete Article HERE!

This Long-Lost Study On Victorian Sex Teaches A Very Modern Lesson

By Sara Coughlin

female-sexuality

What comes to mind when you picture Victorian-era sex? Corsets? Marriages of convenience and social bartering? Repression? Maybe, like, a lot of repression?

Turns out, how we view that time in sexual history might be more than a little warped. We can start to get a better idea of what women of the time really thought about sex by looking at the work of Clelia Duel Mosher, MD. Years before Alfred Kinsey was even born, Dr. Mosher was already researching and discussing the sexual tendencies of Victorian-era women. (This, it should be noted, is in addition to her research that proved women breathe from the diaphragm, just like men, and that it was the corset and a lack of exercise that was to blame for many women’s health issues.)

Her sexual survey work started in the 1890s and spanned 20 years, during which time she talked to 45 women at length about their sexual habits and preferences, from how often they had an orgasm to whether they experienced lust independent of their male partners (Spoiler alert: They totally did).

Unfortunately, the report was never published in Dr. Mosher’s lifetime. It’s only thanks to Carl Degler, an author, professor, and historian, that we know of it at all. He stumbled upon Dr. Mosher’s papers in Stanford University’s archives in 1973 and published an analysis of her findings the following year.

As others have noted, Dr. Mosher’s research has played a major role in changing how historians think of Victorian attitudes around sex. Then, like today, a variety of perspectives on the subject existed. While this one report doesn’t sum up everything there is to know about how people had sex at this time, it certainly deepens our understanding of Victorian women, who are all too often painted in broad strokes at best.

Below, we’ve listed some of the most interesting findings from Dr. Mosher’s groundbreaking survey.

Not having an orgasm sucked back then, too.
One of the survey’s respondents said, “when no orgasm, [she] took days to recover.” In what might be an early description of blue balls for the vagina, another woman described a lack of climax as feeling “bad, even disastrous,” and added that she underwent “nerve-wracking-unbalancing if such conditions continue for any length of time.”

Yet another woman had something to say about the 19th-century orgasm gap, claiming that “men have not been properly trained” in this area. It seems that women have been taking their own sexual pleasure seriously for hundreds of years — even if the culture at large hasn’t.

Sex wasn’t just for procreation.
In keeping with Victorian stereotypes, one woman said “I cannot recognize as true marriage that relation unaccompanied by a strong desire for children,” and compared a marriage where the couple only has sex for pleasure to “legalized prostitution.” But several others disagreed completely.

One woman said that “pleasure is sufficient warrant” for sex, while another added that babies had nothing to do with it: “Even a slight risk of pregnancy, and then we deny ourselves the intercourse, feeling all the time that we are losing that which keeps us closest to each other.”

One woman even explained that sex helped keep her marriage strong: “In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy, and perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting ‘marriage’ after the passion of love has passed away with years.”

Period sex was pretty cool.
Over a century before we threw around the term “bloodhound” like it was nothing, at least one trailblazing woman believed that sex was always on the table — whether or not it was your Time of the Month. She added that she was fine with getting down at all hours, too: “during the menstrual period…and in the daylight.” If anyone reading this just happens to be this woman’s lucky descendent, we’d like to send her a posthumous high-five through you.

Why This Is More Than A History Lesson
In his analysis, Degler writes that of course “there was an effort to deny women’s sexual feelings and to deny them legitimate expression” back then, but the women who participated in the survey “were, as a group, neither sexless nor hostile to sexual feelings.” They didn’t let any societal expectations or restraints stop them from having those feelings — and acting on them.

Though we may not live with the same barriers (or dress code) that women did back then, it’s reassuring to know that these women defied their time’s moral code to speak frankly about their sexuality. As frustrating as it is, women still deal with stigmas surrounding sex today, whether they’re at risk of being called prudes or sluts, or being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. This is what we’ll remember most about Dr. Mosher’s work — that, in the face of whatever shame you may be harboring about your own sexuality, or whatever pressures you may be feeling, you are most likely totally normal and definitely not alone. So why hide it? After all, you never know whom you might end up proving wrong a couple hundred years down the line.

The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we’re learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we’re helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it’s done to how to make sure it’s consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once.

Complete Article HERE!