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Masturbation—Get Down With Yourself!

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May is National Masturbation Month.

By Molly Lloyd

Alrighty folks, it’s about time we talk about masturbation. I’ve been thinking about sex a lot recently (thank you, women’s, gender and sexuality studies and educational studies for allowing me to do both my capstones on sex education). But before we can really talk about sex – and I mean really talk about sex – we have to be able to talk about masturbation first, right? Right.

This is a topic of conversation that makes most people uncomfortable. Masturbation, among many other sexual things, is not really something we talk about. Our culture tends to avoid conversations surrounding positive sexual experiences, because we have a deeply ingrained fear of sexuality. For the most part, people’s experiences talking about masturbation have been limited to preteen and teenage boys making jokes about their taste in porn and making obscene gestures towards one another. It’s never something that’s talked about seriously and I’m almost positive that most sex education classes avoid the topic. Conversations surrounding pleasure and desire are usually absent from sex education classes because adults and educators worry that discussing these topics will encourage young people to have sex.

Back in the 19th century, masturbation of any sort by any kind of person has been seen as impure and people would go to great lengths to keep children and teens from exploring themselves. It was rumored that masturbating would cause hair to grow all over your palms and that losing one drop of semen was the equivalent to losing ten drops of blood. It was common practice to make young boys wear belts with spikes surrounding the penis, to “discourage” them from developing erections. Women, on the other hand, had to be treated for “hysteria” (a made up disease, from the Greek word “hysterika”, meaning “womb”) because they orgasmed so infrequently and their husbands only cared about their personal pleasure.

Even in this day and age in the United States, many people are taught that their sexual desire and want to masturbate are wrong, dirty or something to be ashamed of—this is especially something that happens to girls and women. People will go an incredibly long time in their life without ever having explored themselves or orgasmed because they’re scared or they feel ashamed. Since coming to Macalester, I have met plenty of cis women who are scared of and disgusted by their vaginas and don’t feel comfortable exploring themselves. Let’s destigmatize masturbation and pleasure!

Knowing what you prefer and what works for you can allow you and your partner(s) to have sex where it is easier for you to orgasm (assuming that that is a thing you want!). On top of having better sex and more orgasms, there are – according to Planned Parenthood – some added health benefits to masturbation, including: -Releasing sexual tension -Reducing stress -Helping you sleep better -Improving your self-esteem and body image -Helping treat sexual problems -Relieving menstrual cramps and muscle tension -Strengthening muscle tone in your pelvic and anal areas Some people even claim that masturbating until orgasm can help with headaches and migraines—something to consider, for sure. So there you have it! An invitation to go for it; touch yourself!

I would encourage everyone – seriously! everyone – to take some time this weekend and get to know themselves; figure out what you like and don’t like, what gets you going! Knowing how your body works is an essential first step to taking ownership of your body and sexuality. Personal empowerment comes from personal knowledge, and masturbating can be a way of gaining that personal knowledge.

To end this piece, I will leave you with a quote from Audre Lorde – a prominent feminist writer from the second wave and a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” – about her ideas surrounding the erotic and ask you to think about how masturbation could improve your (sex) life.

“The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

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A ‘Hand’ Book for Male Masturbation

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The new masturbation manifesto and advice manual Better Than the Hand has a bank of spank tips that are hard to beat.

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Every one knows that May is Masturbation Month, but they may not be observing this as an occasion to improve their masturbatory skill set. That’s why it’s a stroke of genius that a new book written by author Magnus Sullivan, Better Than The Hand: How Masturbation is the Key to Better Sex and Healthier Living, was just published, tossing off a toolbox of masturbation techniques and providing meaty tips to extend these practices into partner sex (if you will).

“Even after 22 years of International Masturbation Month, we still find that so many people hold a bias against masturbation,” Good Vibrations staff sexologist Dr. Carol Queen tells SF Weekly. “How can that be a good thing, to disrespect the one sexual pleasure-focused act that everyone can access whenever they want?”

Queen’s lessons on masturbation served as the inspiration for Better Than the Hand, a volume of pocket pinball tips for men or anyone with a penis. It describes a series of hand-y steps and exercises to maintain erections for longer than 15 minutes, employing various sex toys for unique penile arousal scenarios, and using masturbation tricks to regain that erection after having already blown your load once.

“Male masturbation is a very taboo thing for us to talk about, much more so than female masturbation,” Sullivan says.

Although it’s listed now, Better Than the Hand was not always available on Amazon. The online retailer’s censors shut down access to the book once they discovered it was about male masturbation, and other websites have been similarly unreceptive.

“I can’t advertise the book on Facebook,” Sullivan tells SF Weekly. “They rejected every single ad.”

He’s been able to get out of Amazon purgatory, but not without a fight.

“They sent me a note saying, ‘Your book is currently being reviewed for explicit content,’” he recalls. “There’s no explicit content in the book. We’re talking about masturbation!”

But ‘explicit content’ may be in the eye of the beholder. After all, this is a book that contains sentences like, “If you haven’t experienced the deep, muscle-penetrating hum of a Magic Wand on your perineum, anus, and cock, then you’re living in the sexual dark ages.”

Yes, this guy is advocating that men should apply the clitoral sex toy known as the Hitachi Magic Wand not only to their own junk, but to their intimate booty regions as well.

“I got one of the most powerful orgasms I’ve ever had from the Hitachi Wand,” Sullivan tells SF Weekly. “When you use it as a man, I think it’s the closest thing you can experience that’s akin to a female orgasm, because it just kind of happens to you. It isn’t this cock-centric stroking experience, it’s just like all of a sudden there’s this welling up of sensuality, sexuality, and orgasmic sensations that result in an orgasm.”

“For me, that was an eye-opener that there’s a much bigger world out there regarding my own body,” he adds.

Needless to say, there are some pretty freaky masturbation techniques described in this book. It’s called Better Than the Hand because your hand is what you’re already using for jackin’ the beanstalk, but this book sets out to expand your rubbing-out repertoire to include a number of unconventional sex toys that many heterosexual guys would be embarrassed to admit owning.

Better Than the Hand lists and evaluates a whole range of penis sleeves, Fleshlights, cock rings, penis pumps, Tenga eggs, prostate massagers, and more. There is even a section on those humanoid sex dolls, which the sex doll-owning community prefers we refer to as “full-size masturbators.”

“Masturbation isn’t seen by 99 percent of men as a way to experiment,” Sullivan says, passionately defending these sex toys for men. “Toys can be used to manage premature orgasms, to stay hard after orgasms, and to have multiple orgasms.”

Men’s sexual problems, as Sullivan sees it, can be attributed to male masturbation being a task traditionally handled quickly, quietly, and with great shame. Men have a tendency to go straight for their own primary erogenous zone and ejaculate as quickly as possible.

That’s bad technique, and why the Journal of Sexual Medicine estimates men last, on average, 5.4 minutes during vaginal intercourse. Sullivan sets out to establish male masturbation as a “process-oriented rather than a goal-oriented activity,” with specifics strategies to enhance the four separate identifiable stages of Excitement, Plateau, Orgasm, and Resolution.

In doing so, men can enhance not only their quality of sex but also their personal health. The book argues that masturbation has specific male health benefits, like reducing the risk of prostate cancer, boosting the immune system, and improving the quality of your sleep.

But most importantly, coming to grips with your masturbating habits — and being able to talk about them — can make men better lovers, and less chauvinistic as people.

“As men explore their own bodies, they’re also becoming much more skillful, knowledgeable, sensitive lovers,” Sullivan says. “When you have sexual identity and sexual behavior being constrained or restricted, it leads to a problem of toxic male sexuality.”

This toxic male sexuality has been seen in the headlines around Brock Turner, the Stanford student who assaulted an unconscious woman, or with our pussy-grabbing president. Having produced both straight and gay adult films for more than 20 years, Sullivan sees toxic male sexuality as a primarily straight male phenomenon.

“Most gay men have come to terms with what it is to be sexual,” he tells SF Weekly. “Most straight men aren’t dealing with questions like that, so they never develop the vocabulary, the empathy, or the emotional intelligence to have these subtle interactions.”

A lack of empathy or emotional intelligence can be seen in the pornography that straight men watch, and why this porn profoundly bothers their female partners.

“The biggest fantasy of most straight men is fucking some 18-year-old girl in the ass,” says Sullivan, who also manages an online porn streaming platform. “By far, the largest-watched category of porn is anal sex with young models.”

It might be fair to say this represents arrested emotional development among porn-watching straight men. But it also represents a psychological toll for their female partners, creating body-image issues and a sense of betrayal over how the porn-consuming straight guy prefers these adult-film starlets.

Men forget that feeling desired is a primary erotic trigger for many women, and that to desire someone else may feel like a violation of the couple’s intimacy. This sense of violation can also play out when masturbation or porn interferes with a guy’s ability to get erections.

“The desire thing is probably linked to the way some women freak out when their male partners can’t get erections on demand,” Queen says. “It feels like the cock is the barometer of desirability. It’s fucked up, but there it is.”

Better Than the Hand addresses many of the sticky topics that surround male masturbation, and it has some dynamite chapters on communicating masturbatory habits and the use of toys for couples, plus a detailed script for an outrageously hot mutual-masturbation scenario.

But the book’s main thrust is to give men a curiosity on how to make their dick work better, and how masturbating is key to this process. As so capably said by our long-lost muse Whitney Houston, “Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Reality Check: Anal Sex

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First it was shocking, then it was having a cultural moment, now it’s practically standard in the modern bedroom repertoire—or so a quick scan of any media, from porn to HBO, will tell you. But the reality about anal is not, actually, that everyone’s doing it, says research psychoanalyst and author Paul Joannides, Psy.D., whose comprehensive book on sexuality, The Guide to Getting it On!, is used in college and medical school sex-ed courses across the US and Canada. The book is amazing not just for its straight-up factual information on practically any aspect of sex you can think of, but also for its easy, nonjudgmental, at-times humorous tone.

The CDC reports that the number of heterosexual men and women who’ve tried it vacillates between 30 and 40 percent (oddly, the CDC doesn’t report on how many homosexual men have tried it, except in a statistic that weirdly combines it with oral). If anal turns you on, you are definitely not alone, but its prevalence doesn’t change the fact that it’s the riskiest sexual behavior in terms of HIV and other STDs. Here, Joannides talks us through the realities of making anal both as safe and as pleasurable as possible.


A Q&A with Paul Joannides, Psy.D.

Q

When did heterosexual anal start to become a thing?

A

In the 80’s, I remember hearing from a friend that he had a videotape of anal porn. This seemed shocking at the time. (This was pre-Netflix: Everything was on videotape, from porn to Disney movies to highlights from the Olympics. Video rental stores were everywhere.) I’m not sure there are too many middle schoolers today who would be shocked or even surprised to watch anal sex on Pornhub or Xhamster.

Since porn became as easy to access as YouTube, porn producers have had to fight for clicks, and so porn has become more extreme. I’d say that by 2005, porn had totally blurred the distinction between a woman’s anus and vagina. This wasn’t because women were begging their lovers for anal, it’s because porn producers were afraid you’d click on someone else’s porn if they weren’t upping the ante in terms of shock value.


Q

Does the popularity of anal in porn reflect reality in both homosexual and heterosexual couples?

A

No. There are some couples who enjoy anal sex a lot, maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of all straight couples. But if you ask them how often they have anal vs. vaginal intercourse, they’ll say maybe they have anal one time for every five or ten times they have vaginal intercourse. We occasionally, as in once a year, hear from women who say they have anal as often as vaginal, but that’s unusual.

As for gay men, statistics vary widely, and studies aren’t always consistent in how they collect data—some might be looking at different levels of frequency, i.e. have you had anal once in the past year, or do you have it regularly? I’ve seen studies suggesting that 65 percent of men have anal sex, and others that suggest the figure is less than 50 percent. So, I don’t have exact figures for hetero or homosexual couples, but there is data suggesting that a good percentage of gay men would rather give and receive blowjobs than have anal sex.


Q

How should we modify the anal sex we see modeled in porn to best suit an in-real-life couple?

A

The way the rectum curves shortly after the opening tells us we need to make a lot of adjustments for anal to feel good. Also, the two sets of sphincter muscles that nature placed around the opening of the anus to help humans maintain their dignity when in crowded spaces (to keep poop from dropping out) mean there’s an automatic reflex if you push against them from the outside.

So one of the first things a woman or man needs to do if they want to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to teach their sphincter muscles to relax enough that a penis can get past their gates. This takes a lot of practice.

Also, unlike the vagina, the anus provides no lubrication. So in addition to teaching the sphincters to relax, and in addition to getting the angle right so you don’t poke the receiver in the wall of the rectum, you need to use lots of lube.

They show none of this in porn. Nor do they show communication, feedback, or trust. Couples who do not have excellent sexual communication, who don’t freely give and receive feedback about what feels good and what doesn’t, and who don’t have a high level of trust should not be having anal sex.


Q

What are the health risks of anal?

A

A woman has a 17-times-greater risk of getting HIV and AIDS from receiving anal intercourse than from having vaginal intercourse. So your partner needs to be wearing a condom and using lots of lube, unless both of you are true-blue monogamous, with no sexual diseases. Any sexually transmitted infection can be transmitted and received in the anus. Because of the amount of trauma the anus and rectum receive during anal intercourse, the likelihood of getting a sexually transmitted infection is higher than with vaginal intercourse.

Unprotected anal sex, regardless of whether it is practiced by straight or gay couples, is considered the riskiest activity for sexually transmitted diseases because of the physical design of the anus: It is narrow, it does not self-lubricate, and the skin is more fragile and likely to tear, allowing STDs such as HIV and hepatitis easy passage into the bloodstream.


Q

Are those risks all mitigated by the use of condoms and lube, or are there still issues, even beyond that?

A

The risks are substantially reduced by the use of condoms and lube as long as they are used correctly, but you won’t find too many condoms that say “safe for anal sex” because the FDA has not cleared condoms for use in anal sex. That said, research indicates that regular condoms hold up as well as thicker condoms for anal sex, so there’s nothing to be gained from getting heavy-duty condoms.

As for using the female condom for anal sex—studies report more slippage and more pain than with regular condoms.

Do not use numbing lube, and do not have anal sex while drunk or stoned. Pain is an important indicator that damage can occur if you don’t make the necessary adjustments, including stopping. If there is pain, perhaps try replacing a penis with a well lubed and gloved finger. The glove will help your finger glide more easily, and might be more pleasurable for the person on the receiving end. Also, this allows a woman to do anal play on a male partner. (When it comes to anal sex, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.)


Q

Are there known health consequences of anal practiced over the long-term? Can you do it too much?

A

One of the urology consultants for my book believes that unprotected anal sex can be a way for bacteria to get into the man’s prostate gland. He prefers the person with the penis that’s going into the other person’s butt use a condom.

Also, small chunks of fecal matter can lodge into the man’s urethra. So if the couple has vaginal intercourse following anal intercourse without a condom, the male partner should pee first in addition to washing his penis with soap and water.


Q

Do pre-anal enemas make a difference in terms of health safety? What about preventing accidents?

A

I know of no studies on the relationship between pre-anal enemas and health outcomes. As for its general wisdom, people seem as divided on that as on politics in Washington. So I would say, to each her own. Also, some people use a “short shot,” which is a quick enema with one of those bulb devices instead of using a bag and going the full nine yards. In any case, accidents are likely to happen at one time or another.


Q

What tests should people be getting if they practice anal?

A

There’s “should” and there’s reality. If I were on the receiving end of anal sex, I would want to be sure my partner did not have HIV before I’d even let him get close to my bum with his penis.


Q

Probably more people try anal today than in the past—are there ways to make a first experience a good one?

A

Both of you should read all you can about it first. Spend a few weeks helping the receiving partner train her/his anal sphincters to relax. Make sure you and your partner have great sexual communication, trust, and that you both want to do it, as opposed to one trying to pressure the other, or not wanting to do it but doing it because you are afraid your partner will find someone else who will. Do not do it drunk or stoned, and do not use lube that numbs your anus. If it doesn’t feel good when it’s happening, stop.


Q

Do people orgasm from anal stimulation? Is it common or uncommon?


A

Some women say they have amazing orgasms from anal, but usually they will be stimulating their clitoris at the same time.


Q

Does it usually take a few tries to enjoy anal? Are there positions that make it easiest?

A

It depends on how much you are willing to work on training the receptive partner’s anal sphincters to relax, how good your communication is, how much trust there is, and probably on the width or girth of the dude’s penis. Common sense would tell you it should go way better if a guy is normal-sized as opposed to porn-sized.


Q

What should we be telling our kids about anal?

A

We don’t tell them about the clitoris, about women’s orgasms, about masturbation, about the importance of exploring a partner’s body, and learning from each other. We don’t tell them that much of what they see in porn is unreal, and we don’t talk to them about the importance of mutual consent. So I don’t see anal being at the top of most parents’ “should talk to our kids about” lists. There are more important things we need to be talking about first.

Paul Joannides, Psy.D. is a psychoanalyst, researcher, and author of the acclaimed Guide to Getting it On!, which is now in its ninth edition and is used in college courses across the country. He’s also written for Psychology Today Magazine and authors his own sex-focused blog, Guide2Getting.com. Dr. Joannides has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Sexual Medicine and the American Journal of Sexuality Education, and was granted the Professional Standard of Excellence Award from The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Joannides also lectures widely about sex and sexuality on college campuses.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Does Sex Feel So Good, Anyway?

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By Kassie Brabaw

There’s a reason that sex toy shops choose names like Pleasure Chest, Good Vibrations, and Sugar. All of these words invoke the tingling, heart-pumping, all-over ‘yum’ feelings many people associate with having sex.

There’s no question that great, consensual sex feels amazing. But why does it feel so good? What’s actually happening inside someone’s brain and body to create that euphoria?

According to sexologist Laura McGuire, PhD, there are three main physiological reasons someone feels sexual pleasure: the pudendal nerve, dopamine, and oxytocin.

The pudendal nerve is a large, sensitive nerve that allows someone’s genitals to send signals to their brain. In people who have vulvas, it has branches in the clitoris, the anus, and the perineum (the area between the anus and the vulva or the anus and the penis). In people who have penises, the pudendal nerve branches out to the anus, the perineum, and the penis. “It’s important for women to realize that the nerve doesn’t have much concentration inside the vaginal canal,” Dr. McGuire says. “Most of the pudendal nerve endings are focused on the clitoris.” That’s why it’s common for people who have vulvas to struggle reaching orgasm from penetrative sex alone, and why the clitoris is often considered the powerhouse of women’s sexual pleasure.

The pudendal nerve explains how signals get from someone’s genitals to their brain during sex, and then the brain releases dopamine and oxytocin, which causes a flood of happy, pleasurable feelings. “Oxytocin is often called ‘the love hormone,'” Dr. McGuire says. “It’s what makes us feel attached to people or things.” Oxytocin is released during sex and orgasm, but it’s also released when someone gives birth to help them feel attached to their baby, she says. “That’s the big one that makes you feel like your partner is special and you can’t get enough of them.”

Like oxytocin, dopamine helps your brain make connections. It connects emotional pleasure to physical pleasure during sex, Dr. McGuire says. “So, that’s the hormone that makes you think, that felt good, let’s do it again and again and again,” she says.

Oxytocin and dopamine are both in a class of hormones considered part of the brain’s reward system, says Lawrence Siegel, a clinical sexologist and certified sexuality educator. As someone’s body reaches orgasm, they flood their system because the brain is essentially trying to medicate them, Siegel says. “The brain seems to misunderstand sexual arousal as trauma,” he says. As someone gets aroused, their heart rate increases, their body temperature goes up, and their muscles tense, all of which happen when someone’s body is in trouble, too.

“As that continues to build and increase, it reaches a point when the brain looks down and says ‘Uh,oh you’re in trouble,'” Siegel says. “An orgasm is a massive release of feel-good chemicals that leaves you in a meditative state of consciousness.”

Yet, not everyone desires sex. So how do we explain asexuality? Science doesn’t have any solid answers, Dr. McGuire says, although it’s important to know that asexual people don’t choose to be asexual any more than gay people choose to be gay. While we don’t know what makes someone asexual, it’s pretty certain that there’s no physical difference between asexual people and everyone else, Siegel says.

“It’s not correct to say that people who identify as asexual don’t experience pleasure,” he says. “They just don’t have the desire to have sex.” Desire is ruled by different hormones, most notably testosterone. But even that might not fully explain why someone isn’t interested in having sex. “It feels like a different appraisal or reaction to the experience in their body,” Siegel says.

While everybody has a pudendal nerve and can experience the release of dopamine and oxytocin that happens with sex, not everyone will experience that release as pleasurable or experience the same level of pleasure. “People are very complicated,” Dr. McGuire says.

Complete Article HERE!

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Omnisexual, gynosexual, demisexual: What’s behind the surge in sexual identities?

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There’s been a proliferation of sexual identities.

by Olivia Goldhill

In 1976, the French philosopher Michel Foucault made the meticulously researched case that sexuality is a social construct used as a form of control. In the 40 years since, society has been busy constructing sexualities. Alongside the traditional orientations of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, a myriad other options now exist in the lexicon, including:

  • pansexual (gender-blind sexual attraction to all people)
  • omnisexual (similar to pansexual, but actively attracted to all genders, rather than gender-blind)
  • gynosexual (someone who’s sexually attracted to women—this doesn’t specify the subject’s own gender, as both “lesbian” and “heterosexual” do)
  • demisexual (sexually attracted to someone based on a strong emotional connection)
  • sapiosexual (sexually attracted to intelligence)
  • objectumsexual (sexual attraction to inanimate objects)
  • autosexual (someone who prefers masturbation to sexual activity with others)
  • androgynosexual (sexual attraction to both men and women with an androgynous appearance)
  • androsexual (sexual attraction towards men)
  • asexual (someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction)
  • graysexual (occasionally experiencing sexual attraction, but usually not)

Clearly, people felt that the few existing labels didn’t apply to them. There’s a clear “demand being made to have more available scripts than just heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual,” says Robin Dembroff, philosophy professor at Yale University who researches feminist theory and construction.

Labels might seem reductive, but they’re useful. Creating a label allows people to find those with similar sexual interests to them; it’s also a way of acknowledging that such interests exist. “In order to be recognized, to even exist, you need a name,” says Jeanne Proust, philosophy professor at City University of New York. “That’s a very powerful function of language: the performative function. It makes something exist, it creates a reality.”

The newly created identities, many of which originated in the past decade, reduce the focus on gender—for either the subject or object of desire—in establishing sexual attraction. “Demisexual,” for example, is entirely unrelated to gender, while other terms emphasize the gender of the object of attraction, but not the gender of the subject. “Saying that you’re gay or straight doesn’t mean that you’re attracted to everyone of a certain gender,” says Dembroff. The proliferation of sexual identities means that, rather than emphasizing gender as the primary factor of who someone finds attractive, people are able to identify other features that attract them, and, in part or in full, de-couple gender from sexual attraction.

Dembroff believes the recent proliferation of sexual identities reflects a contemporary rejection of the morally prescriptive attitudes towards sex that were founded on the Christian belief that sex should be linked to reproduction. “We live in a culture where, increasingly, sex is being seen as something that has less to do with kinship and reproduction, and more about individual expression and forming intimate bonds with more than one partner,” Dembroff says. “I think as there’s more of an individual focus it makes sense that we have these hyper-personalized categories.”

The same individuality that permeates western culture, leading people to focus on the self and value their own well-being over the group’s, is reflected in the desire to fracture group sexual identities into increasingly narrow categories that reflect personal preferences.

Some believe this could restrict individuals’ freedom in expressing fluid sexuality. Each newly codified sexual orientation demands that people adopt increasingly specific criteria to define their sexual orientation.

“Language fixes reality, it sets reality,” says Proust. “It paralyzes it, in a way. It puts it in a box, under a tag. The problem with that is it doesn’t move. It negates or denies any instability or fluidity.”

There’s also the danger that self-definition inadvertently defines other people. Just as the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” demand that people clarify their sexual preference according to their and their partner’s gender, “sapiosexual” asks that we each of us define our stance towards intelligence. Likewise, the word “pansexual” requires people who once identified as “bisexual” clarify their sexual attraction towards those who don’t identify as male or female. And “omnisexual” suggests that people should address whether they’re attracted to all genders or oblivious to them.

In Foucault’s analysis, contemporary society turns sex into an academic, scientific discipline, and this mode of perceiving sex dominates both understanding and experience of it. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes this idea neatly:

Not only is there control exercised via others’ knowledge of individuals; there is also control via individuals’ knowledge of themselves. Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciences of sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to these norms.

The new terms for sexual orientations similarly infiltrate the political discourse on sexuality, and individuals then define themselves accordingly. Though there’s nothing that prevents someone from having a demisexual phase, for example, the labels suggest an inherent identity. William Wilkerson, a philosophy professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville who focuses on gender studies, says this is the distinctive feature of sexual identities today. In the past, he points out, there were plenty of different sexual interests, but these were presented as desires rather than intrinsic identities. The notion of innate sexual identities “seems profoundly different to me,” he says. “The model of sexuality as an inborn thing has become so prevalent that people want to say ‘this is how I feel, so perhaps I will constitute myself in a particular way and understand this as an identity’,” he adds.

In the 1970s and 80s there was a proliferation of sexual groups and interests similar to what we’ve seen over the past five to 10 years, notes Wilkerson. The identities that originated in earlier decades—such as bears, leather daddies, and femme and butch women—are deeply influenced by lifestyle and appearance. It’s difficult to be a butch woman without looking butch, for example. Contemporary identities, such as gynosexual or pansexual, suggest nothing about appearance or lifestyle, but are entirely defined by intrinsic sexual desire.

Dissatisfaction with existing labels doesn’t necessarily have to lead to creating new ones. Wilkerson notes that the queer movement in earlier decades was focused on anti-identity and refusing to define yourself. “It’s interesting that now, it’s like, ‘We really want to define ourselves,’” says Wilkerson.

The trend reflects an impulse to cut the legs out from under religious invectives against non-heteronormative sexualities. If you’re “born this way,” it’s impossible for your sexuality to be sinful because it’s natural, made of biological desires rather than a conscious choice. More recently, this line of thinking has been criticized by those who argue all sexualities should be accepted regardless of any link to biology; that sexuality is socially constructed, and the reason no given sexuality is “sinful” is simply because any consenting sexual choice is perfectly moral.

Though it may sound ideal to be utterly undefined and beyond categories, Proust says it’s impossible. “We have to use categories. It’s sad, it’s tragic. But that’s how it is.” Constructs aren’t simply necessary for sexual identity or gender; they’re an essential feature of language, she adds. We cannot comprehend the world without this “tag-fixing process.”

The proliferation of specific sexual identities today may seem at odds with the anti-identity values of queer culture, but Dembroff suggests that both work towards the same ultimate goal of eroding the impact and importance of the old-fashioned binary sexual identities. “Social change always happens in non-ideal increments,” Dembroff notes. So while today we may have dozens of sexual identities, they may become so individualized and specific that they lose any significance for group identities, and the entire concept of a fixed sexual identity is eroded.

“We demand that sex speak the truth,” wrote Foucault in The History of Sexuality. “We demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.” We still believe sex reveals an inner truth; now, however, we are more readily able to recognize that the process of discovering and identifying that truth is always ongoing.

Complete Article HERE!

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