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Dismantling the myths of rape culture

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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.”

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The Dreaded Lesbian Bed Death

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Name: Karen
Gender: Female
Age: 36
Location: Portland
I have a really big problem. I can’t keep a girlfriend because once I’m in a committed relationship I lose my desire for sex. I don’t mean it slacks off; it just totally stops. I’ve always been this way. I can have casual sex with women, but when things get serious sex goes out the window. This has been the demise of every relationship I’ve ever had. I’m currently dating this really great woman, but I’m afraid my problem will drive her away too. Is there anything I can do to stop this from happening?

Whoops, looks like another case of dreaded LBD…Lesbian Bed Death.

Lesbian Bed Death

Ya know it’s pretty common for lovers in long-term relationships to gradually lose interest in sex with each other. But lesbiterians are particularly susceptible to this malady. Some couples, but lesbians in particular, end all sexual expression between them; yet stay very committed and loving toward each other. Thus the somewhat humorous term, “lesbian bed death.”

You Karen, apparently suffer from a particularly nasty case of LBD. May I ask, is this an issue for you because, and only because, it kills off all your relationships way too soon? Or are you concerned about this because you yourself are uneasy about the complete cessation of sex once you nest? The reason I ask is, if your only reason for changing is to please someone else, even someone you like a lot, the likelihood that you’ll actually change is considerably less than if you yourself desire a change.

Let’s say you really want to change for yourself, but you just don’t know how. I’d advise working with a sex positive therapist. If you and I were working together, for example, I’d want to get to the bottom of what triggers your attitude shift toward sex when you nest. Is there some disconnect for you between sex and intimacy? If there is a disconnect for you, you’re not alone. People with self-esteem issues, or body issues, people with extreme scruples about sex, the kind that translates into guilt and shame often have a similar disconnect. And gay and lesbian people who have not resolved their internalized homophobia will frequently have a sex and intimacy rift.

Lesbian Bed Death2

Sound familiar? I would guess so. Reversing this is unhappy trend is not an insurmountable task. But it will take a concerted effort to heal the rift that you may have between your sexual expression and intimacy needs.

You say you’re met this really great woman and you want this relationship to last. FANTASTIC! Is it safe to assume that she has a healthier appreciation of sex then you? If she does, I suggest you engage her in your healing process. However, you gotta be totally up front with her about your past pattern of disconnect. Marshal her sex-positive energy to help you resolve your issues. She will need a heads-up on the impending sex shut down so she can help you resist it. With her help, the two of you could move through this.

Good luck

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Shape Up Or Ship Out

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Name: Bill
Gender: Male
Age: 51
Location: Knoxville, TN
I was listening to one of your Q&A podcasts recently. In it you responded to several women who were in relationships with men they liked (or even loved) but who didn’t sexually satisfy them. Your advice was for the women to tell their men to essentially “shape up or ship out.” Even considering the reasoning you gave in the podcast, is this really the best advice? I’ve heard similar advice from other “sex positive” commentators, which makes it seem that “sex positive” is a synonym for “relationship negative.” It didn’t appear as if any of the women involved were looking for a way out of their relationship, just a way to improve the sexual aspect — and it’s not entirely clear how the approach you suggested would do that. If the men didn’t have performance anxiety, a blunt discussion would almost certainly provoke it. If I remember correctly, one of the women was about my age — early 50s. Surely you must know the ever-increasing difficulty women have finding a happy relationship as they get older, and that a woman must know how lucky she is just to be with a man she likes, even if the sex could be better. Besides, there are probably very few women these days who need to be told they can leave a relationship if they choose. If the women’s sexual complaint had seemed to be just the tip of an iceberg of unhappiness, I could see the efficacy of your advice — but that’s not how their queries came across.

Listen Bill, I stand by my advice. And yes, I think it was the best advice I could give these two women. And ya know why I say that? I say that because had it been a couple of men writing in about the same concern, I would have given them the very same advice. If you are unhappy in your relationship because the sex has dried up then that’s a pretty serious concern in my book.

shape-up-or-ship-outBeing sex positive is not being relationship negative. But, settling for the lowest common denominator in terms of sexual expression is. Here’s another thing I know for certain, by the time someone makes an appointment to see me or writes to me about their sexual complaint, I can be pretty certain that they’ve struggled with it on their own for a long time. This is particularly true for women.

I also want to take issue with your statement: “Surely you must know the ever increasing difficulty women have finding a happy relationship as they get older, and that a woman must know how lucky she is just to be with a man she likes, even if the sex could be better.” So you’re sayin’ older women can just kiss their sexual needs goodbye after they reach a certain age, because the relationship they have is as good as it gets? Is that what you’re sayin? Because, if it is, it’s hogwash! Women of any age don’t need a man to be happy or fulfilled and they certainly don’t need one who to tell them to suck it up and settle for what ya got.

Besides, if I remember my advice correctly, and I think I do, I suggested that my correspondent give her husband the right if first refusal. That means she offers her old man her sexual energy first. If he doesn’t rise to the occasion, so to speak, she’s free to take her sexual energy elsewhere. This strategy takes the pressure off the sexually uninterested partner, it can overcome the disparity in libido between the couple, as well as saving the relationship. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater, right?

To my mind we do too much “settling for” as it is. Complacency is the real enemy. You got issues in your relationship; hash them out. If your partner won’t join you in that effort he/she is telling you that your needs don’t matter. And when that occurs, regardless of what else you may have in place, your relationship is in its death throws. And you can bank on that!

Good luck

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Putting A Ring On It

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Name: William
Gender:
Age: 30
Location: UK
Hi There
I am new to this scene, and I have very little experience in anal sex and I am seeking your help and advice. I am a top but I have a problem keeping my dick hard or staying hard during anal sex. I find it harder to fuck an ass compared to fucking a pussy. Here is the problem: Once I get my dick hard, put on a condom and start fucking, my dick sometimes goes soft on me. Is that normal? How can I keep my dick hard long enough in the ass to enjoy the fuck? Sometimes even when my dick is hard, I find it hard to penetrate an ass. I use lube, so what am I doing wrong? People in gay porn can fuck and fuck like there is no tomorrow. I want to enjoy anal sex too!! Any advice? Please let me know if there is anything I can do to improve in this area?

Boy, you’re in luck, William! One of my most popular tutorials, Finessing That Ass Fuck — A Tutorial For a Top, is waiting for you.  Check it out! It will answer a lot of the questions you have about butt fucking. You should also know that this is the companion piece to my tutorial for ass fuckin’ bottoms handsomely titled: Liberating The B.O.B. Within. Don’t know what a BOB is? No to worry, all will be explained.

gettin it from behindBut before you disappear to do your homework, I’d like to address one of the specific issues you raise, about keeping your dick hard while fucking. You are right to point out that fucking an ass (male or female) is different from fucking a pussy. But regardless of what hole you’re invading, a nice hard stiffy is essential.

Are you familiar with a cockring, William? If not, I suggest you acquaint yourself with these amazing low-tech wonders. Here’s what you should do. Mozie on over to the Dr Dick’s Sex Toy Reviews site and search for my tutorial, Cockring Crash Course. (The search function in the sidebar will assist you.) Prepare yourself to be sorely amazed at the variety and functionality of these little devils.

Cock rings can create larger, firmer erections. Since blood flow enters your dick through arteries deep inside your dick, and leaves it through the veins near the surface of your tool; wearing a cock ring can help to keep more blood inside your dick shaft. And as all you rocket scientists know, blood is what causes erections in the first place. Also some men claim that wearing a cock ring intensifies their orgasm.armour up04

And while you’re on the sex toy review site, use the CATEGORY pull-down menu in the sidebar and look for cockrings. You’ll find it under the last heading, Sexual Enrichment. This will bring up all the cockrings we reviewed, and there’s a load of ‘em, don’t cha know.

I recommend the flexible and/or adjustable cockrings. These are generally made of stretchable rubber or leather. For the more daring there are the metal variety. These may look pretty, but they can be a bitch to put on and to take off. Here’s how ya do it.

  1. Pull your ball sack through the ring first.
  2. Follow this by popping each of your balls through the ring one at a time.
  3. Now bend your cock down and pull it through the ring.

As you can see, putting on one of these little buggers before you have a raging hardon is gonna make it a whole lot easier. To take the cock ring off, simply reverse these steps, pushing your flaccid cock back through the ring first, followed by each of your balls and finally your ball sack.

It’s absolutely essential that you not wear an inflexible (metal) ring for longer than a couple hours. Make sure you don’t buy one that is too small either. If your dick is turning an angry red or worse, purple, or it is cold to the touch, you’re in trouble. Take that ring off immediately. If you don’t you will risk serious injury to your precious johnson. Remember people, play smart with all your toys!

Good luck

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I’m just along for the ride

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Dear Dr Dick,
My husband (34) and I (31) are coming up of ten years of marriage, and for the most part our sex life has been what I would consider average. He’s pretty much been the aggressor in our relationship, which has worked out fine until now. I guess after ten years my husband would like it if I occasionally expressed interest and initiated and told him what I like/don’t like etc. I really have no idea how to do that! I told him that and his comment was that maybe I wasn’t even sure what I liked/don’t like and that I’ve pretty much just been going along for the ride all these years. He’s probably right.
We used to kiss and cuddle etc. to work up to sex and now it’s, “hey, you wanna have sex?” which completely turns me off (which he knows). I’m sure this is partly due to his work schedule and having a four year old so by the time we get to bed we’re wiped out most of the time, but I’m so not into the, “hey, you wanna…” approach.
Anyway, I guess my question is how do I get started in figuring out what I like and don’t like, how do I work up to feeling comfortable enough to verbalize it and especially verbalize or show him that I’m in the mood, and then how do I tell him I don’t like something without shutting him down. There are times, I know I don’t like something but I go along with it because I don’t want to shut him down.
I should preface by saying I’m not a very confident person and tend to be a people pleaser?
Thanks,
Brandi

You’re husband’s right. It is fuckin’ time you started lifting your share of the sexual initiation load. I mean come on! Most women would kill for a man in their life that would show an interest in what they like and don’t like. This going along for the ride stuff has got to end, darling.

female nude159How do you get started in figuring out what you like and don’t like? Masturbation! That’s the shortest and most to the point answer I can think of. Once you discover what turns your crank through masturbation you will have loads of very important information to share with you man. And hey, don’t forget toys, vibrators in particular.

How do you work up to feeling comfortable enough to verbalize what turns you on and verbalizing or showing him that you are in the mood? The answer to this question is as simple as the previous question. You masturbate for him.

Now I know that a lot of people, and that includes most women, have been socialized to think that masturbation is wrong, or at least it’s a private affair that one should keep to herself. But I’m her to tell you that’s just bull-hockey. And this is true for both women and men, gay and straight and everyone in between.

How do you tell him you don’t like something without shutting him down? Well, it’s probably much easier to tell him what you like and how you like it rather than approaching the tutorial from the negative. If he’s not completely brain dead, he WILL get the message. If, however, he starts to do something that is rubbing you the wrong way, so to speak, simply tell him as calmly as possible that he will get a much bigger and better rise out of you if he did it THIS way. And then show him…again.masturbation001

That fact that you sometimes don’t like something but that you often if not always go along with it tells me that you’ve socialized your man into thinking he’s an adequate lover when he perhaps isn’t. Its time for a confession, girlfriend! Be as gentle as you can, but for god sake, it’s time to come clean.

Take responsibility for keeping him in the dark about his lack of sexual prowess. Then tell him that there’s a very easy and fun fix for the problem and show him what you need and how you need it.

If you indeed lack the confidence you need to be honest with the one you love and who loves you back, then frankly Brandi, you deserve what little you get. But if you can muster up the gumption to throw off the tyranny of that whole people pleasing bullshit you’ve been laboring under all these years, then you have a real shot at some happiness and sexual fulfillment. It’s gonna be up to you to make this happen. If you need some support find a sex positive therapist who will help you grow some balls.

Good luck

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