sex

Hard conversations start in silence

I sat with a young person today as they processed what was probably one of the hardest stories I have heard about sexual assault. The young person had the courage to speak up but they are doubtful the offender will plead guilty and they will have to testify in court, reliving the trauma and distress… justice? And after a week of watching the media salivate over the Stanford University – Brock Turner rape case I can’t help wondering if the very systems constructed in deliver ‘justice’ disable rather than enable change, both on a personal, societal and cultural level.

On a more pragmatic level, how is that alcohol is still getting off scot free? Here is a substance that has enabled so much harm to occur and yet it remains somehow immune to suspicion as a mind altering chemical. I’d like to put alcohol on trial. There is so much evidence against it but it must have a pretty good defence team.

It has managed to maintain its innocence while enabling other substances to be demonised, to the point where any conversation that aligns it with non-legal chemicals is ridiculed. Our culture demands the right to intoxication by alcohol. Nearly every event, celebration, social occasion uses it. With its harmless qualities being promoted, accepted and endorsed and sex being such an awkward encounter – thanks to our collective embarrassment, shame and insistence on outdated gendered notions of entitlement around desire, we’ve got the perfect conditions for what occurred. To be clear though, I don’t think alcohol is the reason for what happened, I’m trying to understand the process of normalisation that seems to occur around its use/abuse. I wonder if we treated alcohol in the same way as any other drug – not separating it out for a start, we might be able to ask different kinds of questions about its effects.

And while it might be in another country I don’t think New Zealand should be doing any ‘tut tutting’, Roast Busters anyone? Here is a random thought – what if we had as many drink-sex adds on TV as drink drive ones? Why not? And why not throw condom use in there while we are going with the ‘hard’ topics. The other really difficult conversation is navigating transitional experiences for young people (anyone up to the age of at least 25 I reckon). Teaching sex-sexuality without a context of mediating desire, vulnerability and other expectations or constraints including heteronormative ones will simply drive the same old assumptions along, rehash them and enable justifications based on gendered entitlements to continue.

I’m not holding my breath for change, because we simply refuse to put ourselves on trial, our own attitudes, beliefs and values. Hard conversations with ourselves.

A wack hack

I’m perplexed. We’ve had a dildo chucked at a politician and now high tech dildos that could be hacked.There is a new industry called cyberdildonics and is set to be the next ‘big thing’ that could make that long distance relationship all the more intimate. Wow…sex toys in the media with no talk about sex or sexuality.

But much like the virtual absence of condoms being seen when depicting particular sexual acts (I think I can count the number of times I have seen a condom add on one hand) dildos as well seem to be almost desexualised by media, good for a face slap and maybe a door stop. Could be an interesting cyber safety topic in schools or a creative cross curriculum topic? The mind boggles as it googles with new goggles into a future of cyber enhanced sexualities.

Seriously, how has ordinary sex become so invisible – by ordinary I don’t simply mean heterosexual, I’m talking about the messy, complex, awkward, funny, negotiated, interrupted moments with bodily fluids and equipment like dildos and vibrators in the context of sex. It seems contradictory when considering the hyper sexualisation in a lot of media. Almost like the over-saturation closes down these spaces so that real experiences in the lives of people become shocking and beyond the normative spectrum coloured by the graphic representation of sex portrayed.

I also accept that technology has made sex and sexuality more accessible and fluid for many. Perhaps the digital age has simply taken hardware to a new level. Personally I can’t imagine wanting to hack anything that is being used by someone else in an intimate act, voyeurism could get interactive. I’d like to see greater representation of sexuality but not just the usual token gay or lesbian character, people of mixed ages, cultures, body shapes and functions flirting, getting it on and keeping each other safe, caring about the health comfort and pleasure of their partner.

Maybe there is a bit of re-branding to be done in silicon valley.

Land of the long well-endowed?

Let’s start with a joke to warm up.

How many Freudian analysts does it take to change a light bulb?

Two – one to turn the light bulb and the other to hold the penis – ladder! – I mean ladder.

Yes the penis has featured a little too frequently in my media sphere this week, and the NZ Herald chimed in twice. Puns and jokes aside, I’m a bit fed up with Freudian fences containing concepts of sexuality and scientists are earnestly backing this up by doing important research into penis size. It seems working out what is normal or statistically average took just 1500 participants to drop their pants and submit to the measuring tape, wonder what lucky research student got that job. I’m not sure whether it is women who have the envy because quite frankly it all seems a little (or largely) over rated.

But science is going a step further with the possibility of growing these essential organs in laboratories, so in the future people could get an upgrade. Maybe technology will merge with sexual functioning at some point as well. Perhaps sending ‘attachments’ might take on a whole new meaning.

For me a sign of an advanced civilization is one that doesn’t need to talk about who has what bits and how they look. For now we are left with Freuds phallic fence posts, well – this horse has bolted. So that’s it. What? you were expecting more? Well – it’s not the number of words that matter its how you use them.

Head On Viral Challenge

Ok so I am never fond of viral challenges or viral anything for that matter. Whether it be for charity or not you can keep your ice in your bucket. If you want me to play along put some beers in it. But what to make of the latest round of the latest ‘have you done it yet’ annoying memes on facebook and other social media – the condom challenge.

It consists of filling a condom with water and dropping it on someones head. Some suggest it’s about raising awareness of condom use. I find that a stretch. On a more serious note, how many people will be aware that December 1st is World AIDS Day. Now that should go viral on so many levels. If you are intending to do the condom challenge how about making that statement and making a donation if you want to make a real difference to the awareness around the actual function of condoms. The real challenge is to get people to use condoms. Yes they are supposed to go on someones head but it’s just located a little further south. Time for a bit of anatomical orientation for some I think.

On the upside it’s never been a better time to rock up to a supermarket and casually buy a packet or 4 and simply smile and wink and say hashtag condomchallenge. Great opportunity to stock up without parents suspecting anything, just show them, they might even join in! Bit of family bonding, lubricate the conversations about safe sex?

If you are a sucker for a viral challenge, good on you – go hard, I wouldn’t want to burst your bubble.

The Porn Identity

It’s a delicate subject considering many adults can barely talk to their children about any form of sexual activity. It’s hard enough recognising children as sexual beings for most people, then we think teenagers will somehow ignore these strange wonderful feelings. While some hope that a simple biology lesson should cover it with frequent coughing and rushed syllables it’s clear we can still feel awkward about all forms of sexuality and pleasure in particular. There – I said it – desire and pleasure and warm fuzzy feelings. Human beings are drawn to these experiences like moths to flames and sometimes we get a bit singed and burnt, but we keep coming back for more (hmmm awkward pun). We’ve tended to keep pleasure conversations secret and couched in dodgy metaphors or colloquialisms and education has generally steered clear preferring the reproductive-heterosexual-preventing disease and/or pregnancy focus. Respectful relationships, negotiation and consent might show up however these still fit into a bit of a mechanistic process of sexual activity.

Porn is part of that complex mix of desire which has traditionally been built around male sexuality. It might just be luck but I have never accidentally found porn online or been sent any and I intend to keep it that way. However it is time for a reality check when it comes to young people and the rapid expansion of visual media and online communication. Working as a counsellor in a secondary school I see the first hand effects of the porn on young people. I know older people are impacted as well, but if children and young people are exposed to graphic sexual content from an early age it will inevitably impact on their understanding of sex and sexuality as well as how bodies should look and be during sex. There are also questionable messages communicated about dominance power and submission and ‘men’ and ‘women’ like. Porn can also be used as a form of grooming for abuse. So it is really important we think carefully about where things are at. Time for a deep breath.

The digital age has made both the making and distributing of sexual content easier and accessing it as simple as a google/oggle search, even if unintended. Back in the day it was pretty hard to accidentally purchase magazine or rent a video from the back room and convince someone you were 21. Thankfully there are people like Maree Crabbe who has been researching and working with young people since 1993. I’m pleased someone has done this work and put together some really great resources that have been thoroughly tested and youth approved. Perhaps what might surprise people is the openness about desire and enjoyment of sexual experiences as well as thinking critically about the gendered stereotypes and assumptions it can create. Which inevitably confuse and blur understandings of consent without creating a one sized fits all model. Sexuality is in there to so they have covered all bases…so to speak.

Parents might not want to know but they need to know this stuff. Again there is a generation gap, so let’s not just fill it with fear and avoidance or blame and shame. Fill it with knowledge and understanding – it really is time we talked.

Got you by the gubernaculum

I’m fascinated by the complexity of everything and it baffles me that we want to keep simplifying, generalising and categorising life into the most basic compartments. I know most people believe that there are two sexes. There are definitely two, but there are more. My brush with embryology at uni many years ago was an eye opener and a mind opener. The amazing interplay of chromosomes and cell-division revealed the wide range of variations leading to more than just a possible boy or girl baby.

The curious thing is that all humans begin the same with their reproductive and sexual organs looking the same. Then differentiation happens leading to gene expression, much like any other aspect of biology. But we’ve filtered out these variations for so long they appear invisible, unrepresented in our consciousness of the spectrum of diversity. The polarity of sexual organs most visibly represented in text books is not the full story. We’ve been ripped off! At a certain point in our embryonic development the structures that will later go on to develop into sex organs are pulled downward by a chord like structure and as they do they continue to develop into specific roles, testes or ovaries. It’s kind of cool because it explains the ways we can end up with other combinations of sexual organs, that it is actually not uncommon or unexpected. More to the point is not ‘un-natural’.

So I think we need more conversations about gubernaculums, and other great reproductive scrabble words to baffle your mates with. We need to see more diagrams with a range of possible outward and inward arrangements of organs without the word normal anywhere. Education could do more looking at some of the queer ways nature has got around binary genders or even the senses as we know them – such as the amazing brittlestar, it senses light with no eyes and ingests and egests through the same orifice…yip kind of glad we got a different deal there (although it might explain why some people talk excrement). There is also the whiptail lizard who don’t seem to need males to reproduce. And there are those sea horse dudes who look great being pregnant.

If the distribution and arrangement of organs is like part a branching expanding unfolding phenomenon it makes sense that some will stop at various points and form in unique ways much like a fractal, repeating the same familiar patterns with slight variations. Beautiful and perfect as they are.

Actually, looking more closely at the most famous of fractals, the Mandelbrot set  it makes me wonder what Freud might see. Shouldn’t be too hard.

being device-ive

It has been a crazy couple of weeks, with flags going up coming down changing colour and misidentified. In the middle of this are some very serious and real dangers for people. Lives are most definitely at stake so to break the tension with humour might seem like an act of trivialising but CNN brought it to a whole new level when one of their reporters mistook a certain black and white flag with random symbols for an ISIS one.

I’m tempted to launch into a slippery slope of sex terrorism, loaded with rocket propelled explosions, but the sad thing is many people would view a flag with sex toys on it as a threat. So while they might seem poles apart the confederate, rainbow, ISIS, flags attempt to represent and define ideology, beliefs, values, power, oppression, control and resistance. They have history and meaning for groups to unite and define their doctrines of truth.

Flags are in fact so important we have already decided on one that will go on Mars should we land there. But I like Eddy Izzards take on flags and the entitlement they give to stake a claim and in doing so reveal the strange attachment humans have to bits of cloth that serve no practical purpose save to show the direction the wind is blowing. I might have found the answer however to what happens if you combine ISIS, southern USA and gay pride – My Little Ponies! Apple Jack is definitely talking with a Southern drawl and Rainbow Dash has the power to make a sonic rainboom.

That’s enough exploding of weapons of mass deconstruction.

Teaching no lessen

There are some interesting intersections brought about by my journey in education. Going from a teacher to a counsellor has seen my perspective and values shift and move and from time to time come together. But I generally only get to teach two kinds of lessons these days. I either teach juggling and unicycling to year 11 sport science classes or a one off health class on consent and negotiation for year 12’s. Never both at the same time although some of the themes of risk, fear, going one step at a time and moving at your own pace do line up.

So on Friday I will be in front of a class I have no relationship with about to launch into the realm of sex and the complexity of desire mixed with cultural and social norms, family values and gendered assumptions without any real sense of what these young people might have already experienced. Actually, that is not entirely true. Because in my privileged position as a counsellor I will know some of them, and they will know what I know. So there will be a level of extra vulnerability attached to this conversation. It is a juggling act of sensitivities to confidentiality, privacy and accepting that within the space all sorts of beliefs, values, experiences and needs will be present. I know I am there in my capacity as a counsellor but what does that actually mean to these 16-17 year old young women that a counsellor is coming in to talk with them? It really is the definition of ‘awkward’.

Talking about consent invites the polarity of coercion. Society in general still needs to grapple with gendered assumptions of power and consent. I recently stumbled on a great cartoon likening consent to having ‘a cup of tea’. There are some limits to this as an analogy but I kind of like it for its simplici-tea, it’s also gender neutral , stick figures are good for that. But it’ll be me in the hot seat Friday. So…what can I bring? I can bring a non-judgemental stance, but is that enough? I can bring an openness about the competing needs and feelings, physical, emotional responses that might all happen at once when it comes to sex. I can bring a level of ‘unshockability’ while ensuring questions and statements do not position people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. My hope is that I can use some of my performance skills from juggling that are about setting a safe tone for exploring, renaming or relocating a sense of failure or loss of worth into something more respectful and takes into account the realities of diverse sexual experiences.

Leaving the door open for conversations at another time for those who might have more to process will be an ideal outcome. I intend not to leave a trail of guilt, self-doubt and fear. I intend to acknowledge the range of tensions and embodied realities of desire, pleasure and the contexts that can enable and disable actions or decisions. I will be intentional not to assume these young women will all be having sexual experiences or indeed be heterosexual. That to me is one way all teachers can support the well-being of LGBTIQ young people.

But perhaps more than anything to give them and experience of an adult who will not reject or shame them because they are young women talking about being/becoming sexually active – not just passive. I think that is enough things in the air for one lesson.

Doing the (in)decent thing

Ok, I need to make a disclaimer. This blog contains sexual content, and some really bad puns. However it may or may not be indecent depending on where you are reading this. ‘Where’ doesn’t necessarily mean what country or location. ‘Where’ is your moral and ethical values base located? So what to make of a case in the United Kingdom where a couple have been changed with an ‘indecent act’ during a concert at Hyde Park. I nearly required the heimlich maneuver while reading and eating toast – was not a great time to be masticating.

Briefly: A couple in their late 40’s had imbibed a lot of alcohol and while they guy ‘slept it off’ unconscious his partner decided the music sucked, so took that theme and ran with it so to speak. Apparently when finally interrupted by being arrested there was surprise from the woman that the rules were different in England. I’m wondering how many Welsh folk right now are checking with their local council to see if the grass has been cut recently so they can make grass angels. But this isn’t really what shocked me. What caught my attention was the response from the lawyer defender her in court. He believes even if it did happen it was a bit funny and “did not outrage public decency”. His summation and I quote (unfortunately).

“Let’s think actually there was sucking the penis, nobody is condoning it,”
“Of course it must have upset the sensibilities of some there, it must have caused annoyance”.

I don’t know about you but since when does ‘finding it a laugh’ become the yardstick for whether or not something crosses the line of decency? Because that is pretty much his argument. Here are some of the questions I have:

  • Had they been in their teens, how might their behaviour been perceived?
  • Why didn’t bystanders have concern for the level of consent of the guy involved (assuming there was no indication of a relationship)?
  • Is evidence of ‘arousal’ assumed to be an indication of consent?
  • Would a guy performing the same act on a woman receive the same level of permissive dismissive humour in court?
    If someone of the same gender was performing the act would they have been treated differently by observers and the court?
  • Is filming someone doing something, when in a state of impairment and possibly a vulnerable situation decent? Who should be being charged here?
  • Why is performing a similar act on yourself in public (I’m guessing with the hands rather than the mouth – but hey I suppose there are some who could pull it off) considered indecent, if someone performing on someone else isn’t??

I’m not sure what the outcome of this case will be but it is certainly an interesting situation to explore the complexity of the performing of sexuality in public and how context might permit certain interpretations of pleasure, power, desire and consent. Perhaps a look at the new guidelines for sexuality education from little old Aotearoa could be helpful here, maybe this couple could benefit from being sentenced to a few night classes…maybe not…certainly wouldn’t want them taking too many bathroom breaks.

I just hope whatever the outcome that no-one in that courtroom mouths ‘you’re going down’.

(Many puns were sacrificed in this blog).

Spectuality

Sex…sexuality, one only has to say the word out loud in a room at a party to know how loaded it is, feel the eyes turn in your direction with a mix of curiosity, intrigue, fear, interest, disgust or suspicion. Perhaps it depends on the kind of party you’re at. Anyway, we like to think our words simply describe our reality they do so much more. Sexuality it is not free human experience it is a captured beast – fenced in linguistically and through various systems such as biology, religion and perhaps one of the more unfortunate containment fields – psychoanalysis.

I’m reading a lot of work by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari at the moment (obvious if you read my last post). They have a lot to say and a unique way of saying it, about the limits of psychoanalysis, especially the work of Freud. Without beating about the bush too much it’s a theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century about the role of the unconscious and in particular the development of sexuality giving western society most of its taken for granted (paranoia) notions of sexual behaviour. I mean really – why are we stuck with concepts developed by a guy who really was obsessed with the role a certain organ while studying people in asylums? In Psychoanalysis everything about human development and human sexuality is defined on whether you have the phallus or ‘lack one’ (female), this more or less fits with the misogynistic ideas around women at the time but we could move on. In the 21st Century, there might be additional words to add to the collection of definitions but as yet the basic assumptions about human sexuality referenced and coded by reproduction (heterosexuality by default), the couple as the central healthy representation of adult sexuality, and bodies must be distinct units with all parts functioning ‘normally’. Desire is also framed as a lack – this needs to go. It simply perpetuates a state of searching for wholeness.

Breaking free requires a radical recoding to break through these well constructed containers. Most people believe in them so strongly that they will fight to maintain them in order to ensure their own security. But I’d like to see them rupture and I have an idea it could come via technology – but not as we know it. What I think needs to happen is a redefinition, a move to ‘spec-tuality’. If bodies were seen more as a set of specifications ‘specs’ like you would with any other machine such as a bike (yeah, sorry had to get that in there) or a computer or other system then the question could become ‘what specs are you running?’ – see it’s way cooler already. We seem really comfortable talking about hardware and software, plug ins, apps, add ons and upgrades with technology. People expect change and try things in combinations without too much angst – ok so there might be some apple vrs the rest of the world kind of thing going on, but there is no electronic bible saying an ipod for and ipod perhaps I am a bit of a pan(asonic)theist.

Human Spec-tuality would enable any combination of intimacy to form without the need to then hold that as the only combination they may experience for the rest of their lives for fear of damaging the brand. There would be no closet – it would have nothing to contain or hide. Specs can change but that does not mean something is missing necessarily or will reduce the functionality of the assemblage of intensity of desire and how that can be experienced.

So whoever is hooking up whether they are bringing the hardware, software or both all that should really matter is the quality of the connection. If it’s any good you should be in the cloud.