Dirty Dozen September Installment: Part 1
Lets read about sex, baby! 3 must read books all about women, sex, and how they fit together.
The other day I was getting coffee with my friend Will, and we were talking about how much we loved riding our bikes this summer. We both gushed about saving money on subway fare, gossiped about which bike lanes we liked best, and grinned as we shared stories about speeding down hills and almost getting hit by cars (don’t worry Mom, I always wear my helmet). As our conversation was winding down, I mentioned what I didn’t like about my bike: men cat calling me out of car windows, men following me in cars, and men beeping at me in cars. Spot a pattern? Will looked at me and said the magic words that only a feminist unicorn dream boy is man enough to admit:
“Man. I forgot that doing literally anything is harder when you’re a woman”
DAMN STRAIGHT, WILL! And that was just bikes! So as you can imagine, navigating sex as a woman is hard, and people don’t talk about it enough. Mae West got put in JAIL for talking about sex for christ’s sake! Luckily, there are AMAZING, SMART, FUNNY, WOMEN (and men) who have made it their jobs to talk about women and sexuality. Here are three books all about women, sex, and how they go together. Mae West would be proud.
FULL DISCLOSER: These books are all on my night table waiting to be read. This being the case, I’m not going to write about these books myself (because who am I to write a book report on something I haven’t read, I already graduated from college, I don’t need to pretend to do that anymore), I’m attaching the original articles that inspired me to purchase these books for myself.
- Action: A Book About Sex, Amy Rose Spiegel
BY JERA BROWN
“From candid discussions about consent and STIs to self-worth and gender identities, as well as helpful how-tos about giving head, fingering, or preparing your bedroom for sexy company, Amy Rose Spiegel’s Action: A Book About Sex is a progressive holistic look at a modern sexuality. It’s complete with autobiographical moments from the Spiegel, a Brooklyn-based writer and former editor of Rookie.
BUST: Your book speaks a lot about resisting traditional scripts of sexuality — ways we’ve been taught sex and dating are “supposed to” go. For instance, we’ve been taught not to talk during sex.
ARS: We’ve been taught not to talk, period! So much of my life was dominated by being concerned that I was being too revealing even when that meant showing the slightest modicum of anything honest about my heart or brain. We are taught especially not to talk during sex because the thinking goes, “Why aren’t you good at it?” or, “Why would you need to? Isn’t this a physical thing?” It seems counterintuitive to certain people to want to discuss it. I think that has to do with the idea that you need to present well during sex or else you’re not a sexy person — the idea of looking and responding in a desirable way. The pictures that we’ve been given of that often don’t include respectful talking.
So, when the scripts are flimsy or poorly architected, what do you do then? I like when people write and speak about sex because it’s a proliferation of scripts and you can pick and choose, put on and slough off.
BUST: We’re taught that our insecurities aren’t sexy. Cis women are also told we’re too much.
ARS: Non-cis women are told they’re too much far more than cis women. A girlfriend confided she feels afraid of being a trans woman who is really particular about her wants and needs when it comes to verbiage, pronouns, and experiences. But of course it’s okay for her to do that — or not, if she feels safer not doing that — and it wouldn’t make her “too much.”
I think cis women are absolutely told we’re too much. As a cis woman relating to a man, especially, you can feel that “too-muchness” bearing down on your shoulders. You can feel every Vanity Fair article about “how boys only like porn” whispering to you. Sometimes I’m flabbergasted by my propensity for briefly taking that into account as a serious thing.
The idea of being too much or outside of what is acceptable or comfortable for somebody else is a strange illusory fixture because not only is it not real, but you can never get it right. There’s no way of mastering whatever it is you think you’d have to reduce; you’d just have to keep reducing forever.
BUST: I found it really helpful to just read that it’s not gross to queef.
ARS: It’s not! Grossness to me is not a thing that I’m assigning to any effluvia and/or sound that’s happening. It’s what you’re supposed to feel about it and deciding to feel another way about it.
BUST: Or sloppy blowjobs.
ARS: Yo, people love them! You think it’s unseemly to make noise or whatever, but certain people are all about that. People feel all kinds of ways about things and none of it is in your control.
BUST: When you were talking about open relationships, you explained that being in one helped you to “redistribute” your self-worth apart from your relationship. What else have you been finding to base your self-worth on particularly as it relates to love?
ARS: The Greek playwright Aristophanes believed every person is casting about for their perfect other. There was this Rookie theme called “A World of Our Own,” where we thought about that feeling in depth. “A world of our own” means you and someone else are partners. You have a secret way of being; you fit together in a way you don’t fit with the rest of the world. I wanted that with everyone: the old lady at church, or my butcher who is one of my favorite people, or my cousins, sisters, and friends. I realized that to make each and every person into an individual pillar on which all of my hopes and interpersonal ideas of value rest is not fair or kind or unrealistic.
The mindset in open relationships can really be applied to everything in my life. The more diversity of character and presence in everything that I care about, the better the whole is — the whole just being my life, as well as the smaller wholes that work within it.
I’m no longer an Aristophanes motherfucker.
BUST: Action is an intimate book. How do you balance vulnerability and self-protection in your interpersonal relationships and in your writing?
ARS: I felt more powerful in a traditional sense when I didn’t ever talk about myself. I wrote about myself not in a dishonest way, but in a way that was very self-contained. I had a phrase I often thought of, that I was sending out a lamb of myself for slaughter. If the lamb gets slaughtered, you don’t send out the rest. Even though I was giving people a little, I wasn’t actually giving them much that was close to what I actually felt. I felt really lonely and alienated from the world, and that was all self-imposed. It wasn’t that anyone was misunderstanding me, I just wasn’t giving them much to understand because I was so concerned with keeping myself private. Then, I’d look around and go, “How come no one knows me?” Like, c’mon, that’s so unrealistic.
So I tried to become more vulnerable, and I have to go about doing that without applying potential consequences. If I go about being vulnerable in a way where I’m wondering if this person won’t like me or if it’ll undercut my work, I’m seeing vulnerability inherently as a bad thing. In confluence with that, I have to start thinking about the inverse: how might vulnerability enhance my life and my relationships with other people. I want other people to feel like they can be vulnerable with me. I feel like sending out a lamb is still a good way of going about things, but I just try to make sure the lamb is actually representative of what I’m about and what I believe.
BUST: So you still send out a lamb.
ARS: Because some people don’t mean to hurt you, but they can. You need to be sure that you’re safe in some situations before you can really be all the way vulnerable. That’s especially true in certain scenarios if you identify a certain way or are a certain race. The world teaches you to be cautious sometimes in very unfortunate ways, but the most powerful thing you can do for yourself is have that inner store of what you really want and what’s important to you. If I am scared of what other people will disagree with or malign or think is dumb or corny about me, then I’m reinforcing that I think they are too. I don’t want that for myself or anyone else.
BUST: In this crazy violent world right now, where does sex fit in? Why do you think Action is important right now?
ARS: No matter how hard things are to digest sociopolitically, every person has a real responsibility to themselves to try and enjoy their lives regardless of the constraints placed on them. Given the world we live in, that will be inherently easier for some people. Especially if you’re involved in the identities that are being policed, you deserve it all the more to make yourself happy and be kind to the people you love in any way you can. I think that it is so affirming and almost medicinal to feel connectivity with other people outside of the looming dread imposed on you by the state or people in your life who are fuckheads or whatever, whenever you can. This is inherently easier for white, straight, male people, but the idea that they are the only people who deserve pleasure, because they say so, is one worth jettisoning.
Having relationships with people that you like or love or even enjoy in a minute way…every time you do that, that’s thrashing against what other people wish that you had, which is often less than that. No matter how you’re doing it — sex: optional!
When it becomes clear to you in certain situations that people don’t want you to be free or happy, you have to make freedom and happiness for yourself however you can, and you have to share it, and that’s I think why the book matters to me.”
2) Girls & Sex: Naviagting The Complicated New Landscape, Peggy Orenstein
‘Girls & Sex’ And The Importance Of Talking To Young Women About Pleasure
aired on Fresh Air
“Author Peggy Orenstein says that when it comes to sexuality, girls today are receiving mixed messages. Girls hear that “they’re supposed to be sexy, they’re supposed to perform sexually for boys,” Orenstein tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “but that their sexual pleasure is unspoken.”
While researching her new book, Girls & Sex, Orenstein spoke with more than 70 young women between the ages of 15 and 20 about their attitudes and early experiences with the full range of physical intimacy.
She says that pop culture and pornography sexualize young women by creating undue pressure to look and act sexy. These pressures affect both the sexual expectations that girls put on themselves and the expectations boys project onto them.
Orenstein adds that girls she spoke to were often navigating between being considered “slutty” or a “prude,” and that their own desires were often lost in the shuffle. Girls, Orenstein says, are being taught to please their partners without regard to their own desires.
“When I would talk to girls, for instance, about oral sex, that was something that they were doing from a pretty young age, and it tended to go one way [and not be reciprocated],” Orenstein explains.
She recommends that parents examine the messages they send regarding girls and sexuality. “One of the things that I really took away from this research, is the absolute importance of not just talking about [girls] as victims, or not just talking about them as these new aggressors, but really surfacing these ideas of talking clearly and honestly to girls about their own desires and their own pleasures,” she says.
On the silence surrounding girls’ genitals
Parents don’t tend to name their infant baby’s genitals if they’re girls. For boys, they’ll say, “Here’s your nose, here’s your shoulders, here’s your waist, here’s your pee pee,” whatever. But with girls, there’s this sort of blank space — it’s right from navel to knees, and not naming something makes it quite literally unspeakable.
Then they go into puberty education class, and girls have periods and unwanted pregnancy, and you see only the inside anatomy — that thing that looks like a steer head, with the ovaries and everything — and then it grays out between the legs, so we never talk about the vulva, we never talk about the clitoris. Very few girls explore, there’s no self-knowledge, and then they go into their sexual experiences and we expect them to be able to have some sense of entitlement, some sense of knowledge, to be able to assert themselves, to have some sense of equality, and it’s just not realistic that that’s going to happen.
On whether kids are having more sex at a younger age, and the prevalence of oral sex
Kids are not having intercourse at a younger age, and they’re not having more intercourse than they used to. They are engaging in other forms of sexual behavior, younger and more often. And one of the things that I became really clear on was that we have to broaden our definition of sex, because by ignoring and denying these other forms of sexual behavior that kids are engaging in, we are opening the door to a lot of risky behavior, and we are opening the door to a lot of disrespect. …
[Oral sex] is considered to be less intimate than intercourse, and something that girls say repeatedly to me would be, “It’s no big deal.” There’s an argument that some of the girls have in the book about exactly what it is. Is it sex? Is it not sex? Is it no big deal? … It was something that they felt that they could do that boys expected — that they could do to not have to do something else. It was a way that they could cultivate popularity, it was a way that they felt — interestingly, they would talk about feeling more in control than if it was reciprocal. …
They felt it was safer sex, which is true and not true, because the rates of STDs have actually shot up among teenagers, even though the rates of intercourse have not, because they think that oral sex is safer sex and things like gonorrhea are spreading much more quickly.
On talking to girls about their partners not reciprocating oral sex
I started saying, “Look, what if every time you were with a guy, he told you to go get him a glass of water from the kitchen and he never offered to get you a glass of water. Or if he did he’d say, “Ugh, you want me to get you a glass of water?” You would never stand for it! Girls, they would bust out laughing when I said that, and they’d say, “Oh, I never thought about it that way.” I thought, well, maybe you should if you think that being asked repeatedly to give someone a glass of water without reciprocation is less insulting than being asked to perform a sexual act over and over. …
On what “hooking up” means
It can mean anything. It can mean kissing, it can mean intercourse, it can mean any other form of sexual interplay. It really is a nonphrase. But what the hookup culture means, I mean, kids did not invent casual sex, right? But what has changed is the idea that casual sex is the pathway to a relationship, that sex is a precursor rather than a function of intimacy and affection. …
[In college] pretty much if you didn’t want to stay home with microwave popcorn calling your parents, especially for freshmen and sophomores, that was kind of what they did. They went out, they got drunk, they hooked up.
On drinking and hookup culture
Hookup culture, particularly, it’s not just lubricated by alcohol anymore — it’s completely dependent on it. One sociologist told me that alcohol was what created this compulsory carelessness, so that it was a way to signal that the sex that they were having was meaningless. Alcohol, it was almost like it had replaced mutual attraction as kind of reason in and of itself to have sex, so it was a way to not care. It was a way to say, “We’re just doing this for one night.”
What was tricky was that both the thing that is held out — for college students in particular but high school students, too — as “fun,” which is getting drunk and hooking up, also facilitated assault, because alcohol is really the №1 date drug. … We talk a lot about girls drinking and reducing girls drinking, and I think it’s very important to talk to girls about the particular effects of alcohol on their bodies, because drink for drink, we get drunker faster than boys do.
We can’t forget to talk about the impact of alcohol on boys, because we know that alcohol at best loosens inhibitions, it reduces a person’s ability to read social cues, it gives young men who might not otherwise have it — courage is probably the wrong word, but the courage, I guess, to commit an assault, or to ignore “no,” and tend to be more aggressive when they do. Alcohol also makes boys less likely to step in as bystanders when they see something occurring, than they would be if they were sober. So we really have to address both sides of this equation if we want to reduce assault.
On the notion of multiple “virginities”
One girl said to me, “Usually the opposite of a negative is a positive, but when you’re talking about girls and sex, the opposite of slut is prude, both of which are negative. So what are you supposed to do?” So they’re always trying to walk this line where they’re not considered slutty, but they’re not considered too [much of a] prude. It’s an ever-shifting kind of dynamic, so part of that was getting rid of virginity, which often was something they did drunk, not necessarily with someone they cared that much about, and you really have to ask, is that really experience? Is the person who rushes toward intercourse wasted getting more experience than the person who spends three hours making out with a partner sober and exploring ideas about sexual tension and pleasure and what feels good? We have this weird idea, and I think that our emphasis on virginity right now is not doing girls any favors, and of course it also completely disregards gay girls.
One of the things that was really great was in talking to a gay girl, I asked her, “When did you think that you had lost your virginity?” And she said, “Well, you know, I really have thought a lot about that, and I’m not really sure.” She gave a few different answers and then she said, “You know what I think? I think a girl loses her virginity when she has her first orgasm with a partner.” And it completely knocked me out. I thought, “Wow.” I know we’re not going to dismantle the idea of virginity, but what if we could broaden it to think that there’s multiple virginities, and what if that was one of them? That would totally shift our ideas of how we thought about girls and boys and sex.”
3) Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
Source: New York Times
Aziz Ansari’s ‘Modern Romance’ Explores Dating in the Digital Age
by Sarah Lyall
“Everyone with a cellphone and a romantic life knows how swiftly and viciously the phone can turn against you. One minute, it’s a blameless communication device; the next, it’s a toxic incubator of second-guessing and self-loathing. You think you’re a reasonable person; suddenly, you’re obsessing over how to respond properly to a 2 a.m. text from a crush whose only communication after three days of silence reads, in its entirety, “wsup.”
Aziz Ansari feels your pain. He knows how unpleasant it is to stare impotently at a screen waiting for a message that never arrives, how undignified it is to apply a French deconstructionist’s fervor to the analysis of an illiterate string of unpunctuated words. Once, he writes in his new book, “Modern Romance,” a would-be girlfriend’s failure to respond to his effortfully insouciant text sent him spinning helplessly into a “tornado of panic and hurt and anger.”
The hours slouched by. “I’m so stupid!” he writes. “I should have typed ‘Hey’ with two y’s, not just one!” Later: “Did Tanya’s phone fall into a river/trash compactor/volcano? Did Tanya fall into a river/trash compactor/volcano?? Oh no, Tanya has died.” (Oh no, in fact — Tanya just doesn’t feel like answering.)
This is the first book by Mr. Ansari, a stand-up comedian best known for playing Tom Haverford, a hopeless Lothario and jauntily deluded entrepreneur, on the late, great television show “Parks and Recreation.” He decided to write it after he brought up the Tanya debacle in a comedy routine and got to thinking, he says, about the universality of his experience, about “how and why the whole culture of finding love and a mate has radically changed” in the modern era.
What is texting doing to our lives? What has sexting done to Anthony Weiner’s life? Why is it O.K. for women to send photos of their breasts to men they barely know? (Why is it O.K. for authors to call breasts “boobs”?) How likely are you to introduce someone you met on Tinder to your parents? Why do Japanese men avoid women but go to bed with the Tenga, “a single-use silicone egg” that they “fill with lubricant and masturbate inside?” What is it with men, anyway?
Mr. Ansari, who is 32 and now enjoys a healthy textual relationship with a steady girlfriend, might not be the first person who springs to mind when it comes to dispensing romantic advice. But he is as good a guide as any. He’s old enough to remember what life was like in the era before cellphones, yet young enough to understand the point of Snapchat, a disappearing-image app beloved by the young and only vaguely understood by everyone else. Better still, he has a knack for getting people to talk to him and a sense of what to do to fill out a book that could easily have felt too thin or anemic.
“Modern Romance” is full of actual data; as Mr. Ansari puts it, “I also knew that I, bozo comedian Aziz Ansari, probably couldn’t tackle this topic on my own.” So he enlisted Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, whose own book, “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” might at first glance make him, too, seem like an iffy prospect as a dating authority.
But Mr. Ansari and Mr. Klinenberg applied rigor and seriousness to their subject. Their energetic research program included focus groups and interviews with hundreds of people in New York; Los Angeles; Wichita, Kan.; Monroe, N.Y.; Tokyo; Paris; and Doha, Qatar. They set up a discussion forum on the social networking site Reddit; interviewed experts; consulted books on sociology, psychology and human behavior; and dug up sober academic studies about current dating trends.
The result is a sprightly, easygoing hybrid of fact, observation, advice and comedy, with Mr. Klinenberg, presumably, supplying the medicine — graphs, charts, statistics and the like — and Mr. Ansari dispensing the spoonfuls of sugar that help it go down. “Damn, dude, shorten the names of your studies!” he writes, having just cited a report called “Couples’ Shared Participation in Novel and Arousing Activities and Experienced Relationship Quality.”
I could have done without some of the statistics and studies, frankly, but they were broken into digestible chunks and so slid by easily. The best part of “Modern Romance” comes when Mr. Ansari and his team get people to share the most embarrassing aspects of their romantic quests: the dorky text (“I wanted to say hi and sort of ‘texty’ introduce myself. Haha. :),” writes one unfortunate fellow); the bad personal-ad photograph; the guys who seem great but turn out to be married or criminals. “I Googled my date,” one woman says on the Reddit forum. “According to a weekly synagogue newsletter, he and his wife were hosting a Torah class for children the same day as our date.”
We learn about the perverse phenomenon wherein people spend weeks texting or messaging potential partners and then just stop texting altogether, “without actually going on a date.” We learn the answer to one of the puzzling questions of our time: Why millennials do not like to answer the phone. Here it is, according to a woman they talked to: “Phone calls suck and they give me anxiety.”
They talk to people who live in big cities who are paralyzed by choice, and people who live in small communities who cannot seem to meet people their friends haven’t already met. “It’s like a cesspool,” says a woman from upstate New York. “Everybody has slept with each other.”
Perhaps there is some comfort in the realization that all of us have done mortifying things in the pursuit of romance. It does not take a cellphone to humiliate yourself, as my friend Jackie and I did in elementary school, by leaving a heart-shaped note saying, “Dear Lover Boy, We Love You. Signed, Anonymous” at the house of a boy we both liked. (We did not remain anonymous for long.)
As Mr. Ansari says — after exhorting us to use technology wisely; to get out of the house and meet real people; and to wait decent, nondesperate-seeming intervals before returning text messages — “The main thing I’ve learned from this research is that we’re all in it together.” ”