Q&A: Sexual Debut + Conservative Background = Help!

I’m a 20-something penis-owner who hasn’t yet made his sexual debut. I grew up in an environment that was pretty conservative and repressive, so issues around sexuality were taboo. I’ve since made a conscious effort to fight this conditioning, but I still feel somewhat uncomfortable around sex. Do you have any resources you would suggest to someone who wants to learn more – how to do it, how to reach orgasm, how to help partners reach orgasm, how to do sex in context of healthy relationships?

Hey Anon! Thanks for reaching out!

I made my sexual debut with a partner at 19, so my first comment would be don’t stress about the age bit (if that was even a concern in the first place). Before my first partner, though, I had fulfilling sexual experiences with myself, so I’d like to highlight the positives that solo-play can bring about. Knowing more about one’s own body—how it feels, how it responds, what things are good/bad—can help immensely when it comes to reaching orgasm with a partner, or even just having a discussion about it. (The second piece is all about communication, but I’ll get to that later). I also think that as a society, we should start acknowledging that solo sexuality can still be gratifying for those who practice it, and it’s not like a person’s “sex-life” begins once another person pops into the picture…but anyway.

As someone who grew up under the Jehova’s Witnesses practice (read: a SUPER conservative Christian denomination), I was educated in the ways of “sex before marriage is wrong,” “homosexuality is a sin,” and all that came with that. I even overheard a conversation where it was said that “masturbation is just like losing your virginity—you are no longer pure after that.” (Oops. I was already touching myself by then, so that was awkward.) Somehow, though, I didn’t end up completely shame- and guilt-ridden the rest of my life. I also know a lot of folks who were raised in very conservative families and came out the other end feeling various degrees of sexual empowerment, so I’m sure you can achieve that as well. Hopefully the following resources can help!

The first place I’d like to point you toward would be the website for one of the places where I work: The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. That is just CHOCK full of information (check out the Pleasure tab, too, which has info about positive porn, lubricants, toys, and more). Within that site/organization, specifically, I’d say check out the Q&A section here. It’s all questions people have submitted, and I think some of them might be helpful in your situation. Here are the main ones:

  1. Climaxing is not always the goal in sexual interactions, but when it is, you want to make sure it happens! So what to do when you have difficulty? This Q&A answers just that for penis-owners.
  2. On that note, not all people with penises masturbate in the same ways or want their penises touched in the same styles! Here are some tips/tricks for solo stimulation that can also be employed in various ways during sex with partners.
  3. A big question (pardon the pun) that many penis-owners have is around penis size and its impact on sex/relationships. That gets addressed here!
  4. In terms of sexual debut and just general sex-having, anal sex might be on the menu at some point, so it’s important to learn about that and prepare beforehand before just soldiering on, especially if you don’t have lube on hand.
  5. Something that might also help is reading about sex-positive spaces and being around sex-positive people, whose perspective on sex (ideally) could balance/counterpoint your conditioning. However, for someone from a conservative background, entering such a space could be weird or even super uncomfortable, so here are some tips on being more comfortable in sex-positive spaces, and even how to FIND those spaces in the first place.
  6. How do I get my partner to be more sexually adventurous? – This one could help you “talk to yourself” or even articulate things to a partner if you discover you have wishes that might be a bit outside of the mainstream.
  7. If you’re interested in vibrators and toys, this is a good intro for when you’re considering/picking something out.
  8. Someone wrote us because they had strong feelings to their partner’s past experiences, and felt insecure when comparing themselves to their partners’ past lovers. We gave some advice about how to deal with that and communicate those feelings. As someone who might make a sexual debut with another person who has already had partners before, this could be helpful to you.
  9. Sometimes penis-owners lose their erections and wonder why that happened. There are many reasons, and though this Q&A was directed at a person whose partner was the penis-owner, I think it’s important for everyone to read.

My second big resource would be Charlie Glickman’s work, and specifically, the “shame” tag on his prolific blog. He writes a lot about shame and the related situations/feelings, as well as how to recognize, deal with, and overcome them. He has many years in the sexuality education field, and his dissertation was all about sexuality and shame, so he knows what he’s talking about ten times over.

The healthy relationship part of your question I could write about forever and still have things to say, so I’m going to write a separate entry about it in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Notes on Fetishizing People

I’ve recently been part of some conversations about attraction where the following questions/ideas have come up–“am I a chaser? am I fetishizing a community if I’m attracted to its members? is this terrible? is this something I need to think further about? can’t I just say I like XYZ and have it be that, with no ulterior motive? we all have fetishes [here on Fetlife] and some of those things are actions or body parts or people, or IDs…”

There’s a difference between
(a) liking a person’s appearance/body and appreciating it sexually/aesthetically 
and (b) placing value solely or primarily on that person’s body/appearance/identity category.
In (b), the person’s story, their life, their individuality is not of primary concern. It is less important than the “hot” identity that makes a person want them. This is also tied to someone having particular ideas about that identity (enter stereotypes!), which increase the desire and do not depend on reality, but on a fictional set of ideas and narratives about a person’s identity.

There are things we might find hot, but we should still interrogate those desires a bit more closely because so often they’re deeply entwined with racist, misogynistic, [insert ID]-st shit and they deserve a closer look. Really analyzing our desires, I think, can also serve to clarify them better for ourselves as well as for potential partners. For example, liking transwomen can be a thing for many reasons–it could be something about the history of transness, or the presumed/assumed anatomy, or it can be about finding someone similar/likewise trans*, or it’s an assumed attitude, the list goes on. What are you attracted to within the demographics you say you like? Are you attracted to women? To masculinity? To femininity? To genderqueerness? To men? To people with lots of hair regardless of what’s in their pants? The list can go on…

Personally, it can be tough for me to interact with people that I know fetishize some aspect of me. Random example–people who love “BBW” (Big Beautiful Women)! Personally, if I were approached by a self-identified “BBW fetishist” I’d probably give them some major side-eye because my experiences seeing that community deal with its attraction to fat bodies has been pretty sketchy in parts, and pretty objectifying. Ditto to someone who loves “Latin@s.” I’d question their motives, their interests, and their desires. I’d ask myself what about me are they stereotyping? Why is my Latinidad important to them? Is it something they wanna celebrate with me or is it something they want to keep out of sight and out of mind (and thus is easy to do because I don’t have an accent and am light-skinned)?

I think stuff like this can happen with any ID “category” (even things like…”gamer”), but it’s just exceptionally complicated and potentially hurtful to people when it’s around identity categories that put that person through shit and other people use to oppress them. Being a person of color or being queer or being fat are not “neutral identities”–they are loaded one that have been previously (and currently!) deployed to control people.

Finally, this conversation this also relates to (but is not the same as) being attracted to someone for how they are perceived and not how they actually identify, or ignoring a piece of someone’s ID because they can “pass” as something else that’s less “problematic.” For example, someone only/primarily being attracted to folks who appear/”act” white, regardless of actual cultural/racial/ethnic background, or someone being attracted to trans* folks that can pass as cis for whatever reason.

Pain vs. Harm (and some other thoughts)

Via Nonzer0 (which you should check out because it’s fantastic).  
Emphasis mine. 
——

From my limited experience:
Pain is different from harm. Whether the two coincide often has to do with intention or context–the pain felt during childbirth is processed and experienced differently (and usually not as psychic or emotional harm, even if the body is injured) whereas an equal amount of physical pain felt when being tortured in someone’s basement or in a POW camp I would guess is much more likely to be harmful.

In less dramatic senses, I think there is more risk of harm when we are acting out of any sort of malice, retributive anger, hatred, resentment, defensiveness, aggression–anything that Yoda would put on the dark side of the force.
This purtains to kink in that, when it is done in a “safe, sane, consensual” manner, one of the intentions may be to cause pain–physical or emotional–but not to harm. Anyone who wants to do you lasting damage isn’t someone that it would be healthy for most people to get kinky with. A good top, when you are not “playing” with power or other kink stuff but doing something more serious, is more like a spiritual guide, knowing when to push and when to slow down, open to feedback, offering support and encouragement when necessary, with steady love beneath whatever else is going on or whatever the expression of it is (you know I don’t necessarily mean romantic love). And in this context, the sub has the opportunity to experience and confront some of the things we struggle most with as humans– perhaps, physical pain, which she will learn is easiest when one surrendors to it or accepts it wholely; mentally, humiliation–which can be an joyful release from selfhood, an entry into intense trance states, a way of taking the ego and breaking it against a rock, failure or guilt–which, in going into fully in the safety of the setting she will learn to fear less in daily life, and to meet fully when it arises, her psychic and physical limitiations–which may help release her from some of the perfectionism conditioned into us by our culture, fear–which she will become intimate with and learn to and enjoy, create for herself the tool of imbuing the terrible with the erotic thus helping her to face it, to make it bearable.

It is a grounds, perhaps most of all, for giving and recieving unconditional love. There is incredible risk on both sides to exposing “shadow” sides, in asking for obedience or giving it, in giving a command or following it. The scene can exist only when both parties conspire together, are in it together. And it is amazing, to humiliate oneself completely in front of someone, to for a period of time exist in a state of utter trust and let someone cause you pain without trying to escape, and instead of leaving, the person stays, appreciates, loves you all the more. And the top, I would guess, has a reciprocal experience–to demand, inflict, command, humiliate, and still be loved. It’s breath-taking, isn’t it?
The difference between this and actual abuse has much to do with explicit consent and intention. Abuse often comes from intentions to harm, defend, protect, intimidate. Kink, in good situations, comes from intentions to expand and open emotionally and experientially, to achieve intimacy, to give and recieve love, and often includes inflicting pain in the service of these things.
Of course some people use kink to channel hatred of various sorts, or to put themselves in harm’s (rather than pain’s) way, and in those scenarios, there is great potential to damage all involved. But in the best cases, sex can become a pretext, a means, a background, or simply a component of a deeply intimate, alchemical process.

Being a Woman: The Male Gaze and Saying No

In response to this (blog entry that just has an embedded video) and this:

The author here grosses me out.

That guy isn’t real. Somebody decided to make him up so they could write the “write fuck me on your chest and smile” line, claiming female = victim and that somehow, if only men would understand and be sensitive to this, it would be okay.

Most men aren’t anything like this guy, and for the rest of us the author has done nothing to improve our understanding of “what it’s like to be a woman.” If the author were listening, I’d respond: “Being a grownup means taking the fuck me sign off your chest and telling people ‘no’ or ‘piss off’ whenever necessary.”

Giving a reality check to a straw man, kind of annoying.

—————-

I see where the commenter is coming from, but I think it’s a *very* shallow reading of that clip. The message I got from this video/scene was different. Writing “fuck me” on his chest would be about drawing a parallel between the symbolic gesture and the reality of inhabiting a woman’s body–a body that is unfortunately read by some as “willing” just by virtue of being female. If the guy had actually gone out with the FUCK ME on his chest, it wouldn’t have been the same thing/feeling…but it wasn’t about him actually doing it. It was about showing the parallel between that and walking around with an INVISIBLE (yet oh so visible) marker of “oh yeah, sure, fuck me, that’s great, I really want it from you, thank you.”

A man walking naked with FUCK ME on his chest would be seen as abnormal, whereas a woman just walking around would not be. Violence against women is perpetrated because it’s, in a way, normalized. This is the narrative that we’ve been given; people assuming a naked man with FUCK ME scrawled on his chest wants and is ready for sex is not realistic, but people assuming a woman walking down the street wants and is ready for sex IS realistic. This whole scene is about the psychological impact; it’s about the female character trying to show this man how it feels by creating a “story” that APPROXIMATES that feeling. Taking that story to reality wouldn’t work, but THINKING about it and thinking about what it MEANS would certainly make an impact.

Woman is not inherently “victim,” but the truth is that in society, many times there is a strong correlation between the two. And if it’s not “victim,” it’s still the receiving end of violence, be it symbolic, physical, or both. And that being said…yeah–if only men could understand and be sensitive to the realities of living in a body marked as “female,” we would probably have less scenarios like this. A man would be way less likely to invade a woman’s privacy like what happened on The L Word if he understood how that shit felt. A man would be less likely to leer at a woman and think it’s okay to grab her ass if he understood how that felt. Obviously it would only be a start. Someone’s knowledge doesn’t predict what they will do with it.

But the thing is, there’s no real way to understand, FULLY understand, unless one has lived through it. Anything else is just an assumption, removed to a certain degree, or a sympathetic thought. No one can TRULY and wholly understand or “feel” what someone else is feeling. We have approximations, yes, and a “common language,” yes, but these are only approximations. Still, these approximations are valuable–very valuable. They’re the closest we have to the real thing, and they are important. And even if we can’t feel exactly what someone else has felt, there are probably huge overlaps, and we can sympathize and find solidarity.

Finally, the “…telling people ‘no’ or ‘piss off’ whenever necessary” comment? Telling people “no” or to “piss off” when necessary is a right (and sort of one’s duty to a certain extent), but to have that right respected? A totally different ballgame. Women usually don’t have the privilege of not having to worry that their “no” may not be respected or even taken seriously. Saying “no” doesn’t necessitate or equal a respect of that “no.” Just because a woman screams NO and fights back, does that mean a rapist will stop raping her? Just because we say NO, does that mean a mugger will suddenly return all our money and leave us alone? Just because a NO is necessary doesn’t mean it will WORK. There are various situations when saying NO just isn’t enough.

And sure, most men aren’t like the guy in the video, who will set up cameras all over your house…but that’s not the point. Most men aren’t rapists, or murderers, or robbers–but we still have to talk about those that are, and represent them in the media, and show that they exist. We still have to show that women are hurt, not to normalize that violence, but to show the realities of the world and that they are NOT ACCEPTABLE. We have to put these things in the forefront so people cannot ignore them, so people have to acknowledge them and get educated and DO something about it. The fact that a (presumably) Average Joe (whatever that is) cannot relate at all to this clip and feels that it provides NO insight into how it feels to be a woman is VERY distressing to me.

Addendum: By this post, I don’t mean to say that ALL women are a certain way or feel a certain way. No monolithic understandings of men and women apply. Kthx.

The Need for Cyborg Feminism

“For transsexuals and intersexuals, transhumanism is a real, visceral, day-to-day lived philosophy. Yet the technology, while liberating in that it allows better transitions every year and provides better medical support for those who have transitioned and those born in-between, has not changed the social norms that entrap and restrict trans and intersex individuals. Because of that failure, we need a philosophy of social change, one that is built upon the discourse of dissolving cultural norms, of countering social standards and undermining hegemonic power. Transhumanism can articulate the technologies, the potential selves, the unlimited beings we can be, but it needs cyberfeminism to prepare the way, to alter the politics and deconstruct the norms of culture and society that would bind technoscience to mindsets of the past. Transhumanism and cyberfeminism are complimentary philosophies that, when united, are capable of driving the technological development, political change, and societal progress necessary for both to be successful.”

Written by: Kyle Munkittrick (full article HERE)

Defining Relationships & Breakups: Musings & Ramblings

Part of a journal entry I wrote like 3 months ago,
when these thoughts were fresh and raw in my mind.
A bunch of stuff has been added and subtracted
for the sake of clarity/elaboration

(and of not being too personal :P).

Generally, just because people go through rough patches or “more friendliness than mad desire” patches, they don’t just break up. However, what if one’s not enmeshed in what’s considered a traditional romantic relationship (or even a traditional breakup)? What if there was no big and official “want to be my girl/boy/x-friend?” What if there’s no “finality” to a split and there’s always the hazy possibility of somehow getting back together on any/some level? How does one define a breakup there? What exactly is there to break off, first of all? “How do you ground that which is ungroundable?” (shameless South Park reference; goth episode) If a couple hasn’t created a set boundary around them that they can just topple if the need arises; if they haven’t wrapped themselves with ropes that can be severed if shit comes to that…

Sometimes the words “breaking up” aren’t even uttered, and the shift in a relationship begins its demarcation through the “Uh-oh, where do we go from here?” An answer to such a question–particularly in the case where both sides wish to remain friendly and are breaking up for non-spiteful/dramatic reasons–would probably consist of defining expectations (or a lack thereof, which I think is an expectation in itself, anyway) and talking about how the involved parties would interact with each other “post-breakupwhateverthisis” more than anything else. “The Talk” in such a case would not be about about not seeing each other again, or “breaking up,” or anything of the sort. It would be about the repercussions of such a decision–the ACTIONS that would come as a result, and thus, it would involve setting clear expectations and boundaries, essentially redefining the relationship. Or something like that. Because sometimes, some people don’t like boundaries and expectations, or have little regard for their own, so that makes things at once easier and a thousand times more difficult for the other party. But I digress.

Even the words BREAKING UP sound a little harsh, no? The connotation of rupturing something, of violence, of pain. In Spanish (at least where I’m from), it would be more like “we left each other” or “X left me; I left X.” It’s more about the act of separation than a violence of breaking something (off) or someone being left in pieces. Then again, saying “s0-and-so left me” sounds really sad, too, so I guess I’m just focusing on the “mutual” terms–“we broke up” and “nos dejamos.” Maybe it’s just my experience, but to ME, “nos dejamos” sounds way less “explosive” than “we broke up.” I guess a more neutral way of putting it in English could be “we’re no longer seeing each other” or “we’re no longer together” even if those aren’t literally accurate (especially the former). Meh.

With that in mind, explaining a breakup is so strange, especially because a lot of people usually expect it to be a shitshow–crying fits, pints of ice-cream on Friday nights, awkward drunken dialing weeks afterward, gossip smacktalk, people begging to be taken back, keys scratching sides of cars, spiteful exes…DRAMA. If it’s not that, some people just wait on the sidelines, waiting for the shit to hit the fan (or someone’s head). This is…sometimes realistic? Since breaking up IS often a messy affair, I guess? But it’s also detrimental, I think. Having one’s friends constantly waiting for one’s ex to fuck it up? When a breakup “goes well,” having friends say “just wait” because “your ex is going to shit on your head”? Like…no. That’s not helpful. I understand where it’s coming from, but it just seems so negative to stand there waiting for bad shit (especially when the people doing are not even the ones who broke up, but their friends). It’s good to be realistic and acknowledge the possibility that parties involved in a breakup may turn to asshattery, but the perverse “waiting for it with an expectant smile” seems unhealthy to me. It’s no longer being realistic; it’s being pessimistic and masochistic. I think a better approach would be to say “yes, shit may hit the fan, and we’ll deal with it when/if it does, but for NOW, let’s just deal with what’s on our plate at the moment and not get ahead of ourselves.”

So, in the case of a “non-traditional” breakup (regardless of why it’s non-traditional and all the “but what does traditional even MEAN?” whatnot), especially one that is more about redefining a relationship than cutting it off entirely, the whole language and connotations surrounding “breakups,” I feel, are inadequate. But maybe that’s just me.

Moving on a bit–defining (or not?) relationships based on their little spurts and little individual moments is not something I’m used to–like, “we don’t have a label, but oh, today we’re more like romantic partners, and oh, today I feel more like ‘just’ friends.” That can work…but it also has its pitfalls. I like having that safe blanket-statement that covers and defines as a WHOLE what a relationship is. I’ll admit, it feels liberating and wonderful to NOT have that definition, because sometimes there’s just no need for it. But sometimes…it’s good and useful and safe to have it. But…relationships are fluid, I guess, and things do change, so an inherent label fluidity there is also useful. BUT what if the two people aren’t on the same plane and don’t talk about it? Pain and angst can ensue. However, that can be curbed with open, constant communication so one person doesn’t think “oh we’re together” when another thinks “oh we’re just friends” or something like that. I guess both have their pros and cons. The key to all of them is still communication, though, and NOT just making assumptions all the time.

Still, I do think that those blanket-statements can be good; they define the commitment the two people have toward each other, y’know? Regardless of how individual interactions play out, there is an underlying base there. If it ever needs to change, it CAN, but it allows the couple to operate under a certain set of assumptions and expectations (they define) while the label is in place. For example, within a marriage, there will probably be an ebb and flow of erotic desire and all that jazz, but underneath that, there is a commitment and there is a love and there is a fixed label. That’s the point I’m trying to get across. Just because the romance isn’t always there doesn’t mean there is NOTHING there at ALL. But in order to have those blanket-statements…one would have to pinpoint the place(s) where a relationship morphed from something into something else. How did a couple move from acquaintances to people who had sex with each other / friends to people with a more emotional…I don’t even know? And…fixed labels are such a terrible idea anyway…lol. I guess what I’m saying is that those “fixed” labels (such as wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend) require an acknowledgment of some sort of transition between spaces/other labels and NECESSITATE those distinctions in the first place.

Those fixed labels provide some form of “security” and “proof of underlying commitment.” However, they can mean whatever one wants them to mean, I guess (e.g. for some, a serious relationship implies exclusivity, but for others it doesn’t)…so the terms are devoid of inherent and universal meaning (nothing new there?), except for the implication that there is SOME sort of relationship there…and thus I guess it works out fine in the end, as long as one approaches the terms and labels in such a fashion and acknowledges how they work (or don’t).

So where does one draw the line between a lover and a friend, though? (And now I’m obviously going to be speaking for myself and my own desires, expectations, and boundaries) That’s the thing. 🙂 I don’t know. Before, it was easy. It was easy because my definition of love was pretty much singular. Now that my conception of what love is/can be is broader, it’s harder to draw little lines between things like “lovers” and “friends.” I mean, my lovers ARE friends, but not all my friends are lovers…so is the only difference the sex? What about FWBs? Those can be friends AND lovers, but lack a certain…spark, I guess. Is it a lack of sexual/emotional/romantic commitment and/or desire? Maybe. I think that’s part of the key. Who knows. The difference between love and in love under my new parameters? These things are all fuzzier now that I’ve embraced a more non-monogamous perspective, too. If before I might have defined the divide between a friend and lover with arising feelings of jealousy or possessiveness or a desire for exclusivity (especially the latter!)…now I can’t use it to define relationships because I DON’T feel that way, or don’t feel that that way is the ONLY way to construct a healthy relationship. So…ultimately—the line dividing the love between lovers and friends…is actually unnecessary in many cases. It’s a fluid line ANYWAY, which at any moment could potentially “be crossed,” so when it comes down to it…whatever. The line between who is considered a friend and a lover, however, I do feel is more important. Again, because of its relevance to relationship status and “official” shit, especially with monogamy.

A few examples I read about on an LJ polyamory group I follow:

A. The best I can come up with is: With your significant other there is an expectation of a certain level of communication and priority that goes beyond friendship. It has aspects more closely resembling a partnership, where final decisions are made together with the partner’s needs and wants a high priority. For instance, if I invited my best friend to Christmas, but he told me he was going to spend Christmas with his girlfriend and her family, I would bow out without complaint and wish them happy holidays. His girlfriend has priority. No problem. If my [primary?] boyfriend told me he would spend Christmas with another girlfriend without discussing it with me, I would be hurt that he hadn’t talked about it or wanted to negotiate.

B. An SO is a romantic partner whose needs I consider if I get sick of a location and decide I want to move. (Though I think this varies a bit if a person has hierarchized primary/secondary relationships and stuff, especially if they’re married? Though considering needs doesn’t mean making them priorities, so I guess that works…)

C. For example, if I want to quit my job, or move to another city, or have a child, or yadda yadda. Friends, fuckbuddies and similar people in my life might have input and I value their opinions. However, what they say will not have a deciding vote on my decision. The people who I consider to be my partners are those whose input will affect my final decision on those kinds of matters. (Again, the primary/secondary hierarchy, if in place, would matter here for some people.)

D. It’s an extra level of connection and commitment – I love you dearly, and share my life with you, and beyond that, we will work together as a team and see each other’s goals and hopes as our own. I will care for you when you are sick, as you would for me. We share our resources, invest together, and actively build our family’s future. (Older age-bracket, or simply more geared to cohabitating partners, which is not my case at the moment.)

E. If I have a good opportunity that would force me to move, I’d say “I’ll miss you” to a friend and “Do you think I should go/When can you come with me?” to an SO. I’d also be more expecting that an SO would try to move with me than a friend would. So, in my mind, I guess, an SO has a level of long-term commitment to work together towards common goals, where a friend, while maybe emotionally and physically intimate, doesn’t.

My personal example was (since I am not dealing with cohabitation, children, or pooling of resources at this point in my life): If I wanted to start a monogamous relationship with someone, but found I couldn’t without SOMEHOW breaking up with other people in my life…that’s a pretty nice indicator. Or, er, putting it in a different and less negative light, if I’m beginning to date someone and there is another person (or a set of other people) whose level of closeness and intimacy I feel I should inform this new potential partner about because it would/should/might affect their decision to date me or not, then that’s an indicator.

I guess the importance of labels is relevant in terms of how one’s relationships impact, er, one’s relationships. We don’t live alone, or in pairs, so what we do and whom we do it with affects things outside the “immediate” circle. Also, Linda/Speedy brought up a nice point in our discussion of this–labeling friendships. We both have decided to NOT label friendships (in terms of what kind they are, like best friend, better friend, close friend, yada yada)–people are friends and that’s it. Trying to hierarchize and tier-off friendships would be hard and not really productive, especially in a world where social circles shift, people move for college, and friendships can be established and/or carried on via the internet, or after being incommunicado for months (even years). Personally, I feel each individual relationship gets negotiated between the two people involved. There are friends whom I’d drive 100 miles to see, there are some whom I wouldn’t, and there are yet others whom it would depend on a multitude of other factors.

That’s a reason I don’t want people to gauge my love for them or my interest in our friendship by, say, what gifts I get them, or what random things I do for them, or what things I feel are appropriate to share. Sometimes I feel more inspired and creative, or have more time, or *know* a certain person REALLY wants X object, and so I get it for them..but it doesn’t “devalue” the other relationships I have. I think the non-zero-sum love model is applicable here as well, and that whatever happens in one relationship adds or detracts from THAT relationship, not the others. Anyway, I guess I’m not worried about labeling friendships because they don’t…affect our “official relationship status” or legal standing. Because that’s the biggest and most relevant, I guess, real-world and long-term application of all this theorizing = legal benefits and the difference between singlehood, domestic partnerships, and marriage. I’m not going to get into that now, but I just wanted to put it out there for those that may feel all this rambling is totally unecessary. 🙂

To wrap things up, I wanted to say that I’m in favor of using new terms or unique words/phrases to describe relationships. Kinda like what Katie/TLC do (or did). Calling a partner “kool-aid” (e.g. She’s my kool-aid!) or “licorice” or something of that nature is interesting. Using labels for people that are more descriptive, or personal, like…cuddle-buddies, cagemates, occasional lovers, sweeties etc. They’re more individualized categories than gf/bf/xf and such. The labels mean whatever the two people involved want them to mean. However, when translating that so other people can understand…it gets a little harder. That’s something one can deal with, though, somehow. Whatever. Analogies, anyone? I loves dem.

Ok. Blah. I’m done. Enough about relationships.

Sacrifice vs. True Contribution / Poly-positivity

Because there’s more to giving and making compromises than just saying YES or OKAY. Realizing that there’s a difference between complying willingly and happily and saying yes out of a feeling of obligation that will eventually lead to resentment and guilt-tripping other people involved is the first step in NOT doing the latter. It’s unhealthy and only leads to problems–bitterness, passive/aggresiveness, feelings of being unfilfilled, and the list goes on. The next steps are figuring out how to recognize what choices would lead to each of these two and picking the ones that will lead to HAPPYTIMES. It’s also a matter of boundaries. But don’t listen to me–just go read the article/entry!

Now, a link to an LJ entry (written by the same person) describing how they’ve navigated the seas of communicating, establishing boundaries, and TRULY giving (not giving to then hold that over someone’s head). = polyjoy (that sounds like a candy bar!) 🙂 Read it and feel the warm n’ fuzzies. Personally, I’d one day like to have a wife or partner write/talk about me that way. I strive for showing respect, love, and all that good stuff, and it would mean the world to me if a partner’s partner valued me in such a way and said such lovely things. 🙂 I mean, I think I’ve (sort of) been in that position already, but this all sounds way more intense and serious.

Anyway–these are good articles for poly, mono, and unlabeled/otherwise-labeled people alike. 🙂 These lessons and examples can be used in a wide variety of situations.

Some good articles

1. Things your partner wants you to know. [Mono to Poly and Poly to Mono]

2. BDSM Scenarios and sexual exploration ideas. Some of these I heard at the Fetish Flea. 🙂

3. COMMUNICATION. Yep. There’s some good stuff in this article. “Communication works best when it’s an ongoing process. It’s not something you do when things get out of hand; it’s something you do all the time. Don’t wait for small problems to become big problems before you talk about them! Keep checking in with your partner all the time; make it a habit. (…) Even though it can sometimes seem uncomfortable or even frightening to bring up something that bothers you or that is affecting you in your relationship, you need to do it anyway. Anyone can have good communication skills when communication is easy; it’s how you communicate when it’s difficult that counts.”

4. Thriving as a Secondary. It’s interesting to read this now because, being as introspective and analytical as I am, I have already asked myself SO many of these questions, especially the ones that relate to what my own boundaries and wants/needs are. 🙂

5. Total non-sequitur: Transhumanism!

Some Good Questions

What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to have a very strong friendship? What is the meaning of compassion, and of respect, and of happiness? What does being confident in myself and confident in others entail? How do I balance everything out and constantly remain mindful of others’ feelings? What is trust and who am I willing to trust and why? What is the extent of what I can feel for one person? For more than one person? What type of relationship do I want to have here, with each individual? What are my needs? Are they being met? What are my fears? What are my notions of what being in love “should be like/is,” and is it possible that I’m subscribing to a single model when there are actually many more out there (that are different, and perhaps even more fulfilling)? Do I yearn for something traditional, and if I do, is it because I honestly want it and believe in it OR because it’s easier to deal with and easier to explain to people like my parents?

Real Women Have _______ [edited]

Statement by Gabrielle Hennessey via Flickr.

I hate Dove’s “Real Women Have Curves” slogan with a passion. I stuffed my bra in seventh grade because of ideas like that, because of society’s undying belief that Breasts = Woman. A few days ago I walked into a store and a fellow shopper didn’t hesitate to tell her partner that my body was “gross.”

She said this while three or four feet away from me. I assume she wanted me to hear her and feel bad about my alleged eating disorder/unhealthiness/low self esteem, so that I’d go home and cry over some bonbons about my wasted life and listen to Christina Aguilera and discover my inner beauty and suddenly gain thirty pounds so I could be normal like her.

Real women have hearts and blood and bones. They have skin that breaks and nerves that feel the cold. They are made up of carbon and water and constantly renewing cells. They know who they are.

Real women may not have breasts. They may not even have vaginas. They might like girls or boys or a bit of both or neither at all. They may not always consider themselves to be women, or they might have to fight to be called such since no one else believes them.

Find a new slogan, Dove. Thousands of the people you’ve unwittingly condemned as Not Real Women are waiting.

Enjoy your profits.

Oh, labels. What makes a “woman”? What makes someone “[insert group here]”? What makes someone anything? If breasts don’t make a woman, what does? Is it the chromosomes? Is it the genital appearance? Is it the clothes? Is it other people’s perception of them as a member of a certain group? Is it a certain grouping of these aforementioned things? Is it an intangible essence, a “je ne sais quoi” of “woman-ness”? What does that even MEAN? And why is it necessary to make this distinction?

If we reduce these broad categories (e.g. woman, man, Latin@, homosexual, American, etc) to a list of “traits,” no one person will embody all of them. However, devoid of things that describe a label or devoid of things that make UP a definition, categories become meaningless. With no signified, the signifier becomes empty–just surface, with nothing beneath it. We keep using these terms in hopes that they will represent our realities somehow and allow us to communicate with one another, and ourselves.

The problem with all labels is that they ultimately define through exclusion; they purport to build a community based on, yes, shared traits or ideas or WHATEVER, but it always happens at the expense of keeping “something” out. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not going to ask for the abolition of all labels and categories because I DO find them useful (although inherently flawed). What I’m going to ask for is the fluidity and openness of thought to think outside those categories and constantly question them. What I’m going to ask for is a critical, analytical approach to definitions and life in general–one that will allow for change, multiplicity, and a degree of uncertainty about it all.

Next time you ask yourself “Oh, is that person [insert label here]?,” ask YOURSELF why you even need to know. Not because you don’t need to know the answer to your original question (maybe you do, maybe you don’t, whatever), but because I feel an integral part of understanding the world is understanding (or at least trying to understand) ourselves. Being introspective and looking at our own minds and our own actions in a way that is honest, questioning, and even slightly playful (because taking things seriously 24/7 only leads to nasties like high blood-pressure and a permanently furrowed brow) can tell us a lot about the world and why we perceive it the way we do. Asking yourself why you need to know if the person sitting next to you on the bus is “a girl or a boy” or “Mexican or Asian” will probably (eventually?) show you some of your own preconceptions, and by becoming self-aware, you can finally begin a process of growth and change. You can’t break the bars of cages you can’t see.