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.

My 7th Grade Class Helped Me Define My Relationships

I remember learning about elements and electron-shell diagrams in my 7th grade science class. Who would’ve thought that that same model I saw on the whiteboard would be the key to explaining what the heck I was doing with my relationships years later?


Please scroll to the bottom for a 2016 update/note!


Fluorine has 2 electrons on
the first shell and 7 on the
second shell.

Unless you count a torrid online romance with a guy from Canada when I was 14, at the age of 19 I’d never been in a relationship. All my knowledge of the mechanics of sex and intimacy were purely theoretical, and then I suddenly launched into something with a married polyamorous man with a Ph.D who was almost 10 years my senior. Oh, and did I mention he also had another girlfriend in addition to his wife? Though precocious and definitely interested in alternative sexuality since before high-school, nothing had prepared me for this relationship model.

So I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: I researched! I devoured everything I could find online about non-monogamy (and polyamory especially), spending hours upon hours reading personal accounts, advice columns, informational websites, and research papers. I had to unlearn a lot of things and reprogram my brain to understand this new model of relationship. In that process, I had to interrogate the metaphors I used to describe my love-life, what visual representations I used to talk about significant others, and what kind of language in general I used to describe my intimacy and the people involved.

Enter: SCIENCE!

If “Lithium” actually just meant
“Aida,” this diagram would say that
I have 2 primaries and 1 secondary!

With increased hands-on experience (wink wink, nudge nudge) in non-monogamous living came more “opportunities” to describe my situation, both to potential partners and the general public.

One of the hurdles in explaining my relationship configuration was discussing how I could have two super important partners at the same time. I’m a pretty visual person, and non-monogamy sometimes necessitates a lot of diagramming, so I needed something I could draw for people. At some point along the way, my brain cycled back to my 7th grade science class and the electron-shell diagrams seemed to resonate.

So how does this work for me (and how might it work for you)? Read on, look at the Lithium diagram to the right, and keep the following in mind:

  • The big, red circle is the nucleus (made up of protons and neutrons), and that is the self (me!)
  • The little gray circles are electrons, and those are other people
  • The shells/rings are levels of commitment/closeness

1: There can be more than one electron/person on each shell (which goes against the ideas of “only one soulmate” in the monogamy model and against the “only one primary” notion in some polyamorous communities). The electrons don’t occupy the same exact space on the shell (read: the electrons are not on top of each other, ), but they ARE on the same shell, so it embodies how multiple primary partners are on the same general level of importance but are still fulfilling in different aspects.

2: Up to a certain point, the further a shell is from the nucleus, the higher the maximum number of electrons allowed on it. (For example: the first shell can hold a max. of 2 electrons, the second shell can hold a max. of 8, and the third shell can hold a max. of 18.) In relationship-talk, that means that I have a maximum number of people that I can pay attention to at a given time on a given rung, and I could have bigger numbers of lower-investment relationships than higher-investment relationships*. The maximum of two on the innermost shell is also probably accurate; I don’t think I could ever handle more than 2 primaries!

3 (not tied to the shell diagram, but just general atomic knowledge I wanted to include)While the electrons affect the charge of an atom, an element is identified by the number of protons in the nucleus. This jives well with the idea that while relationships might change me (and, heh, make me more positive or negative), I’m my own person and I have a recognizable identity outside of whomever I am partners with at a particular time.

4: Finally, just because a shell has a maximum number of electron spots available, it doesn’t mean  I HAVE to try to get that shell full of electrons or that bed full of people just because I can.

*Still, the model isn’t perfect. Number of partners on each “commitment rung” don’t have to follow the “filling” patterns of atoms. For example, in Real Science, each shell can only hold a particular maximum number of electrons (2, 8, 18, 32 for the first four shells) and shells get filled from the inside out, so I wouldn’t have an element/relationship with 2 electrons/people on the first shell, 4 in the second, and then 9 in the third. In my love life, however, I could totally have 5 casual partners and no primary, or perhaps I could have 2 primaries, 1 secondary, and 12 tertiaries. And actually, according to the Madelung Energy Ordering Rule, there are certain atoms who have “partially-filled” outer rings, so straying from the 2, 8, 18, 32 pattern is possible, but not the rule by any means.


07/30/16 — Edited to add: How I personally arrange my relationships and what words I use for them has changed considerably throughout the years! It’s important to clarify that the way I describe relationship arrangements here follows (or can follow) a fairly hierarchical model (though different from the “only one primary” idea, and without the problematic “only primaries matter” mentality). This electron shell model is useful for some but certainly not exhaustive, and there are tons of layers of nuance we can/should layer on top of it. This shell model can help with broad explanations and debunking some common misconceptions, but it doesn’t say anything about kinds of commitment, what names and partnerships in these “relationship rungs” look like, or anything like that. Intimacy and commitment are rarely so easily categorizable, so please keep that in mind when perusing. For some food for thought on polyamory, hierarchy, and more, check this and this out.

Breakup Playlist

Music is an integral part of my life. If I don’t have music pumping through my headphones, I’m humming a melody, or drumming on my thighs, or swaying back and forth. The point is, music is everpresent in my existence, when I’m walking down the street and as I’m falling asleep. It can be an almost imperceptible undercurrent, or it can be something intense and deafening.

For that reason, music is very important when it comes to processing my emotions.

I have a bunch of “Shambles” playlists, those I’ve created when I’ve needed sad music. And thus, here I give you the playlist I created recently, on the 3rd of December, when one of my partners and I had an unfortunate, but necessary breakup. Consider it inspiration, maybe; somewhere from which to draw if you’re sad, perhaps.

I haven’t organized them, so ignore the order. They represent my variety of feelings. Some songs are present in many of my Shambles playlists, but others are pretty specific to this person and this scenario. Also? Funny to note the overlap between some of my sad playlists and some of my romantic playlists!

  1. Breakin’ Up by Rilo Kiley
  2. Galaxies by Laura Veirs
  3. Chasing Pavements by Adele
  4. True Affection by The Blow
  5. Paper Bag by Fiona Apple
  6. Such Great Heights by Iron & Wine
  7. The Ice Is Getting Thinner by Death Cab for Cutie
  8. Let Go by Frou Frou
  9. Papa Was a Rodeo by The Magnetic Fields
  10. Wrong for You by The Girls Can Hear Us
  11. Love Ridden by Fiona Apple
  12. I Thought You Were My Boyfriend by The Magnetic Fields
  13. When You Go by Jonathan Coulton
  14. Precious Things by Tori Amos
  15. So This Is Goodbye (Pink Ganter Remix) by William Fitzsimmons
  16. Flightless Bird, American Mouth by Iron & Wine
  17. Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy
  18. Somebody That I Used To Know by Elliot Smith
  19. Ex Girlfriend Syndrome by Charlotte Sometimes
  20. The Misery Love Co. by The Spaceshots
  21. Sleeping With Ghosts by Placebo
  22. Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley
  23. Without You I’m Nothing by Placebo
  24. The Crawl by Placebo
  25. Accidntel Deth by Rilo Kiley
  26. Soil, Soil by Tegan and Sara

Conceptualizations of Sex

The sex itself? It’s sweatier and it’s sweeter, all at once. When it’s tender, it’s not tender like a Hallmark card, but like a cookie fresh out of the oven: steaming, moist, delectable and melt-in-your-mouth. When it’s forceful, it’s not so because one partner is being assaulted or dominated, but because the energy and strong unity of a shared desire feels so urgent and deeply wanted that both partners leap upon it like someone who has been on a hunger strike for a week might approach an all-you-can-eat buffet. Her expectations and the experience of her sexual initiation seem less like a country-western serenade and more an 80’s power ballad.

And another quotation, because it’s what I want out of my sex-life (and so far, what I have):

This sex doesn’t just feel okay, nor is it good simply because it is painless. This sex feels freaking magnificent. Sure, sometimes it’s magnificent like riding a rollercoaster or having a near-death experience, and at other times it’s magnificent like soaking your feet after a long day, but it’s always so much more than just okay.

Via Scarleteen: An Immodest Proposal (which, is in turn: Reprinted from Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, Seal Press, 2008)


Dieta Mediterránea Review (with some spoilers)

I realize I never posted this. Oops. Rectifying that right now!
(This is from Sunday, Aug. 30th, 2009.)
—-

I just got back from watching Dieta Mediterránea with my family (read: mom, dad, maternal grandmother). Going into it, I thought this movie was about a woman torn between two men…but, to my surprise, that was not the case. Sofía is a fierce, willful (sometimes to the point of being very stubborn and even immature) lady with a passionate love of cooking and a bit of wanderlust who is NOT about to make a choice between her long-time boyfriend and this guy she has always been kind of attracted to (a love/hate kind of thing). So she doesn’t!

“Whut? A triad? In a mainstreamy Spanish movie? Fo’ REAL?! ONE THAT WORKS?”

Well. It’s not without its hitches, but there are significantly less problems and resistance than I thought there would be (which seems sweet, but too idealistic). And yes. This group wants the triad model and all people participate–it’s not a V. Well, it kind of is because the female protagonist IS the axis around which the men revolve, but the men DO relate to each other as well.

I was kind of uncomfortable watching it, though, for various reasons:

  • I was with my FAMILY. I couldn’t cheer as enthusiastically as I wanted. I couldn’t say “this is kind of what one of my ideal romantic futures would look like.” I couldn’t fully let me guard down to “un-blank” my face and really enjoy the sex scenes, or the moments of intimacy in general. I couldn’t help but grin widely during a lot of parts, though (just not the sex). Having been awake for almost 24 hours (and now pushing 26, yay!), I was a little cracked out, and add to that the adrenaline of watching a movie where the main characters form a triad, there’s a closeted gay dad, and men TOUCH each other in the triad and KISS each other? And I’m watching this WITH MY FAMILY and only my mom and grandmother know how RELEVANT this is, and they don’t even know the FULL story about how relevant it is to me? It was intense.
  • I was in a movie-theater full of people, all watching a movie that mirrored bits of my life and ideology. I felt judged. Not actively, of course, but…whenever people laughed at certain things, I felt like it was more personal than it “really” was. I felt really sad when people groaned at the gay dad–I knew they were groaning, not because he was cheating on his wife over and over, but because it was with younger men. My dad was one of the most audible groaners and I swear it hurt me to witness that. The groaning or laughing whenever any homosexual activity went on? Yes, I laughed a few times, out of sheer surprise, but not disgust or “hahaha, they’re GAY, ahahahaha.” I was also on edge–I was half-expecting to hear someone shout something derisive, or something about how they were all depraved. It didn’t happen, but I expected it to, and while the expectation is kind of realistic, that’s still really unfortunate (that I expected it at all, I mean). I was also nervous that I’d hear snide comments about the movie and the characters as I left the theater; I didn’t really want to deal with that. I can deal with straightforward shit that’s directed at me; those are easy to brush off. For some reason, though, the people who make comments in front of me degrading shit I love or believe in because they don’t know I love or believe in them? Those upset me.

https://i1.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3230/2677123765_5ef65609a5_o.jpg?w=620
YES. I met Paco, the one on the right. 🙂
The other one (Alfonso Bassave) is my favorite, though.
His nose…is so. good. I just want to nom it.

https://i0.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3079/2677124023_423e880c81_o.jpg?w=620
What. an adorable. smile. (the older man = ???)

https://i0.wp.com/www.fotogramas.es/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/peliculas/dieta-mediterranea/de-fogones-y-hombres/2620012-1-esl-ES/De-fogones-y-hombres_noticia_main.jpg?w=620
And some eyecandy–what a beautiful sight to behold. 🙂

Watch the trailer here!

How [Sex] Laws Are Used To Fuck Us Over

Thanks to Gypsy for posting this article. <3

I urge you to read ALL of the cases. Some you may already be familiar with, but others didn’t receive crazy amounts of international coverage or anything, so they may be new to you. While some sex-laws are definitely necessary in order to protect us, there are definitely some laws that serve to HURT us. Check out the sex-related laws in the United States here. And, um, may I remind y’all that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still in place? Yeah. Let’s talk about that. According to the U.S. Penal Code:

  • (13) The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service
  • (14) The armed forces must maintain personnel policies that exclude persons whose presence in the armed forces would create an unacceptable risk to the armed forces’ high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.
  • (15) The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.

Excuse me? 😐 And this is the policy to “take care” of those crazy homosexuals:

(b) Policy.— A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense if one or more of the following findings is made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations:

(1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts unless there are further findings, made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations, that the member has demonstrated that—

(A) such conduct is a departure from the member’s usual and customary behavior;
(B) such conduct, under all the circumstances, is unlikely to recur;
(C) such conduct was not accomplished by use of force, coercion, or intimidation;
(D) under the particular circumstances of the case, the member’s continued presence in the armed forces is consistent with the interests of the armed forces in proper discipline, good order, and morale; and
(E) the member does not have a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.

(2) That the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect, unless there is a further finding, made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in the regulations, that the member has demonstrated that he or she is not a person who engages in, attempts to engage in, has a propensity to engage in, or intends to engage in homosexual acts.

(3) That the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.

*facepalm*

There are also laws regarding items that are non-mailable because they’re obscene and/or crime-inciting…and materials in some way relating to abortion are mentioned. O.o Check it here.

And on a related note, I still can’t believe the district court in Williams vs. Pryor (1998) considered banning the commerce of sex toys because they promoted “sexual stimulation unrelated to marriage, procreation or family relationships.” I mean, I can believe it, but I don’t LIKE it. Sigh. Dammit, unmarried people have a right to have sex lives, too! They also argued the ban was a good idea because there was legitimate legislative interest in “discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex” because “commerce in the pursuit of orgasms by artificial means for their own sake is detrimental to the health and morality of the State.”

WHAT. THE. SHIT.

And William Pryor (assistant attorney in Alabama) is quoted as saying there is no “fundamental right for a person to buy a device to produce orgasm.” -_-;

Eventually (and thankfully), Reliable Consultants Inc. v. Earle (2008) happened and resulted in the federal appeals court declaring the Texas Obscene Device Act as unconstitutional because it violated the 14th Amendment on the right to privacy. Read about it here.

Other cases/info you should be aware of:

  • The 11th Circuit Court (discussing Williams vs. Pryor): “The fundamental constitutional rights of privacy recognized to date by the Supreme Court in the area of sexual activity each have followed from the Court’s protection of a person’s right to make the decision not to procreate without governmental interference. …None of these cases, however, is decisive on the question whether the Constitution protects every individual’s right to private sexual activity and use of sexual devices from being burdened by Alabama’s sexual device distribution criminal statute.” Citing a case involving assisted suicide, Washington v. Glucksberg, this decision favorably quoted: “That many of the rights and liberties protected by the Due Process Clause sound in personal autonomy does not warrant the sweeping conclusion that any and all important, intimate, and personal decisions are so protected….”

So basically, even though decisions pertaining to our sexuality and even our LIFE are “important” and “personal,” that doesn’t mean we always have a “right” to make them without the government butting in somehow. WTFBBQ! It makes NO sense to me that we don’t even own our BODIES in that way. (By the way, assisted suicide is legal in 3 states: Oregon, Montana, and Washington. Read more here.)

Stuff like this (the penal code and the following article) is why I’m so into/involved with the queer, feminist, sex-positive movements. Sheesh. This is also why I think I have only a few good options in terms of where I will eventually live in the United States (best choice so far seems to be MA). But now, onto the article!

——-

15 Shocking Tales of How Sex Laws Are Screwing the American People

By Ellen Friedrichs, AlterNet. Posted June 12, 2009.

The older I get, the luckier I feel not to have been busted for breaking a sex law. It’s not that I have been doing anything particularly scandalous. Public sex sure isn’t my thing, and I’m not in the habit of spamming my friends and colleagues with XXX emails. But in a world where a teen can get arrested for texting a boyfriend her own nudie shots, I don’t want to take anything for granted.

Really though, my clean record probably has as much to do with where I’ve lived, as with what I’ve done. Growing up in Canada, meant that I didn’t worry about the legal ramifications of losing my virginity to my high school boyfriend. Had I spent those angst-ridden years in Texas, or even Maine, I could have been charged with the crime of underage sex.

Similarly, accompanying a terrified 16-year-old to a New York City clinic for an abortion a few years back could have been illegal if I had done the same thing in many of the 34 states with parental consent and notification laws for this procedure.

So I’ve been fortunate. But plenty of other people haven’t. We often don’t realize that sex regulations extend beyond archaic blue laws banning things like having sex in a toll booth, or forbidding sororities on the basis that women living together constitute a brothel. Such prohibitions may remain on the books, but people seldom, if ever, face charges for breaking them. The sex laws that do get enforced every day tend to be a lot less laughable.

Occasionally, the focus on a particular case can lead to a law’s repeal. For example, in 2004, a Texas mom was arrested for violating that state’s ban on selling sex toys after she was busted hawking vibrators to her friends. The coverage of the incident drew attention to the statute and eventually lead to its 2008 nullification. And famously, following a 2002 arrest for having anal sex with his boyfriend, John Lawrence argued his case before the U. S. Supreme Court, and succeeded in getting the federal sodomy laws overturned.

Nevertheless, for many people, simply paying their fine or doing their time is preferable to embarrassing publicity that can accompany fighting charges. Still, plenty of cases do make the papers, whether those involved want them to or not.

Here are fifteen recent examples highlighting the fact the land of the free, the freedom to express your sexuality can still be pretty limited.

1) Over the past year, New York City has seen thirty-four gay men arrested for prostitution in what many people are calling an anti-gay sting operation. One case, reported by the New York Times, involved Robert Pinter, a fifty-three-year old massage therapist, who was approached by an undercover police officer in the adult section of a video store. As Pinter told the Times, “[the man who propositioned me] was very charming and cute, and we agreed to leave the store and engage in consensual sex.” Pinter explained that man then offered him $50 for doing so–an offer which he says did not respond to. Once outside, Pinter was handcuffed and arrested on charges of, “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” The relationship between gay men and the police has often been far from harmonious (hell, arrests of gay men in the sixties are what prompted the Stonewall riots in 1969), and this situation has renewed fears that old habits die hard.

2) Despite the fact that Georgia has some real problems with youth sexual health — among other things it boasts the eighth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country — this state has put a lot more effort into targeting teens than it has into helping them stay safe. One particularly outlandish case involves a young man named Genarlow Wilson. Genarlow was recently freed after serving almost three years in a Georgia prison. He had been sent there at seventeen for getting a blow job from a consenting fifteen-year-old girl. Though Generlow was only two years older than the girl, in Georgia, he was above the age of consent and she was below it. As a result, the high school senior was charged with aggravated child molestation. At the time, Georgia had a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for this crime, so that’s what he got. A year into his sentence, the law was changed to make the maximum penalty a still pretty serious twelve months in jail. Even so, it took another two years for a judge to order Genarlow’s release.

3) Florida is famous for it’s liberal views on how little clothing can be considered publicly acceptable. It’s not so liberal, however, when it comes to the kind of sex it considers acceptable for people to have privately. In February, a lawsuit was filed against a strip-mall based private swingers club. The charges came after a year-long undercover operation, and despite the sheriff’s acknowledgment that, “detectives never found any evidence of drug use or sales and never saw any instances of anyone paying for sex.” Swinging is legal, so in the end, the best the cops could do was charge the club with violation of local zoning codes.

4) Starting off 2009 with a bang, seventeen Pennsylvania teens — thirteen girls and three boys — were busted for child pornography. The charges came after a teacher confiscated a student’s cell phone and discovered that the girls had sent “provocative” pictures of themselves to the boys. Initially, the boys were charged with possession of child pornography, and the girls with manufacturing, disseminating and possessing child pornography. These charges could have come with jail time and the requirement to register as sex offenders. The New York Times reports that given such daunting prospects, almost all of the students accepted a deal requiring them to attend a ten hour class dealing with pornography and sexual violence. But three of the girls rejected the deal and instead filed a lawsuit against the district attorney, claiming that offering them such a deal was illegal, as their actions never should have been considered criminal.

Public panic over sexting is growing and as a result the Pennsylvania case is far from an isolated incident. In fact, USA Today reports that between January and March police had already, “investigated more than two dozen teens in at least six states…for sending nude images of themselves in cell phone text messages.” And as a girl busted for sexting in Idaho this June can tell you, that number has surely grown since then.

5) No one has ever claimed that Georgia is a haven for the LGBT community. But a recent decision by a custody judge to bar a gay dad from “exposing” his kids to his “homosexual partners and friends,” is a reminder that in this state, the notion that everyone is equal under the law only applies if the “everyone” in question isn’t gay. In this case, the man’s soon to be ex-wife argued that the fact that her kids have a gay dad has landed them in therapy. So she asked that the restriction be imposed to protect them from discomfort. But as the father said, “In general, that [restriction] will never allow me to have my children present in front of any friends, whether they’re gay or straight — no one hands you a card saying are you gay, straight, heterosexual, bi, whatever.”

6) After his boxers were spotted by cops as he peddled his bike around town, a twenty-four-year-old Bainbridge, Georgia man became the first person arrested there under a new city ordinance that prohibits wearing pants low enough to expose a person’s underwear. Arrests like this have become common all over the country as more and more cities adopt such so-called baggy pants bans. But it isn’t only men who are targeted by these laws. This June, the city of Yakima, Washington, voted to change the city’s indecent exposure laws to include “cleavage of the buttocks.” This means that women whose thong or G-string show can now be fined $1,000 or face up to 90 days in jail. If a child under the age of 14 is thought to be a victim of this form of indecent exposure, the perpetrator is looking at a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Still while most cities choose to focus on legislating visible underwear, some laws take the clothing restrictions even further. For example, an ordinance passed in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana in 2007, not only outlaws “any indecent exposure of any person or undergarments,” but also bars a person from, “dressing in a manner not becoming to his or her sex.”

7) In February 2008, Wisconsin mom, Amy Smalley, was charged with the felony of “exposing a child to harmful descriptions.” The issue came to light after her eleven-year-old son told a counselor about conversations his mom had with him and his brother. These included talking about her sex life, explaining how to perform oral sex and showing the boys a sex toy. The charges, which could have landed Smalley three years in prison, were plead down to a misdemeanor. Smalley was placed on probation and had to undergo court ordered counseling. As the Court TV website put it, “Smalley called it education. Prosecutors called it a crime.” I call it terrifying. As a mom myself, I can easily see having similar conversations. (Okay, not for a while as my kids are only both under three. But still…). Sure, Smalley probably made a bad judgment call. But really, is this any worse than parents who let their kids watch Family Guy and South Park, despite the endless stream of rape jokes and blow job humor?

8) Come 2010, a law designed to protect child prostitutes will take effect in New York State. Until that time, kids as young as twelve can continue to be charged with the crime of prostitution. This is true even if they were forced into the business by pimps. Interestingly, since 2000, foreign-born teens have been protected from prosecution by anti-trafficking laws which view them as victims. For the next year, however, teens with American citizenship may still find themselves in juvie for being the victim of something most people would consider pretty horrific abuse. Hopefully, this is a sign that we are making progress not only the issue of sex work, but on the treatment of juvenile offenders in general.

9) In December, a Florida woman reacted to the penis being forced into her mouth by biting. Twenty-seven-year-old Charris Bowers told police that despite the fact that she didn’t want to have oral sex, her husband, Delou pushed himself into her mouth, and that she clamped down to get him to stop. He responded by punching her in the head until she let go. In the end no charges were filed against Delou, even though it is illegal for anyone, including a spouse, to make another person perform a sex act. Charris, on the other hand was arrested and charged with battery. Apparently, the era of blaming the victims of sexual assault is not a thing of the past.

10) That sexual double standards for men and women are alive and well shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. But a Wisconsin town recently showed just how damaging such notions can be. On consecutive January days in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, seventeen-year-old Norma Guthrie and seventeen-year-old Alan Jepsen were charged with sexual assault for having consensual sex with their fourteen-year-old partners. However, that’s where the similarities between the cases end. Guthrie was charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum nine months in prison. Jepsen, on the other hand, was charged with a felony, which carries a maximum twenty-five years in prison. The Sheboygan Press reports, “Assistant District Attorney Jim Haasch, who filed both complaints, said the misdemeanor charge was filed in part because Guthrie has no prior criminal record. But online court records show Guthrie has a pending charge of misdemeanor battery, filed in October. Haasch would not say whether Jepsen has a prior juvenile record — which is typically sealed — but the boy has no adult charges listed in online court records. Haasch also said the cases are different because Guthrie’s boyfriend is “almost 15,” with a birthday in February. Jepsen’s girlfriend turns 15 in April.”

11) In December, something called a paramour clause was used to force a lesbian in Tennessee to move out of her house and away from her family. The clause prohibits cohabitation of unmarried partners if minor children are in the home. In this particular situation, the lesbian couple had lived together for over ten years. Much of that was with the biological mom’s kids, who were the product of a previous relationship with a man. There was no indication that this living situation was harming the thirteen and fifteen-year-old teens. Nor had the father requested that his ex’s partner move out. Still, a custody judge imposed the rule, leaving few options for the women in a state where same sex couples cannot legally marry. And people wonder why Proposition 8 matters?

12) As a sex ed. teacher, I believe in answering teens’ questions honestly and in using language that they will relate to and understand. So had I overheard a conversation between a New York State high school teacher and some of her students, I probably would have applauded her candor. But I didn’t get wind of this conversation. Josephine Isernia’s school board did. According to the board, when asked for advice on oral sex by one of the girls, Isernia used words that were, “vulgar, obscene and disgusting.” The words in question? Head job, hand job, and fellatio. Isernia was a teacher with over twenty years of experience who had never been in trouble before. Yet despite her clean record and the fact that the students sought her out for information, when 2009 rolled around, she was out of a job and educators everywhere were given a sad wake up call.

13) Remember a few years back when PDA policies were making the news every other day? Lately stories about sexting and mom’s who pose as teens on MySpace, have been stealing the headlines. But rules regarding public displays of affection never really went away and this February, twenty-two-year-old Jessica Garica was arrested at her local mall for kissing her girlfriend. According to Garcia, mall security told the couple, “This is a family mall, y’all can’t do this. Y’all kissed, and if y’all do it again I’m going to write you a citation or I’m going to kick y’all out.” The mall countered that after being asked to leave following the kiss, the couple returned and became belligerent. This, a mall spokesperson claimed, and not the kiss, is what lead to the arrest. Regardless, Garcia is considering suing for discrimination.

14) Imagine this: You’re sixteen and having sex with your boyfriend. You want to be safe so you ask your mom to take you to the doctor for birth control. Most people would call this a sign of maturity and responsibility. The state of Mississippi would call it an incident to be reported to the cops. That’s because a bill that passed in January makes it a crime for parents not to report to the police that their kids are having sex. The Mississippi Child Protection Act of 2009, requires mandatory reporting of sex crimes against children and imposes new abortion restrictions on minors. Though there is much to quibble with in the bill, one section is particularly alarming. This is the clause that prohibits, “the intentional toleration of a parent or caretaker of the child’s sexual involvement with any other person.” Supporters of the law claim that they are trying to protect young people from abuse. But nowhere does the bill distinguish between sexual abuse and consensual sexual encounters between teens. Mississippi already boasts the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Maybe they are striving for the number one spot in preventing parent/child communication, as well…

15) This past November, a convicted sex offender in Oklahoma had little reason to celebrate having his criminal record expunged. That’s because the requirement that he register as a sex offender for life remained. This is particularly problematic seeing as the individual in question is a kid. Due to age of consent laws, he was convicted at sixteen of having consensual sex with a thirteen year-old girl. His mother explains that sex offender status meant the boy was, “removed from high school [and] prohibited from being in the presence of children other than his younger brother. He can’t go near schools, day care centers or parks. His brother, age 11, can’t bring friends into their home. If his brother had been a girl, Ricky [the offender] would have been removed from his home.” The United States has some of the toughest sex offender laws in the world and Ricky is far from the only teen forced to live under such conditions. As Human Rights Watch reports, “Some children are on registries because they committed serious sex offenses, such as forcibly raping a much younger child. Other children are labeled sex offenders for such non-coercive or nonviolent and age-appropriate activities as “playing doctor,” youthful pranks such as exposing one’s buttocks, and non-coercive teen sex.”

There has been talk recently about America’s liberalizing morality. But as long as teens and gay men are still under attack for having sex, and teachers and parents still get in trouble for taking about it, then it would seem as if there is still quite a ways to go before we can claim that this is the dawn of a progressive new era.

Babeland Tip-Sheet

From Babeland.

Care and Cleaning

Non-porous Materials

  • Glass should be washed with soap and water. Do not expose glass to extreme temperatures.
  • Pyrex, a heat-resistant glass, can be boiled, put in a dishwasher, or washed with soapy water.
  • Silicone is our material of choice because it will clean easily and thoroughly. To clean, wash the toy with soap and water or place it in the top rack of your dishwasher. Immersing silicone in boiling water for 10 minutes will disinfect it. Silicone may be shared safely after disinfection. Never use silicone lube with silicone toys; this will break down the surface of your toys.
  • Stainless steel can be boiled, soaked in a bleach and water solution, or run through your dishwasher.

Porous Materials

  • Acrylic toys shoudl be cleaned with soap and water.
  • Cyberskin (also knows as Ultraskin and Softskin) is a delicate material; wash it gently with soap and warm water. Air-dry, then powder lightly with cornstarch (do not use talcum powder; it has been linked to cancer). Store the toys in a plastic bag containing a small amount of cornstarch to keep them from getting sticky. Cyberskin may contain some of the same chemicals found in jelly-rubber. We recommend using a condom on Cyberskin toys.
  • Elastomer is a soft, phthalate-free plastic. People who wish to avoid contact with rubber softeners can choose Elastomer toys as a hypoallergenic, durable alternative. To clean, wash with soap and water. We recommend using condoms if sharing the toy and for easier clean-up.
  • Hard plastic toys should be wiped down with a soapy cloth and warm water.
  • Jelly-Rubber is a soft rubber that cannot be completely disinfected. To clean, wipe the toy with a soapy cloth and warm water. Store it in a cool, dry place away from other objects. Jelly-rubber contains latex and phthalates (pronounced “thall-eights”). Phthalates are chemicals used as softeners or solvents. We do not have conclusive information on the health effects they may have. Because of their porous nature and chemical components, we believe the only way to safely use jelly-rubber toys is with a condom, every time.
  • Leather will wipe clean with a damp, soapy cloth or with leather cleaner. Do not soak leather. Wiping with a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution (rubbing alcohol) will disinfect leather toys. After cleaning, you may recondition your toy using a leather conditioner. Protect metal parts from tarnish by applying a coat of clear nail polish. Always let leather air dry and store in a cool, dry place.
  • Neoprene is a synthetic, rubber-based polychloroprene. Wash it with warm water and mild soap, then air-dry.
  • Nylon can be hand or machine washed.
  • Soft vinyl toys have a smooth, flexible surface that is easy to clean with soap and water. These toys typically contain much lower levels of chemicals than those made of jelly-rubber.
  • Vinyl will wipe clean with a damp, soapy cloth or rubbing alcohol.

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Safer Sex Tips

Safer sex doesn’t have to be a chore; just like enjoying a relaxing bath or healthy meal, safer sex is a great way to take care of yourself. Browse these fun and useful tips for making it hot.

Lube should be used liberally, especially between a barrier and the receiver. If you are prone to yeast infections or urinary tract infections, we recommend using sugar and glycerin-free lube. Washing off and/or urinating after sex will help clean out your system and lessen your risk of infection. Do not use oil-based lubes with latex products, including latex condoms. Some lubricants contain Nonoxynol-9, which is a spermicidal detergent that can irritate skin and delicate membranes, making you more susceptible to STDs. Babeland does not carry products with Nonoxynol-9.

Barriers should be used for safer sex with partners and/or toys. Buy extras and play with them before partner sex so you know how they work. Use condoms on porous toys, like rubber or latex to protect you from the chemicals in these toys.

Non-latex Barriers can be used by folks with latex sensitivities. Try polyurethane condoms, nitrile gloves, plastic wrap, and polyurethane dams. Polyurethane and nitrile are compatible with oil-, water-, and silicone-based lubricants. They protect against STDs and pregnancy.

  • Masturbating with gloves, condoms, or dams can be a great way to further eroticize them.
  • Buy differently-sized gloves in different colors to make it clear in the heat of the moment which are medium and which are large.
  • To avoid cross-contaminating, use different color gloves for the butt and the vagina or use a marker to put an “X” on the gloved hand you will be using for the butt.
  • Use dental dams or non-microwavable plastic wrap for cunnilingus and analingus. Put an “X” on the outside so when things get good and slippery you can tell the sides apart.

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General Tips for Longer Toy Life

We strongly recommend using a condom with toys that are made of porous material. This will help prevent transference of body fluids that can carry bacterial and/or viral infections.

  • Remove batteries when storing vibrators.
  • Never submerge electrical components in water. Use a damp, soapy cloth to clean electric toys.
  • Protect your water-resistant and waterproof vibes by making sure the rubber O-ring stays tight around the battery compartment. If the O-ring is missing or broken, the vibe is no longer safe to use in water.
  • For vibrators with cords, wrap a small piece of electrical tape around the vibrator/wire and wire/plug connection points to strengthen them.
  • Rough edges on hard plastic toys can be filed down with a nail file.
  • If you are using a bullet vibe internally, put it in a condom and use the condom, not the power cord, to pull it out.

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G-spot Tips

The G-spot, or urethral sponge, fills with fluid during arousal and has a texture that can feel bumpy or crinkly when felt through the front wall of the vagina. Pressure on the G-spot can cause some folks to ejaculate fluid, which is similar to prostatic fluid.

  • To find the G-spot, insert a finger or fingers 2-3 inches into the vagina and press toward the pubic bone with a rhythmic “c’mere” motion.
  • Curved toys, like the G-Twist and Orchid G, are good for G-spot stimulation. Thumping, tapping, and vibration can also feel great.
  • Try combining G-spot play with oral stimulation of the clit.
  • Some folks prefer indirect G-spot stimulation; try pressing down on your belly just above the pubic bone or applying pressure toward the belly button during butt play.
  • Experiment with positions that angle toys, fingers, penis, etc. toward your belly button during penetration.
  • A full vagina may block ejaculate, so try pulling out toys, fingers, etc. when you orgasm, and bear down.
  • Finally, G-spot response varies dramatically, so enjoy all the sensations – try not to make it a quest.

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P-spot Tips

The P-spot, or prostate, is an almond-shaped gland located between the rectum and the bladder. The prostate produces fluid that helps semen travel through the urethra during ejaculation. During arousal, the P-spot fills the fluid, which can make it easier to feel. When aroused, some P-spots feel similar to the muscle between the thumb and forefinger when it is tensed.

  • To find the P-spot, insert a finger or fingers 2-3 inches into the anus and gently press toward the belly button with a “c’mere” motion. Use lots of lube and relax.
  • Try different techniques with your P-spot: stroking, massaging, tapping, vibration, or gentle thumbing.
  • Play with your perineum (the soft, fleshy skin between the testicles and the anus); tapping here can access your P-spot indirectly. You’ll also be hitting the base of your penis.
  • Curved toys are especially good for P-spot stimulation – try the Aneros, Protouch Plug, or Pandora. Make sure toys have a flared base to prevent them from getting lost.
  • P-spot responses vary. Try not to be goal oriented; instead, enjoy each new sensation along the way.

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Anal Sex Tips

Always remember our mantra to help you on your back door journey: “Relaxation, Communication, and Lubrication”. When playing with a partner, it’s important that the person being penetrated be in control of what’s happening, especially if you’re new to anal sex. Let your partner know what feels good and what doesn’t. And, of course, have fun!

  • Always use toys that have a handle or flared base so they don’t slip inside the rectum.
  • Always use lube – the butt does not self-lubricate – and begin slowly by stimulating the outside of the anus.
  • Ease your finger in pad-first to avoid scratching and poking.
  • Cover your toys with condoms for safe and fast cleanup.
  • Softer materials are easier on sensitive tissue and will follow the natural curve of the rectum. Bumps and ridges can feel good sliding in and out.
  • Angle your fingers, penis, or toy toward the front of the body.
  • Stick to the butt – going from butt to vagina can cause infections.
  • Numbing creams are unsafe – lube and relaxation are better.
  • Pull out gently and carefully.

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Cockring Tips

Cockrings restrict the flow of blood out of the penis; making possible greater sensitivity and a firmer erection. They can even prolong erection. As with any toy, responses vary. Cockrings aren’t recommended for anyone with vascular or nerve diseases. If you experience any discomfort numbness or tingling – take it off.

  • Secure the cocring at the base of the penix, behind the testicles, so that it is snug and comfortable.
  • For new users we recommend an adjustable cockring because one can remove or cut it off if it becomes uncomfortable.
  • Non adjustable or stretchy cockrings should be put on while you are semi-flaccid. Hold the ring under your balls and insert your testicles one at a time. Next tuck your penis through head first. Hold the cockring in place until your erection secures it. Lube it up to avoid pinching pubic hair.
  • To remove a cockring, wait until you lose your erection. Don’t leave the cockring on for more than 20 minutes and always remove it if you feel any discomfort before then.
  • Experienced users can play with how long to leave it on. If you plan to sleep in it, use an adjustable cockring and keep it loose.

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.