Resources Mentioned at PlaygroundConf 2013 Closing Plenary

PGConf 2013

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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!

When Sex-Positive Icons Fuck Up

On the heels of a discussion I was having during the training for our CSPH interns yesterday (all about radical feminism, sex-positivity, liberal feminism, and the hot mess among all those camps), I thought it’d be appropriate to finally post this. This is a good example of what some folks critique about sex-positive icons, or even just liberal feminist people–that many ignore the intersections, that they advocate for the rights of some but ignore others, that they are so caught up in all the radical possibilities of pleasure, that they ignore when sexuality can be painful and problematic and perpetuating oppression on other axes.

So, the following excerpt comes from the blog of Bianca Laureano (here). Apparently Annie Sprinkle, a big sex-positive icon who’s done a lot around sex-work especially, said the following:

Annie Sprinkle Thanks for reviving this ‘ancient’ image! When I made this image, for me it was about HONORING the art of India. I have always adored everything from India. Especially the music and art. When I began to study and practice Tantra, is when I made this image. I was so enthusiastic! I think i had past life in India, so really, maybe I’m not even appropriating as I might have been Indian. That said, I do agree that this is “appropriation.” In retrospect, I didn’t know a thing about “appropriation.” Now I am educated about it and am more sensitive. Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago! This image was made in 1989 or 90. It is not a new image. I think when we see people being “inappropriate” we need to be nice about it, and educate. Not attack. In most cases. Not all. Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx
I also feel that nothing is really new. That we are all appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures. Especially in the multicultural mix of the new millennium. I like the idea of utilizing all kinds of culture and adding to it. Like collage. Taking things and making them over again in new ways. That appeals to me. When art is good, it provokes responses, and is controversial. At least my favorite art is. That’s why I love Phillip Huang. He gets a rise out of people! Love you Phillip. Love you Counterpulse! Love you everyone! Saturday at 11:42am

Gosh, this conversation is really turning me on! I haven’t been this controversial in a while. I’m really taking pleasure from it. Thanks everyone. Although I do apologize if something I did in 1989 offended anyone. But then… there was 1973, 1974, 1975… Oy vey. Saturday at 9:28pm
Thanks Cx Tiara Transience. Live and learn. You are right that that the anger against racism is totally justified. However, I was saying that I learn better when people explain things nicely to me rather than put me on the defensive. Then I just want to fight or flight and not listen. And Beth Stephens, i LOVE YOU. Yesterday at 1:54pm

(Also, why is appropriation in quotations…? Appropriation is appropriation, no need to air quote it. Anyway.) Of course–a lot of white people appropriate things of other cultures in hopes of “honoring them” or “showing how awesome they are and how much they like it,” but it’s still appropriation and it’s still a big problem (and some are just ignorant or flat-out racist fucks that aren’t trying to honor ANYONE but themselves). It ignores the legacies of inequality and the ways in which white people consumed, regulated, and spat out people of color’s cultures. It perpetuates the idea that white people get to be the arbiters of culture and arbiters of what’s important and valued, and that what POC have to offer is merely for consumption. There’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation.

(This is the picture in question)

Of course, not all people of color will react in the same ways. A lot of us don’t see eye to eye on racism issues, and a lot of folks are actually pretty convinced racism isn’t such a problem anymore (especially in the age of Obama), just like many women think sexism isn’t a thing anymore…y’know, ’cause now we can vote and go work and stuff. This is often due to other identities/privileges people hold (read: it’s easier to think racism’s gone if you’re a POC with a lot of money), and/or due to internalized issues around race and privilege. For an example of this, and how even POC can trivialize POC concerns, check out Philip Huang’s video doing an “interpretive/dramatic reading” of the issues some POC raised around this. Yeeeeeeeeeeah.

But onto the actual Annie Sprinkle comments (which have now been deleted).

I’m glad she sees that her work was appropriative, but the rest of her post kind of messes it up for me. The part about how she might not even be appropriating because she may have been Indian in a past life is a huge copout and pretty perturbing. When she says “Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago!” puts the blame on “those mean people who judged and attacked” 18 years ago. Of course people will generally listen more when folks approach things nicely, but not everyone can and/or should speak nicely about these issues, and the onus is on the folks who have transgressed to listen and see what they are being confronted with. That doesn’t mean being a doormat, for sure, but it means centralizing the issue and the concerns, NOT the feelings about being called out. Too many critical conversations get shut down because the people being called out prioritize their feelings over the issues and the fucked up things they did. 

Furthermore, the part about Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx” really negates a lot of what is said earlier. It’s like saying “yes, this is fucked up, BUT REALLY if you look at it in the end with ~*SEX POSITIVE EYES*~ you can appreciate it.” Well no, we can’t all appreciate it even if we’re sex-positive because we don’t have the luxury or privilege of “taking off” the lenses that look at racism and appropriation…and we shouldn’t, because what we need to be doing is calling people out for doing racist and appropriative things, not just staying silent about it.

The comments about how “nothing is really new” and we are all “appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures,” especially in this climate of multiculturalism, really once again shows a disregard (and/or ignorance) to the histories of appropriation. And no, it’s not like cultures aren’t mixing and should never mix, but that we need to acknowledge the power dynamics that keep getting recycled over and over and how those show up in our society. On the art note, too, art can be avant-garde and controversial and provocative without needing to be racist. Art can depict and critique and discuss racism WITHOUT HAVING TO FALL INTO RACISM AND APPROPRIATION. (Cross-reference the Diana Joy blackface debacle in RI and my creation of the Keep It Checked Tumblr).

So why is this such a big deal?

Because it’s one of those big “sex-poz” icons who a lot of people look up to. Because this stuff happens at all levels, and pretty constantly. Because even the fact that Annie Sprinkle is taking this somewhat in stride and like “wow, this is getting controversial, that’s awesome” when POC are mostly just feeling shitty and upset speaks volumes. Because we need to remind people that just because someone is an amazing activist in one sphere, it doesn’t make them immune to doing other messed up stuff, or marginalizing other communities. Because for those of us who DO identify as sex-positive and feminists *AND* people of color, we need to speak up and elevate the field when we can. We need to hold the icons and each other accountable for our actions, even if they took place years ago, and we need to all keep learning and growing.
For those of us who are comfortable calling people out (even if not all the time), I encourage us to keep doing it. For those of us who get called out, we need to keep listening. And we ALL need to remember that activism and work in social spheres is complex and should be nuanced, not oversimplified. We need many lenses and many voices to make some radical change.

Doing something that gets a call-out doesn’t negate other good work people have done (as in Annie’s case), as if retroactively this entire person’s career were tainted by a problematic image/statement. What it DOES mean, though, is that a critical light must be shed on their past/present/future work, and that we need to understand how their views may have affected (and may continue to affect) their work.  Also, so I can leave y’all with some action items and actual tools, check out this awesome PDF that talks about common racist attitudes and behaviors that indicate a detour or wrong turn into white guilt, denial, or defensiveness. “Each is followed by a statement that is a reality check and consequence for harboring such attitudes.” Super useful. Please share widely! 🙂