Yes Means Yes: Female Submission Fantasies

I am currently reading Yes Means Yes, and my favorite chapter (and probably most relevant to this blog) is the chapter on female submission fantasies. I actually thumbed to this chapter when I first picked the book up from the library, and I have been excited to write the post on it since.

The title of the chapter said it all to me the first time I read it: “The Fantasy of ‘Non-Consent’: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t).”

The title captures so many of the feelings I have had since realizing that I love being submissive during sexual encounters. I can definitely be an equal part to sexual decision-making, and can definitely be assertive and enjoy being so, but there is nothing quite like being told what to do or being handled in a way that capitalizes on my submissive side. However, I have felt since realizing all of this that this part of me scares me. What does this mean for how I identify as a feminist? Does this mean I have bought into a culture that says woman are supposed to be submissive and men are supposed to be dominant? Have I internalized a deep sense of sexism, which now turns me on? The last part of the chapter title made me relieved: I shouldn’t be scared of my own desires and fantasies, and I don’t have to be. Thank god.

The central idea of this chapter is similar to Dan Savage’s idea of “suspending disbelief.” I am not really giving up all of my power during a sexual encounter, and I am not really “not consenting” to an encounter. It is more about buying into a fantasy for a short period of time so that I can live out that fantasy in a safe and consensual way. 

Stacey May Fowles (author of the chapter) discusses how, in the BDSM community, a “non-consensual” scene has parameters set before the scene is acted out: there are clear boundaries and rules, each person has a role to play, and safe words are set. In this way, a “non-consensual” scene is quite the opposite, and person acting in a submissive role (the one “giving up” all of his/her power) is actually the one holding the power during the scene. 

Fowles argues that mainstream porn, as part of a larger rape culture, is partly responsible for the belief among many feminists that the image of a female submissive is horrible: you simply cannot be a feminist and believe that rape is wrong while also believing that female submissiveness can be a consensual part of female sexuality. 

I think that if we critically think about our fantasies, accept the fact that our fantasies are influenced the families, schools, religious institutions, and cultures that raised us, and can plan thoughtful fantasies that include clear boundaries and roles for those involved, then those fantasies can be healthy parts of our sexual experience. Which is good news for me, since being submissive is such a turn on for me and a huge part of many of my fantasies. Not only that, but I can still call myself a feminist! 🙂

The Power of F.E. & Merry Christmas!

Well, it’s happened. I officially broke my computer, and it wasn’t from watching “gangbang” porn.

J and I were camming with our sexy Alaska friends, and he decided to have them watch me FE. Mind you, we have tried this once before and my FE screwed up J’s mousepad on his computer. Using rubbing alcohol on the mousepad seemed to fix it that time. BUT THIS TIME, we are pretty sure my FE flew across the keyboard and landed in the tiny crack separating the keyboard from the hinge of the laptop, frying some RAM or something. Who knows. My computer made some high-pitched squeeling noises for a while- it sounded like a pig dying 😦 At least it was really hot, and our sexy friends said it was a beautiful money shot!

Anyways, we will be off the day after Christmas to go to the Mac store… and hopefully we can dodge the question of “So what exactly happened to your computer?”

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all of our sexy friends! And go enjoy some sexy times! (But try not to break any expensive electronics while doing so 🙂

Open, by Jenny Block

I just read Open by Jenny Block- read and finished it in one day. It was that good (and yes, I am on break, so I have nothing else going on, but I would have read it that quickly anyway). This book complemented The Purity Myth; I had gotten less than 20 pages in before she quoted Jessica Valenti, and discussed the issue of virginity and hypersexualization of young women.

I can’t believe the similarities in our stories. The differences in our stories is nothing new to me; no one’s open relationship is the same as any one else’s. But her sentiments toward growing up with double-standard and conflicting messages (virgin-whore), toward enjoying casual encounters with a variety of people, and toward her realization of her attraction to women resonated with me. Another topic that she discusses at length, because it is central to why she needed to open up her marriage, is that of her and her partner/husband’s vastly different sexual libidos. I could relate immediately with this, as J and I have fairly different needs when it comes to touch and frequency of sex. Our libidos have been more in sync since opening up, but there are still times when I feel wanting more touch; the way that Block described these feelings was so similar to how I would describe them. Reading her book felt at times like looking at myself in a mirror. I felt like many of the words she wrote regarding her path toward an open relationship were very similar to the words I would have written.

Her story is so simple and yet so complicated at the same time. It is yet another variation on the open relationship concept; J and I have yet to hear of another couple whose open relationship is modeled exactly like ours, or was motivated by the same reasons. Reading Block’s story, however, increased my sense of security and comfort in doing what J and I are doing and my sense of community.

The one thing I disagreed with was Block’s attitude toward talking about her intimate relationships with her daughter. I realize that at the time of writing, her daughter was 8, and I agree that she probably doesn’t need to know about her mom’s sex life. However, I don’t think there is anything wrong with her daughter knowing that both her mom and dad love other people like they love each other. Block expresses relief at the realization that her daughter doesn’t think of Block and her girlfriend as anything more than “best friends” who sleep over at each other’s houses because they are best friends. I think Block may be missing the boat on reshaping the way a younger generation views normalcy in intimate relationships. Maybe her philosophy has and will change as her daughter becomes older and doesn’t fall for the “mom sleeps over at Jemma’s house because they’re best friends” story. The reason why Block and myself and so many others that we have met have had such interesting journeys is partly because of all of the work that we have had to do in unlearning so many cultural myths and stories about love, sex, and relationships. It has no doubt been interesting, but why force the next generation to figure it out on their own? We teach our children values around so many other things; if we ourselves lead open and honest sexual and romantic lives, why wouldn’t we also impart those values to our children?

Virginity Definition Update

As J and I were talking today on our way to the gym, he helped me with my definition of virginity. He ascribes to Dan Savage’s point of view on virginity: that you can be a vaginal sex virgin, an oral sex virgin, an anal sex virgin, an S/M virgin, a D/S virgin, a “kink” virgin, etc. According to J, if someone told him that s/he was a “virgin” he would automatically ask some more questions to get at what exactly that means. What have you done/tried? What haven’t you done/tried? How do you feel like a virgin?

Part of my discussion from my post yesterday was concerned with demystifying virginity, making it part of normal human growth and transition. Practically, though, I like J’s understanding of virginity better. In fact, it makes the idea of sex more exciting in a way: I have done X, Y, and Z, and I haven’t tried A, B, and C. It also allows for a nuanced understanding of what virginity is, and that it can take many more forms than just penetration that breaks the mystical hymen.

The Purity Myth

I just finished reading Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth (thank you L for letting me steal that from you over break!! And here is the post you asked for!). It took me just a few days to finish it; I basically tore through this book. It spoke directly to my experience, growing up in a liberal household and religious community and in a conservative Christian town, while also receiving popular culture messages surrounding sexuality. I received the very message Valenti discusses throughout the book: “good” girls wait to have sex until marriage, “bad” girls don’t wait. I did receive a more nuanced message from my parents (wait to have sex with someone that you love and loves you back), but the overall attitude in school among my peers was pretty black-and-white. Girls are no longer to be admired if they have sex; you are now a slut/whore/easy, etc. Girls who remained in Christian youth group, who attended church, who had the jock boyfriend, but who stopped sexual activity before it reached vaginal intercourse were still “pure” and “good.” I remember hearing about girls who had oral sex or who were fingered in movie theaters or who had sex, or who got pregnant, and they were severely slut-shamed in whispers. However, I recognize I had a somewhat different immediate peer group: band dorks. Tina Fey’s Mean Girls got it right: band dorks are probably some of the most sexually active kids that I knew in high school. My best friends in high school were in band (like I was), and they had sex around the same time I did. It was something that we went through together, although it did take me a while to disclose the information to other close friends for fear of slut-shaming.

I decided to use Valenti’s questions for discussions at the end of her book to talk about the themes I read about. So much of the book was shocking and overwhelming that it will help me give some structure to this post. While I already “knew” much of what she discusses, the clarity of her writing and severity of case examples overwhelmed my initial brainstorming for how I wanted to respond to the book.

Defining virginity is difficult for both J and I. I think I would define it as the period of pre-pubescence, when the idea and/or practice of sexual activity has not become a part of day-to-day mind activity and/or physical activity. I realize this is pretty open and perhaps vague, but it makes so much more sense to me then claiming virginity is somehow linked to the first time one engages in some sexual practice. I would liken virginity and loss of virginity to passing through puberty. I think defining virginity this way takes away a lot of the power that the virignity movement has ascribed to virginity. If virginity was thought of as a similar biological, physiological, mental, emotional process as puberty is, it no longer has some religious, mystical, and powerful hold over a very real and inevitable transition that humans go through. I think before opening up our relationship and critically thinking about so many different aspects of sexuality, I most likely would have answered this question very differently. I probably would have defined virginity as the state before one has vaginal intercourse, even though before I would have thought this was a ridiculous definition. I just didn’t really know how to have a more nuanced and creative definition.

Valenti is big on the idea that women should be brought up to recognize that many other values, besides purity, define them as human beings. Women in our society are seen and judged in terms of their sexuality: virgins are good, sluts are bad. If you have had sex, you are dirty, and that’s that. If you wait to have sex until you are married, you are a pure and moral woman. Being respectful, open-minded, community-minded, optimistic, and hardworking are values that I would hope young women have instilled in them. I would hope that women can grow up to be critical thinkers and reflectors, capable of engaging in thoughtful dialogue and creating meaningful relationships. None of these values or abilities are dependent on sexual activity; sexual activity and one’s sexuality is one part of one’s experience as a human being. And although I would argue, and I think Valenti would argue as well, that sexuality is a hugely important aspect of being alive, it should not be the sole defining factor in judging a person’s worth.

The idea that female sexuality is “dirty” is something that still affects me. Every time I discover a new fantasy of mine, I have to actively work through the validity of that fantasy: is this okay? Is this wrong? Should I be allowed to do this? And every time I go home or talk to my mom, I realize that topics come up that make me feel guilty or ashamed of exploring my sexuality. Most recently, while visiting for the holidays, J and I went to a new sex store. When we came home, my mom asked what we had been up to and I told her. She said, “Oh, oh, I don’t know want to know.” It made me feel like sex is something that polite people don’t talk about, that respectable people don’t talk about, that good girls don’t think about. Critically thinking about this concept of female sexuality as “dirty” has been important for me in my path toward sexual fulfillment and happiness, and being able to understand the need for others to seek out sexual fulfillment.

One really interesting aspect of Valenti’s book is the idea of the virginity fetish (fetishizing young girls and women). According to Valenti, this fetish with young girls and women as “pure” is just as dangerous as the hypersexualization of girls and women. Both fetishes are consumed with female sexuality and controlling and molding it to fit a certain image: virgin or whore.

Creating a more positive vision of women’s sexuality, while not sexualizing youth, means giving youth and young women accurate and sex positive information so that they can decide for themselves whether or not to have sex. It means treating the topic of sex as a normal part of the human experience: it can be positive, negative, mistakes can be made, and lessons learned (although we need to continue to work to dismantle the system of patriarchy that still allows the pairing of violence and sex). It means teaching all youth how to safely have sex, how to prepare for both emotional and physical consequences of having sex (both positive and negative), and how to maturely and appropriately negotiate sex- and not only birth control usage, but learning how to communicate what kinds of sexual activities are wanted and needed to make the experiences enjoyable. Creating this kind of sex positive culture means engaging both men and women, and not only creating a positive image of female sexuality but dismantling the stereotypical image of masculinity. It means getting rid of abstinence-only sex education, which is based on treating female sexuality as dirty and wrong and something to be saved for a husband, and telling legislators that laws should uphold and strengthen the legal and medical rights of women.

I Was Tied Up All Afternoon…

was J’s joke all day. “Haha, did you tell your supervisor that you didn’t finish grading the finals because you were ‘a bit tied up’??” Haha, very funny J!

I had one of the most amazing experiences a couple of days ago, and I am still on a high from it. I modeled for a professional Portland rope artist and photographer. It took about 4 to 4 1/2 hours, and was one of the best ways I could have spent an afternoon. I wish the shoot, and my rope stamina, could have lasted even longer!

Originally, I planned to take J with me; I wanted to feel safe and comfortable during my shoot, and I also didn’t want to go to some person’s house by myself so I could be blindfolded and tied up. Because J had to take finals (damn you, finals!) I asked one of our very sexy friends to accompany me (thank you so much again, L!!!). By the time the day arrived for the shoot, I was not concerned about safety because this particular photographer is well-known in the Portland kink community and is reputable, but I still wanted someone with me to increase my sense of comfort. I was more nervous about this because I had been tied up at our sex club the week before and experienced some panicky feelings, and had needed J to sit right next to me while my breathing normalized. So I am really grateful (and so is J!) that we were able to ask a sexy friend to go with me 🙂

The setting for the shoot was at first perhaps a little creepy… down in his basement. Extremely cold concrete floors and a solitary beam that I was often in front of. He used cross-lighting to make a sort of gloomy lighting that contrasted with my body, and the raw pictures I saw on his camera were pretty spectacular.

He was an excellent communicator, highly respectful, understanding, and very patient with me. He was also of course an excellent rope artist. The poses and ties he made were beautiful and amazing to be in. I had four successful poses that he took shots of, all of which made me feel vulnerable and beautiful. One I was sitting in front of the beam with my arms tied above my head. Another I was kneeling in front of the beam, leaned forward, and with a piece of bamboo acting as a spread bar. The third I was on my stomach in a hog tie (J’s favorite!!). The last one I was on my back with my arms tied behind my back, one leg bent and tied to itself and the other leg straight. I loved posing for this one; I loves arching my back and letting myself feel so exposed and cold. We tried a couple of suspension poses (a side suspension and a hog tie suspension), but they were too intense for me. It is an amazing amount of pressure to be hanging from the ceiling by rope! I cut myself some slack since I have only been tied up a few times, and all of those times they were arms-behind-the-back sort of ties, not suspension or full-body ties. I definitely want to be suspended at some point and I definitely would shoot for this artist again. 

I have been on a such a high, not to mention extremely turned on, since I did this. I can’t believe this is such a thing for me now, but I love it, and I can’t wait to keep exploring what rope play does for me!

Excellent Guide to Understanding & Managing Jealousy

I found reading the following post by Kathy Labriola, a Berkeley counselor, amazingly helpful in my continued work on jealousy: this made me feel strong; sometimes confronting and managing jealousy can make me feel small and little and weak. But reading all of her advice, tips on communicating, and successful stories of people who work through jealousy made me feel energized to continue working through jealousy. Sometimes I feel like jealousy issues are hush-hush, like it’s such a “nasty” feeling and we just don’t talk about such things. But it is so helpful for me to talk about it, and hear how other deal with it. When people pretend that it doesn’t exist or that they have never had jealousy issues come up, I feel lonely in my process. Kathy’s guide made me feel in community again.