Reflections from a flight home

On my flight back to Portland, by way of Salt Lake City, I sat next to a very friendly young guy- 21 years old, Mormon, and exceedingly friendly. In the culture of staring at phones while in public places, lest one catches the eye of a stranger and feels obligated to say hello, his immediate engagement in having a conversation with me was startling. And refreshing.

He asked me what I do in Portland, and I held back little in telling him about teaching Human Sexuality. After just teaching the week on sexuality education, I was highly curious to know how this person connected his religious background to his perception of relationships and sex. He was able to talk articulately about being committed to abstinence, not feeling ready to get married, and loving to date (he goes on 3-4 a week with different people). He also asked for my thoughts on what kind of sex ed I thought teens should get, and seemed to be able to hear me talk about comprehensive education and allowing teens to have choices and options over their sexual and relationship decisions.

Talking with him reminded me of an experiential assignment I have this quarter in my sex therapy class: I’m supposed to find some kind of sex related event to attend, one that pushes my comfort zone. I’ve been a little bit stuck with this- what am I uncomfortable with? I’ve been to swing clubs, strip clubs (male and female), tantric events, kink events, and poly meetups. I haven’t been to all gay male spaces or cuddle puddle events (and other things I’m sure I’m not thinking of right now), but I’m not uncomfortable with them. But I realized something very important during my conversation on the plane: I am uncomfortable talking with someone from a conservative religious background about sex. That sort of blows my mind. It was challenging for me to explain my perspectives without using language that could alienate him or result in some kind of disengagement. How can I be diplomatic when I have such strong beliefs of my own about sexual and relationship rights and autonomy? 

Thanks, Taylor, for a wonderful conversation and for reminding me where my growing edges are.

Sexuality Critical Genogram

A major tool used in my counseling program is the genogram, which is basically a family tree. It is typically used during the first few sessions to diagram a client’s family (which could be an individual, couple, or family) back at least three generations. The point is to help clients see intergenerational patterns. They’re pretty cool.

In class this week, we talked about the critical genogram, which is a genogram that also depicts a client’s particular social location (related to gender, sexual orientation, class, race, ability, age, religion, etc.) and how larger systems (like patriarchy, racism, etc.),  have influenced the client’s experience of their social location and presenting problems.

So I decided to draw one depicting my perception of how larger systems of patriarchy, monogamy, and religion have influenced my experience of my relational orientation, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The main messages I have received from those larger systems include “Women are possessions, property, need to be owned, controlled, and contained,” “Sexuality is sinful, immoral, unhealthy, wrong, bad,” and “Female sexuality is especially sinful, immoral, unhealthy, wrong, bad.” While I have largely cut myself off from those larger systems, I am still influenced by them because of my relationships with my family, larger community, and the messages I receive from media. I experience relatively integrated relationships with my relational and sexual orientations (I feel really comfortable identifying as queer and having an open/poly relationship), but my relationship with my gender identity (woman) feels more complicated. Because I can’t completely separate stripping from patriarchy, my identity as a woman and my enjoyment and participation in the strip club culture feels complicated and richly complex.

I am excited thinking about constructing genograms with my future clients, especially sexuality genograms, which involves questions about sexual history, familial messages about sex and love, and experiences in current romantic relationships. I’m also really excited thinking about creating a way to construct and use a genogram for poly folks and families.

Here is my sexuality critical genogram 🙂 I’m the pink circle.

Screen shot 2013-11-21 at 9.22.47 PM

Recent Articles From J

Here are some articles and blog posts J sent me recently… 

This is a fabulous article on foundations for relationships, and how regardless of structure, people would benefit from working on recognizing these foundations… and then leaving the structure to do its thing without judgment:
Why you shouldn’t (and should) be monogamous

This one is fabulous!! It’s great to see the different types of monogamy delineated so clearly. Also, I hadn’t come across the phrase “activity monogamy” before although J and I have certainly experienced the effects of (me) identifying with it before:
The Four Monogamies

Researchers investigated the possible link between attachment styles and fantasy frequency and content. I’m a little skeptical about the generalizability (is that a word? ha) of the study, but it’s interesting for sure:
An Inside Look at Fantasies

This last one is especially interesting as it was written on a Christian blog, discussing the fear that gay marriages will redefine straight marriage as nonmonogamous. J said the comments that people left fascinating.
What You Should Know About “Monogamish” Relationships

Casual V. Intimate Sex, Religion, Slut-Shaming, and the Madonna-Whore Complex, Oh My!

So J and I experimented having a second guy join in on our sexual fun for the second time… this person brought up some very interesting things for both of us. Is casual sex okay? Does wanting, and liking, casual sex make me a slut? Do I have to really like the guy to do this? Can it just be for fun? What about his intentions, his motivations? What about the psychology behind everyone’s experiences? What role does religion and faith play into our decisions and motivations about sex? Have you heard of the Madonna-Whore Complex? Believe it or not, all of these things go together, and were brought up by inviting one other person into the mix!Casual versus Intimate Sex: Both J and I agree that we were taught by our families, religious educations, and society that we should only have sex if we deeply care and love the other person. Sex can thus only occur after a deep emotional connection has been created.

I (K) don’t think this is necessarily a “bad” idea. I have learned over the past couple of months that the emotional connection is extremely important to me; I don’t think I would enjoy having a sexual encounter with someone I completely did not know. I think sex is enhanced through knowing my partner; I feel more comfortable being myself, and it is overall more meaningful for me. Having a one-night stand with a complete stranger is not something I am looking for.
However, the black-and-white teaching that love equals sex, and sex equals love, does not hold up for me. I am not completely opposed to having a sexual encounter with someone I don’t know as well, and then experiencing what this is like without having to have any kind of relationship with that person afterwards. I also don’t think that I need to love my partner to have an enjoyable time.
My sexual experiences are completely different with my primary partner (J), because I know it can be romantic and deeply emotional. I appreciate these experiences, and they are truly my favorite experiences. However, I can appreciate the less deep connections and moments with other partners.
I have talked with some friends and family, and some people have expressed concerns to me that women form emotional connections with their sexual partners, and so having casual encounters would be too difficult emotionally. I can definitely see where this concern comes from, and I am cautious about this myself; I feel like I care for people very easily, regardless of any sexual experience I have had with them. J and I have talked about our comfort levels with forming emotional relationships with our other partners, and we are both fairly comfortable with this. It seems a little unnatural to us to not care at some level for our partners, and we both agree that intimacy is enhanced by some level of caring.
The bottom line about this for me is that love does not have to equal sex, and sex does not have to equal love. Sometimes sex is just for fun and excitement, and sometimes we can love others who we do not experience sexual intimacy with. Our most recent MFM highlighted this distinction to me: I can have fun sex without any emotional connections. I can watch this guy leave the house and honestly be happy to never see him again. Yes, the sexual experience probably would have been more fun and exciting and comfortable had I known him a bit better. But it was good enough. And we can move on with getting to know other people!
Slut-Shaming: This is an extremely interesting topic to me (K). I feel like girls and women are socialized to bash on other girls and women, and to compete with each other for potential partners. I feel like this socialization is personally mediated (interpersonal slut-shaming) and internalized (negative self-talk and self-slut shaming). I have recently experienced this, and I remember feeling this growing up.

The idea of slut-shaming is discussed in more detail in The Ethical Slut; it is basically the idea that promiscuous individuals, and more specifically promiscuous women, are immoral and deviant. Sluts cannot be trusted with having honest relationships, they will “steal” your partner behind your back, and they might actually like sex (which, as everyone knows, is in itself wrong. Ha!).

Trying out this idea of casual sex really hammered home this idea of “slutty-ness” for  me.In the Ethical Slut, the authors describe their attempt to reclaim the label slut, as someone who is honest and open about their sexuality, who knows what they want and are not afraid to find it and get it. Am I a slut? Would I call myself a slut? This word just carries a lot of negative connotations; I think I am more comfortable saying I am in an open relationship. Yes, if “slut” meant that I was simply open with my sexuality with others, and that was a good thing because I am honest with myself and others, then I would identify as a “slut.” I went through a whole self-slut shaming process today with J: I didn’t know this guy from last night! He was sort of a jerk! I don’t really want to see him again! I am a big ‘ol SLUT!! He was like, yeah, you are! Huh… okay, well… okay!

I don’t want to feel bad about my sexuality, my sex drive, my experience as a sexual human being. Everyone is sexual. Everyone wants sex. Everyone should be able to enjoy sex. Just because I didn’t know this guy well doesn’t mean I am immoral or bad or weird or gross. I knew what I wanted last night (an MFM!!), and I got it!

Religion and Faith: I grew up in a very progressive religious community, and I had a very comprehensive sexuality education because of it. J’s religious upbringing was a bit more traditional or conservative, but not much more so than mine. We both find it fascinating the guilt and shame that so many Western religions bring to the table when teaching about our bodies, sex, and pleasure.

The guy we met last night ascribes to conservative Christianity. The sense that we got from him was that: 1. If he was in a relationship with someone (aka, not single), he probably would not be trolling Craigslist and hitting up couples; 2. It is okay for him to join a couple, because both partners in the couple agrees to the scenario; 3. However, what these couples are doing (including us) is immoral in the eyes of God, but he is exempt because it’s not his relationship and morals he is screwing up. Interesting, right? He didn’t explicitly say those things, but talked in a round-about way to describe how his religious ideals match up with his behavior.
Madonna-Whore Complex: The Madonna-Whore Complex is the idea that a man experiences sex differently with his wife versus with his “whore.” With this guy last night, I was definitely the “whore” (or slut!). He can join couples and he can find open people online because sex with “whores” is different than sex with one’s “pure and moral wife.” This of course ties in with the influence of religion on one’s views about sexuality. Google the Madonna-Whore Complex- it’s pretty interesting!

Quick tangent: “There are many other reasons for a man’s sex drive to decrease including disease, injury, hormonal changes, stress, and extramarital affairs.” This was a quote we found when researching the Madonna-Whore Complex. What the heck?? Extramarital affairs decrease a man’s sex drive? We beg to differ! We have had more sex together than ever because of all of our experimenting, slutty behavior, and meeting and playing with new people! We think you should be worried if your partner all of a sudden wants sex all the time! 🙂