Sunday, December 25, 2011

Five Fun Links #10

1) In honor of the Iowa Caucuses: SANTORUM!

2) Plus, a lot of people are googling "Santorum" for the first time.

3) A blog about writing literary erotica.

4) Coming soon to Vegas: sci-fi themed prostitutes?

5) Doctor Who companion Katy Manning (Jo Grant) in a Playboy shoot from 1978. Probably the only Playboy shoot ever to feature a Dalek as a prop. (NSFW)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Five Fun Links #9

1) Susie Bright on being bisexual in the early days of the bisexual movement.

2) Do you believe any of these 5 myths about sex in history? (I did.)

3) Polyamory in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: coming soon to a theater near you?

4) Sex injuries!

5) Worst sex writing of 2011.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Polyamory and Occupy Wall Street

Time Out: New York recently published an article about non-traditional relationships at Occupy Wall Street. I initially read the article because I wanted to know what it said about polyamory -- but, while the poly group seems to be having a lot of fun (as is often the case!), I was more impressed by the insights of Catherine and Sebastian, the monogamous couple that was interviewed.

Catherine quotes Kurt Vonnegut: "When you fight with your spouse, what each of you is actually saying is, 'You're not enough people!'" She hopes that the future of relationships includes a more communal style of living. “Nuclear families can be so isolating,” she says. Sebastian points out that even if you believe in nuclear families, that model isn't looking sustainable.

According to marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, couples demand too much from their spouse. "We expect more of our partner than ever before," she says. "Deeper love, deeper friendship, more emotional and practical support. But we expect less of other people, friends or family who could help support our relationship."

Living with other couples can provide the nonsexual benefits of polyamory—you can have a support system while remaining monogamous, and passionately so.

"Monogamy and nonmonogamy are about sex, and marriage is about much more than sex," says Sebastian. "Monogamy is a desire in your heart. It is not a law. Laws don't work in relationships. Relationships are living things that evolve." Sebastian says marriage changed his heart, and living in Zuccotti provided another epiphany. “We should fight against a society that makes it impossible for you to live financially, unless both partners are working six days a week," he says. "We don’t want to disappear into communes so this can keep going on. This is the time to fight back."

The reason reading this made me so happy is that I've often thought there are a lot of things about polyamory that could benefit other types of relationships. Unlike other kinds of nonmonogamy (which are great, and I say this without judgment), polyamory is not just about sex -- it's also a philosophy that emotions are messy, that love can't be contained, that possessiveness and jealousy are destructive, that no person can or should be everything to another person. All of these ideas can be transplanted to monogamous relationships as well, and Catherine and Sebastian are living proof that these ideas are gaining a following, even in more traditional relationships.

I'm very happy to see these issues being discussed in the Occupy movement. One of the strengths of that movement is the fact that it refuses to be about just one thing, and so it becomes a space where everything can be discussed. This drives more traditional political activists crazy because they can't think of anything past 2012. They aren't wrong: we do need to be very concerned about 2012. But I've always believed that social change is a gradual change, and it doesn't keep time with two- and four-year election cycles. Election cycle change is cyclical (Democrats voted in, Republicans voted in, Democrats voted in, etc.), but social change happens at the root of an entire generation's belief system.

Occupy is the second kind of movement. Its members are posing questions that the entire country is now trying to answer. Does democracy go hand in hand with capitalism? What is the responsibility of a nation to its citizens? What is a fair distribution of wealth? What kind of country do we want to be? The Occupy movement is asking the questions. Our whole society is trying to answer them now -- you should have heard the discussion at Thanksgiving dinner at my house! As for figuring out how to cash in on Occupy for political gain, that's up to the Democratic Party. I wish them the best of luck, but it's their problem. Hopefully they'll figure out how to align themselves with the changes of outlook that are going on, not just among the Occupiers but among the rest of America.

I am extremely encouraged to see that Occupiers are asking questions about polyamory, and poly-related ideas. These questions aren't the main thrust of the movement, but they are connected to the question of what kind of a country we want to be. The extraordinary success of the LGBTQ rights movement in the last forty years is proof that attitudes can change very quickly -- and ideas that infringe on our ability to be ourselves and love whomever we choose are discarded quickly in a country built on freedom. We have a long way to go before we shed all our sex-negative attitudes, but we're on the right track.

Via Poly in the Media

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Fun Links #8

1) Nonmonogamy in the Atlantic.

2) Scientific American debunks some classic porn myths and suggests some benefits.

3) Dan Savage on the moral freak-out that shut down a sex club in Maine.

4) For you Star Wars fans out there: Slutty Stormtroopers! (NSFW)

5) Tumblr, why do you always have such hot videos for me? (Very NSFW, 18+)

Proust on Sadism

I have spent the month of November -- which is National Novel Writing Month, after all! -- working on the novel I started this summer. It is set in the 1950s and 1960s, and it is about obscene literature and sadomasochism.

In the section I have been working on for the past week and a half, a character makes the argument that the pulp fiction of the '50s is nothing new, and that its writers are in fact part of a long literary tradition. I've been exploring this idea by tracking down works of literature that address this subject matter, and today I finally tracked down this quote from Marcel Proust. It appears on page 162 of the Gallimard edition of Swann's Way, as the young narrator spies on a lesbian couple having some kinky sex:

"Les sadiques de l'espèce de Mlle Vinteuil sont des êtres si purement sentimentaux, si naturellement vertueux que même le plaisir sensuel leur paraît quelque chose de mauvais, le privilège des méchants. Et quand ils se concèdent à eux-mêmes de s'y livrer un moment, c'est dans la peau des méchants qu'ils tâchent d'entrer leur complice, de façon à avoir eu un moment l'illusion de s'être évadé de leurs âmes scrupuleuses et tendres, dans le monde inhumain du plaisir."
"Sadists like Mademoiselle Vinteuil are such purely romantic beings, so naturally virtuous, that even sensual pleasure to them seems like something evil, the privilege of the wicked. And when they allow themselves to give in to it for a moment, it is in the guise of evil that they try to dress their accomplice, so as to have, for a moment, the illusion of having escaped from their scrupulous and tender souls, into the inhuman world of pleasure."

That's an astonishingly open-minded and, I think, accurate description of the kind of people who are drawn to BDSM, especially when you consider that it comes from a book published in 1919!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Swimming Against a Tidal Wave

Every once in a while I hear a criticism of sex-positive blogs (like this one) -- that they present a rosy view of sexuality, and never deal with the negative sides of sex like rape, like rape, sexually transmitted disease, human trafficking, etc. I think about this a lot, because it certainly isn't responsible to act like sex is fun and amazing for everyone, everywhere, always. There's a dark side to this subject. You can't deny it.

Now, I've always been able to duck these criticisms because I don't feel like I'm required to present a balanced view of my subject. I don't claim to be a "sex-pert," a sex educator, or an authority of any kind on the subject. I'm just an enthusiast. I like to explore the subject of sexuality -- and when something makes me geek out (and isn't too private to share with strangers on the Internet) I write about it. This blog isn't meant to be a definitive work on the subject. I'm just an enthusiast.

But when sex-positive people are criticized for not dealing with the dark side of sex, it really rubs me the wrong way. I got thinking about it again recently after the cast of the Sex Is Fun podcast had difficulty expressing why they shied away from darker topics, and I think I finally figued out why this criticism bothers me so much. People are quick to criticize a sex-positive blogger, podcaster or expert for not giving equal time to darker topics, but nobody expects equal time for sex-positive topics from sex-negative experts.

Sex is presented a number of ways in our culture. It's presented as fantasy by TV, movies, advertisements, fashion models, and porn. It's presented as sin by religion. It's presented as disease by doctors, STI awareness campaigns, and abstinence educators. It's presented as politics by women's rights activists, fundamentalists and marriage equality crusaders. It's presented as crime by police, newspapers, television, and some feminist movements. It's presented as humor by everyone from stand-up comics to your friends at the bar. Some of these six ways of talking about sex are important, some of them are fun, and some of them are pure bullshit. But none of them are really about enjoying love and sex, or embracing them as a force for good in our lives.

Compared to these six ways of talking about sex, the sex-positive message is tiny and marginalized. These five approaches are what you get from every mainstream media outlet. Sex-positive commentators are struggling to be heard on blogs, podcasts, small presses and free alternative papers. For those of us who are trying to present sex in a positive light, it's okay to take the darker side of the topics as rote. It's okay to overcompensate in favor of the positive message. It's okay if Violet Blue or Susie Bright don't spend all day talking about human trafficking -- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has more than got that stuff covered. There's not much for The Stranger to say that every major media outlet in America hasn't already said.

Sex-positive writers are swimming against a tidal wave of negative messages about sex, yet they're the ones who are expected to give equal time the negative side of sex? Why not ask Dr. Phil to give equal time to the positive side of sexuality? Sex-positive writers haven't got the time. There are too few of them and they're fighting an uphill battle to elevate the discourse about sexuality. That's the reason, for instance, that you will hardly ever see a bad review on this blog -- I could write ten bad reviews a day of things I felt portrayed sexuality badly and still never scratch the surface. Rather than become an increasingly bitter blogger, I've decided I'm only going to write good reviews of things that deserve recognition for some welcome sex-positivity. The only exception I've made in three years was for something I felt was passing itself off as sex-positive when it really wasn't.

Here's the size of it: sex-positive outlets have enough work to do countering negative messages. The don't have time to send them, no matter how valid they may be. It's very important that people talk about sex as a vector for disease, or in the context of sex crimes -- but plenty of people are already doing that. On the other hand, very few people are talking about healthy, happy sex -- you know, the kind of sex most people are having. And that's too bad. Because the when healthy, happy sex is ignored, when it isn't spoken of, when it is repressed, when it is locked behind millions of bedroom doors and made invisible, that's when all the negative stuff can perpetuate itself. A culture with a healthy attitude about sex wouldn't have half the problems we do.

So, to all you bloggers, podcasters, writers, actors, web series directors, here's a request from me and my fellow enthusiasts -- keep it positive!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Comics: Batwoman: Elegy

Batwoman: Elegy
written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by J. H. Williams III
DC Comics, 2010

Last week I reviewed a rather obscure comic in a foreign language so I thought I might review something a little more mainstream this week, and you can't get much more mainstream than the family of superheroes that surrounds Batman. Batwoman is a recent addition to this family, vaguely based on a character that hasn't been seen since the early 1960s, yet very, very different. The most glaring difference? Batwoman is an out and proud lesbian.

Batwoman: Elegy collects the first six issues of Batwoman's adventures -- they were first printed about two years ago as Detective Comics #864-#870. There are two stories in the book. The first introduces Batwoman in the present day, and introduces a nemesis with a big connection to her past. The second story flashes back to Kate's youth, and we see what drove her to become a superhero.

Batwoman's sexuality is a big part of the buzz surrounding her character, and since this is a blog about sexuality, that's what I'm going to be writing about here. But while the fact that her alter ego, Kate Kane, occasionally finds time to date women is not the central part of the comic book. Batwoman is a superhero crime fighter first. She's cut from the same cloth as Batman, but while the Dark Knight fights psychopaths and gangsters, Batwoman has her own niche battling a coven of witches and magicians that are part of a relgion of crime. The addition of magical creatures to the noir world of Gotham City is weird and creepy, but it works. The contrast in genres is driven home by the fact that Batwoman is an ex-Marine who, with intel help from her Marine colonel father, has a very nuts-and-bolts, military approach to battling magic.

With all of this going on, Kate Kane doesn't have much time to date. There seems to be a romance with a Gotham police detective simmering on the back burner, but not much has happened in that subplot so far. Where Kate's sexuality is really important is at a key moment in her origin. Like Bruce Wayne (Batman), Kate Kane lost family members to violence at a young age, but lacking a billionaire playboy's perogative for eccentricity, her first thought isn't to strike terror into criminals by dressing as a flying rodent -- instead, she follows in her father's footsteps and joins the Marine Corp. Kate becomes a model cadet, even becomes friends with Dan Choi, future leader of protests against Don't Ask Don't Tell. Choi's cameo is apt, because Kate soon finds herself accused of fraternizing with another woman. It's Kate's word against her accuser's -- all she has to do to keep the career she wants more than anything is lie. Her commanding officer invites her to do so, ready to look the other way. But she's a Marine, and Marines are nothing without honor, so she tells the truth in spite of the consequences.

For a major comic book company to introduce a prominent lesbian character to headline one of their longest running, most important series (the "DC" in "DC Comics" stands for Detective Comics) is cool enough. But for them to forego a bunch of scene of Kate making out with women and instead make the injustice of DADT part of Batwoman's origin story is pretty damn incredible for a company that needs to sell comics in Alabama and Utah, not just New York and California. For many years the plight of gay soldiers was almost invisible -- many people don't have gay friends, and most people don't have friends in the military, so the problem was more abstract than marriage equality. When you read this story you can feel the heartbreak of having your selfless desire to serve your country rejected because of bigotry. Batman's origin is a bit far-fetched, but you believe that someone like Batwoman, with her deep sense of honor and her desire to serve, would turn to vigilanteism as a last resort.

For those who read this trade paperback and like it, there are several uncollected Batwoman issues that continue the story, and you can find them in the back issue boxes in your local comic book store -- Detective Comics #871-873, and Batwoman #0, which lead into a new, ongoing Batwoman series that began last month as part of the company-wide relaunch. It promises to be one of the best series DC publishes, and if you have any inclination towards monthly comic books you should buy it!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Secret Historian

Secret Historian
by Justin Spring
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

Recently I've been doing some research about the history of alternative sexuality in the 20th century. If that sounds like a pretty wide-ranging subject, it is, but I have a project in mind that's still a twinkle in my eye and I'm sort of feeling my way towards it. Anyway, each time I'm in a bookstore I've been combing through their sexuality and LGBT sections looking for anything that's vaguely historical. At one recent trip to a Barnes & Noble, I saw the book Secret Historian and thought... who the hell is Sam Steward. So I bought The Gay Metropolis instead and didn't give it another thought.

Until a few weeks later, when I was once again looking for books online. In the meantime, I had read an essay by Steward in Leatherfolk, a book about San Francisco's gay leather scene which includes a history section. Steward's essay covered the 1940s, the earliest period in the history section. It describes how he met Alfred Kinsey and became an unofficial contributor to Kinsey's research. Steward was set up on a play date with a gay sadist so that Kinsey could film a movie of them, all in the name of science. It was an amazing true story, and when I ran across Secret Historian again in my online search I was thrilled to learn more. I didn't know what I was getting into.

Secret Historian is 414 pages long, and it's an honest 414 pages. There's no big print or wide margins here. It is a thick, exhaustive description of Steward's life. Occasionally it might be a little too detailed, but most of the time it was utterly absorbing. Steward led an amazing, compartmentalized life which he recording in meticulous detail, as if he knew it would be interesting to posterity. He grew up in a repressed Ohio Methodist, but was already experimenting with gay sex before he left high school, including a tryst with silent movie star Rudolph Valentino. Steward's literary aspirations took him to Paris, where he was befriended by Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, and became the lover of Thorton Wilder. Back in the States he taught English at Loyola College in Chicago, struggled with alcoholism rooted in his conflicted attitude about his sexuality, and kept meticulous records of his sex life, including a tryst with a young Rock Hudson in a department store elevator and a fetish for the sailors training at the Great Lakes naval station. These adventures, together with Steward's collecting of gay paraphernalia and his involvement with BDSM culture, attracted the interest of Alfred Kinsey, and Steward became an unofficial collaborator in Kinsey's groundbreaking study of human sexuality. Steward eventually became a tattoo artist, under the alias Phil Sparrow, at Navy Pier to have an excuse to interact with sailors and found it much more lucrative than teaching. In his middle years, he developed a close friendship many prominent gay men of his era, including Julien Green, George Platt Lynes and Glenway Wescott, but his attempt to get on Jean Genet's good side were never successful, and Steward's translations of his novels were unsuccessful. In the mid-'60s Steward relocated his tattoo shop to Oakland, California, where be became the unofficial tattoo artist of Sonny Barger and to Oakland Hell's Angels. He also began writing a beloved series of erotica novels, creating the literary alter ego Phil Andros, a young hustler on the make.

The only criticism I can make of this book is that it's a little bit too detailed. At times its tales of endless hookups gets a bit monotonous. But the book is well worth reading for the vivid description of the many worlds Steward traveled in his life -- the literary salons of 1930s Paris, the quiet desperation of a closeted academic, the seedy subculture of tattoos and motorcycle gangs, the middle aged writer of pulp erotica, and a lonely old age as a respected elder in San Francisco's gay liberation and the AIDS epidemic. It's an incredible life.

In the end, Sam Steward seems to become the prototypical gay man of his generation. Its a rather tragic life, all told. Steward accepts his homosexuality more than many -- he never marries or makes any pretense of heterosexuality -- but all the same he never manages to find enduring love, and seldom even achieves the fleeting kind. He seems to live his life with the assumption that this sort of relationship is unavailable to him, and that is the tragedy that many generations of gay men forced to live in the closet had to live. Nonetheless, there's hope in the fact that the tragedy didn't overwhelm Steward -- while lacking love, he still lived an extraordinary life, one that Justin Spring has set down in great detail in this book, and which we are all privileged to be able to read about, and remember.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tim Gunn on Female Star Trek and Superhero Costumes

In the first episode of their web series, Crazy Sexy Geeks, Tim Gunn, Jennifer Ewing, and Newsarama "Agent of STYLE" Alan Kistler, discuss the style and practicality of female costumes in Classic Star Trek and in comic books. (Geeky Sex doesn't get any geekier than this, friends!)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Comics: Premières Fois

I'm spending the weekend at New York Comic Con and perhaps I'll discover something new to write about in one of these weekly comic book review, in the future. But today I'm brushing the dust off of a graphic novel that I discovered while on vacation in France a year and a half ago. I stopped by the wonderful comic book store Album, located in Paris at the intersection of Rue Saint-Jacques and Boulevard Saint-Germain and, out of curiosity, I checked in the basement for some of the tasteful, European comic book erotica I'm always hearing about. I found a few good examples, so this probably isn't going to be the only foreign comic I'm going to write about...

Premières Fois
written by Sibylline, with various illustrators
Delcourt, 2008

Premières Fois is French for "first times," and that's exactly what this book presents -- ten short comics, about five to ten pages each, following various female protagonists through their first time engaging in various different sexual experience. The experiences are first vaginal sex, first role playing fantasy, first drunken hook-up, first threesome, first trip to a sex club, first submission scene, first pegging, and first sex while watching porn.

The stand out story in the collection is a story about a sex doll. All of the other stories in the book are narrated by the woman in the experience -- this one is narrated by the doll herself. The result is hugely disturbing. In a comic book illustration there is no way to tell the difference between a woman and a realistic sex doll, so what we have here is a story narrated by a woman with a strangely blank expression. She arrives strapped into a crate, lives in a closet, is only taken out by her lover for his own pleasure, and is eventually forgotten when the man begins a relationship with a woman he seems to treat no better. The title of the story, "Nulle," completes the word -- it's most direct translation into English is "nothing" or "null," but it also has a connotation of worthlessness.

The other stories are quite a bit more fun. The best ones are enormously entertaining to read and pretty damn hot -- a well delivered spanking, sleazy bathroom sex between strangers that turn out of be a roll playing married couple, a first vibrator, a woman trying on her new strap-on before pegging her boyfriend for the first time. The more middle of the road ones treat their subjects about how you expect, verging on cliché, but they're charmingly told. Only two of the stories seemed a little unrealistic to me -- the couple visiting a sex club for the first time seemed a bit idealized, and the threesome scene was narrated by a "unicorn" (the mythical hot bi girl who responds to classified ads from couples looking for no-strings-attached threesomes). The second one seemed particularly like a missed opportunity, because there are so few good depictions of the laborious process of setting up a threesome.

The illustrations in this story are all black-and-white pen and ink drawings, but the similarity ends there. Some of the drawings are cute and cartoony, some are sexy. Some are contained within panels, some have more organic page layouts. The art in the story "X-Rated," illustrated by Dave McKean (yes, that's the guy who did the cover art for Sandman) draws heavily from cubism. "Soumission," the story about a submissive encounter, is drawn by Cyril Pedrosa in a rough style that is both ugly and beautiful in the same time, very appropriate for the subject matter. One thing that is consistent throughout the book is that the characters have realistic proportions for attractive young people, which is a welcome change from the tiny waists and torpedo breasts in a lot of erotic comics.

Finally, a note about the language... Unfortunately, Premières Fois isn't available in English as far as I can tell, and a long ago year of barely remembered high school French is not going to get you through this book. That being said, it isn't that difficult to understand, so if you have any French proficiency you should be able to follow it, even if you can't understand the occasional slang expression. If you're looking for the opportunity to practice your French, there are worse ways to do it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Five Fun Links #7

1) Check out this awesome Tumblr of vintage erotica images. (Barely NSFW.)

2) Just in time for Halloween, brings us the top ten porn spoofs of horror movies!

3) In the wake of 100 Year Starship symposium, blogger Thomas Roche speculates about sex in space. (Some NSFW ad banners on page.)

4) French left-wing daily Liberation profiles "le polyamour."

5) Former Sex Is Fun frontman Kidder Kaper hilariously describes his family's trip to a county fair. (Okay, so this doesn't have anything to do with sex, but it's pretty funny.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Comics: Introduction & Optic Nerve #12

First, a word of introduction. I've been trying to think of new ways of breathing life into this blog and it occurred to me that there are a lot of sexy comics out there -- and a lot of them are on my bookshelf. And since comics and Sundays go together, a new feature was born -- the almost weekly sexy comic book review!

I'm going to review a bunch of different comics, ranging from pornographic to artistic to pornographic to foreign. I suppose my review of Scalped #36 & 37, my post about Aunt May's love life, and my recent comments about superhero sex in the DC Comics relaunch also fall in this category, retroactively. I'm going to choose them based on what I'm interested in -- sex scenes will be less important than thoughtful sexual subject matter. Some comics you can expect to see reviewed soon are Alan Moore's Lost Girls and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.

But for my first review I'm going to do something more recent: a short, poignant story that came out just a few weeks ago, and that took me by surprise -- and a very pleasant surprise it was, too. Sometimes sexy comics, like love, find you when you're least expecting it.

Optic Nerve #12
written and illustrated by Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly, 2011

This issue contains two stories and it's the second one, "Amber Sweet," that is getting it a review here. The story is a simple one. A young college student notices linger glances, secretive whispers and lewd comments when she walks by, and is surprised to learn that she looks just like an Internet porn star named Amber Sweet. Little by little, her life is disrupted by the coincidence -- she drops out of school, moves, and breaks up with boyfriends, all because of Amber. Then, one day, she's sitting in a café and Amber walks in. The story is about an afternoon that they spend hanging out.

Tomine is an enormously subtle writer and artist who puts a world of meaning into every word and every line. His stories are simple and beautiful and sad. Like all of Tomine's work, this vignette has a melancholy feel to it, and an ending that's less like the ending of a story and more like an ending in real life -- that is to say, a partial resolution that doesn't necessarily make it all worth while. Amber is a good person who destroys the protagonist's life through no fault of her own. The protagonist seems to know, in her anger, that Amber isn't to blame. She never expresses who is to blame. A society that worships and shames sexually powerful women in the same breath?

That seems to be what Tomine is saying, but he lets us arrive at that idea ourselves. To Tomine, this is a story. It is not a tract, and he doesn't have an agenda. Reading it, I felt connected and disconnected from it all at once, which is how I think Tomine's characters feel about the world they inhabit as well. The ability to transmit a feeling of ennui to his readers through his extremely poignant but oddly empty writing, and his extremely well drafted but oddly sterile illustrations, is probably the reason Tomine enjoys such a large following.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

SlutWalk NYC

This weekend I participated in SlutWalk NYC, my hometown's version of the feminist protest that has been sweeping North America and the world. It began, as I understand, in Toronto earlier this year when an ignorant cop made the latest in a long line of comments about a rape victim's provocative clothing. Feminists marched in Toronto in their slinkiest garments to drive home the very obvious fact that just because a woman is perceived to be a slut doesn't justify rape.

I don't own a red dress, so I went in boy-slut clothes -- jeans and a leather vest, like the cover of a gay pulp erotica novel. (I'm also considering this as a Halloween costume, we'll see...) We marched from Union Square, down Broadway, crosstown on St. Mark's Place, down Second Avenue, then took 3rd Street back to Lafayette and returned to Union Square for a rally -- which was sadly rained out, though only after some delightful performances by girl punk bands and at least one very powerful poetry reading.

There's been a lot of debate about whether SlutWalk is a legitimately empowering feminist protest, or whether it perpetuates a sexualized image of women that our culture would be better off without. I think SlutWalk is a great event and I'd like to see it continue for a long time. First of all, it's one of the few feminist protests out there that actually stands in solidarity with sexual women. I understand why feminism wants to move away from sexy images of women that encourages objectification, but when feminists shun women who dress in provocative ways and embrace their sexual power they are essentially saying that those women don't deserve respect, even from other women, which plays into the idea that they are the "kind of girl" who it's all right to rape. Secondly, the image of SlutWalk is a fantastic one -- angry, proud women taking a stand against rape in skimpy outfits is a fabulous contrast. The casual male passerby will definitely get an eyefull, but the image he sees will be sexy, empowered women who are angry about sexual violence and insisting on respect. Events like this steal sexy imagery from the realm of male fantasy and connect it to real women. It has often been said that rape prevention education needs to stop focusing on teaching women how not to get raped and start focusing on teaching men not to rape women. SlutWalk successfully does that, and I hope it will continue for years to come.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pendard: Now On Facebook

I have just started a Facebook profile, Le Pendard. Please be my friend!

And for the full social networking experience, follow Pendard on Twitter too!

Thoughts on Kidder Kaper Leaving Sex Is Fun

A few years ago I got really into podcasts about sex. There was a period of time when, on a weekly basis, I was listening to Savage Lovecast, Polyamory Weekly, Kinsey Confidential, Ropecast, Mistress Matisse and Open Source Sex on nearly a regular basis, along with one of my favorite podcasts, Sex Is Fun. Then I decided I could better spend my subway commutes reading and I backed off a little, but I still tune in on a semi-regular basis.

Early week I downloaded a recent episode of Sex Is Fun where they interview Susie Bright -- you should never miss a word out of Susie's mouth, if you can help it -- and I got an unpleasant surprise: at the beginning of the interview, one of the show's four hosts, Kidder Kaper, announced that it was going to be his last interview. Then on Tuesday, Kidder explained his reasons for leaving on his farewell episode.

If you haven't listened to Sex Is Fun before, you really should. It's a fun and informative podcast. It isn't as polished a production as some podcasts. It often feels like a morning talk radio show, with all the spontaneity that comes with it. There are four hosts: Laura Rad, a sex educator and recent mom who prefers not to put too much of her personal life on the show; Coochie, a experimental, kinky girl who supplies some dry humor; Gay Rick, who provides a gay perspective and also works as a sex educator in the fight against HIV; and then there's Kidder. It's difficult to explain exactly what Kidder's role on the show is, but he's definitely the leader. His on-air personality is a well informed frat boy, rude but fun, for whom the whole subject is one big party, and who's always ready to stick a new sex toy in his butt for the sake of his loyal listeners. And if the line of duty takes him to a totally hot swingers resort on the Gulf of Mexico, it's not too much of a price to pay. In recent years Kidder written sexy party games for (I've had a couple of really fun parties with his Super Thoughts & Actions), wrote a Sex Is Fun comic book sex guide, and he's prone to daydreaming on the show about writing sex ed guides for Christian teens, or starting a sex-positive cable network. It seemed like, if any one could do it, it would be Kidder with his endless supply of enthusiasm.

Considering I'm not an all-that-regular listener anymore, I found myself getting really sad listening to him talk about how and why that endless enthusiasm has run out. I have difficulty explaining exactly why I feel that way. I can't fault him for wanting a change. My enthusiasm for writing this blog ebbs and flows and it's not a tenth of the work Sex Is Fun must be. And I certainly don't expect the guy to live up to an online persona he has cultivated. Besides, if I ever miss the sound of his voice I won't have to go far. With 295 episodes in the archive, I could listen for years before I ran out.

All the same, it's sad to see someone so unique move on. The other hosts of Sex Is Fun are great and I'm sure the show will continue to be good, but there was nobody quite like Kidder on sex podcasting and personally I'm going to miss listening to him. When I hear him talking about how the show has accomplished everything that he wanted for it and it seems like the right moment to leave, I wonder if he knows just how good he still is. His enthusiasm (which he claims has been feigned lately, but you'd never know it) is infectious. He sounds like a big kid, the kind who's impossible to be mad at even when he says something that offends you, whose eagerness to talk can overpower any inhibition. He spends a lot of his final episode praising his colleagues -- and rightly so -- but I wonder if he understands that it's his zeal that opens the door and lets Laura, Coochie and Rick's message in.

Kidder's not going away. He's still prolific on Twitter and Facebook, he and his wife Jade are writing a new blog, Kaper Life, and he promises new projects on the horizon in the farewell episode. (I'm still hoping for to see that cable network some day.) But when he says he's coming at the world from an angrier place these days, when he says he's tired of answering the same questions from people who are ignorant about sex, and when talks about confronting religion like he's fighting a war, I hope he hasn't lost the fun. I wish Kidder luck on all of his future projects. I just hope he doesn't forget to Play With It.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sex in the DC Universe Reboot

There's been a lot of talk lately about the portrayal of women in the DC Universe reboot. The controversy is centering around Catwoman, who sleeps with Batman in Catwoman #1, and Starfire, who hooks up with both of her male teammates in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.

The objection, of course, is that these characters are not behaving like real sexually empowered women, but like male fantasies of women. Laura Hudson makes this argument very eloquently in her post at Comics Alliance. She hilariously points out (with illustrations) that we are shown two pages of Catwoman's breasts before we ever see her face, and that Starfire constantly strikes swimsuit model poses, apparently for nobody. In an article for her That's My Cape column at Newsarama, Jill Pantozzi goes farther, saying that DC's relaunch is supposed to attract new fans, but instead of trying to expand their audience to women and younger readers DC is apparently making a play for the audience they already have -- men, ages 18-35.

Here's my two cents: I think that Catwoman and Red Hood are not sexist comic books, per se -- I think they're just BAD comic books. DC has 52 new ongoing series -- some of them are good and some of them suck. These two comics are just not worth reading. Their lousy characterization of women has less to do with the fact the the writers are sexist and more to do with the fact that they're awful writers and realistic characterization is simply beyond them. Jill Pantozzi is right that these comics are unlikely to attract new young or female readers. But more to the point, they're not likely to attract any new readers at all. Because they're bad. And because readers who are not familiar with comics start with Batman and Superman, not Red Hood and the Outlaws.

It's unfortunate that these two titles have created bad publicity for the DC's new initiative, because there are plenty of good comics in the relaunch and a lot of them have very positive portrayals of female heroes. The relaunch of Wonder Woman is the only take on that character that has interested me since the original Golden Age version, which was empowering and delightfully naughty and subversive at the same time. Meanwhile, DC is starting a Batwoman series about a former US Marine who was kicked out of the Corp because she refused to dishonor herself by lying about being a lesbian. There has been some controversy about the new Batgirl series but it has all centered around the publisher's decision to heal the title character from a physical disability -- no one denies that she's a strong and realistic female character, before or after her miraculous recovery. And personally, I laughed outloud at the scene in Demon Knights that reveals that Madame Xanadu (a long-running hero in DC's lesser known magical world) is cuckolding her boyfriend Jason Blood with his alter-ego, Etrigan the Demon, because Jason is just too vanilla for her.

The first issues of the new DC titles have plenty to offer, whether you're looking for good storytelling, realistic portrayals of women, or romance and sex that won't insult your intelligence. Unfortunately, there's also Catwoman and Red Hood. You can't win 'em all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Listen to Me and Teresa on Poly Weekly!

Well, that was fast! Cunning Minx interviewed Teresa and me about geeks and kink on Monday night, and our episode of Poly Weekly is already up. Teresa has listened to it and says it's good -- hooray! I'm going to fight hard against my natural aversion to listening to my own voice recorded, and go listen to it soon.

You can download the show through iTunes or find it here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Five Fun Links #6

1) Charming and random naughtiness from the 1950s.

2) Need a vibrator? Maggie Gyllenhaal will loan you one!

3) Abstinence explained for girls and boys!

4) Scarletjohannsoning is becoming a craze after a recent photo leak. (Both NSFW.)

5) If you're in New York, don't miss SlutWalk on Saturday, October 1!

Interview Report

The interview with Cunning Minx of Poly Weekly went pretty good. Teresa and I talked to Minx about geeks and kink, in the wake of Teresa's article on the subject, in which I was quoted. There were some technical difficulties with Skype but I think it mostly went well.

I'm dreading listening to it 'cause I hate the sound of my own voice and I think I may have droned on a little too long about Wonder Woman. But I'll definitely post a link once the show comes out. Not that you should need a link -- Poly Weekly is awesome and you should listen to it every week!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Geeks and Kink on Chinashop Mag

Stop by Chinashop Mag for a great article on the links between geeks and kink.

I'm quoted in the article at the end. The author, Teresa, contacted me for a comment just a few hours before the deadline so I dashed off a rambling, three-paragraph-long reply that wasn't very well organized, thinking she would just find the best sentence or phrase. Instead, she used what I wrote almost in its entirety, which made me wish I had taken a little more time on it. The amount that can be said on the subject of kink and geeks is enormous.

Fortunately, I'm going to have a chance to expand on my comments a little bit. Teresa is being interviewed by one of her other sources, Cunning Minx, for the Polyamory Weekly podcast, and I'm going along for the ride. Should be fun!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Fun Links #5

1) Men like to cuddle more than woman. I always kind of suspected...

2) NYC has a topless outdoor pulp fiction appreciation club? Books and boobs, that's the most awesome idea ever!

3) Hurricane Irene, as covered by drag queen blogger Hedda Lettuce.

4) Sex blogger Chelsea Summers comes out under her real name.

5) When asked if they'd rather give up sex or cell phones, 33 percent of people had really screwed up priorities!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Missing: Geeky Sex Blogger!

It's been awhile since I posted here but I don't want you to think I have deserted my post. It's just that stuff came up and my energy has been going in some other directions. Let's face it, I'm not the most dedicated blogger. A lot of people look at blogging like it's their job, something they need to do both when they feel like it and when they don't. Not me. I'm not paid to write here, I do it because I enjoy it, so every once in awhile there's going to be a lull. Maybe good bloggers don't desert their loyal readers just because they don't feel like writing for awhile. Maybe good bloggers care about things like building an audience. Apparently I don't. But I do care enough to say: thank you for being patient, and thank you for checking back (or, more likely, subscribing to me on Google Reader). I appreciate it.

So, what's been happening to me? Well, first of all, I've found myself single for the first time in what seems like a brazilian years. My decision to break up with my girlfriend Annabelle last winter was followed quickly by my other girlfriend Esmé's decision to break up with me. Goodbye, poly network -- oh well. There followed a little bit of moping, a period of intermittent dating, followed by a summer of no dating at all. I did a lot of fun outdoors activities to take its place and consequently I'm in better shape than I have been in ages, but still, I'm starting to miss going on dates, meeting new people, etc., so I'm making an effort to get moving in that direction again.

Secondly, I've been funneling my creative energy into a fiction project that I could describe as Geeky Sex: The Novel. It's a story about kink and nonmonogamy and erotica in the 1950s and 1960s, and I'm very excited about it. In the process of researching it I've read a lot of books that really deserve a review on this blog -- Secret Historian, Forbidden Apple, Pulp Friction, Leatherfolk, and a small collection of vintage erotica novels I've bought from eBay. All of these books deserve a book review on this blog, without question. I even started writing a few posts, but I think I'm just not in commentary mode at the moment. Besides, who wants to read a blog full of book reviews about history where there used to be fun links and musings on the Mile High Club?

Well, suffice it to say, my interest in geeky sex hasn't gone away. It's just shifted gears and hasn't fit very well into the context of this blog recently. That said, I would like to move back in this direction a little bit. So, thanks again for being patient. Perhaps I'll have something a bit more substantial to share in the near future and then it will be back to business as usual.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Five Fun Links #4

1. An blog on the delightful sexual subtext of old Wonder woman comics.

2. Surprise, surprise! The sex trafficking scare is based on sham science.

3. Sexy Fandom is nerdy and hot.

4. The Sexademic explains porn with science.

5. A number of fantastic videos on YouTube of Susie Bright and Tristan Taormino on a panel at the Sex Bloggers Convention. (I'll embed one, you can find the rest at Susie Bright's blog (start from the bottom).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It Gets Better Ad for Google Chrome

New from Google, the multi-billion dollar corporation that knows all of your personal information and has insinuated itself into everything you do -- and yet manages to seem like it has a giant heart of gold. Take, for example, this new ad for Google Chrome which celebrates the It Gets Better Project as an example of what someone can do to change the world with free Google software. Just to remind you that Big Brother is watching you -- in a benevolent way! (Seriously, all joking aside, way to go, Google!)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Big Sex, Little Death

Big Sex, Little Death
by Susie Bright
Seal Press, 2011

Some people are just extraordinary. There's no other way to say it. Some people, for some reason, have the courage to live big adventurous lives. I've met a few of them and I'm convinced it isn't something they do on purpose. They've never made a conscious decision to be that way and frequently they don't even realize they are that way. If you ask them they'll say that it's chance that has always led them to the center of things. They don't see that they have some sort of internal compass that points them towards adventure and a personal gravity that draws others into their orbit. Susie Bright is one of those people (though I'm ninety-nine percent sure she's one of the ones who would deny it).

Her new book, Big Sex, Little Death, is a memoir of the first half of her life. It begins with her childhood and ends shortly after the birth of her daughter in the early 1990s. In a way, it's a shame it doesn't go further, but then Susie has written a great deal about the other parts of her life in other books and her excellent blog. Those were the days when she was "Susie Sexpert" -- a nickname she now dislikes -- the one who kept us apprised of the Sexual State of the Union, told the Wachowski Brothers and two straight girls how to finger fuck, and still makes sure we had top quality stories to read while we masturbate. That was the Susie Bright I was familiar with. For the purpose of this review, let's call that one Susie Version Four. Even though I read her blog quasi-religiously I didn't know how much of the picture I was missing until Big Sex, Little Death came along.

This book deals almost entirely with Susies One through Three. Susie One was a bookish young girl whose college professor parents met living in India. She was raised in California. After her parents divorced her mom took her to live in Edmonton, Alberta. Unfortunately, her mother's bitterness about the glass ceiling that kept women from getting very far in the world of academia translated to some borderline abusive, borderline suicidal behavior, so Susie learned to walk on egg shells. After Susie was injured in one of her mother's quasi-suicide attempts -- one of the most shocking moments in the book, to which I can't do justice in this summary -- her mother wisely sent her back to California to live with her father. The sheltered girl transfers to a high school in Los Angeles, and within a year has blossomed into Susie Two, who joins a student communist group called the Red Tide and starts experimenting with casual sex. Eventually she drops out of high school to become a Socialist labor organizer in Detroit and Louisville, where she is threatened with guns, witnesses a stabbing and has her apartment vandalized by the KKK. But a Party schism (what a cliché!) sends her packing. In San Francisco, she becomes Susie Three, a lesbian, a vibrator expert in a feminist sex toy store, and front line infrantrywoman in a feminist culture war. As a contributor and editor of On Our Backs, the first lesbian porn magazine, she's accused of helping the patriarchy enslave women by the sex-negative, second-generation feminist movement.

I bought this book because I was interested in Susie's life as a sex-positive celebrity. Interestingly enough, that's the part I found to be the least spellbinding. I was most enraptured by the stories about her childhood and about her political awakening. Those were the moments when I felt like, after all these years of learning about what Susie does, I was finally learning who she is. Throughout the book, Susie comes off as strong, intelligent, adventurous and endearingly vulnerable. She seems to always be in just a little over her head -- so reliably over her head, in fact, that you can only conclude that that's where she wants to be.

There is one thing in this book that I did find a little bit shocking. No, it wasn't the fact that, at sixteen, Susie was running around having casual sex with all of the International Socialists. Susie's mostly regret-free sexual adventures were fun to read, and (dare I admit it?) pretty hot. No, the thing that shocked me was none of the intelligent, serious thirty-year-old Socialist men she meets seems to have any problem having sex with someone so young. Maybe I'm being extremely naïve, but this seemed like a huge generational difference. I remember being hit on by a seventeen-year-old one time and being quite frankly frozen with inhibition -- and I was only twenty-three at the time! I feel like I grew up in a generation where it's generally held that high schoolers should fuck high schoolers, college students should fuck college students, and after that, anything goes. At almost thirty, I'd feel wrong hitting on a college girl. It's hard to believe things were so different just thirty years ago.

That's my only complaint. It's not really about the book at all, and it's probably just my latent sex-negativity talking. Besides that recurring "yuck" moment, I can recommend this book with my whole heart. Get a copy. If you know any feminists, get them a copy too. (Mother's Day is coming up!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Five Fun Links #3

1) Rachel Kramer Bussel interviews Susie Bright about her new memoir.

2) This blog's name says it all: Bangable Dudes in History.

3) If you like Oglaf, you'll love Ménage à Trois and BDSM Bad Advice. (Thanks to SoftAndThorny for the recommendation!)

4) SlutWalk Toronto!

5) Geek and feminist blogger Teresa Jusino (a friend of mine) has a new Tumblr just for her feminist opinions!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Where Did That Come From?

I went to see Susie Bright at Bluestockings on Wednesday and I think I volunteered, in the regular course of conversation, to be her unpaid, part-time, telecommuting intern. You know, like you do in regular conversation. I'm a little confused how that happened but it sounds like an absolutely brilliant way to spend my free time! Hope something comes of it!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: It Gets Better, by Dan Savage and Terry Miller

It Gets Better
by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, ed.
Dutton, 2011

Last Tuesday, March 22, was the release date of the It Gets Better Project book and I was at the TriBeCa Barnes & Noble to see Dan Savage, Terry Miller and a few other contributors read from it. The project is probably the greatest thing Dan Savage has ever done. That's saying a lot, but I think it's the truth. It isn't the funniest, and wittiest or the most complicated but I think that Dan has gone from saving people's sex lives to saving their lives, period.

After the reading, I stood in line to get two copies of the book signed. When I got to the front of the line I told Terry and Dan that one copy was just for me, but the other copy was for a high school student I met a few years ago. I spent a year as an assistant ESL teacher in a high school and, during a tutoring session, my best student came out to me. At the time he was just out to his parents. No one in the school knew. I'm still not sure why he picked me to be the person he told. I may have, at one point, displayed a certain openness towards homosexuality and polyamory in a general way. He also may have seen me reading a novel by Jean Genet and gleaned that I was an ally from that. But I think the reason he told me is that I had no reason to care whether he was gay, one way or another. I was the low-risk option -- not really his peer, nor really his teacher (as an assistant teacher, I wasn't even empowered to give grades). For awhile, I was the only person he had to talk to about gay issues. We stayed in touch after I moved on. He still isn't completely out to his friends (and I worry about him sometimes), but some sort of progress is being made -- last summer he came to visit me in New York and we had a drink in the Stonewall Inn. After I finished telling Terry and Dan the story, Dan shook my hand and thanked me for being there for a gay kid at such an important moment. I was really proud at that moment (Dan Savage shook my hand!) but I also felt like I didn't deserve to be proud. I didn't really do that much. It isn't that hard to be there for someone when they need you.

The It Gets Better Project is all about being there for gay kids who have nothing else. The book (which is mostly transcripts of the It Gets Better videos that have been popping up on YouTube since last summer) aims to do that. It contains 103 versions of what is essentially the same story: The writer had a tough time as a kid in high school. They were harassed mercilessly, maybe by their own parents, maybe even to the point of considering suicide. But once they got out of high school they were able to find a community of people who accepted them and build a life for themselves better than anything they'd ever dreamed of. Some of the letter writers are famous (Barack Obama, Gene Robinson, Ellen, Michael Cunningham, Alison Bechdel, David Sedaris, Perez Hilton), some are just ordinary lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people. There's an essay in Spanish, and one in Arabic. There are cartoons. The evidence being offered is anecdotal but as the same story is repeated over and over again it takes on a certain statistical quality. When every story ends the same way, it becomes easier to believe that yours will too.

My only criticism of the book (and it hardly qualifies) is that, in text form, many of the messages aren't quite as powerful as they are on video. But whatever is lost by the individual messages is more than made up for by having so many of them packaged together. And it is undeniable that this message needs to be out there in as many different forms as possible, taking advantage of many different media. This book can go places the Internet videos can't, and vice versa. If the recent gay teen suicides have taught us anything it is that this message needs to be out there in as many forms as possible.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I'll Buy Some...

You know those awful Axe body spray ads where the guy is mobbed by cheerleaders (or whatever) that can't control themselves? Those ads suck. They should have been like this.

Via Tiny Nibbles

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"I Have Sex" Videos

I've been seeing a series of these videos popping up around the Internet supporting Planned Parenthood. A number of different universities are making their own. They're great videos and they put faces with the victims of the cuts Republicans plan to make Planned Parenthood.

I just want to say that it is very important (duh) to protect Planned Parenthood from Republican attack -- to protect Republican interests as much as our own. As usual, the GOP isn't thinking, it's just reacting. I know a key part of their base is against abortion, but Planned Parenthood is not allowed to use the $75 million it receives from the government on abortion because it's already illegal to use federal money to fund abortion. Instead, it uses that money to provide women and men with sex ed information and birth control, which studies have shown helps prevent abortion.

Now, I believe in a woman's right to choose. I think it's disgusting that we live in a world where women in South Dakota who want to get an abortion are now required by law to go see conservative Christian groups who will try to talk them out of it -- with no exception made for rape victims. But I think it's undeniable that abortion is a controversial procedure that falls in an ethical gray area. I don't think I'm the only pro-choice person who says the less abortions the better. Well, the best way to get less abortions is to give more federal money to Planned Parenthood -- money they're not allowed to spend on abortions and will have to spend providing birth control and sex ed services.

My message to Republicans would be, you can oppose AT MOST one of the following things: (1) abortion; (2) birth control; (3) single mothers. And if you're going to oppose any of them, you had better start supporting the hell out of the other two.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Five Fun Links #2

1. A Lutheran minister tries to codify the ethics of Dan Savage and puts his finger on a few places where the sex columnists ethics fall a little short.

2. Worst threesome EVER in season 2, episode 3 of Awkward Embraces.

3. It's hard to give kids good sex ed without getting shot down as porn...

4. A dirty Wii game (sort of).

5. My new favorite NSFW blog, at its new digs on Tumblr.

BONUS LINK! This fan fic crossover between Oglaf and the Old Spice Guy was suggested by ladyofthelog on last Sunday's links post. (On a personal note: I DON'T UNDERSTAND FAN FIC!!!)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Stacks - The Other Side of Desire

The Other Side of Desire
by Daniel Bergner
Ecco, 2009

This book presents four true profiles of people who have sexual desires that are considered unusual. The first is Jacob, who is a Midwestern businessman with a severe foot fetish. He can’t derive sexual pleasure from anything besides a woman’s feet but he is ashamed of his fetish, can’t conceive of admitting it to his wife, and has fallen into the hands of a quack psychiatrist who has treated him with chemical castration. This hasn’t knocked out the fetish however, and he occasionally considers suicide for relief. The second profile is of the Baroness, a designer who creates latex clothing in her East Village boutique, staffed entirely by her submissives. The Baroness is a sadist who is in a vanilla and sexually monogamous marriage but does extreme BDSM play with others on the side and is a fixture in the NYC kink community. She is very well adjusted in her alternative lifestyle and sees her sadism as a service she provides to help masochists discover themselves. The third profile is of Roy, a man with apparently normal sexual appetites who suddenly discovered an attraction to young girls and was arrested for making a pass at his step-daughter’s friend. This chapter goes into recent research into the causes of pedophilia and points out that a great many men have a desire for the young but know better than to act on it. The fourth profile is of Laura and Ron Parisi. She becomes a double amputee after being hit by a car. He is an advertising photographer who has both an emotional and physical attraction to disabled women and is making a photo series of them based partly on the work of surrealist artist Hans Bellmer. The two meet during this project and end up getting married.

One criticism I've heard of this book from members of sexual minorities is that it's written for vanilla people who want to satisfy their curiosity. This is true, as far as it goes, but I don't think it's a strike against the book. Berger treats his subjects with compassion and tries valiantly to help outsiders understand their unusual sexual tastes. He never sensationalizes (although to book cover does with the subtitle, "four journeys into the far realms of lust and longing"). We never get the impression that he's the emcee at a freak show. His sympathy for Jacob, the foot fetishist, is clear, as is his hostility to the psychiatrist who is making Jacob's life so miserable by feeding his shame. The Baroness also comes off well, and I think any reader that didn't come to the book hostile to BDSM will respect her for her ability to create a community around herself (not to mention to maintain her marriage to a vanilla man). And Berger is at his best during the portion of the book about Ron, the amputee fetishist. As I read Berger's poetic descriptions of Bellmer's strange artwork and Ron's photography, I actually felt my perceptions changing and started to see a strange beauty in something I might have normally considered unsightly.

The third section, about Roy, the pedophile, is the most disturbing part of the book, and it's where I have the most trouble affixing my stamp of approval. Pedophilia is such a taboo and the act of abusing children or teens is such a disgusting one that it is difficult to look at pedophiles as tortured, pitiable men. Berger's writing is strong enough that it makes the reader feel this way, on occasion. It's an extremely uncomfortable feeling to have. It's difficult not to feel that even a hint of pity for a pedophile, even one who suffers silently and never abuses a child, makes us complicit in their evil behavior. Berger's ability to make us feel something for them to a testament to his writing. However, unlike the new perspective he offered me in the amputee section, I'm not sure I want to thank him for the new insight in this case. This is one area where I would sort of prefer to keep my mind closed and impermeable.

I've heard kinky folk criticize this book because they're being lumped in with pedophiles and I would wager that foot and amputee fetishists feel the way (I'm not acquainted with any). I sympathize with that. To compare their consensual and harmless behavior with the sexual exploitation of children is to conflate transgressive behavior with something that is unethical and wrong. And yet Berger may have a point. All through pedophile section he is trying to tell us that pedophiles aren't that unusual, and that the main difference between normal men and men like Roy, who attempt to have sex with young girls, isn't so much the lack of attraction to a girl below the age of consent as the willingness to act on these feelings. After all, hasn't Roy been able to sustain regular, vanilla, heterosexual relationships? Didn't his aberrant behavior surface only after years of apparently normal sexuality? Even he was unaware that he had any particular inclination towards the young. Berger seems to be leading us towards the conclusion that Roy, out of all of the book's subjects, is the most normal.

Whether or not you enjoy this book is going to depend on your reaction to the pedophilia section. Do you enjoy being challenged with these sort of ideas? Are you okay with being made extremely uncomfortable by some of the conclusions they lead you to? Do you want to reexamine your beliefs on this subject? If the answer is yes, there's no question that you'll love this book. If not, steer clear of the third section and you'll be on safe -- and less challenging -- territory. The book will be pleasant and won't create any strong reaction. For my part, as uncomfortable as it was I was glad I read it. Frequently the ideas that are the least comfortable are the ones most worth thinking about.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Five Fun Links

1. Violet Blue gave a talk at SXSW called "Sexual Survival for Geeks." Listen to the podcast of the talk here, read Violet's account on her blog, and read MSNBC's coverage (!) here.

2. Oglaf: A hilarious, dirty, online comic. NSFW!

3. A mom writes about raising an effeminate son.

4. Everybody's doin' it in da butt!

5. An ode to the hickory switch.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Slow Erosion of the Obscenity Laws

Recently I've started doing some research about literary obscenity trials surrounding for the project I've hinted at in previous posts. Actually I spent the day Saturday at the New York Public Library going through newspapers on microfilm as well as a few out of print books. It turned out to be a mostly fruitless day and it left me in an unaccountably foul mood. Towards the end I really began to understand what the problem was -- I think the fight against America's obscenity laws is far from the finest hour of lovers of free speech and open sexuality.

The history of obscenity trials is a slow march towards permissiveness, emphasis on the word slow. Obscenity in the United States was defined by the R. v. Hicklin (a British legal precedent that was applied in the US) and the infamous Comstock Laws of 1873 as any piece of literature that, in whole or in part, could cause lascivious thoughts in its readers. Anthony Comstock's definition of obscenity was comprehensive: it included any writing at all about sex, sex education, abortion or birth control methods and sex toys. He removed all such information from libraries and he used his vast power as New York's Postal Inspector to make sure no such information could be circulated through the mail. Eventually, this Victorian purity was challenged by people such as birth control educator Margaret Sanger, and eventually was dealt a major blow in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses which lifted the ban on Joyce's masterpiece and set a precedent that a literary work couldn't be declared obscene based on certain passages and needed to be considered on the whole. This kicked off a number of clarifying obscenity trials (Roth v. United States and others involving Lady Chatterly's Lover, Tropic of Cancer and Howl, to name a few) and culminating in the Supreme Court lifting the ban on John Cleland's 1750 erotic novel Fanny Hill in Memoirs v. Massachusetts, in the process declaring that only books "utterly without redeeming social importance" could be declared obscene. In 1973 Miller v. Texas established the current standards, which made for a shifting threshold of obscenity based on community standards.

So what problem could I possibly have with this admittedly slow trend in the right direction. Ultimately, all of these arguments are about what is obscene and what isn't, and it's a bit sickening to watch one book defending its freedom of expression by drawing a distinction between themselves and books that are really obscene. The argument completely buys into the idea that censorship of sexually explicit material is all right and throws many other people who's freedom of expression has been curtailed under the bus. And, yes, I know that laws change gradually and a lot of the practice of law is about making the argument that is practical rather than the argument that is ethical or right. That, more than anything, is probably what contributes to my feeling that the law is a dirty, shameful business all around.

I understand why things had to unfold the way they did. If lawyers for Ulysses had chosen not to argue that Ulysses should be decriminalized because it had artistic merit, and had instead argued that all sexual content should be protected by freedom of speech (including gay, sadomasochistic erotic novels, for example) a 1933 judge would have laughed them out of the courtroom and the Comstock Laws would still be in effect. I'm not saying that anyone should have done anything differently. I'm just saying that such a calculating and cowardly strategy doesn't deserve to be celebrated quite so much. We eventually got where we needed to go but a lot of innocent writers, artists, publishers and merchants had to go to jail in the meantime.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Please Master, by Allen Ginsberg

I was just thumbing at random through my copy of the Complete Poems of Allen Ginsberg, and I happened across a poem called "Please Master." With that title, I had to read it. And let me just say, as a straight guy who isn't usually that into gay erotica -- that poem is FUCKING HOT!

Here's how it starts:
Please master can I touch your cheek
please master can I kneel at your feet
please master can I loosen your blue pants
please master can I gaze at your golden haired belly
please master can I gently take down your shorts
please master can I have your thighs bare to my eyes
please master can I take off your clothes below your chair
please master can I kiss your ankles and soul
please master can I touch lips to your muscle hairless thigh
please master can I lay my ear pressed to your stomach
please master can I wrap my arms around your white ass (...)

Read the whole thing, if you dare...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nerds in BDSM

Since it is practically the definition of Geeky Sex, here's a link to Mistress Matisse's article in The Stranger about why the BDSM community is ruled by nerds.

Why are nerds so omnipresent in the BDSM scene? Because being a nerd—especially if one participates in nerd culture around things like comic books, science fiction/fantasy, RPGing, etc.—is excellent training for becoming an active member of the BDSM community. The young nerd, shunned by the elite, perforce becomes accustomed to hanging around other nerds and social outcasts of all types. Nerds thus develop a high tolerance for socially nonconforming people and come to feel that such individuals are, by definition, nicer and more interesting than the Cool Kids. They embrace being weird, in other words.

Plenty of non-nerds like BDSM—in private. But they're unwilling to make the cultural leap into a stigmatized social group. I've seen non-nerds who I knew were as kinky as Caligula walk into a BDSM party, look around, think "Oh no, these people are way too weird," and leave. But when the grown-up nerd goes to his first BDSM social gathering, what does he see? People wearing unusual costumes, calling themselves made-up names and titles, having conversations rife with obscure jargon. Why, it's just like a Star Trek convention! So the nerd takes it in stride.

Anyone who has ever spent any time around the BDSM community will recognize that what Matisse is saying is true -- I've been to munches where there's more talk about video games than kink. But interestingly I find myself agreeing with the first paragraph quoted here, but disagreeing with the second one.

It takes a strong degree of exhibitionism to do a scene in a BDSM party and I think that exhibitionism can exist -- or not -- within the nerd group or within the Cool Kid group. Let me piggy back on Matisse's Star Trek convention comparison. I'm a Trekkie and I'm interested in kink, but I feel out of place at both Star Trek conventions and BDSM parties. This isn't because I don't like nerds (ask my friends, if you can tear them away from Buffy) but because I don't feel a lot of inclination to do either activity in a large group of people. I'd rather confine my Star Trek watching to a small group of friends, and I'd rather explore kink with a small group of lovers. If I do go to some kind of nerdy event (the last one was New York Comic Con in early 2009) I don't dress up. When I go to a BDSM party (the last one was TES's Back to School Party, also in 2009) I find the most private spot I can to play -- and end up a bit uncomfortable anyway.

Not that I think Matisse is wrong about her theory. It's just incomplete. (And, giving her the benefit of the doubt, she has word limit in her column.) I think the social structure of the BDSM community is more welcoming to nerds. But I think there are also other dynamics in effect explain the large number of kinky nerds -- nerds are more likely to explore interests that aren't mainstream, the technicality of BDSM might appeal to them, and they might need to look further than cool kids for a sense of sexual agency and power. But, nerd or cool kid, it takes a certain kind of personality to want to explore your sexuality publicly. Some of us are more comfortable doing the big stuff in private.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Voodoo Sex Ritual

On Friday night I saw a story on the Fox 5 10 O'Clock News about an apartment building in Brooklyn that burned down. What was this story's focus? Sadness over the elderly woman who lost her life? Concern for the many people who are now homeless?

No, the object of the story was to say the words "voodoo sex ritual" as many times as humanly possible in three minutes, and the intrepid Fox 5 team rose to the challenge. I didn't start counting until at least thirty seconds into the story, but I still managed to count 18 times they managed to work in the three-word phrase. Often they managed to hit it two or even three times in one sentence, and always with a special tone to emphasize their moral disgust. They never varied the wording, never tried throwing in "voodoo ceremony" for variety, just kept hitting the phrase in a viewer-entrancing litany over and over and over, as if their Neilsen number ticked up decimal point every time they said it.

From what I can tell from the news story, what happened is a man who is a voodoo priest and a woman were having sex. They had lit some candles around the bed as part of a voodoo ceremony. The sheets caught fire. The man attempted to put out the fire with water from the sink but was unsuccessful. The woman opened the apartment door, and which point a wind tunnel was created which drew the fire into the hall. From there the rest of the building caught fire.

If any chicken were beheaded, any sheep entrails read, any cow tongues bound with twine, the story doesn't mention it. So seriously, why are they harping on the voodoo aspect. Every bullshit relationship book in your local chain bookstore will tell you how romantic it is to light candles by the bed to have sex (gag!). You hardly need to be a voodoo priest to accidentally burn down your apartment -- a sentimental teenage girl could do it just as easily after prom. (Tangent for vanilla people and sentimental teenage girls: Have you ever tried getting wax out of sheets? Don't go there!) But rather than pointing out the potential lesson that non-voodoo practitioners could take away from this tragedy the news spent their time condemning the man and woman involved for putting the life of everyone in their building in danger for their bizarre sexual gratification... and never mind that the danger was a freak accident that could have happened to anyone.

What we've got here, clearly, is blatant media sensationalism. There is a time-honored formula for this kind of thing and it drives me absolutely insane. It consists of triggering three sets of emotions in people: arousal, envy and moral righteousness. Your first reaction to a sensational sex story (doesn't have to be voodoo sex, could be Charlie Sheen or Tiger Wood) is to think, "Wow, that's hot! I can't believe there are people out who are nasty enough to do freaky shit like that to get off!" We've all got a little bit of a voyeur in us. We all want to hear about other people's kinky sex. You may not want to do that particular thing (I'll say it again, wax + sheets = bad) but just the idea that people are out there doing crazy shit to get off arouses you. Then the jealousy kicks in. You think, "How come this stupid moron who apparently can't figure out how a fire extinguisher works is having the sex of his dreams when I, a mature, responsible, successful person, don't get my fantasies fulfilled?" This thought lingers in your mind just long enough to suggest the true answer: that the stupid moron doesn't have the sense God gave tiny animals to be afraid of fire, but he has enough guts to admit to himself what kind of crazy sex he wants to have, get over the shame, and go out and find it. And you don't. But that answer is unacceptable -- it means you're dumber than Charlie Sheen, Tiger Wood and Mr. Voodoo Sex Ritual! So you go looking for another reason and your cultural programming kicks in. Sex is nasty, dirty and wrong. If it was okay to have great sex you would be, but you're not, so clearly it isn't okay. And this moron is doing it. How dare he do something so morally reprehensible?!? And you've arrived at righteous indignation.

Arousal, envy and moral righteousness: It's an ugly set of emotions and the more small-minded and repressed the viewer being triggered is, the stronger they are. And to be really clear, I do think that Mr. Voodoo Sex Ritual, Charlie Sheen, Tiger Wood, Eliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton are irresponsible. But the message I'm getting from the news isn't "If you light candles, bring a fire extinguisher." It's more along the lines of "Voodoo sex ceremonies are sick and wrong and people who engage in them are willing to selfishly put people's lives at risk for a cheap, sexual thrill."

There is something so ugly, abhorrent and pathetic about a group of tiny people condemning someone, not because that person made a mistake but because the group is too repressed to do what they want to do. I have way more contempt for that kind of person than two people who accidentally kicked over a candle. But there's one group of people I have ever more contempt for: TV reporters who manipulate this ugly dynamic to make money. That is the definition of depraved.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Dilemma

This year is a strange one in that I've actually seen a lot of the movies nominated for the Academy Awards. I was a little on the fence about which movie I was rooting for -- The Kids Are All Right or The King's Speech. The part of me that is sex-positive wants to support The Kids Are All Right because it's a good look at gay families and is one of the first times I've seen the complexities of female sexuality portrayed in a movie. The thing is, I sort of like The King's Speech more, despite the fact it is about stuffy English people who probably don't have sex.

This moral quandary was making me lose sleep until I found out the The King's Speech apparently scouted their locations by watching gay porn. That was the missing ingredient I needed to love it with my whole heart!

Click here for pictures. (NSFW!)

Via Violet Blue.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rihanna's "S&M"

A few people have asked me my opinion of Rihanna's S&M video. The truth is that I avoided watching it for awhile. I don't like pop music much, and I like celebrities whip up publicity and make money by simultaneously titillating people with sexy images and stirring up righteous indignation -- frequently in the exact same people.

However, I watched it now and I like it. The music is even pretty good, for pop music. The video is certainly hot (titillation accomplished), apparently enough that it has been banned in nine countries (righteous indignation accomplished). Some controversy has been stirred up, and not just from BDSM-phobic people -- fashion photographer David LaChapelle is suing Rihanna for ripping off his images.

I can understand why some people who are actually in the BDSM scene might have objections to the video. We don't know whether Rihanna is kinky herself or whether this is a publicity stunt. Her video has a whole mish-mash of fetishes and different kinks on display almost interchangeably (bondage, puppy play, etc.), and there seems to be a lot of posing in hot, probably really expensive latex fetish clothes going on, and almost no sadism or masochism. But I say, who cares?

Just the other day, I was writing how cool I think it is that polyamory, bisexuality and BDSM are portrayed positively in a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and how, when an alternative lifestyle is portrayed in a positive way, it's good for both people who are part of a lifestyle and people who may discover it now that it's less scary. Well, Rihanna's video makes BDSM look fun, sexy and not too serious. It's a far cry from the way it usually looks in pop culture -- dangerous, abusive, self-destructive. It certainly will help that Rihanna spends most of the video in the dominant role, but she also spends part of it restrained behind plastic so she doesn't completely shy away from the image of a submissive female, which is what presses the most buttons with the obsessively politically correct.

Even if Rihanna isn't kinky (which she might be) she has done a service for people who are. Besides, it's actually a pretty catchy song. I'm humming it right now.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Stacks - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
by Steig Larsson
Vintage Books, 2003

I'm not usually one for paperback thrillers. The last one I read was The Da Vinci Code about five years ago and I didn't like it that much. But hardly a day goes by when I don't see somebody reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or one of its sequels on the subway so I decided I had to either check them out or risk becoming irrelevant. I certainly never thought I would end up writing about them on this blog, but I feel compelled. We live in a very sex-negative culture, so when somebody goes out of their way to do something sex-positive, it can be surprising, and I think it's good to acknowledge the effort.

That goes doubly in this case. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is essentially a book about misogyny and violence against women, and it features a lot of twisted sexual dynamics, including rape, incest and child molestation. The bad guys are frequently sick fucks who are in to twisted sex -- pornographers, sex traffickers, serial killers and rapists, corrupt officials who sexually take advantage of isolated young women that they have power over.

The protagonist of the novels, Lisabeth Salander, is such a woman. She is the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, who plays with fire and kicks the hornet's nest. She's an abuse survivor who turned the tables on her abuser and is on a mission to punish all transgressing men. Early in the series she is brutally raped, and she revenges herself with equal brutality. The first two novels (I haven't read the third) center around incest, molestation, and trafficking of prostitutes by organized crime.

It would have been easy for the author, Steig Larsson, to just leave it at that. I'm sure most of his readers would have been happy to read the literary equivalent of an episode of Law & Order: SVU, where sex is bad and people who are interested in sex, especially unusual sex, are evil criminals. For that matter, I'm sure his editors and publishers might have preferred that he remain unambiguous on the subject and avoid straying into controversial territory. Indeed, I think if this book were written in the United States, Larsson probably wouldn't have been able to do so at all.

So, thank God it was written in Sweden, because Larsson had to opportunity to make something very clear -- sex, even sex that most people would consider deviant, is not wrong if it is between consenting people. Despite the content of the story, Larsson has given all of his characters full sex lives. Salander is bisexual and experiments with BDSM with one of her girlfriends, who co-owns a fetish clothing store. Despite the fact that she is a rape survivor, she has healthy sexual relationships with several men and women over the course of the books. The other protagonist, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, is ethically nonmonogamous, with many female partners. One of these, his editor, Berger, is in a polyamorous relationship with her husband and Blomkvist, a relationship that very clearly includes both sex and love for both men.

In fact, there is hardly a main character in the book with a monogamous, heterosexual, vanilla -- aka "normal" -- sex life. It's a pretty huge stand to take in novels that will mostly be read by house wives and which will sell hundreds of thousands of copies in supermarkets and airports. In fact, it's one of the first times I can think of that polyamory or BDSM have been used in a non-sensational way in a mainstream book. All three of the books in this series hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, which means that Steig Larsson has probably educated more people about polyamory and kink than Dossie Easton, Janet Hardy, Jay Wiseman, Tristan Taormino, Christopher Ryan or Dan Savage.

The most amazing thing is I have yet to hear any backlash against the sexual tastes of the characters in these stories, which is pretty incredible considering these books were probably read by a lot of conservative housewives supposedly fighting a culture war against this very thing. Maybe they don't care, as long as the books are set in Sweden. Or, who knows? Maybe bisexuality, polyamory and BDSM have entered the general consciousness and are considered valid lifestyle choices (though maybe a little weird). I certainly hope that we'll see more examples in the near future of alternative sexuality being shown in a positive light in mainstream literature. It's the first step to greater things for all of us.