We’re Not Sex-Dolls

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When, in the middle of a conversation, my friend dropped that he thought that women could never enjoy sex as much as men, I thought he couldn’t actually be serious. It seemed so ridiculous to me that I assumed he was joking. As consenting adults why would a whole group systematically be unable to enjoy the act as much as the other? I mean, both sex organs are instruments of both giving and receiving pleasure. It’s not mutually exclusive. Both have clusters of sensitive nerves for receiving pleasure, and have shapes and textures for giving pleasure.

He and I were unable to conclude our discussion at the time, but I’ve continued to mull over and deconstruct his statement since then. It’s a concept that I just really don’t understand. Maybe it is that he had such a wonderfully erotic experience that he just couldn’t imagine anyone feeling as much pleasure as he did. But then again, that doesn’t excuse him for putting all females on the less-than list when it comes to sex. Does it come from Ego? That “I am the most important person in this act”, or that “the enjoyment of sex is made exclusively for me”. Perhaps that is the case, since he often likes to interpret Christian elements in that sort of way—that Eve/Women came from and for Adam/Men.

Or is it disdain for the person on the receiving end of the act? You come across this a lot in homophobia and the idea of what “makes you gay”. There seems to be more disgust and judgment leveled at men being penetrated, whether orally or anally, versus those being on the dominant side. Think of the “joking” insult of “suck my dick” when said to another man. The person saying it is not (usually) purporting themselves to homosexuality but is using this statement to belittle and emasculate the other person. (Serious Sex-Positive Side Note: People need to stop encouraging the view that oral is disgusting and degrading. Please.) He, personally, might be coming from something like that. As an upright heterosexual Christian male, he can’t even condescend to imagine what it is like being on the receiving end of intercourse.

I keep coming back to his Christian background for a reason. As someone who grew up in a very conservative Christian household, I have experienced how it can greatly shape and distort your perspectives. No, not everything Christianity teaches is bad, but there are a lot of things that skew priorities. Christianity is (as a whole—let’s not even get started on differing denominations) a religion focused on tradition (even if it has a varying and complex history), the patriarchy (it’s generally accepted that women should not be congregational leaders based on such passages as 1 Corinthians 14:34-351 and 1 Timothy 2:11-122), and biased morality. I say biased because it always seems that certain groups are judged more harshly than others. There are those whose very identities are seen as invalid and taboo (i.e. homosexuals and trans* people). And then you have the privileged, cis heterosexual white men, who are seen as complex beings who can stray but be forgiven, while you have girls being taught that their primary value is in being pure and chaste, who are taught to even restrict their thoughts. It is likely that this view had some impact on my friend. In the American suburbs he grew up around the concept of good modest Christian girls, and at college in Africa he was around the idea of good modest Muslim women.

Religions just seem to have this obsession with pure virginal females, who don’t even think about doing the dirty (heaven forbid!). For me, that idea is pretty scary. It has this even more sinister misogyny than the idea of “I know she wants it”, but instead “I know she doesn’t want it and I don’t care.” Not that I think my friend is a rapist. He is a very thoughtful and caring person generally. I do think, however, that he is also a victim of conditioning by religion and social institutions, which leave room for misogyny and a whole bunch of other messes.

It’s not only religion that has an obsession with purity, but a large part of human society. Innocence is something to be admired and protected. Women and children are to be cared for, looked after and sheltered despite their own desires. I’m not saying that we, as people, should not want to protect others, but that this way of thinking often leads to dismissing the wishes of the very people you are proclaiming to help. Think of the concept of “wanting it all”. It usually isn’t that women want it all (although, what is really wrong with that?) but that they want more than just the very narrow role that is given to them. But, like the response given in the 80’s, it’s the men and the “well meaning been-there-done-that” women who say that they know what is best despite what you want. And seriously. Some women want to both have a job and have a family? Don’t they know that only men are capable of doing that? Ridiculous. (Check out this analysis on social climate’s affect on media)

In many patriarchy-based religions women are expected to defer to ay male, particularly their religious leader, father and husband. It’s not just in religion, though. This aversion to female agency is seen all over. Women are often slut-shamed when they have sex with multiple partners even though that is more often accepted when it is a man sleeping with multiple women. Whether it is the childfree being dismissed and told that she will “change her mind”, or having their physical bodies controlled through being denied access to family planning product, or fathers being the defining factors in what their daughters wear, or “giving away” the bride, or women’s voices and opinions being dismissed because they are “too emotional”, we see women being treated as if they can’t think for or even represent themselves. It’s society (the patriarchy) telling the female population that it doesn’t care what you know to be best for you because THEY know what is best already.

I got a bit sidetracked there (not that it isn’t true), so let’s get back to the good stuff—sex! The world seems to have women placed in two main categories, 1) ladies, and 2) whores. You can pretty much see this wherever you look (particularly in pop culture tropes). Once a woman acts on her sexual agency usually she moves to the category of whore, with some exceptions, of course. Such as when a sacrifice is made, like a girl giving her committed boyfriend her virginity, although still super frowned upon in Christian circles. This concept may not really be addressed by American society, which considers itself to be fairly progressive, but it is all pretty ingrained.

It’s not sex, per se, that society has such an issue with, but female sexual agency. It is more normal in Hollywood movies and the like to showcase rape, coercion and violence than it is to show a woman making a conscious choice to get down with someone she fancies without first being “won” (not even getting into honest portrayals of homosexual relationships). So, no, I don’t think there is any one cause that neuters women’s sexual desires in the eyes of others. It’s many parts that make up our, and my friend’s, culture. It’s society that thinks the wants, needs and desires of women are secondary. Hopefully we speak up when we hear people talk like my friend did, and hopefully these sort of views will go extinct.

1 “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

2 “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

*** I feel like I should add a disclaimer, that no, not everyone enjoys sex, no one is the same, and not everyone likes the same things. Some people are asexual. Some people only get off through exterior stimulation. Some people need more intense scenarios. I don’t want to discredit anyone’s personal experiences and autonomy in this post. What I do want to encourage is to listen and communicate with your partner (woah!), to challenge what society may tell you is normal, and to consider that maybe if someone chooses to have sex with you that their pleasure is just as important as yours (just maybe)!

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I hate my body.

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You’re reading that right.

Yep.

I have this distinct memory from the eighth or ninth grade, I am standing in the dressing room of some department store with my mom, trying on new jeans. I look down at my bare thighs, worrying at the new stretch mark that had appeared a few days ago.. not that it bothered me, it was just a that my skin was a little irritated. My mom looks at my thighs and exclaims that they Are looking a little flabby, I’m getting saddle bags, and that those stretch marks are just going to keep spreading. That was the first time I felt fat. 

I wanted to start this post in that way, so that you, the audience, could get some honesty and insight into where this is starting from. Because, yes, I am a feminist, body positive, educated, knowledgeable about fat activism and the effects of stress and negative thought patterns.. I could go on, but I won’t. The point is that I am all of these things, but I am also a recovering from an eating disorder. I am living with the day to day battle of my brain rebelling against me and imploring me to starve.

Its a funny thing, you hear about eating disorders all the time now. They are extremely dangerous (try the highest mortality rate of any psychological condition). But what no one wants to talk about is the day to day.

Halp

Seriously.

No one talks about the nagging need to check the scale, the lightheadedness, the compulsive excuses for why you can’t go out. No one tells you about the depression (because yes, when you fuck with your bodies metabolic structure through starving, purging, or other eating disorder behaviors, this causes mood swings, depression, and a whole other host of comorbidities).

So I am here talking about it. I am a reasonable person. I am a feminist. I love and run and work. I am also recovering.

There is a distinct problem with how we talk about mental health in the western world, particularly the world of ED’s. Often-albeit a little less in recent history- eating disorders are spoken of as the white adolescent women’s disease. Thin, frail, pale women too occupied with themselves.

However, this isn’t the case.

Eating disorders are an issue of people: men, women, gender-queer, trans*… because they consist in behaviors. Many experts disagree of the why of eating disorders, and what cognitive processes drive them, but the issue for me is that they exist.

Personally, my story began with a little hormonal weight gain in my early teens, paired with a whole lot of fat shaming. I internalized those messages, and had an opportunity to lose weight. Since then, I have battled with myself, my weight, and my relationship with food.
I have read lots, educated myself a lot, and tried to commit to small acts of advocacy in the world of fat shaming and eating. But being an advocate for yourself AND others is hard. Why? Because there is this pervasive sense, in both media and in medicine, that thin is GOOD. Thin is HEALTHY. There is no longer good science behind this idea — In fact, science shows us that extremely lower weight and common chronic conditions tend to correlate with higher mortality (I am working on finding the link to this study, so check back later). Thin privilege is being called healthy, even when you are not.

I think the point of this is simply that empathy is key. Eating problems, ranging from poor self esteem to DSM criteria, are freaking pervasive. So be aware, telling your thin friend to eat a sandwich might not be very benign, or your fat (no this isn’t a dirty word, so don’t use it as an insult) friend to just “eat healthier and exercise” may not be as simple as it seems.

If you are struggling, reach out. There is help, and you can get through it. Check these resources

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support
http://www.anad.org/eating-disorders-get-help/eating-disorders-helpline-email/
http://www.crisiscallcenter.org/crisisservices.html