Oct 112013
Women are listening to what we say about their bodies when we discuss this shirt.

Women are listening to what we say about their bodies when we discuss this shirt.

When we talk about this shirt, we’re talking about vulvas.  We’re talking about our culture’s values around vulvas, masturbation, and pubic hair.  And the things we say not only reveal our internalized issues with those natural things; our words are impacting everyone who listens.


I will begin by getting the distracting things out of the way.  I am not a fan of American Apparel’s advertising, and often times not a fan of the company itself.  I’m especially pissed about their approach to fat potential customers.  I hate that their t-shirt sizes run really small compared to other companies, and that the fabric is cheap and disposable.  There, now that we have that out of the way lets refuse to be distracted by our thoughts on this this company so we can focus on this t-shirt, ok?

Recently American Apparel started selling this t-shirt, and the internet and news media went into their predictable meltdown as though this were bigger than global warming, international conflict, and the US government shutdown all rolled into one.  What was the outcry?  I won’t include links because these folks are getting enough press already.  The summary: the shirt is disgusting because (1) it’s a big naked vulva (2) it’s not naked/young enough; it has pubes (3) it’s menstruating.  For much of the mainstream media it was just too taboo to include (4) the vulva is being pleasured by a hand on the clit.

Whether you or I would wear a shirt like this doesn’t matter to me one bit (spoiler: I would), nor does it matter to this discussion.  What I care about is what we’re saying to each other and the world when we comment on this shirt.  When we talk about this shirt, we’re talking about vulvas.  We’re talking about our culture’s values around vulvas, masturbation, and pubic hair.  And the things we say not only reveal our internalized issues with those natural things; they are impacting everyone who listens.

This is a line drawing of a real vulva, drawn from a vulva selfie taken by one of the artists who created this image.  (The blood was added later, if you’re curious.)  If you’re interested in learning more about the artists and their thoughts on the brewhaha about the shirt, this is a great interview.  Although every vulva is different, there are plenty of vulvas out there that look like this one.  The simplicity of the line drawing means it can represent a particularly wide variety of vulvas, to boot.  When we say nasty things about this vulva, we’re disparaging a real person’s vulva and we’re saying awful things about the vulvas of many people.  By labeling certain things that nearly every vulva was born to have (pubic hair, menstrual blood, labia, masturbatory pleasure) as disgusting in this image, we are enforcing the idea that vulvas and sexual pleasure are something to get all “ew, gross” about.

A happy vulva is a fucking gorgeous vulva, with or without hair, with or without blood.  That includes mine, yours, hers, theirs, his (genitals do not equal gender), and that one over there.  If we’re gonna get our collective undies in a twist over the need for more positive body images, then lets start with our own language right here and now.  I surely hope none of us would turn to our child, sibling, parent, best friend, our partners, or ourself and say “your vulva is nasty.”  When we put down the image on this shirt, that is one of the messages we’re sending, whether intentional or not.

The vulva in this picture is lovely.  

The pubic hair is natural and attractive.  

The fact that the person in the image is pleasuring themself suggests that they and their vulva are happy together, and that’s fantastic.  

I love this vulva.

I love that it is proudly displayed on a shirt.  

And I adore your vulva even more.  I hope you do, too.

Jun 282013
Bert and Ernie are seen from the back, snuggling, while watching an antique TV showing the Supreme Court Justices.  This is a cover from The New Yorker's early July issue.

Bert and Ernie are seen from the back, snuggling, while watching an antique TV showing the Supreme Court Justices. This is a cover from The New Yorker’s early July issue. Click the cover for more info.

I saw this picture today and suddenly there were tears on my face.  Bert and Ernie were an important part of my childhood and I want to do right by them (and by Mr. Rogers).  This image fills me with pride at our slow, spotty progress… as well as the need to apologize for taking so long with this on-going struggle.

Sometimes during conversations about coming out we’ll all start talking about when and how we realized that being straight was ok and being queer was socially unwelcome. I usually say that I was a late bloomer with figuring this out. When I was a kid I thought that people just lived with people they loved, whether it was platonic love or otherwise. I had no idea that gender was a big part of it for many folks. I had an aunt who lived with her mother and cared for her. My neighbors were a het couple that weren’t married and had no kids. Bert and Ernie were obviously a great pair, whatever their relationship. Same for Snuffy and Big Bird, who I assumed were at least having sleep over parties together. My parents and I all loved each other and lived together.  I reasoned that when you share sleeping space it means you trust the other person, maybe like to share jokes and giggle when you’re supposed to be asleep, and don’t care if the other person sees what you look like first thing in the morning.

My point in sharing all this is that sometimes I hear parents (more so in the US than Canada) share their fears of having to explain same sex-relationships to their kids, and that it will somehow ruin their innocence. And yet I look back on that part of my childhood as one of the most magical, wonderful examples of innocence. I was innocent of the societal judgement over who gets to love who, whatever form that love may take. What is there to explain? Lots of different people love each other, and sometimes they also live together. We should be happy when others are happy.

Although the process of breaking that blissful ignorance involved a series of publicly humiliating events (like asking for a definition of “homosexual” in 8th grade science class -who knew there were such categories?!), I am glad I hung onto the belief that everybody loved love in all its forms. I’m especially grateful that I can still remember believing that.  It gives me a vision of a world I want to help create, even if we don’t get all the way there during my lifetime.

Mar 112013
When is it appropriate for us, as members of the public, to eroticize the persona and creations of a public person who did not intend sexualization just because that is what we would prefer to consume?
No, that isn’t want I want to ask.  I already know my opinion on that one.  How about this, instead:
Who owns your public persona, and the public interpretation of the things you create and do, once you’ve released them to the public?
No, cross out that last question.  The focus is warped toward to the artist.  Let me try that again:
How can we, as a society, stop ourselves from restricting a woman to a purely eroticized persona at the loss of every other part of her being, especially if we have seen her willingly sensually portrayed?
Maybe I could distill it one step further from a question to a directive: 
Listen to what she says about her sexuality.  Hold yourself to a higher standard when the message is that she is not being sexual and you find yourself saying “Yes you are” in response.  This is true even if you have exchanged resources to consume her sexual side in the past.   This is especially true if you don’t want it to be.
It sounds simple, and you would think that I know better by now, but I owe somebody an apology.
I went to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum because I am in Santa Fe, NM (USA) attending an intensive professional training.  It seemed to me that every sex educator should make the pilgrimage across the plaza to the museum if they are in town.  I visited her collection because I wanted to see her beautiful paintings of labia and clitorises and vaginas and all things juicily vulvic.  Although I was aware that Georgia O’Keeffe had protested the eroticizing of her work, I had always responded with a knowing nod.  No need to be so coy, Georgia.  You’re among friends here.
Before delving into the paintings I stopped into the little theatre to watch the aging documentary short of O’Keefe’s life.  I was ready to hear the voice and learn the history of this amazing woman who gave the world lush, colourful, undulating, asymmetrical, enticing images of forbidden femininity like nobody else I had ever seen.  Instead, I got an education.  While I am no expert on O’Keeffe, I’ll do my best to sum up what I learned.

She made gorgeous art, much of it abstract, that caught the eye of a fellow artist and photographer that happened to own a prestigious gallery in NY City.  They became smitten with each other, and as part of their personal and professional partnership he showed her art in his gallery, inviting the world to know her creative brilliance.  Nobody made a peep about anything looking sexy.  As the movie said, “she painted her joy” and it was evident in her brushwork and colour.

Their relationships progressed on both levels, and she posed for a series of photographs taken by him.  The images were sensual, and as I sat there with a few other strangers in the little theatre we were treated to an image of her nude torso, invitingly displayed without her face for our unabashed viewing pleasure.  Another image followed, showing her topless, casually looking the viewer in the eye.  And then they returned to her nude image one more time, for good measure.  Finally!  Evidence that Georgia O’Keeffe loved oozing sex in her artwork!  I smugly awaited the next bout of information from the movie, but wasn’t what I expected.

Critics evidently thought the same thing I did about her photographs, and they didn’t forget that impression when they next saw her artwork.  Without asking her, they deemed it a steamy pile of sex and spread their assumptions about her saucy artistic endeavours far and wide.  The thing is, it wasn’t erotic art; it was a pack of eroticly primed and expectant viewers.  O’Keeffe was painting her joy, not her pussy, and she did not intend them to be one and the same.  She told them they were mistaken, but nobody listened and nobody cared.  Come on, Georgia.  No need to be coy, we’ve seen you naked.  We know what you’re about, we’re in on your little game and it’s delicious.

I was agast with her critics of the time and ashamed of my smug sexual pushiness and sexism.  I listened as the movie showed me what happened next.  She was so upset by the way in which her art was received that she abruptly changed her style, painting only realistic images of things like fruit that could not be misinterpreted.  Eventually she moved to flowers, which were painted in a largely realistic way, and again she was forced to assert the non-sexual nature of her work to ears that didn’t want to hear it.  She moved on to landscapes of New Mexico, frequently painting a very realistic image of the view before zooming in so that she could always point at the former to defend the latter.  No matter how many times O’Keeffe non-judgmentally insisted “It’s not me, it’s you” people winked in response and declared it not just a painting of a canyon wall but a giant crotch canyon of smouldering wanton lesbian lust.   After all, we saw her naked and in the picture next to that one she looked us right in the eye while topless.
Well, what the farts?!  Those clandestine pussy portraits weren’t pussies after all.  Close-ups of flowers’ sex organs were eroticized by me, not the her.  I didn’t listen when she directly told us that we had misinterpreted our sexual intent for hers.
I don’t have a problem with smiling to myself when I see her art.  I did it throughout the gallery.  However, that’s on me, as it should be.  Suddenly her art took on a new set of aspects for me as I searched for additional sources of meaning.  Two and a half hours later, I walked back to my hotel in the cold rain, thankful for having learned a great deal about myself as well as one of my brave heroes.
Nov 162012
Stencil Stating: Many Hands Make Light Work with images of hands

From the Icarus Project

Yesterday David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times published an interesting piece entitled The Age of Possibility, in which he explores some recent research that shows an increase in single-hood across many nations, as well as a decline in fertility rates.  Clearly these statistics have large national and global political and financial implications.  This information is neither new nor surprising, so Mr. Brooks tacks on his two cents by shaking his fist at young adults these days before suggesting we wait to see whether this is a problem before passing judgement.

This is an interesting piece, but I am disappointed in the author from my perspective as someone who studies family and relational well-being.  Although he hints at additional options, he only discusses single-hood and “traditional” 2 parent families.  It would have been nice to see him not only look at smaller family structures, but also larger ones such as multigenerational microsystems (multiple generations actively working together as a single unit and perhaps living together), large and supportive step-families, intimate relationships consisting of more than two adults, and others.

I am not surprised that the author failed to address larger family structures and mindful single-hood, though, especially given this sentence near the end:

“They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”

Way to restrict the definition of what counts as a family and what counts as commitment beyond the self, buddy!

Since demographers rarely ask about these “non-traditional” structures (which have always been around but rarely studied, valued, or recognized), when a person marks “single” on a survey they may just be marking “I don’t meet any of your other categories”.   Who knows how many of these “single” folks aren’t also “enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice” — familial or otherwise?  Furthermore, Mr. Brook’s dismissive wave toward those who are actually single makes his own biased opinions of adult single-hood as an irresponsible, immature and self-centered phase all too clear.

Go take a gander at the original piece and tell me what you think.  I’m curious if any of these issues, or others, also stood out to you and what your take on them may be!

Nov 252011

It takes something special to get a woman to gush about your date over coffee with her friends. But unfortunately, it takes a lot less to get her to gripe to her friends about a date gone wrong.  In fact, my Twitter followers were eager to chime in when I asked what their deal breakers were!  Read my full piece at PRZMan.com to find out if you’re falling into these three bad habits that can damage your dating reputation.

–Click here for the whole story.

Nov 232010

You all know that I am a lube snob, and that I advocate using a good, high-quality lube whenever things get hot and heavy.  But I admit that sometimes it’s not too convenient to carry around a bottle of your favorite slick stuff just in case the mood strikes!  Vacation travel can also be difficult, especially with airport security reducing the liquids people carry with them and airlines raising prices for checked luggage to make it more and more difficult to bring your sex supplies with you.  Luckily for all of us, Babeland is offering the Goodie Bag, a collection of high-quality, travel-ready lubes and condoms, for that spur-of-the-moment intimacy or vacation lovin’.  Plus, until the end of the year, $2 of every Goodie Bag purchase goes toward GLBT causes!

  • Toy:  Goodie Bag (sent by Babeland.com for review)
  • Type: 6 lube packets (3 different types), 2 sheer latex condoms
  • Manufacturer: Babeland
  • Material: Lubes are all glycerine-free and water-based, other ingredients vary
  • Price: $6.50

Perfect for intimacy on-the-go

Nothing makes the act of giving a gift to yourself feel even better than knowing that you’re doing something worthwhile for others at the same time.  That’s why I’m pleased that Babeland has been donating $2 from every purchase of a Babeland Goodie Bag to three GLBT causes (the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse, and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project), and will continue to make these donations for any Goodie Bag purchased before the end of the year.
Of course, there’s more to the Goodie Bag than social outreach; you’re also getting the perfect set of travel-sized lubes and a couple condoms!  So many people share with me their interest in spontaneous intimacy with themselves or their partners; sneaking some quick loving into everyday situations gives a titillating sense of taboo, and sharing it with a partner can make one feel seductive and irresistible.  The problem with such spontaneity is, of course, that you might not always have the supplies on-hand to facilitate your intimacy.  That’s what makes the little one-shot lube packets provided in the Goodie Bag so perfect!  Tuck a couple into your purse or briefcase with the sheer latex condoms that also come in the Goodie Bag, and you’ll be prepared when opportunity knocks for spur-of-the-moment intimacy.  Or you can put the lube packets into your carry-on for your holiday travel without needing to worry about exceeding TSA’s guidelines for liquids.
The Goodie Bag contains 6 lube packets (2 each of 3 different brands) and a pair of sheer latex lubricated condoms.  All three brands of lube–Entice, Babelube, and Babeland Naturals Naked Lube–are glycerine-free, water-safe, and high-quality.  I’ve previously reviewed Babelube and the Naked Lube (you can find those reviews here and here), and found them both to be delightful choices for intimacy enhancement.  This is my first time encountering Entice, but I was pleased with its slickness, which made it almost feel like a silicone/water hybrid (though it’s all water-based and so safe for use with silicone toys).  The condoms are Babeland-brand lubricated sheer latex condoms, and are high-quality and ready for use.
Overall, the Goodie Bag is an excellent purchase to prepare yourself for that perfect situation to get some loving on without premeditation, or to set yourself up to go home for the holidays without giving up all your lubes or moving them to tiny bottles.  In addition, these one-use lube packets also lend themselves well to safer sex play with multiple partners, since you won’t be using the same lube bottle with several people and so don’t have to worry about inadvertent contamination through something touching the bottle.  And again, until the end of 2010, $2 of every Goodie Bag purchased will go to worthwhile GLBT causes, so it’s the perfect time to treat yourself to the chance at spontaneous intimacy!