Category Archives: Sex

Game of Thrones and “Sex” on TV

cerseiIf you are all up in the guts of the Internet where TV and commentary collide, you have already read a novel and a half of haterade about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. For long, articulate, backed-by-evidence arguments, see Margaret Lyons at NYMag and Sonia Soraiya at AV Club

Before I tell you why I’m pissed, let’s back up:

Mother daughter conversations about sex can are awkward enough even if one of them, ahem, doesn’t write about it on the Internet. My mom and I are what you might describe as a classic second wave/third wave duo. We agree about 85% of the time, and usually differ, if only slightly, on sex-related topics like pornography and prostitution. In short, I usually err on the side of who-am-I-to-tell-her-what-to-do-with-her-body? and my mother usually errs on the side of contributes-to-a-culture-of-oppression-and-objectification. We’re both right, obviously, and one day we’ll find the middle ground.

So anyway, last week, my mom emails to complain about “sex on TV.” She lists House of Cards and House of Lies as two prime examples of shows that only feature what she describes as “I don’t even know what to call it, but sex from what I call a degrading position.” I often approach other people’s sex lives–even fictional other people–from a to-each-her-own, doesn’t-look-fun-to-me-but-who-am-I, anything-goes-between-consenting-adults angle, wary of condemning someone else’s good time lest someone try to rain on mine.

The problem as I see it is not that this specific type of sex is what we see on TV, it’s that this is the only type of sex we see on TV. Specifically, it is the only type of sex men see on TV. They aren’t watching Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, or Nashville, where sex is sometimes “animalistic” to use my mother’s word, but is also sometimes gentle, sometimes kind, sometimes romantic, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes between strangers, sometimes between lovers, and sometimes even features sex acts that most women enjoy.

But that is not what we get on TV that men watch. We get mostly rough sex. We get mostly condom-less sex. We get very little cunnilingus, very little foreplay, very few indications that female characters are enjoying themselves in the least. And while I do not in any way want to shit on the the specific kind of sex that any particular person is consensually enjoying (if that is your thing, knock yourself the fuuuuuck out), I do find it highly problematic that we get such a narrow sliver delivered to us with our HBO Go accounts and “prestige” TV.

[Spoiler Alert]

So. Game of Thrones.  In last night’s episode, after Joffrey’s gruesome wedding death, Cersei’s private moment of mourning was interrupted by Jaime, who, angry that she’d been cold-shouldering him, raped her on the floor of the temple where their dead son was displayed. As many others have said, I’m not outraged that a rape was depicted, if that’s what was intended for legitimate storytelling purposes, but I am very much outraged that some people, director included, don’t seem to think this was a rape scene.

What the fucking fuck do you think is a rape scene? To these not-a-rape-scene advocates, was that supposed to look like sex? Because it didn’t; it looked like rape. Kicking. Crying. Begging. Verbal “Nos”. Requests to stop…. Clue me in to which part of that looks like consensual sex…

And therein lies the problem. When depicted “sex” looks too much like rape, it makes some people–young people, dumb people, angry people–think that rape looks like sex. It makes them think that an initial “no” or “stop” or “I don’t want to,” will, with enough pressure, become a “fine, okay, I guess this is happening.” But that is not a yes, that is not consent. Are there non-verbal ways of giving consent? Absolutely. But “No, stop, stop, it’s not right,” as Cersei said, is not one of them.

This shit is all related. The American University Epsilon Iota emails that were released this week. Darren Sharp’s admission of “non-consensual sex”. The joke of a process that female soldiers have to endure to report assault. The fact that teenaged girls think that unwanted groping is just part of dating. The abhorrent Mixology joke about finding girls drunk enough to “smash out.”

It’s not all Game of Thrones’ fault, obviously, but as of 24 hours ago they are the latest guilty party. Rough sex and rape are not part of some gray area where we throw our hands in the air and yell “IT’S JUST SO HARD TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE.” Rough sex is something adults agree to and reinforce with positive words like “yes,” and “I like that.” Or they agree on safe words. Or they have conversations prior to getting busy about what they like and dislike. Though the play might be physically rough, they approach with a mutual respect.

Rape is where one person has sex with another person who does not want them to.

Why is this so hard?

Which is all to say, sometimes my mom is right.

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Porn Studies Hits Newstands

Well, not newsstands so much, since academic journals rarely find shelfspace next to Newsweek or Cosmo. Wait, does Newsweek still exist? I can’t keep it straight anymore which of the old school pubs have folded.

Porn Studies is a new academic journal about porn [NSFW if having "porn" spelled out in giant letters on your screen is NSFW]. It’s mindblowing that such a thing didn’t exist until now, right? Porn is soooooo fascinating! This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about the new journal and why I think we need more porn-talk, not less.

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The ethics of porn-making and porn-consuming have been front and center lately when the “real” identity of porn star Belle Knox was revealed by a fellow student at Duke. She’s done a pretty solid job of reclaiming the momentum of the story by speaking out about feminism, privacy, misogyny, and double-standards, though she’s also been put through the ringer of woman-hating bullshit that we put women through when they speak things that make us uncomfortable.

If you are a porn-consumer (and most people are), then you should be thinking critically about how your porn is made, who stars in it, who profits from it, and what compromises are made along the way. I’m not saying you should stop watching (I won’t), but you should start asking why we hold only the woman on screen accountable for the content, and not her porn-consuming classmates who enjoy it, or the porn-producers behind the camera who make it.

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That Shit’s Complicated Too

I got a great comment last year from a male reader about how I was putting too much emphasis on the male orgasm as the symbol of a successful sexual outing. I was using it to illustrate why hook ups with strangers might be more satisfying for men then women, which might be one (of many) reasons that women don’t pursue casual sex as much they could.

I get your point that, for random hookups, men are more likely to ‘get off’ than women. That doesn’t take into account the fact that, for men, orgasm isn’t the only marker of a quality sexual experience, probably because it’s so easy to achieve. And honestly, myself and other men I know have come early in unsatisfying sexual experiences just to get it over with.”

I saw that Claire Dederer at the Atlantic fell into a similar trap recently when she wrote about the complexity and “messiness” of female desire. While I definitely don’t dispute the mess, I’ve come around to disputing the claim that it’s messy only for women. Messy in different ways, perhaps, but I think we do dudes a disservice if we reduce their sexual satisfaction to the act of orgasm. More on that at Role/Reboot.

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165 pounds and up? Don’t rely on Plan B.

In case you missed it during the eat-a-thon, football-a-thon, couch-sitting-a-thon that was Thanksgiving, last week I wrote about Mother Jones’ investigation of the efficacy of Plan B (aka emergency contraception aka The Morning After Pill) for women over 165 pounds. The European equivalent (chemically identical, branded differently) has recently added a warning that the pill loses potency for women over 165 pounds and is ineffective for women over 176 pounds.

I found this revelation to be extremely disturbing. Frankly, both the scientific details (i.e. why 176 pounds? Is this BMI related? Can I just take two pills instead?) and legal intricacies (i.e. What kind of testing does the FDA require? What is a legally acceptable fail rate? When are you required to disclose this information?) of this announcement are over my head.

From an ethical perspective, however, it seems clear to me that when 25% of women (and 50% of black women, FYI) take a pill that advertises itself as emergency contraception, they deserve to know that it is not designed to work for them. All contraception has a fail rate, duh, but this is bigger than that. Some people are trying to make this an issue about promiscuity, or the politics of obesity, but they’re missing a point. The drug is already out there, the women already take it, they are already over 165 pounds. None of those facts change, so the only question on the table is whether there should be a big sticker on the box that says, “Over 165 pounds? Please consult your doctor before taking Plan B.” As a sexually active woman over 176 pounds, I would really appreciate that.

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A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Sex: Watch What Happens!

I am SO excited about this post. A few weeks ago, I wrote about what counts as “real sex.” I find that our traditional definition, (penis in vagina) is pretty limiting and sometimes damaging because it a) is insulting to queer people who have sex in non-p-in-v ways, b) reinforces a pleasure disparity (because the “main act” is something that most women don’t orgasm from) c) perpetuates the mythic importance of female virginity d) contributes to rape culture by deeming certain forms of sexual violence “more traumatic” than others.

A blogger named Jonalyn politely pointed out that she had a few issues with my piece, and when we started to tweet-debate the topic, she suggested we take our conversation to a bigger stage. Her site, Soulation, is a hub for people who want to explore Christianity compassionately and thoughtfully. We recorded a video debate that was supposed to last for 15 minutes and went on for 40 because we were having THE BEST TIME. I’m not kidding, it was by far the most fun I had that week.

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It may shock you to hear that I am not, in fact, a Christian (I know, SO shocking). When Jonalyn reached out about recording our conversation, I was initially wary of jumping into unfamiliar waters where our perspectives would inevitably boil down to a clash of “sex is for fun!” vs. “sex is for God!” I am pleased to say that we both played nicely and used our listening skills to try to find common ground. Surprisingly, there was lots of it! 

It’s not often that I get the opportunity to debate this stuff with someone who approaches it with the same level of enthusiasm that I have for sex talk and approaches from a different angle with different core assumptions. Such a treat!

Get more of Jonalyn on Twitter!

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Can Sex Positivity Be Negative?

Last week, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back wrote for Huffington Post about how the mantra of sex-positive feminism has actually been negative for her. She, like many people, had suffered sexual trauma, and the attitude that she perceived as “just have some more orgasms! orgasms for everyone! woohoo! sex!” wasn’t helping her. In fact, it made her feel guilty for not being a “good” feminist.

I really struggled with her essay, especially the portion that suggested we default to treating our partners like survivors:

Given the alarming prevalence of rape and sexual violence in our society, perhaps all of us, regardless of gender, should begin with the assumption that all female-bodied partners we have (and, realistically, quite a few of our male-bodied partners as well) are survivors.

To me, assuming your partners are survivors (or would like to be treated as such) deprives them of the agency to tell/show you how they’d like to be treated. I know that I, personally, do not want to be treated like a survivor, and I would resent someone who approached me with that attitude.

That said, Pflug-Back’s essay has prompted a ton of really interesting conversations about the limitations of sex-positive feminism and the shortcomings of the movement’s messaging. Check out more thoughts on what sex-positivity really means (hint: does not equal orgasm counting) in my new Role/Reboot piece.

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Yeah, but is that “real” sex?

I have the most fun writing when there’s a convergence of conversations and sources that all seem to be pointing towards the same issue. When things that I’m reading overlap with things that I’m watching and all of that overlaps with things that I’m talking about, it feels like a little lightning storm in my brain; write about this!

That’s what happened this week for my new Role/Reboot essay about the idea of what kind of sex “counts.” When I say “counts,” I mean it in the literal sense (as in, “Do I have to up my number?”) and in the theoretical sense (as in, is considered meaningful/important). As I read and watched and talked, it became obvious how slippery a slope this question becomes.

The queer lens always helps clarify things for me because it removes traditional gender expectations from the equation. It is so obvious that gay people have sex without a penis entering a vagina. Can we come up with a legitimate reason not to apply the same logic to straight people? I can’t.

Read the essay, but I’ll cut to the chase now: why do we care if it’s “real” sex or not?

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Why We Need More Sex on TV*

*Well, a certain kind of sex. Or rather, certain kinds of sex. We do not need more scantily clad women. We do not need more blowjob jokes. We do not need more titstaring. We need more variety. That goes for sexual preference (and we’re getting there, slowly), and it goes for sex acts, fetishes, and preferences. We need more female pleasure. We need more honest conversation. We nee more intimacy. We need more consent. We need more reciprocity.

It’s impossible for me to imagine a future in which there is less sex on TV than there is today. Go ahead, try it. Do you really see the world getting less explicit? Less raunchy? I cannot. If, then, we take as the baseline assumption that sex on TV will exist in the same quantities as it does now, if not more, then the question of what kind of sex is shown becomes really, really important. This week on Role/Reboot, I wrote specifically about cunnilingus on TV and why we need more of it.

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I believe that the only way (only feasible way, anyhow) to respond to hypersexualized content is to contextualize it. In a perfect world, I wish kids wouldn’t see porn until they’ve had a chance to develop their own imaginations and sexual styles. But, given that they will and there’s not much I can do to stop it, context is key. They need to know that it isn’t real, that it’s not what they should expect when they actually get naked with someone. It’s a performance, just like Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s a director, lighting technicians, a script, and extreme stunts. Will this conversation be hella awkward? Yup.

I feel similarly about non-pornographic television. If our average programming is going to be hypersexual (which it is, because it sells), then let’s democratize it. Let’s show adult sexuality that is based on equality, consent, pleasure and respect. And that includes cunnilingus!

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Feeeeeeeeeelings

Do feelings make sex better? Yes.*

*Yes, for me. How the hell do I know what makes sex good for you? 

*Yes, but which feelings?

*Yes, but it’s a matter of degrees.

*No? Oh my bad, friend, sorry for making assumptions.

With the help of Facebook contributors and all you lovelies who emailed me with essays about your sexual hang-ups (thanks for that!) I wrote about the venn diagram of good sex and feelings this week at Role/Reboot. Sorry-not-sorry Mom and Dad!

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Want to see my underwear?

Hey look, it’s a pile of my underwear!

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It’s a pile of underwear that is now in the trash! Twist! Didn’t see that coming, did you?

I am moving, which I have not done in several years, and consequently I’m throwing away alllll kinds of shiz that I really don’t need. First on the list, socks with holes. Second on the list, underwear that I never wear. Like, literally, never. Okay, maybe a few times, a long time ago, when I thought I was being soooo cool. Now I am old and I don’t care about being cool anymore and I don’t really enjoy the sensation of lace all up around my junk. So, this week, for Role/Reboot I wrote about throwing out my lingerie.

Key Note: This is not, in any way, shape, or form, an admonishment that you should throw away your underwear. I mean, knock yourself out if you’re feeling my vibes, but this is a piece about owning your own sexuality, in whatever wardrobe feels most authentic to yourself. What I learned, in this experiment, is that the picture above is decidedly not me.

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