Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sex and the gym.

I always felt a certain amount of scorn for people who went to the gym to pick up. We have all seen that sad image of a woman going to the gym in a push-up bra, jewellery and make-up, trying not to look flustered as she struggles with the rowing machine or flirts outrageously with the gym instructor. Or the mental image of the guy doing more weights than he really should, but struggling on to impress someone with how strong he is.

One of the reasons I find these individuals so worthy of my scorn and derision is that I feel a certain amount of empathy with them. I think my gym instructor is cute, and if I had the confidence I'd pinch his ass, smile coyly and give him my phone number. But I don't. Cos I'm unfit, have a jiggly waistline and I am surrounded by people who are fitter and prettier than me who have firmer tummies, can last longer on the treadmill and can lift heavier weights. If anyone in that place is going to get the gym instructors attention, it certainly isn't going to be me (unless I fall off something, but I'm not willing to risk it). So I hide under baggy gym clothes and I heap disdain upon those who would openly acknowledge the fact that the gym is a precursor to hot, sweaty, pneumatic sex.

There are an enormous amount of reasons not to go to the gym. For one thing: when you start, you're red-faced and puffing exhaustedly while everyone else is still sprinting on the treadmill as though they are only just warming up. You're going because you recognise that your body and your health needs improvement...but in order to do that, you have to expose your pudgy cellulite to the world in tight-fitting stretch-pants and flab-exposing sports-bras that feel too tight among all the people who are fitter, younger and prettier than you.

This is where gyms like Curves come in. Women only, for people who are trying to get in shape, but who are not gym-junkies. So they can hide from people who they think would look at them with derision, and so that they don't get hit on (or worse, not hit on) while they are at the point where they feel the least attractive in their lives.

Then again...some people go the opposite direction.

I just came across an advertisement on Facebook for a group called Lesbifit. For lesbians who want to work out with other lesbians. This site confused me for a moment. I mean...women go to same sex gyms to avoid getting hit on...right?



Women go to Curves for the same reasons I wear baggy gym clothes and avoid eye contact. To avoid not being hit on. So that when I'm red-faced and extremely conscious of my jiggly bits moving around I don't have the added pressure of trying to be attractive as well.

From what I can tell, Lesbifit works on the assumption that lesbian women do not consume other women in the same ways that men consume women. There's a phrase I remember from my days as a Cultural Studies undergraduate. Men look at women and women look at men looking at women. So lesbian women apparently just don't look. It plays on the idea of love between two women being based on something 'deeper' and less physical than heterosexual love....and it's a presumption about same-sex love that I found interesting...and mildly insulting. It's not just same-sex's female lust. Women don't create objects of desire through the act of looking, apparently. Women don't look at someone and want to fuck them. Women are 'safe', even same-sex attracted women are safe because apparently lesbians don't look at other women and want to touch them. They look at other women and want to form a deep emotional and spiritual connection with them.

As a woman, the assumption is insulting. As a student, the assumption is interesting and warrants further analysis. :-P

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What on Earth am I doing?

I’ve been a bit wishy-washy in trying to figure out exactly what it is that interests me most and trying to turn it into something resembling a research topic. This blog post is primarily a brainstorming exercise to figure out what it is out of the things I’ve been reading that interests me the most, and I’m going to do a point form thing with a little description of my interests to go with it.

1. Sex Education Agendas
Who is doing the teaching, and what are they trying to say? There are some really obvious ones, like the Abstinence programs, but what about the other ones? I was viewing a website for a recent NSW Sexual Health initiative ( that was encouraging people to get tested for STI’s and to ‘play safe’ (whatever that means). Now, the agenda on this one is simple, it wants people to get STI tests, and it wants people to use condoms…but how does it go about that, and what assumptions about sex and the people who do it does it make?

2. Assumptions Regarding Gender in Sex Education
Highlighted breifly in my most recent post is the notion of gender in sex education. What assumptions are made about women and men and the roles they play? What expectations do sex education programs give to young people regarding gender and their own future roles in relationships? Whose responsibility is it to bring out the condom, and who is going to be the aggressor? Is a woman who enjoys and actively seeks sexual encounters a ‘slut’, and is a man in the same situation actually represented positively? How are women taught to think of men in this context, and how are men taught to think of women? Do these assumptions have any greater impact beyond the immediate educational situation, or are they only relevant as a teaching mechanism?

3. Adult Sex Information
What information do experienced people seek regarding sex? How is information for adults presented? In this regard, I’m rather fond of the term ‘experienced practitioner’. It lends a certain amount of integrity to the sexual act, and to the people who are seeking to learn more about it, with just a little behind-the-hand titter at polite society by talking about sex in such an ironic way. It also looks at sex as something that we practice, something that you gain experience in and something that people, in fact, do for a living. What information for adults is there? Do people feel better after reading the cosmopolitan guide to how to give your boyfriend a better blowjob? What sex information is available for men? As a woman, I’m more exposed (tee hee) to information designed for women, but my first exposure to sex was a couples sexual recipe book that was designed to give ideas and provide stimulus (chortle) for couples erotic play. It was written for couples, but I suspect it had women particularly in mind. Where do adults go if they need help? Do they go to their friends?; do they go to the (IMHO awful) womens magazines?; do they talk to a doctor, a pharmacist, psychologist, (gods forfend) their partner? Recently listening to a live radio program on triple j about sexual communication indicated that people simply don’t talk to their partners about things that trouble them sexually. If not, why not? What are they risking by talking, and what are they risking by staying silent? What do the creators of adult sex information think that adults want to know, and what does this say about the sex information industry (cos I’m pretty sure it says more about the people writing the material than it is likely to say about the adults reading it)?

4. Pornography as an informtion product.
Now, I’ve heard from more than one source that apparently people find out sex information from porn. Is this true, or is it simply people assuming that someone out there (who is obviously not nearly as clever as them) is looking at porn for hints and techniques to avoid the pizza delivery bill and give great head? Despite what some people think, I’ve only ever seen one pornographic film (an R-rated one, I think) and it left me uninspired and a little bored. I was intrigued as to how they were planning on bringing the dispirate elements of the plot together in order to save the little whore-house from destitution, but lost interest enough to turn it off before it ended since it was increasingly apparent that my curiosity wasn’t the only thing that was going to be left unsatisfied that evening. So my foray into viewing pornography a few years ago was not a well of information on what people seek when looking at porn. Yes, they want to be aroused by the video, but are they learning anything at the same time, and if they are, is it sticking? Are people learning bad (or good) habits from porn, or is it just that they might like to blame porn for their bad (or good) habits later down the track when they are being asked about it? Are we so accustomed to blaming the media for every misconception that we have that porn is copping it for not showing more condoms, pillow talk and STI testing?

That’s all I can think of for now, but rest assured dear reader (I think there’s one of you at the moment), I will update with any more ideas that spring to mind later when I’ve had a good rest.

Friday, August 28, 2009

What are we thinking?!

Yes, I know I was supposed to write one about safe sex toys...but I got enraged by something before I could. Violet Blue has written an extremely informative article about the dangers of sex toys and other interesting fun-facts over at her website,

After reading this particularly enraging blog post on the SHM website,, I decided that this attitude warrants a blog post.

1. Why on Earth are the only two 'guilty parties' discussed women and "Hollywood" (and by Hollywood, she means hetero porn)?

It takes 2 (or more) people to transmit an STI. Perhaps the male role in pregnancy should be addressed? Both parties are equally at risk of being infected, and both parties are equally responsible for their own safety and the safety of their partner. If either party thinks that it is possible that they, or their partner, could have an STI, then it should be discussed like adults. Yes, women need to take responsibility for their bodies, but men have an equal responsibility not to cause harm to a sexual partner.

It's a constant double-standard that is seen in both people's attitudes and the structure of Australian sexual health education. Women bear the most burden from an unhappy encounter, and so it's a woman's fault if she is harmed. Women who have to learn self-defense, and a woman who has to carry the burden of a reduced sex-drive and a schedule revolving around tiny tablets that results from the pill and other forms of non-barrier birth control.

It takes a perverse culture of silence and sexual anxiety for the notion of sexual communication to be a novel idea. Surely you should be at least on talking terms with your sexual partner in order to be bumping uglies with them...right? Even if it's just to let the partner know what you like. No wonder one-night-stands are almost universally reported to be underwhelming non-events.

2. The article seems to legitimise the "I don't like wearing a condom" excuse.

At the same time as pointing the finger at women for not forcing a sexual partner to wear a condom, the article brushes over the issues actually raised by her male friends concerns.

"'I don't want to have to get out a condom when the times comes but, by the same token, how am I going to ask her to get tested? It would take all the romance out of the equation,' he said."

You know what's really not romantic? Open sores on your junk, herpes, syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhea. Suck it in and be a man. Besides, looking out for your and your partners health is probably the most romantic thing you can do. It shows you care about them, and you are a responsible, thinking, rational adult. Hell...the second most romantic thing my partner says to me is "I'll go get a condom," falling just behind "I love you and I want to make you happy".

"I don't like wearing a condom" is a absolutely shitty excuse to put yourself or someone else at risk. You don't like condoms? Well I hope you like syphilis, fatherhood and an intermittently itchy crotch...or even the knowledge that because of you, your partner contrated an STI that rendered her sterile.

You'll need more than a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates to make up for that one.

On another note, you don't like wearing a condom? Cry me a river. I don't like crippling period pain, mood swings, weight gain and reduced libido that result in my taking the pill. I win.

3. You're blaming Hollywood? Seriously?

Every time someone makes a bad decision, out comes the blame hollywood/video-games/television/internet trope. Aren't we sick of delegating our decision-making to popular culture yet?

Granted, the news article regarding the Aids Healthcare Foundation issuing complaints to pornography companies is informative and relevant, but it could have warranted a post on its own without all this finger-pointing at women and blaming Hollywood for ditsy women having unprotected one-night-stands.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Interesting news links and I get a little ranty

I'd like to thank my friend, who shall remain nameless, for linking me to some interesting articles over the last week.

Take a Good Look, This Picture Might Soon be Banned

A Lot More to Learn than Where Babies Come From

Alas, I am still working on the post about safer sex...I keep getting sidetracked by other things that interest/enrage me.

For one thing, I've been reading an article about categorisation...and while I'm sure it's interesting and all that, when I read it I can't help but think of all the trouble sexual labels have caused. This is particularly true of the bisexual label...where a blanket label is given for all people who are attracted to both genders, regardless of the nuances of that attraction. What a lot of people don't seem to grasp is that it's a lot more complicated than the label would have you think. The label itself is almost a falsehood. For me, and my own experiences, even the concept of the binary gender is at best frustratingly inadequate and at worst insulting. And the only way there seems to be to combat it is with the judicious application of more labels. A taxonomy of human sexuality that restricts us further instead of opening us up to exploration and genuine understanding.

While I rail against the term "bisexual" because I find it too broad a term that misrepresents such a large portion of the population, I love the term "queer" because it represents and celebrates these same differences. I think it's in the pride.

Bisexuals are, by the wide-ranging applications of the term, a diaspora. While you might be only a little attracted to the same sex, you might also be only a little attracted to the opposite sex, but the term implies a degree of equality. Bisexuals are often seen as people who simply haven't made a choice yet, who haven't grown up and decided which team to bat for. People who take support from the queer community while accessing all the privileges of the straight community. They belong everywhere and are welcomed nowhere.

I remember talking with a male friends mother, and being told that he and I would make the perfect couple...but that I would have to stop being a bisexual, as "he wouldn't stand for that sort of thing". As though it was a life choice, and that I should grow up, switch it off and be sensible.

I have been told by family that my interactions with women make me a lesbian, despite my committed relationship to a charming young man. I have been told that my sexuality makes me an unfit role model for children. I have been told that I should be ashamed of myself. I have been told a lot of things, and most of them were distinctly unpleasant or carried with them some ignorantly offensive undertones.

And it all boils down to labels. I underwent a period of self-discovery when I was 17 and learning to live on my own. One of the things I discovered was how I felt about the same sex. Grasping for something to help me make sense of it all, I stumbled upon the label "Bisexual" and I brandished it as a shield to protect me. I held it up when the people I thought were friends distanced themselves from me, worried about what my new label might mean for them. Instead of doing what I wanted to, I adapted to other peoples impressions of this absurdly inadequate label. I liked girls, true. But I had only been with guys. Did that make me straight? I had only understood my sexuality up to that point as it related to men, and like most young women with low self-esteem, I all too easily allowed the male gaze to define me. I performed my sexuality instead of living it. I paraded it around for the men I cared for to play with...I used my sexuality as an asset, a feather in my peacocks tail. I performed the label and conformed to it, instead of using the label as a tool to describe me I used the label to hold me, to box me in and restrict me.

To this day I have not had a positive and healthy relationship with a woman, and in hindsight, I wish I had never heard the term bisexual.

I digress.

Back to my readings I fear, and soon the promised post.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The missing link

I'm still listening to the same podcast, and I've come across a couple of episodes that tie in very heavily with my pilot research from last year and bridge a few gaps between my research last year and the new topic I am thinking of pursuing.

The episode of particular interest is about sex education, from the perspective of a non-agenda not-for-profit sex education facility in San Francisco. An interview with Alan Zimbardo. This link is to an audio podcast, and shouldn't be listened to publicly at work. It's extremely informative, but talks about some controversial issues and uses a some coarse language to describe sexual acts.

My pilot research last semester was on sense-making of recreational drug users. How does a drug user make sense of their practices when they have been told for such a long time that drugs are bad for them and that they are harming themselves and others with their usage. the main results I found were that the two individuals that I researched were significantly more informed about their drug use than our drug education system gives them credit for. Large amounts of research was undertaken into the effects and the safest ways to experiment with their drugs of choice, and safe environments were sought out. There was a significant theme of emotional safety when taking a new drug, and trusting the person who provided it, and the people they were with while under its influence. I think a similar link can be made between drug use and sex in that respect.

The podcast itself actually made the link between drug use and safer sex practices, particularly because of this "just say no" attitude that, now that it is out there in the main stream and is a part of heteronormative practice, is actually a rather dangerous message to have. I think the podcast was from 2006, but at that time a survey was done on American heterosexual couples that indicated that 80% of Americans didn't use a condom during their last sexual encounter. They may talk about it during an anonymous survey, but there is a stigma attached to sex without a condom that means that people who practice it are not talking about it. By not talking about it, they aren't accessing the information required to make sensible decisions about alternative methods of birth control and STD prevention.

They actually made mention of the Australian safe sex (AIDS, I think) message of Talk Test and Trust, indicating that it is a positive message that fosters trust in relationships as well as safer sex practices.

I think there is an important distinction between "safe sex" and "safer sex" that needs to be defined. While "safe sex" indicates a foolproof and certain level of safety that no birth control method can supply (particularly with the rather unethical behaviours of sex novelty companies that use products that can disintegrate toys and condoms over time while failing to inform the layperson of the dangers), the idea of "safer sex", to me, speaks of informed sexual practices aimed to promote healthy emotional, physical and psychological decisions. This encompasses disease prevention, attitudes towards sex, relationship counselling and other important decisions that affect the whole range of sexual experiences. From missionary style sex to how to safely hoist a sub 5 feet in the air using a series of ropes and pulleys to which lube to use if your susceptible to yeast infections to which birth control method is going to be most appropriate for you given your lifestyle and medical history. I like the term "safer sex" because it is so much more holistic in its attitudes to sex. It's not just about AIDS preventions and making sure your teenage kids don't get pregnant. It's about positive attitudes to sex and sexuality and about respecting alternative sexual practices to your own.

This whole distinction is a large part of my identity as a researcher as well. I don't feel that it is my place to tell people what it is they should be doing, but to make them more informed about the risks and benefits of the practices they may employ. That's the results of my pilot research that affected me the most significantly, and it's a lesson I want to carry with me through to my Masters research as well.

Hopefully I can pursue this new topic of interest further as it has motivated me far more than my previous one, and I'm actively looking and listening to new materials that challenge my long-held assumptions about sex.

When I get home tonight, I'm going to write up another entry that will provide some good links to safe sex practices with regards to sex toys, lubricant and cleanliness.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Change of topic

After a year of mental preparation for my Masters research, I think I just found a different topic that I feel even more strongly about, that I don't have to expose my sexual identity in a research context for, and that is more directly relevant to my degree.

It's less meta-theoretical, but infinitely more interesting that listening to a bunch of queer wannabe girls talk about how they fuck girls to get guys off. I particularly feel uncomfortable with my current research topic because of a recent experience that brings up a strong negative emotional response from me...and how much of my personal life I would have to reveal in the process of my research in order to be an adequately reflective sociological researcher who adheres to my own high ethical standards. I can't simply do research and say that my own identity as a bisexual female has no relevance to my opinions and how I construct my research subjects in relation to that. As the first sentence of this paragraph reveals, I'm less than positive about a lot of the pop-queer trends that have been "saturating the market" (pun intended) over the last decade, and if I can't experience their identities with respect and an open mind, then I shouldn't be studying them.

I want to look at sexual education...ideally I'd like to look at sexual education in relation to how and why people look at porn, and the expectations people have for sex. Lesbian porn where the girls have dangerously long, painted fingernails for instance.

It came to me (ha ha) while listening to a podcast in which the author relates her work on an explicit sexual education video who had to deal with porn stars because of the explicit nature of the film...and the porn stars themselves had no idea about safe sex, normal sex or normal human interaction outside of a sex-based industry. Listening to it made me cringe internally and that's how I knew it was something I could study with enthusiasm and vigor. After all, safe sex is important and anyone who thinks otherwise is probably not doing it right.