News for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

Sex Work and Sexual Healing: Modern Day Sexual Healers Speak

Can a provider of sexual services facilitate healing? How can transformation take place within such an exchange? We don’t often hear about them, but there are plenty of anthologies of sexual healers’ stories, for those who would seek them out. It is these men and women’s voices that I’d like to amplify in this piece. It would be illuminating to hear from their clients as well, but those accounts are few and far between. However, it is interesting to note that many of these people actually started out as clients, with trauma or pain to be healed, and later in life became healers themselves. Often their personal essays include stories of being in both roles.

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Why is sexual healing necessary? Joseph Kramer, founder of the Body Electric School and a self-professed “sacred prostitute“ says:

You can talk to a psychotherapist about sexual abuse for years, but for intervention on the physical plane, we call on a sacred intimate…It is in the physical world that the trauma took place and that’s where the healing most effectively takes place. (Blackburn, 2007, p.61)

It seems important to note that the terms “sexual trauma” and “sexual abuse” carry a lot of stigma, and it is easy to forget that these things take place on all different points along the spectrum. Being addicted to drugs can mean being a “functioning addict” or being a “junkie” on the street. Although one might seem better off than the other, we’d agree that both people need treatment. Similarly, having a conscious memory of egregious abuse as a child is not the only qualification for trauma. I would argue that most of us carry sexual pain and trauma from living in this sexually dysfunctional society, whether or not we are conscious of it.

A legitimized role for sexual healers is not that far of a leap from what we already have as (almost) socially acceptable in society today: sexual surrogates who are sometimes recommended by psychotherapists as an adjunct to talking therapy. Still controversial, they are gaining acceptance. The International Professional Surrogates Association has a training program that you can go through if you wish to work within the realms of traditional medicine and therapy. The men and women featured in this article mostly work outside of those worlds, with only a couple of them doing official “surrogacy” work.

Two prominent and important aspects of all the featured healers’ stories is their ability to offer acceptance and presence:

A common trait of all the sacred intimates in this book is their full acceptance of themselves and those who come to work with them. Such complete acceptance is so rare that it is much more radical than any of the physical activities that take place during their sessions. Perhaps that is why we so often hear that shame is released in sacred healing sessions – because, in the presence of a loving person who accepts another ‘warts and all,’ a person can let go of their self-loathing and recriminations, even if for one precious moment. (Blackburn, p.215)

Presence means that you are met ‘where you are’ physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Presence doesn’t mean that the person is like you in all these ways, but that she respects you and accepts you fully. To be present also means that the sacred healer attends fully to the individual(s) he is with and the situation he is in, without jumping to conclusions about what is happening inside the person, and without attempting to lead or control. Sacred intimates often describe their experience of being present as being an open conduit for healing, as channeling divine energy, or as just being a witness for their client. They limit their own personal input, and allow healing energy to take over the situation. That level of presence allows wonderful and amazing things to happen.” (Blackburn, p.219)

Similar to presence is the gift of allowing a person to feel wanted and received, something not all of us feel in life. Sensual masseuse Carolyn Elderberry says, “The men…knew they wanted their wives to desire them; they hadn’t realized the extra dimension of their frustration was their need to be wanted and received” (Stubbs, 1994, p.164).

In terms of healing, many clients have issues around trust, intimacy, sharing and surrender. All these things are important in living a “healthy” life and these kinds of sessions allow them to experience them, and to build their ability to have these experiences with another (non-working) partner. None of these sexual healers (and not all sex workers in general, for that matter) think of their job as providing a strictly sexual service, although sex is often (not always) a part of the time they share with their clients. It is the service of providing intimacy. This is increasingly common, as is well documented in Columbia professor Elizabeth Bernstein’s Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex.

Other aspects of healing can occur through exploration of fantasies:

We suspect that many of the dark fantasies we love to explore in SM are paths to the Shadow – paths to parts of ourselves that we wish to bring back into consciousness, split-off parts that we want to welcome back so that we can be whole. Seen in this way, the theater of SM is a sort of psychodrama, tracing a scary painful path to some dark cave in our iceberg, but with someone else to share in the journey and act as mirror to validate our experience…What if bringing our dark fears into the light of awareness can heal us, make us more whole? (Easton, 2004, p.167)

So if all this healing is possible, why would anyone choose to work outside of sexual surrogacy and brave the underworld of sensual massage and other services that could have them arrested for prostitution? As Selena Truth put it:

One of the pleasures of doing sensual massage was that I reached people who would never have come to see me if I had called my work “spiritual” or “healing.” Yet often they were the ones most in need of healing. The promise of an exotic sexual experience lured them in, and once they were there, they often received much more than just a hand job. Like with this man, I used the opening that happened with orgasm as a way in, to plant seeds of self-loving, heart-healing and a glimpse of a broader reality. (Truth, 2009, p.103-104)

Carol Queen, activist and self-identified call girl says:

To guide another person to orgasm, to hold and caress, to provide companionship and initiation to new forms of sex, to embody the Divine and embrace the seeker – these are healing and holy acts. Every prostitute can do these things, whether or not s/he understands their spiritual potential. (Stubbs, p.201)

To see an act of prostitution as “healing” or “holy” is to turn Judeo-Christian and Puritanical values on their head, to look at the world through a completely different lens. A lens that is sex-positive, that embraces embodied spirituality (rather than a spirituality that denies the body), one that seeks immanence rather than transcendence. Through this lens we see a whole new world of possibilities for healing, connection and oneness ahead. Shepherding us from the old world to the are these bright spirits, these modern day sexual healers, leading the way.

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References:

Blackburn, S., & Wade, M. (2007). Reclaiming Eros: Sacred Whores & Healers. Portland, ME: Suade Publishing.

Easton, D., & Hardy, J. W. (2004). Radical Ecstasy: SM journeys to Transcendence. Oakland, Calif.: Greenery Press.

Stubbs, K. R. (1994). Women of the Light: The New Sacred Prostitute. Larkspur, Calif.: Secret Garden.

Truth, S. (2009). Tales of a Sacred Prostitute: Revelations of how Sexual Energy Heals. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

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21st Century Religious Persecution:
Police Raid Tantric Sex Temple in Arizona

‘Sacred sexuality’ isn’t a phrase you hear everyday. Indeed, our porn culture is so dominant that it hardly seems possible to conceive of sex in a spiritual light. One could say this is the result of being brought up in society whose most prominent religions treat sex as dirty and shameful unless for the sole purpose of procreation.

However, the separation of sex from the sacred is a relatively recent (and mostly Western) social norm. A brief study of ancient goddess-worshipping cultures such as Sumer, Babylon, Crete, and Canaan makes it astonishingly clear that in those times, sexuality was at the heart of spirituality and religion. Some archaeologists prefer to use the term ‘fertility cults’ rather then giving these traditions recognition as legitimate religions, yet another reflection of Western bias. These ‘fertility cults’ were widespread across the Near and Middle East for thousands of years in goddess (or should that be Goddess?) worshipping cultures that celebrated and honored the creation of life – namely, sex.

Originating in India, Tantra is another ancient belief system that celebrates sexuality and connects the carnal to the ethereal. These ancient Indian books (over two thousand years old) teach that sexual energy can be harnessed to achieve union with the divine. These traditions show a very ancient connection between sex and religion, sometimes pre-dating the rise of Judaism or Christianity.

Freedom of religion is one of the most frequently cited aspects of the 1st Amendment of the American Constitution. The signing of the Bill of Rights was a landmark in history for the rights of the individual to his or her own spiritual practices, free from prosecution. Those very rights came in question last week when the police raided the Phoenix Goddess Temple in Arizona, leading to the arrests of more than 18 people affiliated with the temple on charges of prostitution. They are still hunting the other 19. Among those arrested was the temple’s Founder and Temple Mother, Tracy Elise.

There have been no shortage of news reports on the raid. Not one has left open the possibility that the interdominational temple’s neo-tantra practices were in earnest; sexual ceremonies and tantric teachings as part of their religious belief system. The idea of sacred sexuality has no place in our society. Instead there are endless puns, jokes and quotation marks around every spiritual term used to describe their sacred sexuality.

Putting aside for the moment the actual temple in question, where in our society do we have room for this ancient tradition? And how could genuine believers in sacred sexuality practice their beliefs without the donations that all religious organizations rely upon to survive being conflated with illegal prostitution?

Nevertheless, the temple remains accused of being a front for a whorehouse.

“They were committing crimes under the guise of religious freedom,” Phoenix police spokesman Steve Martos said. “It’s a sad situation when people are trying to hide behind religion and church to commit a crime.”

So let’s take a look at Tracey Elise, the founder of the temple in question. Here we see her being interviewed earlier this year about the Phoenix Goddess Temple. Does this look like a madam covering up her illegal activity? (Excerpt from full interview here.)

No indeed she is adamant, evangelical even, in defense of practicing what she says is perhaps the world’s oldest religion: worship of the Goddess, the female aspect of the divine.

As taken from the Phoenix Goddess Temple website:

“Our temple is an open source for all who wish to better know the Great Mother and her unique gifts for healing body, mind and soul. We seek to help women, men and couples discover their own divine connection between soul, light body and sacred vessel. We offer group classes and one-on-one teachings and training, play shops and internships, all designed to bring HER wisdom back in this modern era. Our teachings are body centric, emanating from the resonating vessel, which is your own Sacred Self. We see the beauty of every person’s story in every age, body shape, color and gender. Our healing practices make use of the gifts of the Goddess, tools for transformation that have been with humanity since the very beginning.”

But mainstream media would have you think differently. ABC news reports:

Police obtained a search warrant after initiating several undercover deals and determining that the Temple Goddess employees had been trained to use evasive vocabulary. “For example, ‘johns’ were not ‘johns.’ They were called ‘seekers.’ Sexual intercourse was called ‘sacred union,’” Martos said.

So what would have convinced police that these were sacred unions being sought out by seekers, rather than whores being sought by johns? The fact that other activities held at the Phoenix Goddess Temple include yoga classes, study groups, and High Holy Day celebrations? Or the fact that there are people who have testified to receiving healing sessions at the temple regardless of the fact that they couldn’t afford the suggested donation?

Testament to the actual goings on at Phoenix Goddess Temple can be found in the occasional comment left on news reports by those who have experienced temple life first-hand (buried in a sea of abuse left by those who haven’t.) One attendee of the church comments:

“The “donations” are actually donations, left in a basket at the end of a session, not counted and verified, and not required. The Temple also holds many educational events, (also on a donation basis), seminars and trainings, religious services, as well as social events. The vast majority of these stress communication, connection, outward focus, and clarity of intention; rarely do any of these events involve nudity or sex.”

Another says:

“I know Tracy, and many of the goddesses, and have attended several rituals at the temple, as well as having attended the Daka – Dakini Conference in Sedona 2 years ago. The event was attended by Practitioners from around the globe, and I have had the opportunity to experience these people, meet them where they live, on their terms, in a non-judgemental environment of acceptance…I know from firsthand experience what Tracy and the goddesses’ intentions were, and it is simply this: to spread love and connection to others, to make the world a more whole and peaceful place. To them, it IS a legitimate religion. Upon opening in their present location, they extended an invitation to the mayor of Phoenix, as well as the city council. They gave many TV, radio, and print interviews, operating in a signed, clean, well-lit building on a major thoroughfare about 3 miles from city hall. They are most certainly not “disguised”, and if anything, their downfall is rooted in being TOO visible. I call upon those of you with courage and love for freedom and people to be of support to these women, who practiced and operated in love and good faith. I, for one, am chilled to the bone at the sight of masked, bodyarmored, helmeted, police militias armed with assault weapons and battering rams storming into a church filled with women in chiffon, armed with nothing more than candles and incense. How long will it be before those heavily armed government agents come for you and yours, because your beliefs fall outside of the traditional judeo-christian ethic?”

This case is a landmark in history for the sacred sexuality community in the United States. But it seems to be going unnoticed. In the meantime, Tracy Elise and many others face criminal charges for practicing their religious beliefs. Tracy Elise’s bail has been set at an unprecedented one million dollars.

God Bless America.

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Would you like to help Tracy Elise and the others arrested at Phoenix Goddess Temple? Sign this petition to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer:

A Modern Day Witch Hunt : We Implore You to FREE the Members of the Phoenix Goddess Temple

Click here for the official site to make offerings of love and support to help save The Phoenix Goddess Temple. All proceeds raised go directly towards the legal defense of members of the Temple members who have been wrongly accused. Help in the protection of all civil liberties, including the 1st Amendment: the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble & the right to practice religion without persecution. 

You can also visit End The Witch Hunt to file a complaint with the ACLU so they know there is support for this cause.

If you would like to volunteer, contribute or make an offering of support of any kind, please email GoddessBless@GoddessBless.org. 

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(Not) Teaching Kids About Sex and Drugs:
The Failures of Prohibitionist Education

When it comes to making policy decisions, science seems less and less popular these days. David Nutt was sacked as the UK government’s chief drugs advisor for publicly stating what science had already proven: that tobacco and alcohol are more harmful than marijuana, ecstasy and LSD.

Too often our society lets fear dictate how we deal with our children’s inevitable exposure to sex and drugs.

In an ideal world, teenagers would wait until they were more firmly settled psychologically before experimenting and making adult decisions about sex and drugs – due to the complications and risks that such decisions inevitably bring with them. However today’s reality is a culture where children are exposed to adult themes at younger and younger ages.

In America we teach abstinence-only education in the hope that by not teaching kids harm-minimizing techniques such as birth control and contraception, they will simply not have sex. Unfortunately, there is now concrete evidence that this doesn’t work. Studies show that, following a decade-long decline ‘U.S. teen pregnancy rates have increased as both births and abortions rise.’

As a teenager most of my friends’ parents were strong abolitionists. If any of them had found out their son or daughter were smoking the occasional joint or having sex, they would have permanently grounded them or even kicked them out of the house. Needless to say this didn’t stop them. So what can parents and teachers do to help teens mature into young adults who make responsible decisions?

Maybe if someone taught them how to minimize risks when imbibing mind-altering substances in the same way one learns about units when drinking alcohol. Maybe if schools taught about emotional and physical intimacy (and of course, contraception) alongside lessons on physiology and sex.

What passes for ‘sex education’ in America is, frankly, disgraceful. For over a quarter century, the federal government has supported abstinence-only education programs that censor information to youth. America still has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the developed world, 1.5 times the teen pregnancy rate of Britain (the highest in Europe.)

The United States’ teen pregnancy rate is over five times that of the Netherlands, over four times that of Germany, and over three times that of France. The obvious explanation is that young people in the United States are significantly less likely to use contraception than youth in these European nations.

These statistics come as no surprise when you look at the number of programs that teach abstinence-only-until-marriage: an unrealistic, morality-based agenda that ignores the fact that virtually all Americans have sex before marriage (a fact that has been true since the 1950s). Amplify Your Voice, a sex-education and youth-education organization, has published several videos featuring animated bears discussing real abstinence-only lessons being taught in classrooms. Losing one’s virginity as a girl can be difficult enough, never mind with lessons like these at school:

The organization says the “chewed up candy” exercise is from AC Green’s Game Plan, an abstinence-only program endorsed by the former basketball star that is used in many public schools in Illinois. The “Spit in a Cup” exercise is from “Why Am I Tempted,” a program which received funding under President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) to be taught in schools in Florida.

These programs censor information about contraception and condoms while stigmatizing and shaming students who have already had sex. Never mind the fact that they discriminate against LGBT youth by at best ignoring them altogether – or worse, promoting homophobia by teaching students that homosexuality is deviant and immoral.

Drug education is also in the dark ages. From the Economist:

“Until recently the dominant approach was Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), a programme developed in Los Angeles in 1983 and quickly exported to the rest of America. Cops would arrive in schools, sometimes driving cars confiscated from drug-dealers, and tell 11- and 12-year-olds about the dangers of illicit substances. They drew little or no distinction between marijuana and methamphetamine. Teachers liked DARE because they felt uncomfortable tackling the topic themselves, and because they got a break. Parents liked it because they felt their children would listen to police officers. Unfortunately, they did not. ”

Studies are constantly conducted to see if drug education is effective in preventing drug use. Maybe researchers are asking the wrong question. Accepting that the urge to alter one’s consciousness is actually a universal human (and animal) drive, we should be looking at how that can be accomplished safely. If kids were taught about harm reduction, the potential for compulsive use and addiction, how to make sure you don’t exceed the correct dosage, etc. would we not stand a better chance of eliminating unnecessary deaths from drug abuse?

But of course when it comes to drugs, we’re even farther away from this ideal than we are with sex. For at least most people agree that it’s natural for teenagers to want to start experimenting sexually, whereas our society can’t seem to accept drug experimentation in adults, never mind teens.

This mindset, based on stigma, judgement, stereotypes, and puritanical denial of basic human urges, can do nothing but make the situation worse. Teens see the hypocrisy of adults drinking alcohol and then telling them not to ‘do drugs’. They see their friends getting stoned and not turning into junkies. They find out their parents once experimented too.

So it’s their turn to experiment – and that’s exactly what they do. During this naive experimentation kids consume impure substances purchased on the street, combine drugs that shouldn’t be mixed, overdose because they didn’t know how much they were taking. But who was there to teach them?

At the same time, young adults inevitably explore their sexuality, either with or without guidance from the adult world in regards to physical precautions that can be taken and the emotional implications of becoming intimate with another human being.

Parents’ strict prohibitionist attitudes backfire as they’re no longer on the list of people their kids can talk to about these new and sometimes overwhelming experiences. They lose touch with their own children. Their ability to retain influence and stay involved during this crucial time in young adulthood all but disappears.

At the end of the day, the problem is that the majority of adults are not comfortable with their own sexuality or history of drug-taking, and they’re certainly not comfortable imagining their kids doing the same thing they did when they were younger. If parents don’t start growing up themselves, why should they expect their kids to?

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Posted: March 16th, 2011
Categories: Drugs, Sexuality
Tags: , , ,
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The Power of Cunt:
Germaine Greer’s Forgotten Vaginal Revolution

The year was 1973, and Penthouse’s Forum magazine was at the cutting edge of sexuality. It might have been nearly thirty years ago, but inside Forum, the ‘International Journal of Human Relations’, lies a forgotten manifesto that sounds as fresh today as it did then. Germaine Greer’s ‘Vaginal Revolution’:

It seems the feminist movement has split into two factions since then, those who think pole-dancing in the bedroom for their boyfriend is liberation, and the rest who think that women’s lib means competing in a man’s world by rejecting the potential of female sexual power. Not to mention those who find the ‘F-word’ simply uncool and irrelevant.

Germaine Greer gives us another option. She envisages a world where women realise the power of their sexuality, not by subscribing to a raunch culture that aspires only to titillate men, nor by denying the magnetism of female allure. It’s time we reclaimed the power of Cunt. But don’t take it from me, here is an excerpt from Ms. Greer’s fantastically bold piece:

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…In order that women might become sex objects rather than sexual people, sex itself was devalued. Instead of extending through all forms of communication into the “highest pinnacle of the human spirit” (Nietzsche) it became a “momentary itch” (Amis).

Women lost spirit and were made flesh. Desire was localised in the male genital, the visible doodle, the tag of flesh that could become as hard as a fist.

The interpretation of souls and bodies became the pummelling of one lump of meat by a harder lump of meat. Sexuality became as masculine a virtue as packing a good left.

If the softer flesh was further tenderised by pummelling, then the tremulous dangling thing in which the male located his sex was safe from any threat, except the anxiety which was the unavoidable result of having invested male sexuality in a lump of meat in the first place.

In his efforts to allay his anxiety that his tassle might not turn into a fist when required, that it might be smaller than the man-next-door’s, the male forbade comparison to his woman. From her he extracted fidelity.

Fast vehicles, bombs and male bonding were called into service to allay his persistent phallic anxiety. Women lost their interest in all of it, the competitive sports, the war game, the games of darts with the boys.

The female genital organ, in keeping with the desexualisation of her whole energy and the obliteration of her desire, became a mere hole, troops for the use of. Receptivity which is no more passive an act than eating, therefore became synonymous with passivity.

If gentleness was like feminine passivity, activity had to distinguish itself by becoming aggression. The world was to be conquered, knowledge was raped, virgin countries were exploited. The only becoming attitude for the masculine hand was a fist, and the only position in love or war was on top…

…The devices used to minimise the organs of femaleness became more sophisticated; women began to wear knickers, then to deodorise their genitals, douche them, shave them, pluck them. Their rich juices were discouraged from flowing…

…The relaxation of sexual taboos has not even been a reform, let alone a revolution. Revolutionary women may well join Women’s Liberation Groups and curse and scream and fight the cops, but did you ever hear one of them marching the public street with her skirt held high crying “Can you dig it? Cunt is beautiful!”…

…Cunt is a channel drawing all towards it. Cunt is knowledge. Knowledge is receptivity, which is activity. Cunt is the symbol of erotic science, the necessary corrective of the maniacal conquest of technology…

…Skirts must be lifted, knickers (which women have only worn for a century) must come off forever. It is time to dig Cunt and women must dig it first…

…It is absurd that women can only name their sex by the terms of phoney objectivity, the scientific terms which seek to push away the reality of the thing by talking about it in foreign tongues, clitoris, labia majora and minora, the glands of Bartholin for God’s sake!

The only other terms they may deploy have been deformed by centuries of sadistic male use. You cunt, gash, slit, crack, slot… Women have no names of their own for what is most surely their own.

It ought to be possible to establish a woman’s vocabulary of cunt, prideful, affectionate, accurate and bold.

But it is not enough to know what it is called. Women must know above all other people what it is. Feeling it with the fingers serves to accomplish much, but more must be known, of its prettiness, its varying expressions, of how it smells and how it tastes, so that the women’s magazines cannot frighten us into believing that what lies between our legs is rotting meat.

There is no substitute for confrontation: women must become expert in their own complexities and, because there is no knowledge without standards of comparison, the cunts of others.

It is no more true that all cunts are the same when you get down on them than it is that all cats are grey in or out of the dark…

…To know cunt is to love it and to love it is to care for it. To care for it is not only to avoid the maltreatment of it by such gross practices as inserting needles or bottles into its tenderness, but to keep it free of the germicides and deodorants which upset its balance and obliterate its essential character.

If women are to reconquer their sexual pride they must find a way to make cunt as important in medicine as cock is…

…There are doctors who are gynaecologists because they are into cunt, although most of them sooner or later are therefore struck off. These are the ones who should be the health officers of the women’s movement.

As things stand, they are more likely to be avoided by the militants who confuse sex roles with sexuality.

But while it is true that male-female relationships in our society are perverted, it is not a revolutionary solution to eschew all such contact.

What is certain, however, is that the patriarchal state could never survive the re-conquest by women of their own sexuality. The patriarchal family structure, the outward expression of the conjugal missionary position, would not survive the advent of self-regulating pleasure – seeking femaleness.

It is only by reinstating genuine potency in themselves, that women can avoid falling into the sterile perversion of male sexuality which is violence. Violence confuses aggression with power. Cuntpower is the only form of power yet devised which can avoid this arid syndrome.

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To read the article in its entirety, please see the scanned images below.

Pages 1-2

Pages 3-4

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Dear Julie Bindel:
Why Selling Sex is Not Selling Your Self

Today’s Guardian featured a celebratory article by Julie Bindel on Iceland’s new ban on strip clubs. Hip hip hurray! Now women in Iceland can live in a globalized raunch culture but never get paid for their participation. Liberation indeed.

First of all, if you think women are objectified by our hyper-sexed culture and you want change, the banning of strip clubs is certainly no place to start. At least those women earn money doing what they do. I wish I had been paid for those hours I put in at school discos back in high school where bumping and grinding was simply what was done to ‘fit in’.

But let’s get to the bigger picture. So-called ‘feminists’ are now powerful enough to tell women who disagree with them that they have no right to capitalize on their sexual power. That they are deluding themselves if they feel empowered by earning money with their ‘tits and ass’. I thought it was supposed to be patriarchy that attempted to control the way women use their sexuality, not the ‘women’s movement’ itself?

One’s ability to do manual labour involving heavy lifting often relies on having typically male biological traits, just as stripping tends to depend on having typically female ones. In our economy, we capitalize on our assets – whether genetic or learned, physical or intellectual, etc.

So unless you’re trying to undermine the entire capitalist system of selling labour, the sex industry is like any other service industry and should be treated as such. That is, after all, what so many sex workers are fighting for themselves.

But no, we read that “the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale”. Why is dancing on stage in clothing selling your service as a dancer, but dancing on stage without clothing actually selling ‘you’? It’s pure discrimination that reeks of puritanical notions of sex and self – particularly with regard to women.

If women involved in the sex industry are not there by choice (a relative notion – how many work their lives at McDonalds by ‘choice’?) then that is something to work on. But it is only through the de-stigmatisation of sex work that we will start to see a sex industry where those working do so because they want to, and those who don’t find a job they’re better suited to.

Let’s not disenfranchise women in the name of feminism. Because when it comes to women’s rights, it’s all about choice – right, sister?

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Posted: March 27th, 2010
Categories: Sex Work, Sexuality
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Sex Toys and Firearms:
Perversity in American Culture

America is a country of great contrasts. The country that invented the popular ‘Lingerie Bowl‘ – an annual pay-per-view football game during the Super Bowl, featuring only scantily clad females. Home of phenomena like ‘Bikini Baristas‘ who work at ‘Sexpresso’ stands for those who like their coffee with their kicks. We export a hyper-sexualized MTV culture around the globe in one of the most powerful forms of cultural colonialism to date. Yet right back at home, we struggle to keep our sex laws in even the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first.

It would seem that progress is slow. It took the Supreme Court ruling of Lawrence v Texas in 2003 to finally strike down the sodomy laws that remained on the books in many U.S. states. You’ll be pleased to know that as of 2005 pre-marital sex is finally legal in Virginia.

But not all states are ready to accept the new precedent of sexual privacy set by the Lawrence v Texas ruling. As recently as last November (2009), Alabama upheld it’s criminal ban on sex toys. This was the latest decision in an eleven year legal battle brought to court by Sherri Williams, owner of a sex toy store called Love Stuff in Hoover, Alabama.

The judges ruled that the Constitution does not include a right to sexual privacy when it comes to purchasing sexually stimulating devices. One might ask what kind of morality judges gun ownership as a God-given right but masturbation aids as a threat to society.

Alabama is one of the easiest places in the U.S. to buy a gun. There are no state laws requiring licensing, registration, child safety locks, a mandatory waiting period or a limit on the number of weapons that can be purchased at any one time. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Alabama has the 4th highest homicide rates in the country.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Alabama’s law in 2007, saying that the state could regulate commerce that it considered ‘harmful to the public’. I suppose that means dildos are officially more dangerous than firearms in the eyes of the law – and maybe even harder to acquire?

Alabama’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act prohibits, among other things, the commercial distribution of ‘any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value.’

Some sex laws in America are simply antiquated and un-enforced, but not in this case. This law was put on the books in 1998 (yes you read that correctly), making it illegal to buy or sell sex toys for anything other than ‘medical purposes’. Your first offense can get you a year in jail and a $10k fine; your second offense can earn you up to ten years in prison. There are similar laws on the books in Georgia and Mississippi.

As others have noted, a few select vegetables should probably be banned as well, not to mention massaging shower heads. Maybe just amputate women’s fingers altogether as we really shouldn’t risk someone somewhere giving themselves pleasure (especially without the aid of a man!)

Taking her cue from Charlton Heston’s famous speech to the National Rifle Association, Sherri Williams isn’t giving up: ‘My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand.’ she said. Love Stuff will continue to sell sex toys; however, customers must sign a form stating that they are buying the toys for one of the permitted reasons.

In the meantime men, have no fear. Viagra is of course still legal in Alabama. Ah, the sweet smell of patriarchal hypocrisy.

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Posted: February 23rd, 2010
Categories: Sexuality
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Overlooked In the News: January Round-Up

♥  Let’s start with a story of trivial magnitude that I still found fairly unbelievable: ‘Oshkosh Police Arrest Las Vegas Woman For Prostitution After Viewing Posts For Services On Websites’. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been living in the UK too long. But the idea of government money spent on an ‘undercover operation’ to arrest a single independent woman advertising sexual services on the internet seems unreal to me. No excuse of stopping trafficking, coercion, soliciting – just good old-fashioned moralizing on the exchange of cold hard cash (versus presents and dinner?) for sex. She was only living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin temporarily – a pretty harsh wake-up call to the fact that our Dorothy wasn’t in Las Vegas anymore!

I have no idea how common these kind of police operations are, tracking working girls on the internet. If you have any further info, please feel free to post in the comments below.

♥  On to some discrimination on a much larger scale. Queerty has been bringing CBS’s ridiculous hypocrisy to the public eye with regards to it’s Superbowl ad choices.

First we hear that ‘The Super Bowl Welcomes $2.8 Million Ad Buy From Hate Group “Focus on the Family”‘. Which is fair enough, until you remember CBS’s own policy that does not allow any ad that “touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance”. This quote is from a letter to the United Church of Christ, whose ad campaign of inclusiveness (“Jesus Didn’t Turn People Away. Neither Do We.”) was rejected for broadcast in 2004. So much for CBS’s ‘long-standing policy of not accepting advocacy advertising.’ No one’s seen the Focus on the Family ad spot yet, but from what the group has said publicly, it is going to be very clearly pro-life.

Just to emphasize the political nature of these decisions, Queerty has posted two ads rejected from this year’s Superbowl: ‘CBS Won’t Let Super Bowl Viewers See GoDaddy’s Gay-ish Ad Or a Gay Dating Site’s Spot. 30 Seconds of Abortion Still OK’. Although some might argue the content itself was not up to snuff – I demand you watch your average American TV spot before you make that judgement.

♥  Next, to the BBC reporting on how ‘Sanitary pads help Ghana girls go to school’. “Schoolgirl absenteeism in Ghana could be cut by half by providing free sanitary towels, a study has shown.” So easy to take things like that for granted in life. Somehow I think this is the kind of study that only gets done when it’s women on the research team!

♥  The NY Times had an interesting article called ‘Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret’ on the number of gay partnerships that are open sexually, and how they negotiate that understanding. I find it fascinating not just in itself, but as a model for straight couples as well. There needs to be a certain amount of trust, lack of jealousy, etc. – but these are things that often make relationships stronger. Some studies show that open gay relationships last longer than closed ones. As Joe Quirk, author of the relationship book “It’s Not You, it’s Biology”, put it: “If innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages.” Here, here!

♥  On a final, lighter note, click here to read how ‘Student Peter Backus uses alien maths to explain why single men can’t find a girlfriend.’ Apparently the probability of finding love in the UK is only about 100 times better than the probability of finding intelligent life in our galaxy! Somehow I bet those chances are much improved by spending less time in front of a calculator.

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The Death and Rebirth of Intimacy in the Sex Industry

There was an interesting article in the Sunday Times today called “How teenage access to pornography is killing intimacy in sex”. Natasha Walter addresses the issue of internet pornography and it’s effects on a generation of children who see their first hardcore porn at a younger and younger age.

According to a London School of Economics study in January 2002:

Nine out of 10 children aged between eight and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used a seemingly innocent sounding word to search for information or pictures.

I clearly remember attempting to visit the website for the US government and making the unfortunate mistake of typing in whitehouse.com rather than whitehouse.gov at a very young age. But I would imagine that as we see children dealing with adult themes earlier and earlier in their lives, a lot of this viewing is not unintentional.

We mustn’t make the assumption that children viewing sex at a young age is necessarily harmful – however, the problem is that most popular pornography is a very skewed and one-dimensional portrayal of sex. As a teenager, I personally thought of sex as something one does because men like it – that was the impression I had gotten from my exposure to porn on the internet. It wasn’t till years later that I would start to understand female sexuality, and then my own.

It would be great if our education system could provide sex education that taught more than just the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. How about teaching our children something about sexuality as an important way humans express intimacy and sometimes love?

I agree with Walter when she writes that:

“If the rise of pornography was really tied up with women’s liberation and empowerment, it would not be increasing women’s anxiety about fitting into a narrow physical ideal.

and

“…women are still encouraged much of the time to concentrate on their sexual allure rather than their imagination or pleasure.”

Unfortunately the article goes downhill from there, as she goes on to attack the sex industry across the board.

I was disappointed to see the conflation of the entire industry with the intimacy-less portrayal of sex in much popular porn and culture.

Walter completely ignores the shifting trend in the sex industry away from the “porn-star experience” (PSE) prostitute in favor of sex workers who offer the “girlfriend experience” (GFE). Many men are not interested in paying for sex without intimacy. The highest paid call girls in the industry are those who provide more personal interaction – not just completing a sexual act, but focusing on things like kissing, cuddling, foreplay, and conversation.

For more on this I highly recommend Elizabeth Bernstein’s “Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex”. In this model, intimacy is being sold along with sex. Sex workers are seen as just another kind of service provider (in line with therapists, masseurs, etc.) in a capitalist economy where (let’s face it) we all prostitute our time and labour for money in one line of work or another.

Walter claims that “women are scarred by the myth that selling sex is a positive career choice” citing two girls who worked in the sex industry as examples. But when she refers to the bestselling memoirs of prostitutes such as Belle de Jour, she completely ignores the validity of their experiences as empowered sex workers. Denying women’s agency and subjective experiences – is that not typical misogyny?

Surely we can do better than that Ms. Walter.

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Bumping and Grinding: High School Lessons in Giving it Away For Free

I first felt a man’s erection at the tender age of fourteen.  On my daily commute to school on the subway in New York City, a crowded train provided cover for unsolicited dry-humps from strangers behind me.  I suppose this was my sexual awakening.  Not particularly romantic.

This first experience was not shocking in the context of teenage pop culture.  I was already dressed for the part, in my mini-skirt and high heels.  I just needed to learn the moves. Watching MTV, the instructions came in loud and clear.  Even at my uber-nerdy school of math and science geeks, the point needed no clarification.  Nelly told us to ‘take off all our clothes’, Xtina got ‘Dirrty’, and even not-so-innocent Britney showed us how to make high school hallways and school uniforms more palatable.  From music videos and movies to school discos and prom, sexier was always better.  In this period I had a moment, an awakening which occurs in many young women’s lives, that maybe I should start wearing more skirts, putting on the lip gloss, and learning to flirt.

Becoming ‘sexy-conscious’ I unknowingly entered a world of delicate balancing and complicated hypocrisy.  Looking back, I’m sure I’m not the only one who cringes at memories of too much makeup, skirts that were too short, and heels that were too high.  I quickly became attuned to the effects of dressing provocatively.  Cat calls from builders, comments on the street and special treatment in shops became regular occurrences – which, in a funny way, I soon found myself reliant upon for constant reassurance that I was, indeed, attractive to men.

Even then I remember feeling confused as to the point of it all.  I knew I didn’t want to follow through with all the attention I was attracting, but I was also secretly pleased I was getting it.  It meant I was sexy – in the world of high school, a ‘hot chick’.  Then there were times when I’d manage to get my way with a male teacher, and I had no illusions as to why it was happening.  It seemed to me that flaunting my assets finally had a payoff.  But there was disapproval.  These tsk-tsks were the early precursors to the all too common ‘she-slept-her-way-to-the-top’ syndrome – where both men and women belittle or disregard a woman’s accomplishments if it turns out she was once a glamour model or slept with her boss.

One has to wonder why don’t we look down on the men in these situations for thinking with their ‘second brains’?  It seemed to me they were making fools of themselves, leaving themselves easy targets to be manipulated by a wink of an eye or a hint of cleavage.  But feminism tells us that I was the one ‘cheapening’ and ‘objectifying’ myself by actually using the sexuality we’d all earnestly aspired to flaunt (after much social instruction).  Had I been completely mistaken in feeling empowered?

This, it would seem, is the confounding legacy of the feminist revolution.  We’ve whittled down the principles and ideals of our foremothers – burning bras has long been out of fashion.  Sexy is the new black, it never goes out of style.  But we still look down our noses at those women who choose to capitalise on that sexual power – or at least when done with purpose or agenda.

Maybe it’s time we stopped to ask ourselves, who does this benefit?  I think back to school discos at ex-strip clubs (podiums, cages and all), where we bumped and grinded our way up the social ladder to the captain of the football team.  We dressed to tease and please, and were in awe of those girls who had mastered the arts of seduction and fellatio – not those who had learnt to give themselves an orgasm.  We competed by out-doing each other on the ‘hotness’ scale, looking for crucial signs of approval from guys, our own self-esteem hanging in the balance.  But we also waited like sharks in the water for the first girl to follow through with the tease, who could then be publicly humiliated for being a slag.

This trend continued on from high school into the ‘real world’.  I became aware that those women whose careers were reliant on their sexuality (lap dancers, strippers, prostitutes and so on) are widely looked down upon.  It’s as if that fact undermines any other qualities they may have – or indeed, that the career choice itself reflects a lack of other options, brains, or talent.  Women in more ‘serious’ careers who are seen to use or even express their sexuality risk losing their colleagues’ respect altogether.  But those who don’t often find themselves being labeled as ‘ball-breakers’ or ridiculed by men for lacking feminine appeal.  A bit of a catch twenty-two.

We’re expected to hone our sexual power but not to use it.  Whether we should be using it or not is another question, but surely our current raunch culture has nothing to do with female liberation.  Personally, I’d have felt more emancipated if I’d at least been saving up a college fund, charging men for all the free bumping and grinding I did in the subways and at the school prom.  I laugh when I hear people refer to pole dancers and topless models as ‘cheap’.  Because in the end, what’s cheaper than giving it away for free?

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Posted: November 1st, 2009
Categories: Sex Work, Sexuality
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