Sadomasochism isn’t a dirty word.

Today Planned Parenthood supporters and opponents spoke out on Twitter with the hashtag #SexEd. The tweetfest was organized by the anti-abortion organization, Live Action, to denounce the Lurid! Disgusting! Immoral! Dangerous! advice given by Planned Parenthood counselers to a young woman who pretended to have honest questions for them about BDSM. She filmed the clinic workers – without their knowledge – answering the questions openly and honestly. Live Action calls this “undercover investigation.” I call bullshit. The film that Live Action is so very proud of can be seen on YouTube.

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Talking About Rape

Trigger warning for discussion of rape, rape culture.

I have never been raped.

When I was in college I had faith in everything that I had learned about how to not get raped. I knew to walk in groups, to cover my revealing club clothing between my dorm room and the bar or house party, to not get too drunk if I wasn’t going to be in a group or a safe space, to carry pepper spray and a whistle, to not act trashy if I didn’t intend to follow through.

I knew that rapists wait in dark corners in masks, commit the heinous deed and then disappear into the night. I knew that rape is what happens when a man puts his dick into you even though you’ve clearly told him no and fought like hell to try to make him stop.

Over time I have come to understand that the fact that I have never been raped relied greatly on chance and happy circumstance. I have learned that while I was preparing myself to not get raped in college, many of my peers had already been victims of sexual violence. I have learned that men, women and people outside of the gender binary – of all shapes, sizes, ages, attitudes and backgrounds – get raped, and more often than not, raped by someone they know. Sometimes they raped repeatedly, and sometimes they don’t know that what they’re experiencing is rape. I’ve learned that rape doesn’t have to involve a penis or a vagina. I’ve learned that it’s not always possible to fight back or say no to a rapist.

It is terrifying to reflect on how deluded I was back then, how much chance played a part in my making it to this point in my life physically unscathed by rape. That even now there is nothing I can to do to guarantee that I will never be raped.

I’d like to think that if I had been raped, that I would have had the strength, courage and support to try to bring my attacker(s) to justice, but I wouldn’t place any bets on it. Too often getting raped is seen as a weakness, a moral failing because the victim didn’t prevent it from happening. The thought of having to go through the public scrutiny of a rape trial makes my stomach clench. My culture has shown me that when someone accuses a person of rape, society will do everything in its power to cast doubt on their credibility – lay bare their life, their past actions and sexual activity, their behavior, their character. As if anything in a person’s character could ever make them deserving of rape!

All of these thoughts are brought on, of course, by the ruling in Steubenville this morning. Two teenage boys were found guilty of raping a 16 year-old girl who was intoxicated. To paraphrase a witness, the victim  was “not moving, not talking, not participating” when she was carried around and her vagina violated by the rapists’ fingers in at least two locations at two different times that night, while others watched on, laughed, took pictures and video.

The defense tried to cast doubt on whether the victim was really as drunk as she appeared to be, implied that she wanted sex because her friends tried to talk her out of partying with the boys who ended up raping her. The defense tried to argue that there wasn’t incontrovertible proof that what happened that night was rape, while at the same time dismissing the overwhelming evidence as tainting the case. The victims two “past best friends” testified against her, said she “lies about things”. I have seen ignorant asshats in blog commentary wonder what the uproar is about since she “only got fingered”, not really raped.

These are big reasons why victims don’t speak up when they are attacked.

When we say that only a certain type of person gets raped, or that the actions a person takes makes them responsible for their rape, we cast a false sense of security over ourselves that we will never suffer rape because we aren’t, or would never x, y, or z. We’re good, worldly people who have taken the proper steps to protect ourselves, and so we aren’t at risk of rape. We’re not like those other people who were – at best! – ignorant of the dangers they brought upon themselves when they [insert damning circumstance here] or – at worst – lying degenerates who invited rape. And when we do this we tell rapists that rape is sometimes okay – that if they can find someone who didn’t follow the rules, then what they’re doing isn’t really rape because alcohol-makeup-slutty clothing-flirted-not a virgin-wrong part of town.

Even if “all of the proper precautions are taken”, we can still be raped. Even if we don’t take any precautions, getting raped is not our fault. Rape is only ever the rapist’s fault. EVER. I can name too many people who have suffered and who still live with trauma because of our reluctance to teach people not to rape, to teach that non-consensual contact of any kind is never okay, and that consent means an unequivocal and hearty yes, not a “they didn’t say no”.

A combination of victim-blaming and a reluctance to believe that someone we know would “do something like that” makes it seem like stories such as Steubenville are a rarity, when in fact, the only thing that was rare in this case was the amount of insurmountable recorded evidence of rape and a guilty verdict against the rapists.

I hope deeply that this verdict will send a message that rapists can be brought to justice, and that more victims will be encouraged to speak up. And I hope that the 16-year old girl who was raped will find support and love and healing. I hope that among all of this talk of ideals and rape culture and cheering for the guilty verdict that we remember that there are other victims like her who did not make the six o’clock news, whose stories are still untold and who haven’t yet had a chance to heal.

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There are resources available for victims of sexual violence. RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – might be a good place to start if you need help or advice.

Note to the potential commentariat: This thread will be moderated. Rape apologetics are not welcome here.

Sex Ed – We’re Doin It Wrong

I was recently accepted as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota. One of the requirements for becoming a volunteer was attending four classes. The first two were introductions to the organization; the third and fourth were educational sessions focused on the basics of sexual transmitted infections (STIs), reproductive health and contraception. It makes a lot of sense to train volunteers in these topics, as the majority of what Planned Parenthood does is provide family planning and sexual health advice, education and health services.

After having attended these last two courses with a group of my peers, I say this: We need to do better at providing the people of this country standardized, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education.

Remember: All of the attendees of these courses want to be there. All of us believe in reproductive planning, promoting sexual health, positive sexuality, and supporting a woman’s right to  have an abortion. We are all supposedly “the good guys”. But goddamn there were some ridiculous beliefs that were shared in that classroom! There were misunderstandings about how common forms of birth control work, what happens during puberty, how certain STIs are spread, how communication with partners can limit the spread of STIs, how to bring up the issue of STIs with a new partner. There were prejudices, preconceptions and privileged opinions about issues such as sex before marriage, how many partners people “should” have, relationship status (monogamous vs. polygamous vs. open marriages, etc.), gender identity, how young someone should be before they have sex, if parents should have a say in whether an underage girl is allowed to have an abortion.

In a country that allows parents to pull their children from classrooms during sex ed…

When sex “education” still seems to come primarily from friends or the internet or those first fumbling encounters…

When sex, birth control, reproduction and sexual autonomy remain taboo subjects that aren’t discussed in “polite” company…

When these things happen we find ourselves in a climate where people speak the right words and espouse the right positions, but we still don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. A lot of people in that room probably walked in thinking they knew all there was too know about the basics of reproduction, contraception and STIs.

Planned Parenthood seems to understand the reality of sex education in this country, and they have taken steps to extend their educational outreach to their volunteers as well as their clients. We can do better.

Magic Lube

Chris Pederson over at the Minnesota Skeptics Facebook group posted about Yoni’s Bliss, a “revolutionary homeopathic lubricating gel”.

Hoo-boy. Let’s do this.

According to the website, Yoni’s Bliss is a water-based lubricant. It also contains aloe, which they describe as “the base on which Yoni’s Bliss was created”. Aloe gel is mostly water, so that fits, but I can’t tell what percentage aloe is in the final formulation. Aloe is not an uncommon ingredient in vaginal lubricants, especially those marketed as “natural” – in this case, that seems to usually mean without glycerin, paraben and with a minimal amount of additives. I found a ton of personal anecdotes about the use of raw aloe from fresh plants as lubricant.

The Mayo Clinic describes aloe allergy in some people, but the Yoni website claims that chance of you being allergic to their product (even if you have a history of allergy!) is “minimal to non-existent”. That strikes me as pretty dismissive, but without knowing the concentration of aloe in the formulation or the incidence of aloe allergy in their target audience it’s hard to evaluate this claim.

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Kids Know What’s Up

Twice yesterday I was blown away by the insight of young ladies who have an incredible grasp of the world around them.

13-year old schools you on slut shaming.

This is fantastic. I am awed that this incredible teenage girl not only grasps the problem of slut shaming, but that she so thoroughly and eloquently explains it in under four minutes.

Seen on Feministe

Boy-Girl Bear

My friend’s four-year old daughter has this to tell you about her bear:

Text reads: E’s bear’s name is Isabelle and he is “both a boy and a girl and he’s ok with you calling him he or she.” We are changing the world people! It’s so simple for kids to get why is it so hard for adults?!

Creepy Purity Bear is Creepy

Wait – first read the YouTube description of this video:

This is a student made video saying that the best way to stay sexually pure is to wait until marriage. Having one partner is the God-approved way to enjoy sex.

God must have forgotten to tell that to Newt. Bah dah dum! Okay, heeeeeere’s Purity Bear:

Did anyone else pick up on the fact that Eve tempted Adam, and not the other way around? And that good, chaste Adam turned away the seductress Eve (gently, kindly, but with manly firmness and moral conviction that she’s lacking. Heh…”manly firmness”).

The video’s description contains a promotion for the Liberty Counsel’s Day of Purity. DOP’s website “offers those who strive for sexual purity an opportunity to stand together in opposition to a culture of moral decline.” The website urges young people to “be a part of the ‘counter-coulture’ – – be politically incorrect.” Do it! Or, wait…don’t do it! Or purity bear will come and judge you while sadly watching you have immoral, out-of-wedlock sex.

This (the video, purity bear and the DOP)  is hilarious, infuriating and sad. Yes, waiting to have sex (however you define that) until you are in a committed marriage (whatever that means to you and your partner) is a great way to to stay “sexually pure” (whatever that means). It’s also not very realistic. This video is an example of how religious indoctrination makes teens feel guilty about their normal, biological, sexual urges. And it’s an example of how religion seems to have trouble speaking frankly about sex to children and teens. I mean, who takes sex advice from a teddy bear? What do they know about sex? Well, unless they’re zoo-bound grizzly bears; they have promiscuous sex all year round to fend off the boredom. Hey! Nice role model you chose there, Liberty Counsel!

But, whatever. All I know is I want Purity Bear. He does look cuddly. Plus, I could put him on my bedside table so he can watch when I have sex. Poor bear could probably use some good ol’ voyeurism after this stint.

Seen over at Joe.My.God

Boston SlutWalk 2011

I am very, very excited to introduce a guest post by Jo O. All words and photos are hers, and have not been edited from her original submission. For more of Jo’s photos from the Boston SlutWalk, please visit her BostonSlut Walk set on Flickr.
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Last Saturday I attended the Boston SlutWalk, one of many satellite walks affiliated with the Toronto SlutWalk held in early April. The original SlutWalk was organized in response to a statement made in January by a Toronto police officer during a campus safety forum at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School where he stated “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Although he eventually issued an apology, organizers of the Toronto SlutWalk were not deterred, stating that police failed the citizens by allowing this culture of slut-shaming to enter the ranks of those sworn to serve and protect. “With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed.” And it’s not just Toronto Police that are the problem, which is why this message grew from a small group of people who heard the insensitive comment to the launch of satellite walks in London, Boston, Dallas, and many other cities (including Minneapolis on August 6th).

The belief that a woman’s choice of clothing could cause a man to lose control of his sexual urges is absurd and offensive to men and women alike. But this attitude exists everywhere, from the professionals to whom we report a crime to the communities expected to provide support. When an 11-year old girl was gang raped in Cleveland, Texas, the New York Times article about the case highlighted just how skewed some people’s views of the situation were. Interviews with residents familiar with the victim and the attackers focused on the fact that the victim “dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s” as well as concerns about how the young men involved would “have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

Admittedly, I’ve harbored similar prejudices in the past, which is why I came out for the Boston SlutWalk. It’s easy to say that under no circumstances is rape acceptable, but it’s more difficult to quiet that voice in your head that asks inappropriate questions that don’t matter, like “what kind of reputation does she have?” or “what was she wearing?” When I told a friend of mine I was going to this event, he asked me if I thought a man wearing a Rolex or flashing a wad of cash should be surprised when he gets mugged. It stumped me for a second, until I thought about how sad it is to assume that an expensive trinket in someone’s hand would cause everyone in the vicinity make a grab for it or that seeing a little cleavage would suddenly turn any man into a sex-crazed animal. It assumes that every person out there is a potential attacker, a likely thief or a possible rapist. It also wrongly puts fault on the victim, when the blame should always fall squarely on the shoulders of the actual perpetrators of violence.

In the build up to the event, people questioned why a SlutWalk was being held in Boston. Did we really want to take back the word “slut” anyway? Did we want to advocate slutty behavior? Was this really the message we want to send to the children spending a nice day in the park with their parents? The true message was obvious at the event, when two thousand people, young and old, male and female, gay, straight, bi, and transgendered all came together in Boston to say we would not tolerate slut-shaming or victim-blaming anymore.

As Jaclyn Friedman said during her speech, “It ends because there is truly nothing, NOTHING you can do to make someone raping you YOUR fault. It ends because calling other people sluts may make you feel safer, but it doesn’t actually keep you safer. It ends because not one more of us will tolerate being violated and blamed for it. And it ends because all of this slut-shaming does more to us than just the violence of rape. As if that weren’t enough. The violent threat of slut-shaming also keeps us afraid of our bodies and our desires. It makes us feel like we’re wrong, and dirty, and bad, and yes very, very unsafe, when all we want is to enjoy the incredible pleasure that our bodies are capable of.”

Jaclyn Friedman at Boston SlutWalk 2011

The SlutWalk wasn’t just about one stupid statement made by a cop. It is a response to the skewed way society looks at victims of sexual assault. It doesn’t matter how many sexual partners a person has or what they like to wear, rapes happen because a rapist is around. The SlutWalk is a call for people to stand up together and say I’m not ashamed of liking sex, I’m not ashamed of the way I choose to dress, and I will stand up against anyone who suggests a victim of rape was “asking for it.”

Pad Your Pipe, Young Man!

You’ve all by now heard that the Pope says condoms are okay.  Well…except for use as birth control.  But if you’re a prostitute it’s okay to use condoms to prevent spreading sexually transmitted infections. Not that prostitution is okay, no, no, no – that’s still a sin.  But it’s not as big of a sin as prostituting AND spreading disease.

This evening on NPR I heard the most precious analogy detailing the Pope’s true intentions of his recent comments.  I believe that the analogy comes from Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. who wrote an article for Reuters on the topic:

Muggers are using steel pipes to attack people and the injuries are severe. Some muggers use padded pipes to reduce the injuries, while still disabling the victim enough for the mugging. The Pope says that the intention of reducing injury (in the act of mugging) could be a first step toward greater moral responsibility. [snip] Of course, one may morally use padded pipes in some circumstances, e.g., as insulated pipes so that hot water flowing through them doesn’t cool as fast. And one may use condoms morally in some cases, e.g. as water balloons.

The Father is using an analogy involving padded pipes to describe condom use?

And dude also just said that using condoms as water balloons is moral???  Quick, spread the word to Christian frat houses across the land!

Bwahahaha!

But in all seriousness, the Catholic church is still telling women and families how to plan their lives, and as Greta Christina recently discussed at Skepticon 3, espousing the idea that God cares about who you have sex with and how.  I think that Father Fessio captures the big picture perfectly:

In sum, the Pope did not “justify” condom use in any circumstances. And Church teaching remains the same as it has always been—both before and after the Pope’s statements.

Yup.

Oh, Ray Bradbury!

I don’t post a lot of NSFW (not safe for work) content on this blog, but this…this is completely, awesome and worth the NSFW rating.

Disclaimer/Warning: An intelligent woman sings very graphically about wanting to have sex with an intelligent man.  If the idea of an intelligent woman having sexual desires offends you, you may wish to skip this video. Hehehe.  Oh, and if you have a low tolerance for pop, just suck it up and concentrate on the lyrics.

Never have I ever had sex in…

Nerdiness and sex…

Would you ever volunteer to have sex for the betterment of science?  And no, it’s not just scientific research because you’re playing doctor; I’m talking about real sexual research conducted by real doctors.  My hat is off to the couple that managed to perform with this third partner in the room.  Or maybe third and fourth…where there’s an ultrasound there must be an ultrasound technician…

NCBI ROFL: And the most awkward sex of all time award goes to…

Coitus as Revealed by Ultrasound in One Volunteer Couple.

“The anatomy and function of the G-spot remain highly controversial. Ultrasound studies of the clitoral complex during intercourse have been conducted to gain insight into the role of the clitoris and its relation to vagina and urethra during arousal and penetration. Aim. Our task was to visualize the anterior vaginal wall and its relationship to the clitoris during intercourse. Methods. The ultrasound was performed during coitus of a volunteer couple with the Voluson(R) General Electric(R) Sonography system (Zipf, Austria) and a 12-MHz flat probe.”

Read on for the rest of the summary by the NCBI ROFL Discover Blog and the link to the actual paper published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.