Carnivals and Circles: Liberals, Feminists, and Skeptics

CarnivalI missed putting these up when I was away on vacation. Sorry!

Carnival of The Liberals #52 at Yikes!

Carnival of Feminists #48 at Feminist Fire

Skeptic’s Circle #74 at Med Journal Watch

If you’re a liberal, feminist, or skeptical blogger, and want to submit a blog post to one of these carnivals/ circles, here are the submission forms for the Carnival of The Liberals, Carnival of Feminists, and Skeptic’s Circle. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

Only Losers Dine At Le Cirque: The Stigma on Sex Work Customers

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Note: The piece doesn’t talk about my personal sex life per se, but it makes a couple of oblique passing references to it. Family members and others who don’t want to read about my sex life, use your own judgment on this one.

It was a letter to Savage Love that made me think of it. As it so often is.

Shampoo_goldThe inquisitor had a fetish for being shampooed; didn’t know how to find a female partner who would play along; and had been trying — unsuccessfully — to pay hair salons to give him the pleasure. Dan’s response (apart from “Get some social skills”) was, I thought, very sensible:

Find a sex worker.

It’s advice I think a lot of sexually dissatisfied people would benefit from. If there’s a special kind of sex that you really love and haven’t been able to find — or there isn’t, but you’re just not getting laid at the moment — paying a professional would seem, if you can afford it, to be a fairly obvious solution.

MoneyBut it’s also advice that a lot of people reject out of hand. Not only do they reject it — they’re offended at the very suggestion. “I’m not going to pay for it.” “What kind of loser has to pay for it?”

Part of it is a moral issue. Many people believe that prostitution, even among completely consenting adults, is immoral on the face of it. And part of it is an understandable emotional barrier: if what you want is not just sex but sex with someone who loves you and vice versa, then a pro isn’t going to do the trick. (Sorry for the pun.)

But for plenty of people, it seems to be simply a matter of pride. Being able to get a sex partner is proof of manliness, womanliness, coolness, evolutionary fitness, whatever. If you “have to pay for it,” it means you can’t get it on your own, which de facto makes you a loser.

Paying_for_it_2Let me use an analogy I stole from Carol Queen (conflict of interest alert: she wrote about it in my book Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients).

Does paying a restaurant to feed you a meal make you a loser? Whether you eat out every night or only do it as an occasional treat; whether you’re looking for a special meal you can’t get elsewhere or simply want the convenience of getting dinner without any hassle… does it make you a loser? A pathetic nobody who can only get fed if he pays someone to do it?

You can argue that sex is different. But food — especially providing other people with food, and the experience of cooking and/or eating together — is a powerful, complex, culturally rich experience that’s loaded with emotional implications. And yet we have no shame at all about paying for it.

ZagatCome to think of it, I could easily imagine an alternate reality in which paying for sex is an openly practiced, completely accepted part of the economy and the culture… but paying for food is considered shameful at best and immoral at worst, an illegal black market economy in which the providers, no matter how skillful they are at their craft, are defamed, marginalized criminals, and the customers are mocked into thinking there’s something sordid and pathetic about what they do.

“I’m not going to pay someone to cook for me. What kind of loser has to pay for a meal?”

If that doesn’t make sense when it comes to food, then why does it make sense when it comes to sex?

Sex_workIf you don’t want to see a sex worker, of course you shouldn’t see a sex worker. Not everyone likes going to restaurants, either. But I’ve never understood the sex-positive attitude that embraces and celebrates sex workers while still looking down on their customers. There are lots of reasons people pay for sex — they’re partial to a particular kind of sex that not many people enjoy, they’re in a place in their lives where a relationship isn’t a good idea, their dating life is in a dry spell, they enjoy a variety of partners, etc. It doesn’t make them losers. If you’ve ever paid for sex, or if you pay for sex now, there’s no reason to think that it makes you a loser. And if you’ve never paid for sex, there’s no reason to think that it’ll make you a loser if you decide to try it out.

If You Weren’t An Atheist, What Would You Be?

Religious_symbolssvgI have a nosy question for my godless readers. If you had to pick a religion to belong to, which one would it be?

Is there any religion that appeals to you, with rituals and politics and practices that strongly resonate with you? Do you ever have moments, listening to a church choir or attending a peace march, when you wished you had whatever it is believers have — and if so, which believers made you feel that way? Is there any religion that you’d kind of like to join, if it weren’t for that pesky business of believing in God?

God_monty_python_2To put it another way: Let’s pretend God exists. Let’s say He/She/It appeared to you, in a way that completely convinced you that He/She/It was real and not a figment of your imagination. Let’s say He/She/It asked for your worship… but said you could do it any way you wanted to. What would it be?

Quick guideline here: “I’d worship God by sitting on the sofa eating chocolate chips and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is not an acceptable answer. As Russell’s Teapot said, it has to be a real religion, “not just made-up by someone.” :-)

Quaker_start_2Myself, I usually lean towards Quaker. I like the leaderlessness of it: the idea that a worship service involves anyone speaking who feels moved to do so, instead of one person who supposedly knows more about God than anyone else standing in front of the room telling everyone else about it. I like the peacefulness of it, the spareness, the quiet. I like the idea of a worship service where you sit together in a quiet, unadorned place, each person looking inside themselves but everyone doing it together.

Plus I like the idea of a religion that has, as one of its central tenets, the notion that they don’t know everything; that truth is available to everyone, not just Quakers; and that believers need to be flexible and adaptive about their beliefs.

UndergroundrailroadAnd of course, I like the whole social justice aspect of it. I like the Quaker history of involvement in the Underground Railroad; their history of anti-war activism; their history of supporting racial and gender equality.

If it weren’t for that pesky business of believing in God and Christ, I’d be all over it.

JesusBut Christ is a deal-breaker for me. There are way too many things about the Christ myth that give me the willies. And besides, Christianity has been in my face my entire life. It’s by far the religion I’m most intimately familiar with… and as a result, it’s the religion that angers and upsets me the most. Christianity in America is, overwhelmingly, a ghastly example of political and cultural hegemony at its worst, and I want no part of it — even a radical, progressive, alternative-y part.

So paradoxically, the very thing that makes the Quaker religion feel familiar and resonant — the fact that it’s part of the Christian tradition, where my own cultural roots lie — is the very thing that makes me flinch away from it.

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Carnival of the Godless #79, and Humanist Symposium #11

Carnival time again!

Carnival_1The Humanist Symposium #11 is up at The Greenbelt. The Humanist Symposium is probably my favorite blog carnival; it’s the godless carnival that focuses on the positive side of non-belief. My piece in this Symposium: Godless is the New Black: Is Atheism Just a Trend? My favorite other pieces: Life Without Death at Questions and Chaos, a beautiful exploration of why the finality of death is such a necessary part of life; and Join Me in Welcoming … (Name Withheld), an extremely touching piece on the difficulties of being in the atheist closet.

Carnival_2And Carnival of the Godless #79 is up at Sexy Secularist. My pieces in this Carnival: “A Relationship Between Physical Things”: Yet Another Rant On What Consciousness And Selfhood Might Be, and the abovementioned Godless is the New Black: Is Atheism Just a Trend?. My favorite other pieces in this Carnival: Margaret Somerville is at it again from Metamagician and the Hellfire Club, on why a visceral “yuck” reaction does not constitute a serious ethical position, and Your Almighty Update at Riding With Rickey, a very funny piece on the latest manifestation of the Divine in a food substance.

If you’re a godless blogger and want to participate in the Carnivals, it’s easy. Here are the submission forms for the Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium. See you in the atheosphere!

Thanks

I was planning to put this up on Thursday, but I was out of town for the long Thanksgiving weekend, and it turned out that I didn’t have wireless access and couldn’t connect my laptop to the Internet. Sorry for the late-itude. I’m home now, and will be back to my regular blogging schedule as soon as I get some sleep.

Cafe_gratitudeIt’s traditional, on or around Thanksgiving, for writers to write about the things they’re grateful for. Family and friends; happiness and comfort; health and home — these typically lead the pack.

Of course I’m deeply grateful for all that. But I don’t think I have anything very original or interesting to say about it. So I want to say this instead:

I’m grateful for the atheist blogosphere.

(Or, as I’ve been calling it lately, the atheosphere.)

Scarlet_aThe quote unquote “new atheist” movement, and in particular the atheist blogosphere, has given me the sense of being part of something bigger than myself. It’s given me the experience of participating in an important social movement that’s changing society in ways nobody can predict, and that’s touching people I will never meet or even know about. It makes me feel both powerful and humble… both in really cool, amazing ways.

BlogrollI haven’t felt this way since I was immersed in the dildo wars, the raging debate over porn and sex toys and bisexuality and SM in the feminist/ lesbian communities of the late ’80s and early ’90s. When I get emails or comments from people saying that I changed the way they think or live, that I helped them out of a suffocating religion or inspired them to write, it gives me that rare flush you get when the chatterbox in your head shuts up for ten seconds and you feel completely present in your skin, and in your world. It makes me feel alive, and connected, and like the meaning of my life is being fulfilled. Being part of the atheist blogosphere makes me feel like part of history; like I’m jumping into the river and helping to shape its direction, instead of just camping out on the riverbank watching it go by.

And it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

For all of that, I’m grateful.

Grateful_shirtGratitude can be a tricky emotion for the godless. When we feel grateful for good fortune that we didn’t particularly earn, we don’t always know who to thank for it. Sometimes there isn’t anyone to thank, and the gratitude just sort of floats out into the ether with no object to attach to, in a way that feels vaguely disconcerting.

But in this case, there are people to thank. And so I’m thanking them.

I’m not going to thank all my favorite atheist bloggers by name. I know I’d miss someone, and that wouldn’t be right. But I am inexpressibly grateful that, when I started to blog, the atheist blogosphere, and the contemporary atheist movement, was here for me to come home to. Y’all rock.

No, I haven’t disappeared

I’m travelling for the Thanksgiving weekend, and I thought I’d have reliable Internet access but I don’t. So that’s why I haven’t been posting. I’m coming home on Monday, and should be putting up a proper post on Monday evening. Sorry for the interruption; I miss you all, and will talk to you soon.

Perfect Porn and Other Myths

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Please note: This piece discusses, not so much my personal sex life, but my tastes and preferences in porn, and it does so in some detail. If you don’t want to read that, please don’t.

It’s almost a throwaway line. And yet it’s stuck with me for weeks.

“I figured out pretty soon that, to get a video that pushes all your buttons and doesn’t grate on any squicks, you have to win the lottery and produce it yourself.”

Adele_schoolThis is spanking model Adele Haze, in a blog piece titled Why I Modelled for Lupus Pictures. It’s a smart, insightful piece about why she was willing — not just willing, but happy — to perform in a spanking video for a production company that she knew was going to physically push her much, much harder than she liked. The piece has some compelling implications, not just about spanking porn or even porn in general, but about any kind of sexual relationship, and indeed any kind of job.

I’ve written about those implications elsewhere. But right now, I’m fixated on this one comment she made almost in passing. Again:

“I figured out pretty soon that, to get a video that pushes all your buttons and doesn’t grate on any squicks, you have to win the lottery and produce it yourself.”

I think this is one of the smartest things I’ve read about porn. I think it has important implications, for both porn critics and porn consumers alike. And I think it has even bigger implications for porn creators.

Fashionistas_safadoI’ve been a porn consumer for close to thirty years now, and a porn critic for over a decade. And as both a consumer and a critic, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap Haze is talking about. I’ve griped about porn — videos, stories, photo collections, comics, whatever — being too arty, and I’ve griped about them being too raw. I’ve griped when porn took forever to get to the good parts, and I’ve griped when it rushed to the sex too soon. I’ve griped when the porn I was watching was too soft-focus and romantic, and I’ve griped when it treated its characters like meat. I’ve griped because the performers didn’t spank as hard as I liked, and I’ve griped because they spanked too hard.

Masked_charadeIn other words, I’ve definitely griped about porn because it either didn’t push all my erotic buttons just right, or because it grated on some of my squicks. I’ve griped when it hasn’t fallen into my perfect window: the perfect amount of artistry without sacrificing spontaneity, the perfect amount of teasing and buildup to get me worked up without getting me frustrated and bored, the perfect degree of roughness or kink to be convincingly real without being terrifyingly brutal.

And I — along with every other porn consumer and porn critic — have to acknowledge that this really isn’t fair.

Elevator_buttonsOf course I have a right to my erotic buttons. I have a right to express those erotic buttons. And I have a right to seek out porn that pushes them. Absolutely. But it isn’t right to act as if porn creators have done something wrong for failing to push them.

Besides, and much more to the point…

Lostgirls_01The porn that I’ve loved most passionately hasn’t necessarily pushed my erotic buttons at all. And some of it has definitely grated on my squicks. The porn that I’ve loved most passionately has been the porn that most effectively got across how the people in it felt about the sex they were having — regardless of whether the sex they were having was sex I wanted to have, or even wanted to fantasize about.

Casual_sexIf I can be drawn inside the head and the skin of the performers/ characters/ models, if I can be made to really feel what it feels like to be this person/these people having this sex and to feel what they find hot about it, the actual content can be just about anything. It can be content that would usually bore me, and it can be content that would usually squick me. If I can get why they find it hot, I can generally find it hot myself.

Ashley_and_kishaThis is the main reason I’m so rabid about authenticity and enthusiasm in video porn. An authentic, enthusiastic performance in a porn video will completely bypass the presence or absence of my erotic buttons, and will turn me on by the sheer force of the performers’ own excitement. A competent piece of push-the-buttons porn will only get me off if it hits my buttons successfully.

AvnredcarpetvidsAnd I think that’s a lot of what’s wrong with so much porn. Mainstream video porn especially, but it’s true of almost any commercial porn. I think way too much porn focuses way too hard on maximizing their button pushing and minimizing their squick-grating (emphasis on minimizing their squick-grating). They spend way too much time and energy checking off boxes on the “positions and sex acts” checklist (did we get the blowjob? did we get the reverse cowgirl? did we get the anal?) and making sure none of the “avoid at all costs” boxes get touched (did the guys’ dicks touch each other? does the girl look even slightly fat?). And as a result, they all too often forget the entire point of the exercise — namely, to show how exciting it feels to have great sex.

Atheist Limericks!

Over at Friendly Atheist they’re having a contest for who can write the best atheist limerick. I’ve submitted several of my own, and thought y’all might like to see them.

First, I just had to do a Nantucket one:

NantucketAn apologist man from Nantucket
Had excuses that started to suck it.
His mind twisted and turned
And he feared he would burn,
‘Til at last he decided, “Oh, fuck it.”

Then we have the one actually based on my own blog:

PreacherSaid the Reverend, “I know I’m too smart
To rely on just faith a la carte.
My belief isn’t treason
It has evidence and reason –
Like this warm fuzzy glow in my heart.”

Then there’s the one that I consider the best of the lot (although it does require some familiarity with standard atheist/ creationist debates):

FlagellaWhy reject our dear Lord’s great command
When the reasons for faith are so grand?
There’s the Bible so sweet
The flagellum so neat
And bananas fit right in your hand!

And finally, we have my sentimental favorite:

Harry_potter_half_blood_princeHarry Potter’s a sin? Quick! Escape!
From the Christians who’d whip me in shape!
But I’d join any church
Leave my pals in the lurch
If it meant I could do it with Snape.

If you want to pitch in with your own, please do. But do cross-post at Friendly Atheist, since that’s where the contest is, and some of the submissions are doozies.