“Variety in itself is arousing”: My Podcast Interview with Radio Blowfish

Bec_2008Check out the podcast interview that just went up on Radio Blowfish! In the interview, we talk a lot about adult comics in general, porn in even more general, and my new book Best Erotic Comics 2008 in particular. Among other things, I talk about why I think comics are almost an ideal form for erotica, why I think variety is so important in porn collections, and how I went about finding the comics I chose for the anthology. It’s fun, it’s chatty, and it’s not too long (about 10 minutes or so — I forgot to time it when I was listening).

If any of this sounds interesting to you — or if you’ve been reading my blog and are curious about the dulcet sounds of my voice — you can visit the main Radio Blowfish site (my interview is Episode 73, at the top of the dial as of this writing), or you can go directly to the listen and download page.

FYI, some of the material is sexually explicit. Like, duh. So you may or may not want to listen to it at your job, depending on where you work. Enjoy!

“I Also Apologize…” Best Week Ever on Eliot Spitzer

“Best Week Ever” is this ridiculous, trashy, pop- culture- gossip show on VH1 that cloaks its triviality under a veneer of snark. Ingrid and I love it. A wonderful guilty pleasure.

But this isn’t a guilty pleasure. This is one of the absolute best commentaries on the Eliot Spitzer prostitute scandal that I’ve seen so far. Hilarious, bitchy… and completely on target.

Video below the fold, since putting it above the fold gums up my archives.

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On Punishment, and the Lack Thereof

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: Although this piece mostly talks about sexual things that I don’t do rather than sexual things that I do, it does talk about my personal sex life, and my personal sexual fantasies, in quite a bit of detail. And it talks about aspects of my personal sex life and sexual fantasies that may be way too much information. If you don’t want to read about that stuff, please, please don’t.

This piece originally appeared on the Blowfish Blog.

Beautys_punishmentI’m going to do something a little different with this piece.

I’m going to talk about something sexual that I don’t do, instead of something that I do.

I’m going to talk about punishment.

Consensual_sadomasochismIt may seem strange, but although I’ve been practicing SM for about twenty years now, I have almost never done what is almost certainly the most common form of SM play. As a top, I’ve done punishment less than a handful of times… and I’ve done it as a bottom exactly never, except in a jokey, “wink-wink,” kidding around way.

It’s not that I haven’t done role-playing. But the role-playing I’ve done hasn’t been about, “You’ve been bad, so I’m going to punish you.” It’s been about, “I have power over you, so I’m going to do what I want with you.” Punishment has just never interested me.

No, more than that. Punishment has actively freaked me out.

School_leaver_needs_firm_strappin_2Lately, however, punishment has been sneaking into my fantasies with increasing insistence, and increasing stubbornness.

So I want to look at what it is about punishment that freaks me out… and what it is about it that I’m beginning to find so compelling.

GuiltThe freak-out part is easy, actually. I already feel bad about myself at the drop of a hat. It takes very little for me to feel like I’ve fucked up, like I’m a disappointment. And the feeling cuts me to the heart. I hate it. I sure as hell don’t want to bring it into the bedroom with me. In the bedroom, I want to feel valued, appreciated. Even if it’s by an amoral bully abusing their power over me to get their sadistic rocks off — I still want to feel like I’m pleasing them. I don’t want to feel like I’ve let them down.

Except lately, that’s shifting. In my fantasies, anyway. When I imagine playing with punishment in real life, it feels enticing and seductive… but it also feels like there’s an emotional hair-trigger trap in there, one that could go off at any second. This may be one of those fantasies that I decide to keep a fantasy.

But it’s rare that a fantasy goes from a major squick, an “I don’t even like to think about that” deal, to a central part of my masturbation fantasies. So I want to figure out what exactly is so compelling about it.

And for me at least, it goes back to power.

Catoninetails_psfThe rush of power is what gets me off about role-play. The feeling of having power in my hands, of having another person under my control who I can use and manipulate at will; or the feeling of having power wielded over me, of having my body and my sexuality controlled by a strong and forceful person… that’s what it’s all about. (Apart from the purely physical sadomasochistic pleasure of the pain itself, which is a whole other deal and doesn’t need any role-playing or power dynamics to get the job done.)

CaneNow, obviously, you don’t need to have punishment to play with power. For most of my sex life, my power games and fantasies have not been about, “I have authority over you and I’m going to punish you because you’ve been bad.” They’ve been about, “I have power over you, and I’m going to wield it simply because I want to.” The baron molesting the scullery maid; the Stasi agent tormenting the captive; the cop violating the citizen… it’s pure abuse of power, one person using another simply because they can. And for me, it has a kick like a mule.

But I’m beginning to get that there’s an extra kick of power in punishment.

And that’s the power to make the victim feel like they deserve it.

Beardsley2In a “pure abuse of power” scene, you have control over the victim’s body. But in a punishment scene, you have power over their mind as well. You have power over their very sense of self. You don’t just have the power to make their body suffer — you have the power to make their conscience suffer, too. You have the power to make them feel, not just helpless and frightened and hurting, but ashamed.

Lucy_needs_a_firm_hand_2And vice versa. If you’re playing the victim, if what you get off on is the feeling of power being wielded over you, I’m beginning to see why punishment could have an intense appeal. If you get off on feeling helpless, on feeling submissive, on feeling small, on feeling bent to someone else’s will… I can see why being punished could be almost irresistible.

Because it would make you feel that way inside as well as out. It would make you feel helpless and submissive, small and bent to someone else’s will… not just on your skin and in your muscles and genitals, but in your heart.

And I suspect this is why it feels so dangerous, as well as so enticing.

Porn Cliches, Or, On Not Seducing the Plumber: The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This piece, and the piece that it links to, contains descriptions of my personal sex life, sexual tastes, and sexual fantasies. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that: please don’t.

MarioI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a true story about a porn cliche: specifically, it’s about the time that I almost had sex with the cute hunky plumber… and then decided against it. And it’s about the importance of understanding the difference between what we want… and what we think we want. It’s called Porn Cliches, Or, On Not Seducing the Plumber, and here’s the teaser:

Like I was saying, this was an odd conversation, and it took me a while to catch on. (I can be kind of thick about it when people are hitting on me.) But it didn’t take that long. When you’re alone in the house with the plumber, and he keeps bringing up sex for no good reason, it doesn’t take a nuclear genius to figure it out. He was offering me the porn cliche, the impromptu fling with the hot young plumber.

And I was tempted to take him up on it.

For about ten seconds.

But here’s the thing. When presented with the real possibility of it, the fantasy almost immediately lost its appeal.

To find out what happened with the plumber and why, read the rest of the piece Enjoy!

“Created By a Schoolteacher” Or, One More Thing About the Airborne Thing

Oh, one more thing about the Airborne thing:

Airborne_3The company who makes the fraudulent but widely popular cold preventative makes a big deal on their packaging and in their advertising about the fact that the overpriced vitamin pill was “created by a schoolteacher.” It’s part of their folksy, common-sense, “we ordinary folk may not be scientists, but we sure do have ‘em beat when it comes to the common cold!” marketing plan. It was created by a schoolteacher, and schoolteachers are smart and nice — so you know it’s good!

So let’s take that thinking and apply it to some other fields of endeavor.

Washing_machine_and_dryerThis washing machine was created by a landscape designer — so you know it’s good!

This opera was created by a software engineer — so you know it’s good!

This apartment building was created by a microbiologist — so you know it’s good!

This MP3 player was created by a master chef — so you know it’s good!

This biography of James Madison was created by a veterinarian — so you know it’s good!

Does any of that make sense?

Then why does “This cold preventative was created by a schoolteacher — so you know it’s good!” make sense?

Mr_bergstromSchoolteachers are smart and talented people, for the most part. But that doesn’t make them qualified to create preventatives and treatments for medical conditions. Creating preventatives and treatments for medical conditions is hard. It requires many years of specialized training in, you know, medicine. And the common cold is a particularly tough nut to crack. Second-grade teachers aren’t qualified to do medical research… any more than medical researchers are qualified to teach second grade.

I mean, would you send your kid to a school where the second grade was being taught by an epidemiologist, with no training in the education of young children?

Then why would you take a cold preventative invented by a second-grade teacher?

(Thoughts originally developed in a comment thread on Respectful Insolence. Thanks, dude.)

Airborne, and Medicine, and Why Skepticism of X Shouldn’t Equal Faith in Y

AirborneIn case you haven’t heard about this yet: The company who makes Airborne, the overpriced vitamin pill that supposedly prevents you from catching colds but that actually does bupkis, has settled a large class action suit against them, and will be refunding $23.3 million to customers who bought the stuff. (Good piece about it on Respectful Insolence).

I don’t so much want to talk about the story itself — although I do find it interesting. Especially since the laws about making health claims for “dietary supplements” are so weak and half-assed. It’s actually quite remarkable that this case succeeded. The Airborne people had an enormous amount of latitude in what kinds of claims they could make — and they still screwed up and overstepped their extremely generous boundaries.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

There was a comment by Calli Arcale in the Respectful Insolence discussion about Airborne that really jumped out at me. I hadn’t thought if it in these terms before, and it shifted some stuff around in my brain.

Here’s the thought: Why should skepticism of conventional medicine translate into faith in alternative medicine?

SickoThere are good reasons to have a healthy skepticism of conventional medicine. It has horrors in its past; it’s often too focused on pharmaceuticals and procedures instead of lifestyle changes (although that’s changing a lot); and like all sciences, there’s a huge amount it doesn’t yet know. And in the United States, the conventional medical system is seriously broken. It’s too corporate, too tied in with money and profit — causing real harm to patients, and great frustration to the providers who genuinely want to give good health care. (In Europe it works a whole lot better… but that’s not much help if you’re living in the U.S.)

DoctorSo yes. It’s good to be skeptical of conventional medicine. Here, in my opinion, are some appropriate forms for that skepticism to take: Ask your doctor lots of questions. Do research on your health conditions and the treatments you’re getting for them. Don’t automatically take the first course of action your doctor recommends; find out what your options are. Periodically revisit your treatments and make sure they’re still appropriate and up-to-date. Eat a healthy diet, get regular vigorous exercise, and for the love of Loki, quit smoking if you smoke. (Okay, those last ones aren’t actually skeptical of conventional medicine — conventional medicine is constantly begging people to eat better, exercise more, and quit smoking — but it’s a good way to improve your health and reduce the amount of time you spend in the doctor’s office.)

HomeopathyBut here, in my opinion, is a bad form for that skepticism to take: Reject conventional medicine entirely. And replace it with alternative medicine…. which has all of the flaws of conventional medicine, and just about none of its advantages.

Which brings me back to the question: Why should skepticism of conventional medicine translate into faith in alternative medicine?

Polio_vaccine_posterYes, conventional medicine is flawed. But a fair amount of the time, it works. Our life expectancy is almost twice that of our ancestors, and that’s due in large part to conventional medicine. I could go on about it for days: from anti-depressants to heart surgery, from the elimination of huge numbers of deadly childhood diseases to the effective treatment of high blood pressure; from the eradication of smallpox to the fact that many people with AIDS can now have a pretty long and decent life.

Scientific_method_2_2And more to the point — in fact, the very reason for all these successes — conventional medicine has a system in place, the scientific method, for testing its treatments and making sure they actually, you know, work, and are reasonably safe. It’s not a perfect system — but it’s far, far better than no system at all.

Which brings me back to the big question, the question I asked over and over again the last time I brought this up and to which I never got a satisfactory answer: What does alternative medicine have to offer that conventional medicine doesn’t?

Gold_cureAlternative medicine has horrors and frauds in its past, every bit as much as conventional medicine. Read the history of the turn- of- the- century el-quacko health movement if you don’t believe me. Alternative medicine is every bit as focused on powders and potions and weird procedures as conventional medicine — they’re just different powders and potions and procedures. Alternative medicine is flying in the dark every bit as much as conventional medicine — in fact, far more so, since by definition conventional medicine is medicine that’s been subjected to rigorous testing, and by definition alternative medicine is medicine that hasn’t.

Airborne_2And alternative medicine is every bit as driven by money and profit as conventional medicine. The Airborne thing is a great example. Alternative medicine is a huge industry, and a hugely profitable one. In fact, the two are overlapping more and more: CAM companies (complimentary and alternative medicine) are being bought up in increasing numbers by the big bad Big Pharma… for the simple reason that CAM brings in pots of money, without all that pesky and expensive double-blind, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed testing. (Funny how you hear so much about Big Pharma, but you almost never hear about Big CAM…)

So what does alternative medicine bring to the table that conventional medicine doesn’t?

And once again, why should skepticism of conventional medicine translate into faith in alternative medicine?

Shiva_parvati_ganeshI’ve seen this kind of thinking a lot. Western religion is bad… therefore Eastern religion is good. Modern strip-mall monoculture is bad… therefore our bucolic rural past was good. Capitalism is bad… therefore Communism is good. (You don’t see this last one so much anymore, but it used to be very common indeed.) And in progressive lefty circles, there’s almost a knee-jerk belief that anything conventional is bad, and anything alternative is good.

But it doesn’t make sense. Being critical of something doesn’t mean you should automatically embrace its opposite.

ManusingmicroscopePut conventional and alternative medicine side by side. You get two systems of medicine, both with serious flaws. In fact, both with many of the same flaws. But conventional medicine offers something that alternative medicine doesn’t: a reasonable likelihood that any given treatment has been rigorously tested and found to be effective at least some of the time.

What does alternative medicine offer?

Homeopathy_2As far as I can tell, pretty much bupkis. From homeopathy to Reiki, aromatherapy to reflexology, careful, double-blind, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed testing has shown almost every example of it to be useless at best. It has occasional hits — the use of meditation to relieve stress, for instance — but it has far, far fewer hits than conventional medicine. It’s a stopped clock that’s right twice a day. And it has no method in place for resetting the clock.

Pulvermachers_electric_beltsIf you’re going to be skeptical of conventional medicine — and I think you should — you need to be every bit as skeptical about alternative medicine. Unless you want to go back to the days of unregulated patent medicines — of Lydia Pinkham’s Herb Medicine and Pulvermacher’s Electric Belts, the Gold Cure for Neurasthenia and Simpson & Son’s Patented Revitalizing Tonic — you need to be just as skeptical about alternative medicine as you are about conventional medicine. And probably more so, since there’s no FDA or medical establishment whose job it is to be skeptical for you. It doesn’t make sense to be be skeptical of the one and credulous about the other.

American Pie, and Sexual Morality Plays

Film_reelsvg_2I’m still feeling very low-energy, plus I’m frantically trying to catch up on the day-job and deadline work I’ve been putting to the side for the last couple of weeks. So today you get something from the archives. I worked a a film critic for years, and one of my favorite gigs was for the adult newspaper The Spectator, using movies as a jumping-off point for socio-sexual analysis of the culture. It was really fun — especially when my job was to analyze silly pop-culture fluff like American Pie. I hope to have a proper new post in the next day or two; in the meantime, enjoy!

Oh, BTW: I give away endings. So if you don’t want to know how American Pie turns out, you may want to skip this review.

American Pie

American_pie_2Relax. This isn’t going to be another rant about juvenile sex humor. I’ve finally acquired some sort of Zen acceptance about the fact that I’m thirty-seven (well, I was when I wrote this), and movies marketed for seventeen-year-olds may just not appeal to me. And I’ve given up on that particular rant. (At least for this week. No promises for the future.) Yes, the movie does have that somewhat annoying trait of finding gut-wrenching humor in the very existence of sex and other bodily functions; it’s full of anxious, giggly jokes that essentially go, “Sex! Masturbation! Boobies! Toilets! Diarrhea!” upon which it falls all over itself in gales of uncontrolled hysteria. But it’s not mean-spirited about it for the most part; and if I’m going to be fair and honest, I do have to remember that I was once a teenager, awkward and anxious and uncomfortable about my body in general and sex very much in particular, and at age seventeen, I might well have found this movie a laff riot. Yes, I do get bored and irritated at comedy that finds its humor in the very existence of sex; but I’m in a generous mood at the moment, and am willing to acknowledge that not all art has to be aimed at me personally. So I’m not going to rail against it. This week.

Morality_play_3No, the odd thing is this. For all of its wall-to-wall sex talk, American Pie is actually something of a sexual morality play. It’s a raunchy, smutty, potty-mouthed sexual morality play, but it’s a morality play nevertheless. The point of the movie (other than “Titties! Jism! Vagina!”) seems to be that there are good reasons to have sex and bad reasons to have sex, and that the bad reasons will be punished while the good ones are rewarded.

Dramafilmstubicon_2Come to think of it, that’s not the odd thing. Sexual morality plays aren’t an odd thing at all in the movies. I see them all the time. Heck, I rant and bitch about them all the time. What’s odd about this one is that I actually found myself agreeing with the moral. For all of its juvenile boobie-humor, I think the movie is pretty much dead-on right about what are good reasons and bad reasons to have sex. And although I do have general issues about the “What have we learned from this, class?” type of movie, I’m completely happy that the teenagers watching this particular movie are getting this particular lesson.

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Sexual Perspective, or, How Can You Eat That?

Eye_2I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a piece I’m unusually proud of; I like all the work I do for the Blowfish Blog, but this one has been turning over in my head for a long time, and I’m very glad to finally have finished it. It’s on how hard it can be to understand that other people genuinely enjoy sexual things than we ourselves don’t — and why it’s so important for us to try. It’s called Sexual Perspective, or, How Can You Eat That?, and here’s the teaser:

I think it’s always hard to really, truly grasp that other people’s tastes are different from your own. Especially when it comes to strong, emotional, visceral experiences. Myself, I am utterly baffled by the fact that anyone on this earth would voluntarily eat broccoli. The stuff tastes like concentrated essence of vileness to me, and the thought of people voluntarily putting it in their mouths makes me recoil.

Food, music, sex: all of these are powerful, visceral, intensely personal, even overwhelming experiences. And it’s very hard to step back from them and have perspective on how other people might feel about them. Our own feelings about them can be so intense, so all-encompassing, that it makes perspective difficult, even counter-intuitive.

But when it comes to food and music, we have years of experience to teach us perspective. People talk about their musical and culinary tastes loudly, proudly, in great detail and at great length. You often can’t get people to shut up about it. We’re exposed to a wide variety of musical and culinary tastes almost every day of our lives.

To find out why we don’t learn perspective with sexual tastes the way we do with tastes in food and music — and why learning sexual perspective is so important — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Catfish, 1991-2008

I wanted to let you all know that Catfish, my beloved cat, died today at about 4pm, at the age of almost seventeen years. She was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago; we gave her some treatment, appropriate to her age and her prognosis, but she faded very quickly and was obviously suffering, and we had her euthanized at home this afternoon.

I am, of course, extremely sad and grieving about this. Catfish was a good friend and a dear companion for close to half my life, and letting her go is extremely hard. But I also know that I — and for the last few years, Ingrid and I — gave her a good, long, happy life. And I am very glad that we were able to give her a good death, safe and comfortable and peaceful with us at home.

If I haven’t been my usual cheerful and prolific bloggy self for the last couple weeks, and have been focusing on death and grief in my writing to an unusual degree — and if I’m not my usual cheerful and prolific bloggy self for the coming days and weeks, and focus on death and grief in my writing to an unusual degree — this is why. In addition to all the other reasons this is hard, this was the first death of someone I was very close to since I became an atheist and let go of any belief or hope in an afterlife. But I want to thank all my friends, family, colleagues, and increasingly beloved total strangers, for being part of the meaning of my life and reminding me every day that life is no less precious and amazing for being temporary. I’ll talk to you all again soon.

Love,
Greta

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Star Trek Meets Monty Python, or, The Geekiest Thing in the Universe This Week

Oh, my sweet Loki.

I am speechless.

It’s a montage of video clips from Star Trek (Original Series), arranged to the “Camelot” song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And I am embarassed to admit that it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all week. Not to mention how embarassed I am to admit that I recognized almost every one of the clips. My geek badge of shame is shining brightly this week.

Video below the fold (since putting it above the fold mucks up my archives).

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