Skeptic’s Circle #84 is up at Archaeoporn.
And Carnival of Feminists #57 is up at Pandemian.
Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex life, and my personal sexual history, in a certain amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that stuff, please don’t. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
And it’s about how having sex with women radically changed the way I have sex. With everybody. Men, women, everybody.
Here’s what happened. I was making out with this friend of mine. Male. And this was clearly not the “just fooling around” variety of making out. This was the “lead-up to having sex” variety. We’d actually decamped from another friend’s living room, where things had gotten started, and gone back to his place to keep things going. This was “making out, otherwise known as foreplay.”
So we were making out on his sofa, getting increasingly hot and heavy… when for no apparent reason, his momentum slowed down. Like, a lot. Trying to figure out what the heck was happening, I asked if he wanted to get a condom and go into the bedroom… and he said, with obvious embarrassment, that he’d already come, while we were making out.
(I think it had been a while since he’d had sex.)
And here’s where the “having had sex with women” part comes in.
Before I’d started having sex with women, my reaction to a guy’s premature ejaculation had been pretty traditional: disappointment, frustration, embarrassment on his behalf, attempts to soothe his ego, feeling like I’d done something wrong.
But this time, my reaction was to say, casually and matter-of-factly, “Oh. Well, is that any reason to stop?”
I wasn’t trying to make a statement or anything. I honestly didn’t even think about it. I certainly wasn’t thinking of it in terms of, “this is the great lesson I have learned from having sex with women.” It was just an automatic, instinctive reaction.
But it was an automatic, instinctive reaction that was the complete opposite of the one I would have had a year or two before. It was an automatic, instinctive reaction that had been shaped by the sex I’d been having with women — sex in which one person’s orgasm didn’t stop the whole train, but was simply one of many sights on a long and eventful excursion.
And here’s the thing I found especially interesting:
When I said it, he was relieved.
He wasn’t angry, or annoyed, or anything even remotely approaching angry or annoyed. He was relieved. He was happy.
He didn’t want our encounter to be just about his orgasm, either. Especially since it had fired off before either of us was ready. “Is that any reason to stop?” was a way we could do that. It was a way he could feel good about our encounter, like a sexy, sensitive, open-minded lover instead of a gawky klutz who couldn’t control himself. And it was a way we could keep on having sex. It was a way we could actually have sex that night, instead of an aborted make-out session.
And we did.
I don’t even remember if we wound up fucking per se. But we had sex. Wonderful, sweet, delicious sex. For a good long while. An hour or two, if I recall correctly. With many sights on a long and eventful excursion.
Now, of course, you don’t need to be bisexual to learn this lesson. Lots of straight people figure out that sex doesn’t necessarily equal fucking, or even fucking and sucking. Lots of straight people figure out that the presence of an erect penis is not necessary for sex to count as sex.
But lots of other straight people never figure that out. Even today, even in our post- Monica- Lewinksy, “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is” era, the default definition of sex is still, “a hard dick going inside a hole.”
And I think it’s important to remember that this state of affairs doesn’t just suck for women. It sucks for men, too. My friend was so disappointed and embarrassed that his premature ejaculation had screeched our evening to a halt… and he was so relieved and happy to be offered the idea that it didn’t have to. The obsessive spotlight on the hard dick as the sole focal point and defining feature of sex… it makes for some seriously unsatisfied women, of course, but I think it’s a raw deal for men as well. It’s too much pressure on one little organ.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I think my point is just this: An awful lot of people, of all genders and orientations, would benefit from the kind of sex that lesbians take as a given. The kind of sex where success isn’t overwhelmingly defined by one partner’s “performance.” The kind of sex that doesn’t make a sharp distinction between “foreplay” and “sex,” and that doesn’t have a strong opinion about which has to happen first. The kind of sex where the journey is the destination.
I don’t know where my friend is now. But I hope he remembers. I hope he remembers as fondly as I do. And I hope that from that night on, whenever he couldn’t get hard, or came before he wanted to, he was able to smile and say to his lover, “Well, is that any reason to stop?”
Warning: The first bit of this piece contains a hearty gripe. Stick with me: except for occasional outbursts, the kvetching doesn’t last past the first couple of paragraphs, and there really is a point.
As people who are close to me know (and as people who follow the blog closely may have guessed), the last month or two has been among the lousiest times of my life. I’ve had worse months — months of death, of divorce, of serious family illness. But in terms of the sheer stupid dogpiling of badness upon badness, I’m hard-pressed to think of another that’s sucked more. It’s not just been the pneumonia and my cat dying; I’ve been dealing with other health problems (mostly behind me now, but it wasn’t fun); a trip to the emergency room for Ingrid (she’s totally fine now, but it was a scary few hours); a small but painful second- degree burn; missing the queer contra dance camp because I was sick; and my hard drive crashing. (Yes, I’ve been doing backups; no, I haven’t been doing them often enough, and I lost some work that I really did not want to lose.)
It’s getting to the point where it’s almost comical, except that I lost my sense of humor about a week and a half ago. Along with my patience. But of course, you can lose your patience all you want to with bad things in your life, and it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference — you still have to endure them.
I don’t bring all this up to cadge sympathy, or to dump on you. I bring it up because of this: This has been the kind of month (two-month? fortmonth? bimonth?) that would make believers in God wonder what they were being punished for. It’s the kind of bimonth that, back in my woo days when I believed that everything happened for a reason, would have made me rack my brains trying to figure out what the fuck it was that the universe was trying to teach me. (Amazing, isn’t it: the arrogance of thinking that the universe arranges itself around you in order to personally teach you a lesson.)
But I don’t think that. Any of it. And I’m so glad that I don’t think any of it, I can’t even tell you.
I know that religion is repeatedly defended as a source of comfort in difficult times. But this has been one of the more difficult times in my life… and I’ve been finding that my atheistic, skeptical, rational view of my difficulties is more comforting than any religious belief I’ve ever held, or could ever imagine holding.
So here is my atheist, skeptical, rational look at why runs of bad luck happen.
1. Just plain luck. Anyone who studies statistics will tell you that, in any random sequence that’s long enough, mini-sequences will show up that look like patterns. Pseudopatterns, they’re called. You roll a pair of dice for long enough, chances are that at some point you’re going to get snake-eyes ten times in a row. And that’s some of what this run of bad luck is about. A good example is my cat dying and my hard drive crashing. Nothing to do with each other, as far as I can tell. They just happened to happen in roughly the same time frame. When a lot of it happens in a row, it can feel like a pattern, with intention behind it… but that doesn’t mean it is.
2. Bad things can cause other bad things to happen. If you’re tired, stressed, distracted, sleep- deprived, etc. from a bad thing happening, you’re more likely to make serious mistakes, get into accidents, and/or get sick. Ingrid and I are convinced that this is why she had her trip to the emergency room: it happened in the middle of Catfish’s final illness, and Ingrid was upset and distracted and not looking where she was going. And I think it’s very likely that the dogpile of stress was a big factor in my getting pneumonia. (At the doctor’s visit when the pneumonia was diagnosed, my blood pressure, normally in the very healthy vicinity of 120/70, was 144/87.)
3. Bad things make you less able to cope with other bad things… thus making them feel worse than they otherwise would. I don’t think pneumonia is ever a picnic… but I think I’d be handling it with a lot more patience and good humor if it hadn’t come at the tail end (what I hope is the tail end, what bloody well better be the tail end) of this ridiculous run of shitty luck.
4. Big bad things make you more conscious of, and more sensitive to, little bad things. This, I think, is a big one. Normally, I pride myself on my ability to take the ordinary bumps of life in my stride, even to have a sense of humor about them, to make them part of the overall optimistic pattern of my life. But in the last month, every little inconvenience and annoyance has been magnified by stress. Ingrid getting a cold, a stain on our nice bedspread, the store being out of the kind of tea that I like… all of it gets magnified into One More Fucking Thing I Have To Deal With This Month. All of it seems like part of the pattern. The non-existent pseudopattern.
Or, to sum it all up in a couple of words: Shit Happens.
So where’s the comfort in all this?
Here is the comfort:
I know what’s happening.
I understand what’s happening.
So I’m not afraid of it.
And I don’t have to feel guilty about it.
I don’t have to add guilt to the dogpile. I don’t have to add the shameful and frightened feeling that the dogpile is a punishment for some unknown sin. I don’t have to add sleepless nights trying to figure out what I’ve done wrong, what I’ve done to deserve this, what lesson is being taught me that I’m too dense to learn. I don’t have to feel like it’s my fault. (Okay, not backing up my data often enough was my fault… but other than that.) I don’t have to take it personally.
Now, I understand that “not taking it personally” is itself hard for many people. If shit happens simply because shit happens, and not to teach you a lesson, then the shit can seem both meaningless and out of control. Believing that runs of bad luck are punishment for some sin is a way to give your suffering meaning… and it’s a way to convince yourself that you have it in your power to prevent it from happening again.
But given a choice between thinking that the meaning of my suffering is “Shit happens,” and that the meaning of my suffering is “You’re a bad person,” I’ll take “Shit happens” any day. And given a choice between spending my life in a desperate, futile attempt to figure out which set of rituals and sacrifices I need to make to appease my god and prevent the shit from happening again — and instead having some sort of reasonable expectations and wisdom about what in my life I can and cannot change — I’ll take the latter in a heartbeat.
I dreamed that Ebonmuse, of the Daylight Atheism blog, had asked me to write a blog post about atheist plumbing for a project he was doing in the atheist blogosphere. I woke up in a guilty panic, thinking, “Shit! I forgot to write that atheist plumbing post I promised Ebon!” It took me a few moments to realize that this was a dream- memory and not a real one.
Update: Here’s the post.
The story of the UC-Calvary lawsuit has been all over the atheosphere in the last few days. I’m not going to get into it in much detail (good pieces about it on Daylight Atheism and Dispatches from the Culture Wars), but to give you a quick summary so you know what I’m ranting about: A federal judge recently issued a preliminary ruling saying that UC Berkeley could, in fact, refuse to give college credit in biology for courses that taught young-earth creationism. (Calvary Chapel Christian School was trying to argue religious freedom; UC Berkeley was arguing that Calvary could have all the religious freedom they wanted, but they shouldn’t expect UC to drop its academic standards and recognize non-science as science.)
So the Daylight Atheism piece on this had an excerpt from one of the textbooks in question. The textbook is Biology for Christian Schools, and the excerpt is as follows and begins now:
(1) “‘Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,’ is the only [position] a Christian can take…”
(2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”
(3) “Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.”
After the top of my head had finished blowing off, I finally figured out why exactly this bothers me so much. Apart from all the obvious reasons, of course: the arrogance, the close-mindedness, the complete missing of the point of what science is about, etc.
What bothers me so much about it is how grotesquely disrespectful it is to their own God.
Let’s say you’re a theist. Let’s say you believe in God, a creator god who made the world and the universe in all its beautiful and astonishing complexity.
Wouldn’t you want to understand that universe, as well and as thoroughly as you could?
To me, the idea that scientific evidence is always trumped by the Bible is one of the most disrespectful attitudes you could possibly have about God. Even if you believe that the Bible was written by God (and you ignore all the evidence to the contrary), wouldn’t you believe that the universe was also written by God? And in a much more direct way than the Bible was written, without having to be dictated through human secretaries? Wouldn’t you put the universe, at the very least, on equal footing with the Bible? In fact, shouldn’t you really be seeing the universe as much higher, much more important than the Bible, because the Bible is just one small part of God’s creation and the universe is so much more vast?
It seems to me that setting your human religion above the enormous and awe-inspiring majesty of God’s creation is blasphemy of the worst kind. To say that the Bible is always more real than the reality of the universe seems to me to be spitting on God and his creation. And it’s not just spitting on the universe: it’s spitting on that part of God’s creation that is your brain and your mind, your capacity to perceive the universe and use reason and logic to understand it.
Of course, this sort of thinking is a perfect example of what Daniel Dennet was talking about in “Breaking the Spell”: the ways that religion functions as a self-perpetuating meme, one that has built up an impressive array of armor and weaponry to defend itself against being seriously questioned. The idea that sacred texts can’t be questioned; the idea that letting go of doubts and questions about your faith will make your life easier; the idea that holding onto faith in the face of evidence contradicting it makes you a good person… all of these function as an immune system that stops questions from breaking down the belief, or even from penetrating it in the first place.
But I think that’s awfully sad. To think that your faith — not just a general faith in the existence of God, but your particular version of the specific details of how God does and does not work — is more real than the reality of the universe…. that’s just sad. It’s isolating. It’s cutting yourself off from reality, from the enormous, majestic, unutterably complex, constantly- surprising reality of the physical universe. And if you believe in God, a god who created all this majesty and whatnot, it’s cutting yourself off from God.
It’s saying that, given a choice between trying to understand the reality of God’s creation, and convincing yourself that you and your sect are right, it’s more important to be right. And that really is placing yourself above God… in a way that I think is more blasphemous than anything any atheist could ever come up with.
(Photo of Synchiropus splendidus by Luc Viatour.)
I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It talks about the question of whether sexual orientation is born, a choice, or some combination… and about how the answer to this question may be different for bisexuals than for mostly- straights or mostly- gays. It’s called Loading the Dice: Bisexuality and Choice, and here’s the teaser:
Of course it’s true that I don’t have a choice about who I’m sexually attracted to. And I didn’t have a choice about who I fell in love with. I don’t choose that, any more than anyone else does. But back when I was dating, I did have a choice about who I dated and who I socialized with. At the time that I fell for Ingrid, I was dating women, and socializing in the lesbian community, a whole lot more than I was with men and in the hetero community. And I was doing it out of choice.
To find out how being bisexual means being able to load the sexual orientation dice — and what this implies about the whole question of orientation and choice — read the rest of the piece Enjoy!
First, there’s a new blog carnival on the block that I’m very excited about: the Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, hosted by Uncool. It’s basically a carnival of sex-positive feminist blogging. Which makes me really happy: I like the regular Carnival of Feminists, too, but it does get filled up with a lot of anti- porn, anti- sex- work, etc. posts, and I don’t like the idea that that’s how feminism is being represented in the blogosphere. I like that there’s a carnival of feminist blogging that represents my own form of feminism.
My pieces in this carnival: On Punishment, and the Lack Thereof, and Sexual Perspective, or, How Can You Eat That? from the Blowfish Blog. If you want to participate in the next one, check out the call for submissions.
Other nifty blog carnivals:
Humanist Symposium #17. This is my favorite blog carnival of all. It’s the “atheist blogging that’s positive about atheism instead of being critical about religion” carnival, and it’s always a good time.
I think that’s everything. If you’re a blog carnival that I usually link to and I somehow missed you, please let me know. Ta!
This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
A question was raised recently on the Denialism science blog, and it has all sorts of interesting implications about sexual trust between men and women.
The question: Why donât they make a birth control pill for men?
My knee-jerk response to this question has always pretty much been, “Because the pharmaceutical industry are a bunch of sexist pigs.” But this post — and the fascinating discussion that follows — is making me realize that the question is actually a tad more complicated than that.
But that doesn’t seem to be the main obstacle. The main obstacle to a male pill seems to be that there simply might not be a big enough market for it.
Which, in all fairness, I can understand.
Because this isn’t simply a question of sexist men dumping the responsibility for birth control onto women. It’s a question of whether women would be willing to place the responsibility for birth control into the hands of men.
Or, as Mark Hoofnagle put it in his Denialism post: “Men are liars.”
A bit harsh, but I can see his point.
(And yes, women are liars too. I’ll get to that in a moment.)
If I were in a trusting, long-term relationship with a man, I might be willing to let him take care of the birth control. But if I were just dating and screwing around, the way I used to in my younger days, there’d be no way I’d trust some guy I’d just met at a party or a nightclub or an orgy, who told me, “Don’t worry, baby, I’m on the pill.” That’s way too big a gamble to leave in the hands of someone I barely know.
Besides, I’d want to use condoms anyway — since the pill doesn’t protect against AIDS or other STIs.
But for exactly this same reason, I think Mark at Denialism may be mistaken. I think there might be a real market for a male contraceptive pill.
And it comes back to my earlier parenthetical remark:
Women are liars, too.
If I were a single guy, dating and screwing around, I wouldn’t want to leave the contraception question in the hands of some woman I’d just met, either. I mean, think about it. If, as a woman, I wouldn’t trust some strange guy who told me, “Don’t worry, baby, I’m on the pill” — then why on earth should men trust some strange woman to tell them the same thing? The consequences for men of an unwanted pregnancy aren’t as intense as they are for women… but they’re not negligible. (Can you say, “child support”?)
And I think that might point to the real market for the male pill. (Or patch, or injection, or however the drug winds up getting delivered.)
Mark thinks that, even if pharmaceutical researchers could make it effective, male hormonal contraception will always be a niche market, mainly limited to men in committed long-term relationships with women who trust them enough to leave the contraception in their hands. But while I can see his point, I think he may be overlooking another key market: the market of single men who want control of their own damn reproduction, just as much as women do. I think the biggest market for the male pill might well be single men who want the moral equivalent of a temporary vasectomy: a way to guarantee that they won’t get stuck with offspring they didn’t expect or want.
In other words — single men who would want the pill for the exact same reasons single women want it.
The reality is that both women and men have sex with people they don’t entirely trust. They have sex with people they trust enough: people they trust not to beat them up, not to steal their car, not to paint their living room hot pink while they sleep. But both women and men have sex with people who they don’t trust enough to let them handle the responsibility, and make the decisions, about pregnancy and children. I think plenty of men would be happy to take a pill to ensure that their decisions about pregnancy and children werenât being made by the hot number they met on Craig’s List three weeks ago.
If I were a single man, I’d sure as hell want that.
When I was a kid, I always got annoyed by the lab portion of my science classes. I guess I’ve always been more of a theory person than a research person (hence my career as an essayist instead of a journalist). Rolling balls down inclines and measuring the speed; putting nails in different liquids and seeing how fast they rusted; cutting up fetal pigs… it always seemed like a waste of time.
I mean, I never had any problem understanding the theories being taught by the books and the teachers. And I was perfectly happy to believe the books and the teachers. After all, it’s not like my measurements of gravity or magnetism or whatever were going to be written up in the science journals. Even at the time, I knew perfectly well that if my numbers didn’t come out the way the theory said they should, the discrepancy would, without a doubt, turn out to be caused by my experimental methodology… not the theory.
And it’s not like the theories we were learning in second -grade or sixth-grade or tenth-grade science class were on the cutting edge of new scientific thinking. Again, even at the time, I knew that the stuff we were learning was well-established, and had been experimentally verified thousands upon thousands of times… by researchers who were a whole lot more careful than my sixth-grade science class. I knew we weren’t really verifying the theories. The theories had been verified, many times over. We were just seeing how they worked for ourselves.
Which I didn’t think I needed. I got it. The books and teachers and theories made sense. I didn’t need to roll the damn ball down the damn incline to see it for myself.
So it seemed like a waste of time.
But now that I’m an adult, I see the value in it much more clearly. And especially now that I’m so engaged in the skeptical/ rational thinking/ science groupie blogosphere (what I’ve seen referred to as “the reality-based community”), I value it even more.
I see the value because I think there’s an enormous difference between learning something purely by authority — “it’s true because I say it’s true, and you can trust me” — and learning something by seeing it for yourself. And the latter is the core of the skeptical, rational, reality-based approach to life that I think is so very valuable.
Let me give you an example. We’d learned very early on, of course, that the earth was round. But in a high school science class (freshman year, if I remember correctly), we learned how, exactly, the ancient Greeks determined that the earth was round. It had to do with comparing shadows: you measure the shadows of two poles of equal height set, say, a mile apart. You do it at noon, and again an hour later. And you do the math. The difference in the length of the two shadows will be different on a curved surface — i.e., the earth — than they would be on a flat surface. You can even figure out, within a crude approximation, how large the curved surface is.
So we learned how exactly this information was acquired. And then we went outside and acquired it ourselves. We did it with sticks set a few feet apart, so of course our measurements weren’t super-accurate — but we got measurable results that weren’t that far off the mark.
And so now I know. I know that the earth is round, not because I read it in a book or was taught it by a teacher, but because I measured it myself. And now when I’m in a debate with some theist who says that science is just another religion and my belief that the earth is round is no different from their belief in God, I can say, “Yes, it is different. I know that the earth is round — because I measured it myself.”
Of course, in practical terms, most of what I know about science — or what any other layperson knows about science — is learned from authority. I haven’t personally done experiments to see the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating pneumonia; I haven’t personally dug up any of the millions upon millions of fossils supporting the theory of evolution. Had I but world enough and time… but I don’t, so I’m not going to.
But the difference is that I could. Any smart, dedicated person with access to education can get into epidemiology or paleontology, and find out for themselves whether or not the stuff that the books say about antibiotics or fossils is true.
We can do this because scientific knowledge is transparent, and it’s replicable. When researchers publish their findings, they publish not only what their results were, but how exactly they obtained them. They don’t keep it an arcane secret, accessible only to those who have achieved the 34th Level of Poobahhood; they don’t tell overly- inquisitive students to stop asking so many questions and just accept their teachings on faith. They say, “Here’s what we think, and here’s why, and here’s what we did to find it out, and here’s the kind of evidence that would prove us wrong, and here’s exactly what you need to do to see it for yourself.”
There were other good things about my grade- school and high- school science education. We learned a lot about the scientific method — even as early as third grade, we were learning about the difference between observation and inference (illustrated with cartoons about wet tricycles on lawns — the observation is that the tricycle is wet, the inference is that it rained… or that someone turned on the sprinkler). And we started learning very early on about the importance of careful measurements — we were measuring liquids by reading the meniscus as early as third or fourth grade, and I remember a stern lecture from a science teacher about how screaming and cheering at the hamster running the maze would probably have a negative impact on his learning curve.
But of all the good things in my science education, I think the “see it for yourself” labs were probably the best. As annoying as I found them at the time, I now think that they were some of the most important and influential experiences in all of my early education. Because it taught me not to believe what the teacher told me, just because they were telling me. It taught me that I had the power to find things out for myself.
And it’s one of the main reasons I get so upset when I read about the “No Child Left Behind,” teaching- to- the- test style education that American public school kids are getting. Science education — and indeed, all education — needs to be about more than learning enough facts to let you pass standardized tests. Science education — and indeed, all education — needs to teach kids how to learn. It needs to teach kids how to think critically; how to ask questions; how to look things up. And it needs to teach kids that they don’t have to believe everything they’re told, just because they’re told it. It needs to teach kids that they have the power to find things out for themselves.
It’s done it, everybody!
Atheists and Anger — the post that wouldn’t die, the post that is still bringing more traffic to this blog than any other single post, the post that is still generating comments more than five months after it was originally posted — has finally passed the 1,000 comments mark!
Admittedly, this number is slightly inaccurate. Because of the singular nature of this post and the response it got (and continues to get), I didn’t do any editing of any of the comments (except to remove obvious commercial content if I saw any). As a result, there are duplicate comments that I normally would have deleted but didn’t. On the other hand, there are unbelievably abusive and even threatening comments that I normally would have deleted in a heartbeat but that, for this post, I kept up. So it all balances out.
And speaking of which. The winning comment, Atheists and Anger Comment Number 1,000, is:
“Get over it bitch. Maybe if you had a god he’d save you.”
Well, maybe not so winning. I wish the 1,000th comment had been one of the many supportive and thankful ones… but in a way, I guess this is appropriate. Alas, I can’t link you directly to it — Typepad still can’t link directly to a comment if there’s more than 50 on a post — but it’s at the very bottom of this page, if you want to see it for yourself.
I was originally going to have a party when I passed 1,000. But I’m still feeling pretty punk, and not at all up for throwing a party. So consider this a virtual party. Eat some cake, put on a silly hat, flirt with someone inappropriate, and help me celebrate The Blog Post That Wouldn’t Die. Wahoo!