How Often Should You Ask For Something? Part 2: The Specifics

Asking When it comes to asking for what we want in bed, how do we draw the line between asking and pressuring?

In last week’s column, I wrote about a letter to Scarleteen, the sex advice Website for (primarily) teens and young adults. In this letter, a 17-year-old girl complained about her boyfriend who said he respected her sexual limits, but then kept asking for the same thing… over and over and over again. Scarleteen suggested that, since the boyfriend had made his desires clear, the ball was now in her court: his continued requests had crossed the line into pressuring, and he should bloody well knock it off.

Now, like I said last week, when it comes to the particular circumstances of this particular letter, this principle is very clear-cut. No matter what you might decide about the nuances and gray areas of “asking versus pressuring,” surely “asking for the same damn thing every single time you have sex with someone when they’ve clearly said ‘I’m not ready for this now and won’t be until at least (X)'” lands squarely on the “pressuring” end of that spectrum. Scarleteen’s advice on that front was entirely solid. If anything, I’d argue that they cut this guy too much slack. Personally, I’d be less inclined to advise his girlfriend to have a serious heart-to-heart about why he keeps bringing this up when she’s made her limits very clear… and more inclined to advise her, as Dan Savage so often does, to dump the motherfucker already.

But like I also said last week: I don’t think it’s fair that the ball should always and forevermore be in the court of the person who said “No.” I don’t think it makes sense that the person who said “No” to a particular kind of sex should always be the one to raise the question again. If “asking for something over and over again every single time you have sex” is a lousy place to draw the line between “asking” and “pressuring,” I think “asking once and then never bringing it up again for the entire duration of the relationship” is a pretty bad place to draw it as well.

So where should we draw it?

How do we value the right to say “No” to any kind of sex we don’t want to engage in — while still valuing the right to ask for what we want?

How — specifically, practically — can we make this distinction?

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Thus begins my latest piece on the Blowfish Blog, the follow-up to last week’s piece: How Often Should You Ask For Something? Part 2: The Specifics. To find out my specific, practical thoughts on asking for what we want in bed without it crossing the line into nagging or pressuring, read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Religion Has No Right to Special Respect

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Religion has no right to special respect. It is entirely fair to criticize religion, question it, point out its flaws, ask it to support itself with evidence, and mock it when it’s being ridiculous — just like we do with political opinions, scientific positions, artistic expressions, and any other ideas being expressed in the public forum. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

New Fishnet Story: “War Games”

Fishnet logo “Under Stalin,” Sergei gritted out as he put his shoulders under the spray again, “I would have had you flogged.”

“Oh, I am sure of it,” Cherevkin said, amusement coloring his tone. “In fact, I don’t doubt you would have insisted on seeing to it personally. And liked it.”

Sergei’s head snapped up. “Watch yourself, comrade.”

“I was enjoying watching you. Pity you stopped,” the colonel answered. And he started fiddling with the control for the showers.

He growled. Couldn’t help it, an actual growl, as he stared at the bastard. The spray fluctuated on his body, hot then cold, strong then weak, as Arkady toyed with the water pressure and smiled at him.

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That’s an excerpt from the latest story on Fishnet, the online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing: War Games, by Jackie Weiss. To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Disagreement /= Superiority

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

It’s possible to disagree with people without thinking you’re smarter or better than they are. And that includes disagreements about religion. Most atheists don’t think we’re better than religious believers: we simply think that, when it comes to the question of God, believers are mistaken. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Sex Writers, Drooling Horndogs, and the Suspectability of Male Sexuality

Please note: This piece includes a couple of passing references to my personal sexuality. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, use your judgment on this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Down and dirty Why is the “sex writer” field so dominated by women?

I’ve been thinking about this question for many years. The publisher of this very blog brought it up in a conversation we were having, and it’s been on my mind off and on ever since. It came up again at a recent salon of sex writers and activists; it came up yet again, although more obliquely, in a conversation I was having with a porn writing friend of mine.

Why is the “sex writer” field so dominated by women?

There are exceptions, obviously. Arguably the most famous and influential sex writer right now is the sex advice columnist Dan Savage. And there are others, of course: David Steinberg, Dr. Marty Klein, Charlie Glickman, I could keep going. And of course, there’s plenty of dumb, generic, Maxim-magazine type sex writing from men; in some senses it’s silly to complain about sex writing as female-dominated, given how much of the dumb crap there is. But it does seem as if sex writing — serious, intellectual sex writing, at any rate — is one of those rare fields that’s largely taken up by women, and in which women are both more visible and more generally respected.

And thinking about this question is making me think about the suspectability of male sexuality.

I think that when women write about sex, we’re assumed, in some ways, to be dispassionate observers. Of course we get targeted as sluts and whores and whatnot. But we’re also seen as bringing a fresh perspective to the subject, and a cooler eye, and a more thoughtful point of view.

500full-the-wolf-man-poster When men write about sex, on the other hand, they’re assumed to be drooling horndogs.

Of course men have sex on the brain, this assumption goes. They’re men. They think with their dicks. That’s what men do. Who cares what they think about sex? We all know what they think about sex. What men think about sex is that they want it.

The very fact that sex is seen as a primarily male experience makes male sex writers, paradoxically, seem less serious. Our society sees sex as being about maleness: male desires, male insecurities, male satisfaction. Our culture is sexually obsessed with women, of course; but it’s sexually obsessed with women as — and I’m turning into a ’70s lesbian feminist as I write this — the objects of desire, rather than the subjects of it. Sex is seen as a male topic. But therefore, we all too often assume that we know what men think about sex, and how they feel about it. Male sexual desire is assumed to be simple: an animal urge to put a dick in a wet hole. With, occasionally, some variations in the way of orientation and paraphilias. And I think this makes it harder for male sex writers to be taken seriously. Anything they have to say on the subject is likely to be seen as suspect.

Now, I’m not writing this to complain about the terrible unfairness of this reverse discrimination. Yes, this is to some extent unfair. It’s unfair to men to assume that the only thinking they do about sex is with their dicks, and that they therefore don’t have anything to contribute to a serious conversation about it. (Also, I feel compelled to point out, men aren’t the only ones who sometimes think with the little head instead of the big one. Believe me, I speak from experience.) But given how much regular discrimination women deal with in almost every other occupation, I’m not crying a river over the fact that this one little field of endeavor has a more female stamp on it.

That’s not the point of this.

Nicholson baker vox The point of this is twofold. One is this: I, selfishly, want to read more of what men have to say about sex. I want to read more about the varieties of male sexuality, from people who are living it from the inside. I want to read more about the varieties of female sexuality, from people who are seeing it from the outside. I want to read more about how men feel about this “animal urge horndog” label they’ve gotten stuck with: to what extent they think it’s true, to what extent they think it isn’t, how the reality and the unreality of it weave together in their experience of their sexuality. Sex is too interesting and too important a topic to limit most of the serious thought about it to one gender. And in addition to hearing what men, qua men, think about sex, I want to hear what individual men think about it: what Dan and David and Marty and Charlie and so on have to say. Sex is too interesting and too important a topic to limit the voices who can talk about it seriously to the voices that are attached to vaginas.

A porn writing friend of mine was talking with me recently about a story he’d written; a kink-themed story, in which a male character was using economic leverage to take sexual advantage of a female character. My friend found this fantasy scenario hot (as do I — hoo, boy!)… but he was finding himself somewhat uneasy about it as well. In particular, as a good feminist, he felt uneasy about eroticizing these gender dynamics and the economic power that men have over women.

And yet, if the story had been written by a woman, telling the story from the female victim’s point of view instead of the male perpetrator’s, I doubt that he would have felt any qualms about reading and enjoying it. It bugged me a little that he felt that way about writing it. It made me wonder how many other good male porn writers had considered writing stories like this, had even started to write stories like this… and had stayed their hand, for fear of being seen as, or indeed for fear of being, drooling sexist male horndogs who just want to take sexual advantage of women. If so — that sucks. I, selfishly, as a fan of kinky porn in which men do fucked-up things to women, would like to read more stories like this that are written by men. I know what this fantasy feels like from my end of it. I want to learn more about what it feels like from the other end, from thoughtful feminist men who get off on it, too.

So that’s my first point. My second point is this:

I’ve lived my whole life dealing with the various and sundry ways that female sexuality gets demeaned, by being ignored or trivialized or assumed to not exist.

Lips-logo Thinking about this topic is making me realize the various and sundry ways that male sexuality gets demeaned… by the mirror image of that process. It’s making me realize that the amplification of male sexuality — the funhouse mirror that takes the image of a man and distorts it into a drooling tongue and a hard dick — has the effect of demeaning it as well.

And that sucks for all of us.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Religions Don’t All Teach the Same Basic Message

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

It is simply not the case that all religions are essentially the same, and teach the same basic message of tolerance and love. Many religions have very specific teachings that completely contradict one another, and many religions teach hostility and intolerance. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative

Liberal definition Liberals and conservatives don’t just disagree about specific issues — we disagree about core ethical values. Can a case be made that liberal values really are better?

You may have heard about this. It’s been in the news and the blogosphere, and has been making the rounds at the nerdier water coolers and cocktail parties. A number of researchers are coming to the conclusion that ethics and values aren’t entirely relative, and aren’t solely derived from particular cultures. Human beings, across cultures and throughout history, seem to share a few core ethical values, hard-wired into our brains by millions of years of evolution as a social species. Those values: Fairness, harm and the avoidance thereof, loyalty, authority, and purity. (Some think there may be one or two others, including liberty and honesty; but those aren’t yet as well-substantiated, or as well-studied.)

Different people prioritize different values over others, of course. And of course, different individuals and different cultures come to different conclusions about the right ethical choice in any particular situation: based on our cultural biases, as well as on our own personal observations and experiences. But according to this research, these basic values — fairness, harm, loyalty, authority, and purity — exist in all of us, at least to some degree, in every non-sociopathic human being.

“Fascinating,” I hear you cry. “But what does that have to do with politics?” Well, what researchers are finding is that liberals prioritize very different values from conservatives. When asked a series of questions about different ethical situations, self-described liberals strongly tend to prioritize fairness and harm as the most important of these core values — while self-described conservatives are more likely to prioritize authority, loyalty, and purity.

Liberal conspiracy As a dyed-in-the-wool liberal — the offspring of a union organizer and an early-adopter feminist, taken to peace marches and McGovern rallies at a tender age — this idea instantly made sense to me. It illuminates a lot of weird dark corners about politics… particularly the rancorous and apparently unsolvable nature of many political conflicts. When liberals and conservatives debate the burning issues of the day — whether it’s immigration or marriage equality, global warming or health care reform — we often wind up talking at cross-purposes, and the conversations go around in increasingly belligerent circles… because we’re not starting with the same ethical foundations. We assume that we have the same core values, and are simply debating the best way to apply those values in the world. We’re not. We’re debating — not very effectively or coherently most of the time — the core values themselves.

And of course, when I heard about this research, my instant reaction was to say, “But fairness and harm ARE more important! We were right all along! This proves it — liberal values ARE better!”

But — being someone who places a strong ethical value on fairness — I realize that of course I’m going to say that. After all… those are my values. Of course I think they’re better. And — again, being someone who highly values fairness — I realize that conservatives are going to say the exact same thing. “But authority and loyalty ARE more important! This proves it! Conservative values ARE better!”

So I’ve been asking myself: Is there a way to distinguish between these values?

If these are core values, fundamental axioms of human ethics… how do we distinguish between them? I mean — they’re axioms. They’re our ethical starting points. When they come into conflict, as they often do, how do we step back from them, and decide which ones we should prioritize?

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Thus begins my new piece for AlterNet, Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative. To find out how we can distinguish between fundamental moral axioms — and why the fundamental liberal axioms really are better than the conservative ones — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Unlikely /= Designed

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“Life and the Universe are extraordinarily unlikely” is a terrible argument for God. Lots of wildly unlikely things happen that are not intentionally caused or designed. If you roll a die ten times and get 3241154645, the odds against that particular sequence are over 60 million to one. Does that mean this sequence was designed to come up? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

How Often Should You Ask For Something?

Asking If you’ve asked for something sexual, and your partner has said “No” — or “No, not now, maybe some other time” — is it okay to ask again?

And if so… how often?

I was inspired to write this by a letter to Scarleteen, the sex advice Website for (primarily) teens and young adults. A 17-year-old girl has a boyfriend who wants to finger her — and he keeps asking for it. He says that he respects her right to say “No”… but he keeps bringing it up. Over and over again. Like, every time they do sexual stuff. She’s made it clear that she won’t be ready for that for a while; she’s told him, “Wait ’till I’m in college and we’ll see.” To which he says “Okay”… and then brings it up again the next time.

Scarleteen’s advice, in a very short oversimplified summary: “Asking for a particular sexual thing every time you have sex is not okay. It’s pressure, and it doesn’t count as taking ‘No’ for an answer.” And in my opinion, this advice is totally sound. Especially for this particular situation. No matter what broad general guiding principle we might come up with for “How often is it okay to ask again for something when your partner has said ‘No’?”, surely “Every single freaking time you have sex” has got to be an unacceptable answer. And when you’re talking to an audience of largely teenaged girls — many of whom have yet to develop strong No-saying skills — that goes double.

But while this one situation does seem to have a clear answer, it does raise some interesting broader questions. So again I ask: If you’ve asked for something sexual, and your partner has said “No” — or “No, not now, maybe some other time” — is it okay to ask again?

And if so… how often?

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Thus begins my latest piece on the Blowfish Blog, How Often Should You Ask For Something? To read more about the blurry line between pressuring your partner and asking for what you want, read the rest of the piece. (And if you feel inspired to comment here, please consider cross-posting your comment to the Blowfish Blog — they like comments there, too.) Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: The Unexplained /= Evidence for God

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

“We don’t understand everything about the universe” is a terrible argument for God. Of course there is much about the universe that’s unexplained. How does that imply that any one explanation — whether that’s space aliens, a flying spaghetti monster, or God — is the right one? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.