Friday Cat Blogging: Lydia On My Lap

And now, some cute pictures of our cat.

Lydia 1

Lydia 2

Lydia 3

It can be hard to photograph a cat when they’re actually on your lap. I think these of Lydia came out well, though. They give a good feel for her sweet, somewhat dim essence. And for her fat soft belly.

Sex Addiction or Sexual Compulsion?

Sad_silhouette Let’s start with something we can all agree on. Some people have a hard time controlling their sexual behavior. Some people have sex in ways that damage themselves, and damage others… and they keep doing it anyway. Some people pursue sex — specific sexual activities, or just any kind of sexual pleasure generally — in ways that seriously interfere with their lives: ways that screw up their relationships, or create financial hardship, or even injure their health. And despite this harm, despite the fact that their behavior is making them unhappy, they don’t seem to be able to control themselves, and they keep doing it anyway.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.

Does this mean these people are “sex addicts”?

My immediate answer is No.

And my non-immediate answer, my answer after long and careful consideration, is also No.

No, no, no, no, no.

Abso-fucking-lutely not.

The right word for this behavior is “compulsive.” Or “obsessive.” Or “fixated.” Or “self-destructive.” Or “harmful.”

Why?

Why am I so passionately opposed to the very concept of “sex addiction”?

Why am I being such a stickler about this language?

*

Thus begins my latest piece on the Blowfish Blog, Sex Addiction or Sexual Compulsion? To find out why I think the concept of “sex addiction” is not only inaccurate, but denigrating and harmful, 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: Atheists Are Happy

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!

Atheists are happy. Most of us, anyway. You don’t need to believe in God to feel joy, connection, and meaning in your life. And while letting go of religion can be a difficult process, most atheists who have been through it are glad that we did. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Reasonable Conclusions =/= Faith

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!

Atheism does not mean being 100% certain that God does not exist. Any more than not believing in unicorns means being 100% certain that unicorns don’t exist. Atheism is not unshakable faith; it is a reasonable, provisional conclusion, based on the evidence and lack thereof. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Old and Improved: Long-Term Sex and the Myth of the Slow Decline

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Old_stairway When you’ve been involved with someone for many years, does having sex with them become a chore? A duty? Like cleaning the toilet?

Via Pharyngula, we have a charming piece of marital advice from Christian marriage advisor Mark Gungor. The gist: Couples who have been married a long time shouldn’t expect sex to be as exciting and passionate and emotional as it was in the early days. They should expect it to become safe and comfortable and unexciting. But they should go ahead and have sex anyway — because it’ll feel reasonably good even though it won’t be as great as it used to be, because it’ll be good for the marriage, and because it’s one of your basic marital duties. The money quote:

As I said, sometimes sex is just sex; it’s what you do when you are married. Just like cleaning the toilet is what you do to keep your house clean… and I bet you don’t have this great desire or huge emotional connection to scrubbing the porcelain! [Bold in original – GC] You do it because it needs to be done and that’s the way it is with married sex… it does need to be done! It’s the glue that God gave us to bond us to one another. The bible is very clear that it is your responsibility as a spouse.

Toilet There are so many different directions I could go in on this one, I don’t even know where to begin. (Although screaming and tearing my hair out would be a good start.) I could talk about how Gungor utterly fails to talk about how long-married couples could make their sex lives more exciting… and instead, encourages them to settle for what amounts to a lifetime of mutual mercy-fucks. I could talk about the profoundly screwed-up gender assumptions in this piece — the assertion that “Women, more often than men, get hung up on this one and think they have to have all these warm and fuzzy emotions to feel like they can get physical with their husbands” [again, bold in original – GC], and the notion of “chick flicks being a huge culprit” in creating unrealistic expectations of marital sex. (As if there’s something patently stupid about expecting warm emotions during sex with your spouse — and as if men never have unrealistic expectations about sex.) I could talk about this pattern of hard-core Christian marriage advisors giving advice that’s almost right, advice that with a little tweaking could be halfway decent… but that, because of their profoundly messed-up assumptions about gender and relationships and religion and whatnot, goes completely, hideously, would- be- laughable- if- it- weren’t- so- desperately- sad wrong. (A place I’ve gone in the past, and thus don’t feel a compelling need to re-visit.) I could talk about how yes, you don’t always need to be in the mood for sex when you start, as long as you’re willing to get into the mood as things get going — and how this still doesn’t translate as sex being a chore or a duty. I could even beg Gungor, for the sweet sake of fuck, if he’s going to compare sex to a household chore, could he please make it vacuuming or laundry or something less disgusting than cleaning the toilet?

But today, I want to go someplace else.

I want to talk about the assumption Gungor makes without even thinking, the assumption that forms the foundation for everything else he writes in this piece… an assumption that’s very, very common, not just among Bible-thumping marriage advisors, but in the culture at large.

Years calendar It’s the assumption that, when you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, the sex just naturally becomes less exciting. It’s the assumption that of course sex is passionate and intense and highly charged in the early days of a relationship… and that, of course, as the years wear on, sex is going to become less exciting and passionate, and more routine and predictable. There’s no use fighting it. That’s just the way it is.

I’ve been in a long-term relationship for over twelve years. And it’s true, I have to acknowledge; the sex is not what it was in the early days.

It’s better.

Way, way better.

By several orders of magnitude.

Rings Now, I realize that my marriage with Ingrid is a sampling size of one, and therefore is not statistically significant. (If you’re in a long-term relationship and are still having amazing sex — please speak up in the comments!) But at the risk of sounding like what Bridget Jones called “smug marrieds” … the sex is so much better now, so much more passionate and intense and highly charged, I can’t even tell you. (Although I’m certainly going to try.)

For one thing: There is nothing in the world like having sex with someone who you’ve had sex with hundreds of times before… and who therefore really, really knows you. Someone who knows exactly how you like your clit to be touched, who knows exactly how hard you like your nipples pinched, who knows the exact circular motion that you like your prostate to be massaged. Verbal communication is a wonderful thing in a sexual relationship, not to be underestimated for a second… but some things, like “Just ten millimeters to the left and with a slightly slower figure-eight motion, alternating with a light, fast flicking”… some things are hard to say in words. There really is something to be said for physical trial and error. And there is most emphatically something to be said for the exquisite fine-tuning that results from physical trial and error taking place over years and years and years.

And there’s an ease and fluidity that comes with familiarity as well: a letting go that makes sex completely explosive. I can be a very self-conscious person, constantly parsing my actions and reactions and fretting over what other people will think of them. (Sexually and otherwise.) Which, not surprisingly, makes it hard to let go and lose myself in sensation and pleasure. Having sex with the same person, over years and years, has helped me relax enough to be present in the moment; to get the hell out of my head; to stay in my body and feel what I feel; to trust that I won’t be seen as greedy or selfish when I want to come one more time. (And one more. And one more. And, okay, just one more. Okay, maybe another one.)

Lab_work But amazing long-term sex isn’t just about familiarity. It’s also about having a strong, safe foundation for experimentation.

With a handful of exceptions, I have never felt as comfortable asking to try freaky things with new partners as I am with my wife. Years of hard work put into our relationship — years of going through horrible shit and coming through stronger on the other side — have built a foundation of trust, a deep confidence that this person is really, really not going anywhere. So when I want something totally fucking freaky — or even not so freaky, maybe just goofy or silly or embarrassing — I feel safe asking for it. She may not say yes… but I feel confident that she’ll seriously consider it, and not laugh at it, or denigrate it, or break up with me for suggesting it.

Gungor, and others in our culture, make the assumption that, when it comes to sex, “safe” somehow equals “boring.” In my experience, it’s anything but. “Safe” equals “trusting.” And trust is the core, not only of kink, but of a whole host of wild, intense, exciting sexual explorations.

Rose_bud I have nothing at all against the early stages of a sexual relationship. The early stages of a sexual relationship are lovely. They have a sweetness, a newness, a sense of adventure, a feeling of being alive and awake, that are unique. And the early stages of a sexual relationship often make it easier to discover new things about your sexuality: sexual territories that you had no idea existed until this new person showed up to show them to you. (When Ingrid and I were first starting out, I was like, “Vanilla sex! Oh, my God! I’d completely forgotten about vanilla sex! Sexual pleasure without pain or power games? What a concept! What a delightful change of pace! Vanilla sex can be totally awesome!” It was an area of my sexuality I’d been ignoring for years… and was tickled pink to re-discover.) You can do that sort of discovery in a long-term relationship too, of course… but it takes more conscious effort. In a new sexual relationship, it’s more likely to just happen automatically.

But the early stages of a sexual relationship can also be fraught: with anxiety, with awkwardness, with misunderstanding, with self-consciousness, with doubt. The early stages of my relationship with Ingrid were a delight: they made me feel boisterously, gigglingly happy just to be alive and walking down the street, and I wouldn’t trade the memory of them for anything. But I also wouldn’t go back to that time for anything in the world, either.

Rose A years-long relationship takes work. Really hard work sometimes. It takes patience, courage, introspection, the willingness to have difficult conversations, the willingness to go to parties you don’t feel like going to, the willingness to change. But it’s work that pays off. Not just in security and comfort… but in passionate, intensely emotional, highly charged, mind-blowing sex that feels new every single time.

Atheist Meme of the Day: Real Beliefs Aren’t Straw Men

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!

When atheists argue against beliefs that aren’t yours, that doesn’t mean we’re arguing against straw men. There are thousands of kinds of religious belief, and sometimes atheists argue against particular ones rather than religion in general — even if they’re not yours. Besides, we may have argued against your beliefs elsewhere. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Why Does God Reveal Himself to Some People and Not to Others?

Blake_god If God exists… why isn’t his existence obvious?

And is “free will” a good answer to this question?

A few weeks ago, in this very publication, I posed the question, “Why did God create atheists?” If God reveals himself to religious believers, in visions or revelations or other spiritual experiences… why doesn’t he do it with everyone? Why are those revelations so contradictory — not to mention so suspiciously consistent with whatever the people having them already believe or want to believe? And why doesn’t everyone have them? If God is real, I asked — if religious believers are perceiving a real entity with a real effect on the world — why isn’t it just obvious?

Covered face Why is God playing hide and seek?

When I wrote this piece, I addressed (and dismantled) two of the most common responses to this question: “God has revealed himself to you, you’ve just closed your heart to him,” and, “God doesn’t care if you’re an atheist — as long as you’re a good person, he doesn’t care if you believe in him.”

But I neglected to address one of the most common religious answers to this question:

Free will.

“God can’t reveal himself to us clearly,” this argument goes, “because he wants us to have free will. We have to be free to believe in him or not. If he revealed his presence to us, we’d be forced to believe in him — and our free will is a precious gift. It’s what makes us God’s unique creation.”

It’s a really, really bad argument.

I’m going to dismantle it today.

*

Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, Why Does God Reveal Himself to Some People and Not to Others? To find out how I dismantle the “God has to hide so we can have free will” argument, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheist Meme of the Day: Accepting Criticism

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!

If you care whether the things you believe are true, you ought to welcome it, or at least accept it, when people point out problems with your beliefs. And that applies to religion. When believers call atheists disrespectful or intolerant simply for making a case against religion, they’re prioritizing their beliefs over the truth. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men

Barbie-doll If you have a scrap of progressive politics in your bones, it’s no surprise to you that sexism hurts women. Like, duh. That’s kind of the definition of the word.

StrongmanBut we don’t talk as much about how sexism hurts men. Understandably. When you look at the grotesque ways women are damaged by sexism — from economic inequality to political disenfranchisement to literal, physical abuse — it makes perfect sense that we’d care more about how sexism and patriarchy and rigid gender roles affect women, than we do about how they affect men.

Lately, though, I’ve been paying more attention to how men get screwed up by this stuff, too. Not screwed up as badly as women, to be sure… but not trivially, either. I care about it. And I think other feminists — and other women and men who may not see themselves as feminists — ought to care about it, too.

I care about this stuff for a lot of reasons. I care because I have men and boys in my life, men and boys who matter to me: I see how they get twisted into knots by gender roles that are not only insanely rigid but impossibly contradictory, and it makes me sick and sad and seriously pissed off. I care because I care about justice: fair is fair, and I don’t want to solve the problem of gender inequality by making things suck worse for men.

And I care for entirely pragmatic, even Machiavellian reasons. I care because I care about feminism… and I think one of the best things we can do to advance feminism is to get more men on board. If we can convince more men that sexism screws up their lives, too — and that life shared with free and equal women is a whole lot more fun — we’re going to get a lot more men on our side. (Like the bumper sticker a friend once had on her truck: “Feminists Fuck Better.”)

So I’ve been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I’ve been looking at our society’s expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you’d have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since “professional tightrope walker” is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.) I’ve been looking at how so many of these expectations are not only rigid, but totally contradictory, creating a vision of idealized manhood that’s not just ridiculous but literally unattainable. And I’ve been asking the men in my life — friends, colleagues, family members, community members, guys I know on the Internet — what kinds of expectations they get about Being A Man… and how those expectations affect them.

And I came up with this very short, very provisional, not even close to exhaustive list.

*

Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, 5 Stupid, Unfair and Sexist Things Expected of Men. To find out just a few of the ways that rigid and sexist gender roles hurt men — and how some men are dealing with it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!