Brain, Brain, What Is Brain? or, Is Gender Hard-Wired?

FacesI read over on the ScienceToLife blog (a cool blog about science news affecting people’s lives) a piece on a BBC science program regarding differences between male and female brains. And on the BBC website, you can take the tests that they used in the series, and see whether you have a male or a female brain. (Fun test, although it does take some time.)

MarsNot too surprisingly, I scored more male than female on their test. On a spectrum from 100% typically female, to evenly balanced between the two, to 100% typically male, I scored significantly more male than female — 25% on the male side of neutral. (For point of comparison, the men they tested averaged 50% on the male side of the spectrum.) Among other things, I’m better at spatial relationships than I’d expected, worse at identifying facial expressions, and I apparently tend to make decisions more rationally than intuitively.

Obviously, I’m not going to change my philosophies about life and gender based on pop-culture TV psychology (although this piece of it seems more based in real science than, say, your average Cosmo personality quiz). But it reminded me of a rant I’ve been wanting to make on a rather large question:

Is gender born, or learned, or some combination of the two? And if it’s a combination, what combination?

Question_mark_1Now, I’m hardly going to be able to answer this question once and for all. Smarter people than me who actually do research in this area have been trying to answer this question for decades But I do have some thoughts on the subject that I’ve been mulling over for many years, and this seems like a good excuse to blather on about them.


InfantOne: No matter what, nurture is definitely part of the picture. A big part. If nothing else, the fact that gender roles have been changing and are different in different cultures and historical periods is proof enough of that. What’s more, I’ve seen research showing that people treat infants they think are male and infants they think are female significantly differently — in ways they’re not even aware of, and will even deny. (Specifically, people encourage physicality and assertiveness in infants they think are boys, sweetness and sociability in infants they think are female.)

So when people say, “Of course gender is hard-wired, look how different my five-year-old boy and my six-year-old girl act,” my reaction is, “Well, yes — they’ve been getting intensive gender-role training for five/six years. That proves exactly nothing.”

Brain_1Two: If research does show that male and female brains tend on average to be different, that doesn’t prove nature over nurture. My understanding is that the brain is shaped — literally, physically — by experience as well as by genetics. The differences could easily be learned.

And both Thought One and Thought Two point up the difficulty of coming to any final conclusion on this subject. Given what a huge part nurture clearly plays — and from the day we’re born, no less — it may prove damn near impossible to tease out the learned behaviors from the hard-wired ones (if there are any).

All that being said

EvolutionThree: We tend to forget that people are animals. We are not separate from nature: we are a species of life, in the animal kingdom, in the mammalian class. And most animal species have some sort of gender-differentiated behavior that, as far as we can tell, is genetically based. This obviously doesn’t prove that human gender differences are hard-wired — we could certainly be one of the exceptions — but it wouldn’t completely surprise me to learn that they were.

CreationismFour: I think it’s a very bad idea to critique a scientific theory on the basis of its political implications. A theory is either true or it isn’t. It either describes reality or it doesn’t. A theory or a study may be flawed because of political prejudices and biases, and that’s certainly worth looking at. But the fact that we may not want a theory to be true doesn’t make it not true. That’s the kind of bullshit the creationists pull — I really don’t think feminists should be pulling it.

I remember reading/hearing about/participating in the “constructionism/essentialism” debates back in my early queer-theory days, and while in my heady youth I was very taken with strict constructionism, I became more frustrated with it as time went on. The theory didn’t really seem to based on anything — not research, not neurology, not logic, nothing except the fact that people who held it wanted it to be true (or, more accurately, didn’t want essentialism to be true). And that is really not okay.

Now, all THAT being said

SpectraFive: Even if there is a genetic component to gender differences, it’s clear that it’s true only as a generalization, and a pretty gross generalization at that. There are tons of exceptions, and huge areas of overlap on the scales. Just look at my “25% more male” score on the silly BBC brain-sex test. (And if you take the test yourself, do post your scores in the comments here!)

SpeakPlus, there are dozens of different types of behavior that are commonly believed to be gender-based, and individual men and women are all going to rank differently on all of them. (I scored male in my spatial relation ability, female in my verbal ability, neutral on some other scales that I can’t remember now.)

ChooseSix: Humans seem to have a unique ability to transcend our genetic programming and choose our own behavior. Our ability to do so is almost certainly limited, but it doesn’t seem to be nonexistent. (Example: Given my genealogy of alcoholism all over both sides of my family tree, it’s a fucking miracle that I’m not an alcoholic. And I’m not an alcoholic, at least in part, because I know that it could be a problem and choose to be very careful about my alcohol use.)

Dna_1My point? Even if there is some basis for believing that some gender differences are hard-wired, that’s no excuse for sexist behavior or policy. Even if it’s true that men are, on the whole, better at spatial relations, and women are, on the whole, better at verbal skills, we still have to treat people as individuals, and assess them as individuals.

BergstromIn a perfectly non-sexist society, it’s possible that we might still have more male engineers than female, more female teachers than male. I don’t know. I don’t think any of us knows. But we sure as hell would have more female engineers and male teachers than we do now. Good ones. Ones who now aren’t living up to their potential.

Broccoli or Tofu? Sexual Differences in Relationships

Dansavage_1Dan Savage has written yet another in his brilliant series of columns about couples with different kinks trying to negotiate a sex life that makes them both happy. In this case, the woman is fairly vanilla, and the man is into transvestite adult baby/diaper play. She’s been good about playing along with his kink, but he’s become uninterested in having vanilla sex, the kind of sex she wants — ever.

Something about this one really jumped out at me. There’s a pattern in a lot of these letters that’s really prominent in this one: it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, so I’m making it the subject of today’s sermon. (BTW, I think Dan’s advice — essentially “If you think you’re going to find another girlfriend who’s as willing to go along with your rather out-there kink, you’re high” — was dead-on. I just want to expand on it.)


When it comes to sex, I think a lot of people have a hard time distinguishing between things that really upset them or gross them out, and things that just aren’t their favorite. And I think this difficulty is what causes so much of the stress and frustration in these sexual negotiations.

BroccoliLet me make a quick analogy. I really, really despise broccoli. The presence of it in any food, even in small amounts, makes a dish completely inedible to me. I can barely stand to be in the room while it’s being cooked.

TofuTofu, on the other hand, isn’t my personal favorite thing to eat. I certainly won’t go out of my way to buy it and cook it. But if it’s cooked right, in a dish with a good sauce and tasty tidbits, I can eat it with no problem, and even enjoy it.

SouffleI think when a couple is trying to negotiate sexual likes and dislikes, they need to figure out which of their dislikes are broccoli, and which ones are tofu. And if there’s a sex act that’s tofu to you — and it’s a Scharffenberger chocolate souffle to your partner — then by gum, you should bloody well be giving them their chocolate souffle. At least some of the time.

VanillaThe adult baby guy is a perfect example. I find it hard to believe that he’s actually revolted by vanilla sex. I think he just doesn’t like it all that much. It’s not broccoli — it’s tofu.

But he still won’t eat it.

Of course this is selfish. That’s obvious. I think there’s a more serious problem than him being selfish. I think he has a seriously troubling sexual/romantic disconnection.

Here’s what I mean. When I have sex, I don’t just get off on my own kinks and my own pleasure. I also get off on my partner’s pleasure. The sight, the sound, the feel, of someone in my bed who’s getting excited and getting off… that’s hot. It’s not particularly selfless or noble of me — it’s just hot. (I wrote about this a little in A Dyke’s Defense of Blowjobs.) The more I care about someone, the more true that is. And I think that’s true for most people.

And if you can’t get off on the sight and sound and feel of your partner’s pleasure — even if what you’re doing isn’t your particular favorite thing — then what the hell are you doing in a sexual/romantic relationship?

Well, It Beats A Nice Hot Bath: Ted Haggard and the Straight Man’s Cure for Stress

Ted_haggard_1So of course I’m all over the “Ted Haggard now says he’s straight” story. But what I’m really interested in is how many people are getting it wrong.

If I read the pertinent quote correctly, then despite what you may have read or heard, Haggard isn’t saying that his homosexuality has been cured, and that after three weeks (!) of intensive therapy, he has now become heterosexual.

No. What he said (or what his church overseer the Rev. Tim Ralph said on his behalf) is, if possible, even more preposterous.

What he said was that he’s always been straight. He didn’t become heterosexual in therapy — he “discovered” his heterosexuality.

Ted_haggard_3“He is completely heterosexual,” Ralph said. “That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place.”

Right. Because straight men “act out” by sucking cock all the time.

No, really. It’s a natural stress response. Long hours, money problems, illness in the family, trouble at home? Every straight guy I know would be running to the nearest male prostitute to suck his cock. It’s a perfectly normal reaction. Very common.

My question: Just exactly how stupid do these people think we are?

Dan_savageBTW: My favorite writing so far about the Ted Haggard kerfuffle has been by sex columnist Dan Savage, who pointed out that the Haggard story competely gives the lie to ex-gay movement. The pertinent passage:

“Describing a lifelong battle against temptations that were contrary to his teachings,” says the Denver Post, “[Haggard] had sought assistance ‘in a variety of ways,’ and while he had stretches of ‘freedom,’ nothing proved effective. ‘There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life,’ Haggard wrote.”

If you believe that Jesus Christ can change the sexual orientation of a believer, why on earth did he refuse to cure Haggard? He founded a church that has 14,000 members! Thousands were brought to Christ by Haggard’s preaching. Mixed in with Ted’s meth-fueled gay sex romps and hypocritical gay bashings were, without a doubt, thousands of good works.

JesusDid Jesus help Haggard out? No. Haggard tried to battle off his “dark” desires, but nothing proved effective. There was no cure for Haggard, no miracle. No matter how long he struggled, no matter how much faith he had, Haggard’s sexual orientation remained unchanged. Nothing helped.

If giving his heart to Jesus couldn’t cure Haggard, what hope is there for the likes of me? If Jesus can’t be bothered to work a miracle for the most powerful evangelical minister in the country, what “hope” is there for the average dyke?

Oh, and in case you haven’t seen it yet: Here’s a video clip of Richard Dawkins interviewing Ted Haggard (pre-kerfuffle, of course), in which Haggard admonishes Dawkins “don’t be arrogant.” (The clip is all good, but if you don’t have time to watch the whole six minutes, the really good stuff comes about three minutes in. Video below the fold.)

[Read more…]

Children Become Adults — Stop the Presses!

Daniel_radcliffe_1As you may have heard, Daniel Radcliffe, the 17-year-old actor who’s been playing Harry Potter in the movies, is about to do a London stage production of Equus (the psychodrama about a young man who has a sexual obsession with horses), and he’ll have some nude scenes and sexual scenes in the play.

I’m not going to talk about the actual news, which I find only mildly interesting in a “What a smart career move” way. What I find more interesting is the reaction to this news in the media and the public.

Daniel_radcliffe_2So far, much of the reaction I’ve seen has fallen into two camps. One is the juvenile snickering and nitwit penis joke category. (Even Keith Olberman, who I usually like a lot, was falling into this, with stupid jokes about magic wands and broomsticks.)

The other is the shock/horror/dismay category: “But… but… he’s Harry Potter! He can’t be naked! Won’t someone please think of the children?”

And I think both these reactions come from the same place — a discomfort with the fact that children become adults, with adult sexuality.

Young_daniel_radcliffeWe know Radcliffe primarily — and quite famously — as a child and a young adolescent. He is now becoming an adult (if I’m not mistaken, 17 is the age of adulthood and consent in England). And this rather obvious fact of life makes many people extremely uncomfortable.

There’s a strong taboo in our society against thinking of children as sexual — a taboo that in many ways is very understandable. But it’s a taboo that we go seriously overboard with. It’s a taboo that twists our experience and blots out our reality. It makes us refuse to acknowledge that children have any kind of sexuality of their own. And it makes us have conniptions over the transition between childhood and adulthood… and the ripening of sexuality that this transition involves.

Daniel_radcliffe_3And I think that’s what the snickering and horror over a naked Daniel Radcliffe is about — the transition, and people’s discomfort with it. When a young person, one who we’re most familiar with as a child and who’s still fairly close to childhood, begins to claim their adult sexuality, I think it makes people feel like pedophiles. This person is still in our minds as a child, but now they’re also in our minds as a sexual adult — and that’s a category error that can cause some serious short-circuiting.

Lindsay_lohanI think this discomfort is aggravated by the fact that, while our society sees childhood as a time of complete asexual purity, it also sees young adulthood as the pinnacle of sexuality and sexual desirability. Children are supposed to somehow magically transform from innocent sexless sugar-babies into ripe, dishy sex bombs — and they’re supposed to do it overnight, with no awkward transitional stage in between to make us feel like creeps.

In a way, I get it. I’ve had crushes on teenage actors before they were legal (Christina Ricci comes to mind), and it made me pretty damned uncomfortable. It gives me the willies to have the hots for people who I think it would be unethical for me to actually have sex with. And it gave me the willies to be having impure thoughts about this dishy teenage goth chick who I first got to know as Wednesday Addams.

Daniel_radcliffe_4But I also think we need to chill the fuck out about it. Children become adults. Childhood sexuality becomes adult sexuality. It’s not news. As Ingrid said when we were talking about this, “What did they THINK was going to happen?”

(P.S. To be completely fair, the reaction to this news hasn’t been entirely snickering and conniptions. A fair number of people are responding much the way I am, with a combination of “Hm, interesting career move” and “Will you all please relax and let this kid grow up?”)

Cheese Factory: Dream Quest

Dreamquest1_1It’s been a little while since I’ve posted one of my porn reviews here. And for an assortment of reasons that I don’t feel like going into right now, this isn’t a great time for me to be writing new stuff. So here’s an entertainingly bitchy porn video review I did for Adult Friend Finder magazine, with some commentary at the end about why it’s so much harder to make seriously good porn videos than it is to make good porn in other forms, like writing or photography. Enjoy!

CheeseCheese Factory
by Greta Christina

Dream Quest
Directed by Brad Armstrong. Starring Jenna Jameson, Stephanie Swift, Alexa, Temptress, Asia Carrera, Sydnee Steele, Amber Michaels, Johnni Black, Felecia, Inari Vachs, Jessica Drake, Teri Starr, Bridgett Kerkove, Devin Wolf, Herschel Savage, Randy Spears, Evan Stone, and Brad Armstrong. 130 minutes. Wicked Pictures/Adam & Eve Productions. Available at Extreme Restraints and at Good Vibrations.

And I was so in the mood for it, too.

Really, really in the mood. I’d just gotten back from my honeymoon, all relaxed and happy and horny, and definitely ready to enjoy a high-quality porn video. “Dream Quest” looked like just the thing: a multiple award-winner, critically acclaimed, carried by more than one high-quality sex-product company with excellent taste.

So what happened?

Jenna_jameson_1Let’s start from the beginning. A sword-and-sorcery costume drama, “Dream Quest” stars Jenna Jameson as Sarah, a sexually repressed young woman who’s irritated at her boyfriend and is longing for more romance in her life. After a frustrating date, Sarah is visited by two fairies in glitter thongs (Stephanie Swift and Felecia), who call Sarah into their magical world on a quest to save fantasy. (Fantasy, as it turns out — warning, spoiler alert — is a sort of glowing, bejeweled dumbbell about the size of a six-pack, but that’s not important right now. It’s been imprisoned by an evil wizard. That’s the important thing.) Sarah undergoes an awkward, hasty transition from uptight good-girl to horny slut, and begins her journey into the magic land of half-naked, constantly-boffing witches, elves, gnomes, and the like.

Yes, it’s a dippy premise. But I’ve seen pornos with dippier premises that have worked just fine. Yes, it plays like it was written by a horny Renaissance Faire nerd. But I’m a horny RenFaire nerd myself, so that’s not necessarily a criticism. In fact, you’d think that’d make it a slam-dunk.

So what happened?

ShowgirlsWell, for starters, this video has a seriously high cheese factor. The sets and costumes are reasonably pretty, with a lot more imagination than you typically see in porn. But they still look totally Vegas, with gold thongs and high-heeled boots and enough body glitter to suffocate the cast of “Showgirls.” And while the box cover raves about the Hollywood-level special effects, the effects are in fact mortifyingly lame. I’d cringe if I saw them in an original “Star Trek” episode, much less a Hollywood production. “Dream Quest” is clearly trying to look like “Lord of the Rings,” but it doesn’t even come close. Hell, it doesn’t even look like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It looks like the cheesy cover art for an embarrassingly bad fantasy/sci-fi novel.

It wouldn’t be so painful to watch if it didn’t take itself so bloody seriously. But the video is clearly aiming for something lofty and transcendent, a haunting, otherworldly beauty that inspires new heights of erotic imagination, or some damn thing. When people who think they’re reaching for the stars end up landing in a giant cheese pile, it makes you cringe in embarrassment. Especially when they don’t have the sense to be embarrassed for themselves.

But all of that could be forgiven — if it weren’t for the sex.

Lord_of_the_rings_1See, in the midst of all the zany Tolkien-in-Vegas costumes and sets and makeup jobs, someone forgot to come up with the zany sex. The sex in “Dream Quest” is the same old goddamn mainstream porno sex that you’ve seen a million times. Since the premise of the video is about the importance of fantasy and how awful life gets when it disappears, you’d think they’d come up with some sex scenes that are more… well, fantastic. Imaginative. Something other than just the same old sucking and fucking in somewhat more interesting sets and costumes. Instead, in the place of genuine erotic variety, they put the actors through a standard series of awkward positions, clearly intended, not to make the sex pleasurable, but to make the sex visible to the camera.

Jessica_drakeExample. There’s a scene with the evil wizard Vladamir (Herschel Savage) and his wood-nymph slavegirl (Jessica Drake), where the slavegirl says “I would do anything to please you, my prince.” Emphasis on the “anything.” And all he can think of is to get his dick sucked and then fuck her in the cunt and the ass. Please. Have a little imagination. Given a half-wild, half-naked slavegirl kneeling at my feet offering to do anything to please me, I could come up with half a dozen more interesting pleasures just off the top of my head.

Even standard fucking and sucking would have been fine, if it had some oomph. But the sex in “Dream Quest” is depressingly oomph-less. With a couple of exceptions, there’s no passion, no intensity, no sensuality, no erotic suspense. It’s fine, it’s perfectly pleasant to watch, but it’s really nothing special.

ZazelHere’s the thing: You can’t just take the same old sex and put it in different sets and costumes, and expect the movie to be different. It’s like the parable of the old wine in new wineskins. Or new wine in old wineskins. Or whatever. I’ve seen this in all too many supposedly high-end porn videos: they put a huge amount of attention into sets and costumes and lighting and camerawork and even writing, and then they run the actors through the same old sexual paces that we’ve all seen a hundred times. It doesn’t have to be that way: the wild sexual ferocity in the vampire flick “Dark Angels,” the hilariously imaginative “sex restaurant” scenes in “Barbara Broadcast,” the elaborately painted pussy that you watch seductively breathing in “Zazel,” all come to mind. But “Dream Quest” is nowhere near that league.

DumbbellAnd I hate, hate, hate the moral of the story. See, the movie begins with Sarah being irritated at her boyfriend Steve (Devin Wolf) for constantly pushing sex and trying to grope her even when she says no. At the end of the movie (warning: spoiler alert), after Sarah rescues the Jeweled Dumbbell of Fantasy and comes back to her normal life, her boyfriend shows up to apologize for his crass behavior. And then — get this — she says he doesn’t need to apologize, that she should apologize to him for not being open enough to sexuality and fantasy. Let me repeat that: Her boyfriend pushes sex on her when she’s not in the mood, continues to push and grope after she’s said no several times, repeatedly promises to knock it off and then repeatedly breaks those promises — and she’s apologizing to him? How fucked up is that? Sure, she’s repressed and shut down and needs to let sex into her life — but that’s hardly a sin on the level of refusing to take no for an answer. And frankly, if I had a lover as clumsy and disrespectful as this guy, I’d probably shut down too.

CondomsThere are things about the video I like. There’s some nice use of long shots interspersed with the genital close-ups, letting you see whole bodies and giving a feel of the setting and the mood. The long shots are nicely done, too, well-framed with some real attention to beauty and sensuality. Jenna Jameson’s swimming scene is a sweet delight: you get to just gaze at her lovely nakedness and watch her enjoying herself and her body at a leisurely pace, without racing impatiently towards the fuck scene. The scene with Jenna and Tundra the ice queen (Alexa) is fairly tasty as well, with some interesting uses of pretty sex toys. And the movie has consistent condom use — good for them.

Asia_carreraAnd despite the overall “taking itself way too seriously” tone, there are a few moments of clever, self-aware humor. There’s a hilarious bit when Arachna (Asia Carrera) gives Sarah new clothes for her magical journey, saying “You’ll blend in better”… and in the next scene, Sarah’s wearing lace-up fur-topped boots, a tight blue bodice with a puffy off-the-shoulder blouse, and a shimmery hip-baring loincloth. (Even funnier — she does in fact blend in better that way.)

LaundryReally, except for the embarrassing sword-and-sorcery thing, “Dream Quest” isn’t actually flat-out bad. It’s just — mediocre. But mediocre is its own kind of bad. When porn is so average that you take breaks from it to fold your laundry… and to watch Jeopardy… and then to watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway”… and then to fold laundry some more… well, that’s pretty gosh-darned mediocre. You should not be wanting to take breaks from your porn.

Carmina_buranaAs for the music… well, it varies. None of it is actually good, but very little of it is awful, and at least it’s varied. Some of it is like a Carmina Burana knockoff set to a disco beat-box background, and some of it is Enya-wannabe material, and some of it is reasonably pleasant Renfaire-inspired ambient stuff. But very little of it is your standard thumpa-thumpa synth-disco retread porn crap. I do have to give them credit — at least they’re trying.

Dreamquest2And now that I think about it, that’s not just true for the music. That’s true for the entire movie. I didn’t care for “Dream Quest,” I thought it was pretentious and cheesy and not very hot. But I will give the filmmakers this: At least they were trying. They were trying to make a porn video that was beautiful and magical, inspiring and poetic, something that transcended porn conventions and reached into genuine art.

BanquetWhich is much, much harder to do in video than it is in almost any other porn medium. In erotic writing or comics or art, all you need is one person, one sex freak with talent and imagination who’s willing to give up being seen as a serious artist in order to explore their erotic vision. Even in adult photography, all you ultimately need is one good artist and one good model (although additional models are certainly helpful) who care about erotic art and don’t give a shit about the effect that making porn will have on their career.

Film_setBut film and video is a collaborative medium. To make a good film, everyone involved needs to be good. Everyone. Actors, director, writer, cinematographer, set and costume designers, you name it — all of them have to be skilled and inspired for a movie to come together. And in porn, that’s extremely difficult to pull off. People who are serious about a mainstream or even alternative film career, whether in front of the camera or behind it, tend not to go into porn. And the folks in the porn business who do have real talent and passion still have to work with a whole lot of folks who don’t so much. You can have all the vision in the world, but unlike writing or comics or art, you need other people to help you realize it. It’s a damn near impossible thing to do, and I guess I should cut the people who are trying to do it a little slack.

But not much.

Make Kink, Not War

Armory1(Advance warning: This will probably only be interesting to people who know San Francisco.)

You know on Mission and 14th, that huge, beautiful, decaying Armory building that hasn’t been used for years? You know how every time you go by it, you think, “God, what a waste, it’s such a grand space, somebody should really fix it up and do something with it”?

Well, somebody is. And it just tickles me pink who it is.

It’s, the online fetish video production company.

Armory2Kind of gives new meaning to the phrase “make love, not war,” doesn’t it?

I don’t actually have a whole lot more to say about this. I just think it’s cool that the space will be used, and double-cool that a registered landmark building and former National Guard training center will be used to make fetish movies. It’s just so very, very San Francisco. (If you want more details, there’s an article about it on SFGate — one that’s more newsy and one that’s more chatty — and some TV news clips on’s site.)

I just hope they decide to rent space out for private parties. I’ve wanted to see the inside of that building ever since I saw it. Maybe I’ll have my 50th birthday there…

Please Think of the Children: Sex Offender Hysteria

Snidely_whiplashI don’t normally expect to get interesting sex news from the Skeptical Inquirer. But they had a recent article about sex offenders and sex offender hysteria — a fascinating and important article, with info that surprised even me.

BillboardNow, some of the stuff here is just obvious — or should be. You’ve seen those billboards about how 1 out of every 5 children/teenagers will be approached online by a sexual predator? My first reaction to them wasn’t, “Oh how terrible, won’t someone save the children?” My first reaction was, “That can’t possibly be right. How exactly are they defining ‘approached by a sexual predator’? Are they including every piece of Viagra and porno spam that lands in the kids’ mailboxes?”

Teenager_onlineTurns out my instincts were pretty much dead-on. No, they didn’t get the “1 out of 5″ figure by counting Viagra spam. They got it, among other things, by counting unwanted requests for sex or sexual information that teenagers got — FROM OTHER TEENAGERS. In other words, if you’re 16, and your 16-year-old best friend emails you asking if your honey has ever gone down on you, and you think it’s none of their business — that counts as an act of online sexual predation. The pertinent quote: “When the study examined the type of Internet ‘solicitation’ parents are most concerned about (e.g., someone who asked to meet the teen somewhere, called the teen on the telephone, or sent gifts), the number drops from ‘one in five’ to just 3 percent.”

Sex_offender_signSome of the article’s other revelations are also not entirely surprising — although it’s fascinating to see these myths ripped up in such vivid detail. There’s a lot of stuff about how many of the sex offender laws — notification laws, sex offender registries, laws banning sex offenders from living in certain areas, etc. — bear no relevance to the reality of how sex crimes are committed and by whom, and are almost entirely ineffective in preventing further sex crimes. And the article has a marvelously clear-eyed analysis of how both politicians and the news media have taken people’s real fears about sex crimes and run with them screaming into the night — all the way to the bank. Pertinent quote: “Nobody really wants to go on the record saying, ‘It turns out this really isn’t a big problem.'”

TrackingAnd the article’s most crucial conclusion — that sex predator hysteria diverts attention and resources away from efforts that might actually be effective — while it’s extremely important, is also not entirely surprising. Pertinent quote: “The resources allocated to tracking ex-felons who are unlikely to re-offend could be much more effectively spent on preventing child abuse in the home and hiring more social workers.”

But this article doesn’t just confirm the obvious (or what should be obvious). There are some very commonly-held myths about sex offenders that turn out to be total bullshit — myths that I believed myself until I read this piece.

And the one that surprised me most was the one about repeat offenders.

Repeat_offenderIf you’ve watched any crime shows ever (fiction or non-), you “know” that sex offenders are more likely than any other type of criminal to repeat their crimes. This “fact” is what’s used to defend practices like monitoring and registering sex offenders. And it is apparently completely untrue. Pertinent quote #1: “In the largest and most comprehensive study ever done of prison recidivism, the Justice Department found that sex offenders were in fact less likely to reoffend than other criminals.” Pertinent quote #2: “A study released in 2003 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within three years, (only) 3.3 percent of the released child molesters were arrested again for committing another sex crime against a child.”

I really need to stop getting my legal information from “Law and Order.”

There’s just one important piece of information missing from this article. It has to do with how “sex offender” is defined in the first place — and in my opinion, it’s central to this discussion.

WoodstockHere’s the thing. When you see statistics on how many sex offenders there are, or what percentage of people will be victimized by one, you should know this: In many states, including California, “sex offender” statistics include people who have committed consensual sex crimes. Depending on the state you’re in, it can include prostitutes, johns, gay men arrested for cruising in public parks, teenagers arrested for having consensual sex with other teenagers, etc.: folks who are totally not what people picture when they’re getting freaked out about how the streets are crawling with sex offenders. (An old friend of mine is very likely being counted in sex offender statistics due to a public indecency arrest — not from flashing women in dark deserted streets, not even from getting a blowjob in an alley, but from a midnight skinny-dipping adventure with friends when they were in college.)

So when you see statistics in the paper about how many convicted sex offenders there are, or how likely it is that there’s one in your neighborhood, remember that they’re not just talking about rapists and child molesters. They’re also talking about people like you and me.

Of course we should be upset about rape, child molestation, and other violent, invasive, actual sex crimes. But let’s aim our anger and fear in a direction that makes sense, reflects reality, and might actually make a difference.

No Whining Allowed: Greta reading, Fri. Dec. 8

FootlooseI’m going to be reading at a cool event this Friday, a benefit for the Women on the Way Festival in January. Come by and say howdy if you can. The theme of the event is No Whining Allowed, and… well, here’s the official blurb.

A Benefit for the Seventh Annual Women on the Way Festival in January, 2007
Friday, December 8, 2006 at 8:00 PM.
Shotwell Studios 3252-A 19th Street (bet. So. Van Ness and Folsom), SF

$5-25 sliding scale;
$25 donation includes FREE PASS to a
Women on the Way Festival show at Dance Mission in January, 2007
Info/Res: 415-289-2000 or
Advance tickets available at or 1-866-468-3399

As women, we have to deal with a lot — media opinion of how we should look, societies determining how we should act, glass-ceilings, Aunt Flo, menopause, uncomfortable shoes… We are told to just deal with it all with a smile on our faces — NO WHINING ALLOWED. But if you could complain, what would you say?

Writers, poets and comediennes mouth off about what it means to be a woman these days (womanhood to be self-defined). Stick around at the end, sign up for the open mic and have five minutes of fame telling all about your female glory or shame. Lilycat will be the hostess with chocolate on hand for whining control.

Featured performers are:
Lady Monster
Greta Christina (that’s me!)
Alicia Dattner
Nicole Henares
Gina de Vries
Raina Bird
Katie Rubin

For more info about the featured performers, visit

Hope to see you there!

Why I Keep Watching Porn: Jenna Loves Pain

Jlp_front_coverYet another attempt to keep this sex-writer’s blog at least occasionally focused on sex. Here’s another porn review I wrote for Adult Friend Finder and It’s one of my trademark blends of a smut review and a meditation on what does and doesn’t work in porn. Only this time, for a change, I get to use a piece of good porn as my example — including a scene that’s among the best I’ve seen. And I get to ponder why I keep sitting through mediocre porn in order to get to the good stuff (aside from the fact that I get paid to do it, that is). Enjoy!

Why I Keep Watching Porn
by Greta Christina

Jenna Loves Pain
Starring Jenna Jameson, Amber Michaels, Ava Vincent, Emily Marilyn, Dru Berrymore, Fujiko Kano, and Nina Hartley. Written and directed by Ernest Greene. Club Jenna Productions. 80 minutes, plus DVD extras. Available at Good Vibrations and at Extreme Restraints.

I’m so glad it turned out this way.

It could have gone either way. An SM/fetish video with mainstream porn stars and style? It could easily have been the worst of both worlds — the rote, plastic, fuck-by-numbers sexual energy of so many mainstream videos, combined with the clumsy, inept, “some guy in a basement with a camera” filmmaking technique of so many fetish flicks. Porn stars prancing around in fetish gear, giving each other a few half-hearted swats on the butt in between the standard fucking and sucking. Corporate kink. Andrew Blake on an off-day. That sort of thing.

But it’s not. It’s the best of both worlds. (Mostly, anyway.) “Jenna Loves Pain” gives you authentic, heartfelt, high-energy SM sex — with the production values of a top-level mainstream porno.

Which I have to say is a nice change.

And there’s this one scene… but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Jlp1There’s no real plot to this one. The setup is that Jenna Jameson is in some sort of secret society or private club or something, dedicated to dominance and submission. Jenna doms in a couple of scenes, subs in another, and muses to herself about “the allure of erotic servitude” and how “each of us has a dark side and a light side.” (This voiceover is one of the few real flies in the ointment — it’s insipid and dorky, and it creates an annoying distraction at some lovely times when it really shouldn’t. Fortunately, there’s not much of it.)

So it’s a plotless wonder. That’s actually fine with me. Pornos with plot are fine when they’re done well, but they aren’t very often, and a stupid porn plot is much worse than no plot at all. What I do care about in porn videos is (a) sex that looks enthusiastic and real and like the performers are into it, and (b) a filmmaking style that enhances this realness and enthusiasm — or at least doesn’t get in its way.

And “Jenna Loves Pain” gives you both.

The main thing, of course, is the sex. And the main thing about the sex in “Jenna Loves Pain” is that the performers are having a wildly good time having it. They look transported. Whether they’re being bound and displayed, or spanked and whipped, whether they’re spreading their pussies for a riding crop or offering their breasts up for clamps, whether they’re licking their mistress’s pussy or licking her feet — or whether they’re dishing out the binding and spanking and getting their assorted parts licked — they look excited, and energized, and intensely focused. And they look like they’re *there* — like they’re actually in the moment, experiencing what’s happening, instead of being a million miles off. It’s pathetic to realize how rare all this is in porn, but it is.

Plus they have orgasms. Vivid, thrashing, screaming, unmistakable female orgasms. And lots of ’em. Again, it’s unbelievably depressing to realize how uncommon this is in video porn — but oh my God, is it beautiful to see it here.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been crazy about Jenna Jameson. She always seemed like the epitome of the generic blonde porn star to me. But she does a fine job in this video. She’s not the best thing about it — the best thing by far about this video is the scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels, which I’ll get to in a bit. But this is clearly Jenna’s video — she’s in three scenes of the four — and she more than holds her own. The enthusiasm, the energy, the feeling of focus and presence and connection in the video… a lot of it comes from Jenna, and I have to give her props for it.

What’s more, the sex is a lot more creative than you usually get in mainstream porn. You’ve got all the kink, of course… but you’ve also got frottage, and foot play, and ass licking, and a clever and sexy use of a ball gag for cunnilingus, and more. I get so sick of porn videos that run through the same five or six sex acts over and over, as if human beings hadn’t spent thousands of years coming up with thousands of variations on the classics. But “Jenna Loves Pain” has a lovely sense of freedom about it — the sense that the actors are having the kinds of sex they want to be having, instead of the kinds of sex that the marketing department told the director to tell the actors to have.

And it’s nice to see a video that freely mixes both hardcore SM and hardcore genital sex. I realize that this is more common than it used to be… but I came into porn in the ’80s and ’90s, when there was a huge Berlin Wall between sex videos and kink videos, and I still get excited about it when they mesh.

Plus there’s this scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels… but I’ll get to that in a moment. Promise.

Jlp_back_coverAs for the filmmaking style… well, it’s no “Citizen Kane,” but it more than does the job. The camerawork and editing were clearly done by people who gave a damn — not just about flashy technical tricks, but about how style can add to the sexual heat. The best example of this is how the movie uses flashbacks and flash-forwards, with quick, teasing flashes of the nastiest images — Jenna’s mouth held open wide with a metal gag, Amber Michaels writhing face down with her hands bound behind her back, a hairbrush landing on Fujiko Kano’s upturned bottom, and so on — cut in periodically throughout the movie.

Partly this is hot simply because it keeps your attention. It definitely kept my clit sitting up straight, even during stretches that weren’t quite doing it for me. But it’s also hot because that’s what sex feels like a lot of the time. When you’re fucking, you’re not just thinking of all the great stuff you’re doing right this minute — you’ve got memories of things you did a few minutes ago, and fantasies of things you hope you’ll be doing soon, all flashing in your mind like a slideshow. I do, anyway. That’s a huge amount of what keeps my libido worked up and interested. And the quick, dirty flashes in the video are a great example of how a simple stylistic technique can work to make porn feel more immediate, more urgent, more like sex.

It does overdo the technique sometimes — as well as some other tricks and effects — and sometimes it’s distracting. But I can live with that. I’d rather have someone at the editing board who’s over-enthusiastic than someone who’s just going through the motions.

And I love that the video spends time on the performers’ faces, and their whole bodies, instead of just showing you hands and toys on flesh. When a whip lands on a back or a hairbrush lands on an ass, you get plenty of images of the impact — but you also get to see the women’s faces cringing in ecstatic pain, their hands tightening into fists, their torsos contracting in shock and then opening up again to welcome the next blow. This is the stuff that actually conveys the energy of a sex scene — the stuff that shows you how the performers are, you know, feeling. And way too many porn videos forget about it entirely.

The video is somewhat uneven. Like I said, the voiceover is dippy and annoying, and the camera tricks and effects are sometimes overdone and distracting. And the scenes themselves vary in quality and heat. The last scene in particular is somewhat disappointing — Ava Vincent and Emily Marilyn just don’t seem as excited or connected as the women in the other scenes (although they do have their moments, and their scene does pick up near the end when Jenna shows up to play). Jenna’s submissive scene with Dru Berrymore is a lot stronger, and her dominant scene with Fujiko Kano is stronger still, and one heckuva lot of fun.

Jlp2And then there’s this scene with Nina Hartley and Amber Michaels…

… which may be one of the best porn performances I’ve seen.


No kidding. This scene is one of the most staggeringly beautiful things I’ve seen in porn, and I’ve been watching porn for years. Nina and Amber just seem so happy to be there, and so intensely focused on each other, that it made me want to cry. And it made me scramble for my vibrator — again and again and again. There’s a moment when Nina takes the gag out of Amber’s mouth, and Amber smiles — a sweet smile of wicked delight, a smile that radiates pure, spontaneous sexual joy. And when Nina’s beating her, Amber rocks her hips frantically and bucks her torso like she’s an animal in heat, like she’s getting fucked by God. It’s completely gorgeous… so gorgeous that it’s almost hard to watch. There’s a rawness to it, a nakedness that’s as much emotional as it is physical. They look transcendent. They look like they forgot the camera was on.

Of course they didn’t forget about the camera. They’re professionals. But this is an example of porn professionalism at its best. This isn’t the kind of porn professionalism that makes sure the pussy is in the shot, no matter what. This is the kind of porn professionalism that knows how to keep the pussy in the shot — and then knows how to forget about it, and just blissfully fuck.

And this is the reason I keep watching dirty videos, the reason I’m willing to sit through hours and hours of mediocre porn — because I know that scenes like this are out there. I know that this is what porn is capable of. Even when it’s not aspiring to profound insight or staggering technical skill or other qualities of Great Art, porn at its best can do this. It can give you a vision of sex at its best, at its most beautiful and most touching and most ecstatic, and make you feel it down to your bones.

It doesn’t get there very often. Even without the commercial pressures and limitations of the modern porn industry, moments of complete sexual rapture are hard to come by, and even harder to capture on film. But when it gets there, there’s no other art form that comes close. And when it gets there, it reminds you of why porn is worth making — and why it’s worth watching.

The Aging Slut

FishnetsIt’s not just about clothes.

Although a lot of it is about clothes.

Here’s what I want to know: How do you dress like, act like, be like, a sexy slut, when you’re in your mid-forties? What about in your fifties? Your sixties?

SelmaThe sexy slutty clothes I used to love so much just don’t look good on me now. I don’t know if it’s that my body’s different, or my personality, or what. But ripped fishnets and miniskirts and skimpy tops don’t make me look like a punk rock waif any more. They make me look like an aging tramp.

And I don’t know why that is — or whether I’m okay with it.

Beauty_mythIs it just cultural standards, mainstream perceptions of what makes women sexy, blah blah blah? Because if it is, then fuck that. I didn’t pay attention to the beauty myth when it told me that fat women weren’t sexy, or that dykey women weren’t sexy – so why should I pay attention when it tells me that middle-aged women aren’t sexy, and I should just shroud myself in Land’s End and call it a day?

But what if it’s something else? What if it’s me that’s a different person — with a different character and different ways of seeing my sexuality — and the old ways of displaying my sexuality don’t actually represent who I am now?

I think it might be. At least partly.

Which brings me to my next question: What represents my sexuality now? How is my sexuality different at 44 than it was at 25 or 32 – and how do I dress and act in a way that’s authentic to who I am now?

FishingSome of it is that I’m married now, and while I’m in a non-monogamous marriage and thus theoretically still available for a fling, in practice I’m not chasing tail with nearly the same verve I did when I was younger. So even though I still want to dress with sex in mind, it’s because I’m a very sexual person and I want to be true to that – not because I’m trying to bait the hook.

Snape_1Some of it is that I’ve been on a downward slide on the Kinsey scale lately. Ingrid apart, I’ve been in a phase where I’m paying more attention to guys than to women. (And before you ask, the Alan Rickman/Snape fetish is only part of that
) And while I feel pretty confident about my attractiveness to other dykes, my experience has been that men tend to be, not more picky exactly, but less likely to be attracted to unconventionally attractive women – and so as I get older, I feel a lot less sexually confident with them. (That actually makes me feel better about this whole question, since a downward slide on the Kinsey scale is almost certainly a phase that’ll pass.)

ElbowAnd some of it is that I don’t feel the same about my body as I did when I was younger. My body is crankier, harder to take care of, both more fragile and more demanding. When I’m feeling my never-quite healed elbow and my bad knee, my allergies and my asthma, when I’m watching my cholesterol or scheduling a colonoscopy, it’s harder to feel like my body is a gorgeous, well-oiled machine that I want to parade all over town.

Sarah_wiggumBut some of it is more complicated than that, more fucked-up. I don’t feel the same now about my body, not just because of how it feels, but because of how other people see it. I hate that that’s true, but it is. When I see myself through my own eyes, I see a smart, sexy, fun, adventurous bi-dyke slut who can bench press 60 pounds. But when I see myself through the eyes of the world as a whole, I see a chubby middle-aged lady.

I want to dress in a way that challenges that. I want to dress in a way that reclaims my sexual power. But I want to do it in a way that doesn’t make me look, or feel, pathetic and desperate.

And I’m not sure how to do that.

Any thoughts? How do you age gracefully without giving up on sex and sexiness? If you’re dealing with this and have ideas about it; if you have lovers or sex partners who are dealing with this and you have ideas about it; or if you just have opinions about it; I want to hear about it.