Apr 222013
 

This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Natalie. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

College students–and high school students at that–hold a longstanding trend of hookups. Formerly more generally referred to as one night stands, hookups vary from having a main squeeze to friends with benefits to one night stands. At my school at least, the contradictory element of hookups lies in a belief many students hold: that hookup culture dominates and everyone participates, while the truth indicates it’s fewer students then everyone seems to think. Whatever the numbers, a survey done earlier in the year showed that during hookups, females on my college campus orgasmed during hookups only a fraction of the frequency time their male counterparts did (not implying only straight people here, just that men orgasmed in hookups regardless of the gender of the person they were hooking up with, and women didn’t, also regardless of their partner’s gender).
The myth of the vaginal orgasm has long pervaded us, and people are starting to see that. Few and far between seem to be able to satisfy woman identified folk, and it can be difficult to have a satisfying hookup without satisfying sex–which just leads to awkwardness and tension on both sides of the spectrum. I mean, this is why Shanna wrote her book on cunnilingus, after all! So what can we do to promote the female orgasm and better our hookups in general?

Communicate!
Yeah, this one gets thrown at you over and over. But that’s cause it’s important. Even just “that feels good” or “what are you into?” can open the door to way better sex than you’d have in the first place.

Experiment.
Experiment with various safe, sane, and consensual sexy acts. You might find a position or toy you’ve never tried before, and it might become your new favorite way to play.

Masturbate!
Know your body so you can show others how to make you feel great. This may include looking at your genitals: how can you know what you might like if you don’t even know what you look like “down there?”

Talk to your friends about sex.
In a nice, non-objectifying way. By asking others what they do to talk about having safe sex in the context of a hookup you can learn how to protect yourself and help others at the same time. Plus, these chats generally lead to hilarious stories.

I also recommend reading Pat Califia’s “42 Things You Can Do to Make the Future Safer For Sex” in his book, Public Sex. A comprehensive list of acts that will open your own views on sexuality, from pleasure to politic, each act will make you think–at the very least. I’ll list a couple for you here:

*Study sex.
*Find a new fantasy.
*Make art about how sex feels.
*Teach somebody how to come with a rubber barrier.
*Vote.
*Write a love letter to an unloveable part of your body.
*Hand out clean needles and free condoms. If you can’t do this, give money to the people who are doing it for you.

Apr 182013
 

This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Rebecca. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

Masturbation and sexual violence in particular are two topics that can be especially challenging to teach but absolutely necessary.

Masturbation is normal for all individuals, regardless of developmental ability. The exploration of genitals and self-pleasure is a common human experience which generally begins in infancy.  Individuals on the spectrum are no different.  In fact, most individuals on the spectrum learn to masturbate on their own at some point in their life, however, many have trouble reaching orgasm during masturbation.  The challenge to reach orgasm may become problematic for two reasons: First, it may result in ritualistic behaviors. Second, it may be the only realistic outlet for sexual release for some people with autism.  If masturbation becomes a problematic behavior perhaps due to a lack of orgasm, check out The Center for Disability Information and Referral; they will be able to refer to informational videos about masturbating to orgasm.

Regardless of whether or not the behavior is ritualistic, a strict structure around masturbation is will help the individual to understand when masturbation is appropriate and when it is not.  Designate areas where it is okay to masturbate.  For example, an individual’s bedroom is generally a good option.  Avoid teaching the bathroom as an appropriate place to masturbate because using the bathroom may become a stimulus to masturbate.  Set up rules that designate an appropriate time to masturbate. Teach the individual that sometimes, masturbation is not an option.  Provide the individual with alone time or private time and give them the tools (verbal, ASL, PEC, etc) to communicate their desire for private time.  If this individual follows a strict schedule, incorporate private time into the schedule.  If/when the individual requests private time, refer to the schedule reminding them when they will have time to themselves.

Part of the teaching process regarding appropriate masturbation is teaching inappropriate masturbation.  When someone is engaging in inappropriate masturbation, interrupt the behavior by asking the individual to cease the behavior without emotional affect.   Remind the individual of when masturbation is appropriate with whatever means you communicate (such as verbal, i.e. “private time in bedroom” or visual, i.e. image of their bedroom).  Then redirect individual to an appropriate activity.  Particularly successful redirections may include ones that require the use of their hands (bead work, puzzles, etc.) a physical activity (bouncing on a ball or trampoline), or one that requires a lot of focus for that individual.  If their bedroom is available, you may redirect them to their bedroom.  Be wary of redirecting them to their bedroom immediately because the individual may learn to request masturbation by engaging in it.  Perhaps create a first/then demand i.e. first puzzle then private time, or have them engage in another activity and once engaged have them practice requesting private time appropriately.

Sexual violence is another challenging topic to approach.  Although there is no absolute way to completely protect a person you love with ASD from victimization, there are steps that can dramatically decrease the likelihood of abuse.  The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests the following steps:

1.  Teaching children accurate names of their private body parts.

2.  Avoid focusing exclusively on “stranger danger.”  Keep in mind that most children are abused by someone they know and trust.

3.  Teach about body safety and the difference between “okay” and “not okay” touching.

4.  Let children know that they have the right to make decisions about their bodies.  Empower them to say “no” and determining when they do and do not want to be touched, even in non-sexual ways (e.g. politely refusing hugs), and to say “no” to touching others.

5.  Make sure children know that adults and older children never need with their private body parts (e.g. bathing or going to the bathroom)

6. Teach children to take care of their own private parts (i.e. bathing, wiping after bathroom use) so they don’t have to rely on adults or older children for help.

7. Educate children about the difference between good secrets (like surprise parties – which are okay because they are not kept a secret for long) and bad secrets (those that the child is supposed to keep secret forever, which are not okay)

8. Trust your instincts! If you feel uneasy about leaving a child with someone, don’t do it.  If you’re concerned about possible sexual abuse, ask questions.

Obviously many of these lessons depend on the developmental abilities of the individual and some of these are unrealistic for some individuals.  Adaptations can be made to communicate these messages.  Additionally, supporting a school or program in their efforts to make an individual with ASD as independent as possible (eating, bathing) is critical.  Off Limits: A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse, by Feather Berkower is an absolute must read for every parent (present or future) and caretaker.  Although her books targets prevention techniques for parent’s with typically developing children, many of the concepts and ideas are applicable to those with ASD.  Feather will completely blow your mind and change your concepts around what prevention work means.  I cannot recommend this book more highly.

Sexual violence in the neurologically different population is happening at astounding rates.  Additionally, individuals on the spectrum who have been abused may engage in abusive behaviors towards younger siblings or ASD peers without an understanding of their actions.  There are steps to protect the ones we love on the spectrum from suffering in this way.  In fact, individuals on the spectrum should instead be given the support to live happy and sexually liberating lives!  May we move in that direction.

 

*Peter Gerhardt does fabulous work regarding the intersection of autism and sexuality.  Much of the information in this blog came from articles he has written and lectures he has given at conferences.  For more information I recommend a quick google search on his name.  Lots of quality information will pop up.  Also, don’t forget to talk to talk to the therapists, caretakers, and teachers in your life.  They too may have some fabulous suggestions in this arena.  Why not make this this education process a team effort.  Two heads are (almost) always better than one!

Apr 152013
 

This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Rebecca. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

Individuals with autism need sexual education.  But how and what do we teach?

Unfortunately, we live in a society where is not enough to assume that the person in your life with ASD is receiving quality education at their school, day program(s), or housing facility.  I presently work for a school for individuals with autism that provides healthy sexuality and sexual safety information, but these programs are few and far in-between.  Sadly, it is safer to assume that the person in your life on the spectrum is not receiving sexuality and sexual safety information.  This is why it is important to make yourself into the personal resource or advocate for the person on the spectrum that you love.  If you aren’t taking initiative to personally teach this information or to make sure the teachers and/or administration is providing quality sex education, odds are, no one is.

So, Step 1: Become a resource for that person you love with ASD, as the teacher of this information or as their advocate.

Step 2: Make sure the sexuality information is proactive.  When it comes to sex education ,America is generally a reactive society, and this is within the neurotypical population.  This tactic of teaching someone about condoms after they have already gotten pregnant is absurd, right?  Perfectly avoidable repercussions, including high rates of sexual abuse, STDs, and unintended pregnancy, are happening at alarming rates.  If this is how we educate our typically developing population, I’m sure you can imagine that the education for a population that is seen as asexual is even more pathetic.   Individuals on the spectrum often only receive sexual education after they have engaged in inappropriate and sometimes dangerous sexual (if the behavior is ever realized by a caretaker at all).  We need to prioritize education prior to an interest in sexual activity (if developmentally appropriate) or when interest is just becoming noticeable.

Step 3: Some important concepts that are important to teach

Public versus private behavior, good touch versus bad touch, proper names of body parts (research shows children who know anatomically correct language for their body are less likely to be victims of sexual violence because they have the language to talk about what happened to them), personal boundaries and personal spaces, masturbation (“private touching”), avoidance of danger and abuse prevention, social skills and relationship building, dating skills (if developmentally appropriate), personal responsibility and values (if developmentally appropriate).

Masturbation and sexual violence are often the two most challenges topics for folks to address.  For more information on how to teach or handle those topics check out Autism and Sexuality, Part 3.

Apr 122013
 

This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Rebecca. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

Sex, sexuality and sexual safety are important topics of discussion.  Addressing it in our own lives is hard enough, let alone talking about it with our partner, friends, or children.  And when an individual has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) this conversation may seem harder, even impossible.  How do we address these complex and challenging topics?  And really, is it all that important? 

Yes.  Yes yes yes.  It is that important.

But before we get to the how, let us address the how come.

Lisa Mitchell is a counselor who specializes in autism.  She argues that the following points are the top reasons why it is vital to provide individuals with autism accurate and useful information concerning sexuality and sexual safety. 

First, ASD individuals often have limited opportunities for socialization and normalizing social sexual experiences.  The few opportunities they do have are complicated by social skills deficits associated with autism.  Secondly, many individuals with ASD do not have even basic knowledge about sexuality, and low reading ability hinders the chance to learn from written materials and other media such as the internet.  Thirdly, individuals with ASD are people and, like all people, have the right to learn all they are able so they may become a sexually healthy person.  Individuals on the spectrum have the same hormones and urges as their peers deserve the information necessary to make healthy decisions.  Fourth, individuals on the spectrum need additional information to protect themselves from sexual abuse, HIV/AIDS, and STDs.  This is particularly challenging for many individuals with ASD who have low self-esteem that leads them to be willing to engage in risky behavior in order to be accepted by their peers. Fifth, many individuals with ASD do not know when and to whom they may ask questions about sexuality.  This issue can be eliminated merely by making yourself available as a resource.

I would like to expand on the fact that, simply put, individuals on the spectrum have sexualities, too.  Many individuals on the spectrum, along with most individuals with intellectual differences, are not considered sexual beings by our society.  This is false.  Individuals with autism are sexual beings.  However, many individuals on the spectrum have cognitive abilities that are incongruent with their sexual development.  This incongruence often leads to another common misconception: sex education is inappropriate for individuals with autism.  Instead, sex education needs to be tailored to best support each individual.  Let’s be real – navigating the sexual world is hard no matter what who you are.  As parents, friends, cousins, and caregivers to an individual with autism, it is vital we recognize that individuals on the spectrum have a right to sexual education so they may live a healthy and satisfying sexual life. whatever that may be.

Individuals on the also spectrum need quality information so they may lead a life free of sexual assault and abuse, which is the second point I would like to expand on.  As individuals who know and love someone with autism, it is imperative we understand that individuals with neurological differences are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse.  1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys suffer from sexual abuse before the age of 18.  And sexual violence does not cease when an individual is 18.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey reports that every 2 minutes a person is sexually victimized in the U.S.  For individuals with intellectual differences the numbers are even higher.  Although no specific numbers exist for rates of sexual abuse among individuals with autism specifically, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that individuals with any type of cognitive, intellectual, and/or developmental difference are 3.44 times more likely to be a victim of abuse (i.e. neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse) than their typically developing peers.   But the numbers don’t have to be this high.  With proper sexual education many individuals with autism can learn tools to protect themselves from sexual abuse and communicate any potential or previous harm inflicted, giving others in their lives the ability to take action.

ASD is a spectrum that covers a wide range of abilities.  This means the types of appropriate emotional and/or sexual relationships will vary dramatically for each person. The one consistent aspect of autism is that no one size fits all, and this concept applies to sexual education as well.  In turn, each individual needs personalized instruction that is appropriate for their abilities.

Every person deserves positive and healthy sex education and sexual safety information regardless of their neurology so they may enjoy a healthy and abuse free sexual life.

 

Feb 272013
 

This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Rebecca. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

As we previously discussed, defining sex for ourselves unleashes a whole world of options.  Instead of adopting mainstream definitions, limits, fantasies, and desires, which are often saturated in far too many “isms” (you know…sexism, ageism, racism, heterosexism…whew…just to name a few), deciding to define sex for ourselves allows us to engage in our own experimental growing process.  But let’s be real for a hot second: coming up with new ideas, and having the courage to then try those new ideas out (solo or with a partner or two), is a lot harder said than done. For real, even trying out new phrases, to make communication sexy, is really hard to do.

So, after doing some serious googling, visiting some of my favorite radical (and not so radical) websites, I’ve compiled a short list of ideas to consider, sleep on, and perhaps even try…

So what’s the big topic numba’ one we’re going to talk about on this fine fine day?!

Masturbation.

Masturbating.

Becoming your own clit master.

Mastering the willy.

Caressing the cunt.

Polishing the penis.

Greeting the genitalia.

Masturbation, despite mainstream promotion, is not just a thing teenage boys do.  Oye vey! No no no!  Masturbation is far too fabulous to ever be dismissed merely as a “thing” and only permissible for one, very small segment of the population. Masturbation is masturbation, not a “thing,” and everyone, of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations can and do masturbate!

Although statistics on masturbation are difficult to come by (pun intended), especially regarding reliable statistics for trans individuals, “Current research shows that around 89 percent of women and 95 percent of men have tried masturbation at some point in their lives, regularly or not,” (Ms. Shanna Katz, Flying Solo). Hmm…some high numbers.

Masturbation is not unique to the adult population either.  In fact, children often engage in genital play as young as six months.

Despite the fact that masturbation is an abundantly common human experience, masturbation continues to be laden with shame. Perhaps we feel unique in our shower ritual.  Perhaps we don’t feel unique in our shower ritual but do indeed try to make it as quick as possible…you know…to not waste water. Perhaps we masturbate in front of our partner to get our romantic candle lit, hot tub, and blindfold filled evening going.  Perhaps we buy the quietest vibrator to make sure our roommates don’t develop an inkling of our late night habit.  Perhaps it has never even occurred to us to touch ourselves down there because it is so gross. Perhaps we tried it once and never again because, I swear, my parents have looked at me differently ever since. Regardless of our present relationship with masturbation, positive, negative, or somewhere in between, it is hard to completely and entirely shake the explicit and (more likely) implicit shame we learned regarding touching ourselves.

Now, before we continue to blindly adopt this shame-based perspective or continue to believe that we have already reached a state of total masturbation perfection and self-love acceptance(you goddess you), we may want to consider the following before abandoning the ship that is this blog:  Masturbation has some seriously (and I mean gravely) positive physical and mental benefits, and provides the opportunity for further improving your individual and partnered sex life for  the novice and cultivated masturbators alike.

Do you dare say? Hmm…intriguing…

“That just ain’t true:” What masturbation does not do

1. Reduce your sex drive.

2. Make you grow hair in odd places. Who thought of that?

3. Make you go blind.

4. Kill you. Really?

 

“Keep whispering those sweet nothings:” The positives of gettin’ jiggy with yourself

1. Masturbation is the safest form of sex there is. After all, it is tremendously difficult (READ: Near Impossible!) to get pregnant when you are getting off by yourself.  Additionally, sexually transmitted infections are also very hard to pass along when you are alone (READ: Impossible!).

2. Masturbating can be relaxing. Trouble sleeping? Try jilling-off before going to sleep.

3. Masturbating often reduces stress and boost that ever needy immune system of yours.

 

Tell me more!?

Okay.

4. Masturbation improves your independent sex life. Think of it this way: you are the most reliable person in your life.  You’re always around so you can get down with yourself whenever.  At noon on a Sunday, 2 a.m. on a weeknight, or all day long on the leap year! You are always down for sex when you want it, you can get as romantic or kinky as you like, no communication is necessary (unless you like talking dirty to yourself, of course).  You can go as hard, as soft, as quick, as slow, as feisty, or as loving as you like – you can get yourself off, no ifs, ands, or buts, exactly the way you want to.  Whew.  Now that is some good sex!  Masturbation is independence, baby.

And…

5. Masturbation can support your partnered sex life to be dynamic, fun, sexy, engaging, and/or fulfilling.  It is simple: if you know what you like, then you can let your partner know what you like. If you feel like your genitalia is as mysterious as your default prepackaged gas station indulgent, then probably so does your partner.  The more you know about your own body, the more you know about what feels good to you, the more you can support your partner (who is not a genie, guru, or mind-reader) in figuring out your body.  Masturbation gives you the time and space to explore your body, and figure out what turns you on.  Then you take that knowledge to your partner(s) and share the wealth. 

Masturbation is like eating.  The more things you try, the more restaurants you go to, the more you cook, the more you realize the cuisines you enjoy (American…Italian…Mediterranean), the way you like your veggies cookies (processed…or steamed…or boiled to oblivion), to the way you like to eat them (in bed perhaps?).  If you only tried sautéed beets, it’s really hard to say what you like, because you have nothing to compare it to.  And when your adorably sweet partner decides to cook you an adorably sweet Valentine’s day dinner and says, “Oh lover, what is your favorite food?” You will respond, “Uhhhh…beets?” And your adorably sweet partner will feel more lost than Milo and Otis in Homeward Bound.

Masturbation gives you more options.  Masturbation supports you as you explore your own personal definition of sex.  And wouldn’t it be cool to be able to say to that adorably sweet partner of yours, “Umm…I love creamy beet risotto, with a side kale and arugula with an Italian style miso-tahini spread with zest-filled lemon juice on the side!”

You just may have the most phenomenal sex of your life.

Feb 212013
 

This piece is written by Spring 2013 intern Natalie, around her thoughts about beginning thesis research on the BDSM and Leather communities. To read more work by current and former interns, check out the Intern Corner section.

As a second-semester college senior, time is winding down and the pressure is picking up. Next week, I begin the two straight months of research and writing that will be devoted to my senior thesis in Feminist and Gender Studies.

The trouble with my thesis is not that I haven’t started yet, or that I’m stressed out about writing it: the trouble is talking to anyone outside of my department about the topic. I am writing my thesis on BDSM and leather culture, likely looking at social hierarchies that exist in this subculture, or at these communities being spaces of resistance. This is a valid topic, and I don’t need to justify it to myself–but I hesitate to answer every time someone asks me what I’m writing my thesis on. A series of assessments begin before I even open my mouth: are they going to judge me? Does this person even know what BDSM is? And if they don’t, I’ll have to explain. And when I do, will this person laugh at me or make fun of me? Will they make assumptions about my sex life?

At a very liberal liberal arts school, I don’t have to be as cautious as I might in the real world. But even so, I made the mistake of opening up to a lab partner a couple of months ago because he seemed genuinely interested, and spent the rest of the homework session enduring jokes about whips and chains at my expense.

The truth is, every time this happens, I am more sure than ever of my choice. A society hostile to deviant sexual expression has driven participants in BDSM acts and relationships to effectively go underground. BDSM practitioners face many of the same issues as other sexual minorities, a realization that to me has been reinforced over and over as I endure an “outing” process every time I talk about my thesis topic.

Given all of this, I was nervous when I applied for a research grant at my school to spend time at the Leather Museum and Archives in Chicago. In fact, I spent most of the proposal justifying why I was even studying this culture, rather than talking about the actual research I will be doing, simply because I was concerned about the review committee’s initial response to a proposal titled “Performative and Actual Inequality in BDSM Culture.” But the more I consider the social stigmas, the more I am motivated to study the histories of leather culture and to be a part of a declaration, reclamation, and creation of an identity. ‘

Feb 162013
 

This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Rebecca. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section.Shanna

Salt-n-Pepa style. As you take a quick trip back to your jean jacket and spandex wearing days and rock out to this fabulous 90s jam, I must acknowledge that this song (sadly) reinforces some stereotypes around sex and gender that limit both our daily and sex lives (for example, I know many men who enjoy making love). That said, I think Cheryl James and the crew are right about one thing – it is time to truly, and honestly talk about sex.

Americans love sex. We sell cars, laundry detergent, and shampoo with sex. Entire movies are based around sex. Clothing companies write irrelevant words on the butts of women’s sweatpants so we look their behinds. Americans love sex. Or really, American capitalism loves sex. Regardless, every day we are bombarded with images, inferences, advertisements, and conversations about sex, SEX, sex. But what exactly is everyone selling?

We all probably agree that the sex being sold in the advertisement industry is the mainstream definition of sex. Vanilla sex: heterosexual, male on top, female on bottom, penis penetrating a vagina, interaction ceasing when the male ejaculates. Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with this type of sex. It’s quite lovely. I’ve done it. I can count on one hand how many times my orgasm conveniently, simultaneously, and I might even say magically, paired up with my partner’s, but it has happened and was indeed lovely.

This type of sex is single faceted. I mean, just change one thing about that encounter and you might as well quit. Two men? Whoa!  That just messes up the whole line of events. Female on top? Well…maybe when mainstream culture is feeling a little kinky.

Fascinatingly, when thinking about someone else’s sex life, we commonly default to the sexual interaction described above. When asked to define our own, however, we give as many different answers as there are ice cream flavors in the freezer aisle of your locally-named-chain grocery store. Hmm. Curious.

Jessica Valenti points out in her absolutely stellar book, The Purity MythI’m sorry, stop reading this blog right now, go to your locally owned bookstore, buy this book, read it, let it change your life, return to this bookstore, buy as many copies as you have relatives, friends, and mere acquaintances, then quit your job and begin passing this book out on the street corner, because yes, it is that good…Ahem. As I was saying, Valenti notes that people struggle when asked to get down and dirty and define sex.  Some argue that penetration makes sex. Which is fine and dandy except for the little question of, what is penetrating what?  Is a finger penetrating an anus, a tongue penetrating a vagina, or a penis penetrating a hula hoop? Others argued that engaging in oral sex made sex, sex.  A friend of Valenti’s suggested that the presence of an orgasm determined whether the interaction was sex (a thought provoking definition indeed).

This disagreement on the definition is consistent with the research I conducted at a local college here in Colorado last year. Definitions of sex were not only incredibly varied but also vague.

Let’s recap. 1) We know that we have this mainstream definition of sex that is quite limited. 2) When people are asked to provide their own personal definition of sex, we get a wide variety of answers many of which fall under the mainstream definition and many of which do not. So, why is the definition of sex so important?

Because your sex life depends on it!                                

Whew. Let’s unpack this suitcase. If you wear rose colored glasses, the world looks pink, right?  If you wear goggles that you made out of your younger sister’s training bra…actually if you succeed at that, let me know, that is just impressive…Point is, if you define sex the way the mainstream world defines sex, you can bet your grandpa’s best chocolate fudge cupcake that you won’t be straying far off that road. And even if we do have our own personal definition, we are all being watered by the same rain. It is hard to completely shed the mainstream perspective.

I know what you’re thinking…but you said yourself, that when individuals are asked to define sex they have a wide variety of definitions, not just the one the mainstream pitches to us daily. Absolutely! Amen. But how many people take the time to actually to define sex for themselves?   And out of those, how many individuals first take the time to learn all the things that “sex” could possibility encompass, and then once armed with this universe of possibilities, go forward to then define sex for themselves? And out of those, how many let their partner(s) know their own personal definition of sex?

There are so many possibilities. Thank goodness I found the The Guide to Getting it On, by Paul Joannides to clue me in on the all the options because, holy smokes, they don’t teach you this stuff in sex ed. If you haven’t already heard of this book, it is definitely worth your time, because is a super easy and fun read.

Let’s take the time to explore sex with the hopes of working towards our own definition. This means taking some risks, exploring, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, asserting yourself, and communicating. I mean, let’s be real, isn’t that why we all found our way to this fabulous site?

 

 

 

Aug 292011
 

This week, my intern SexualErudite (their screename) is sharing a bit about their identity as being pansexual, and some of the reasoning and history surrounding this identity.

I identify as pansexual (and also in certain contexts as bisexual or queer), and I work in LGBTQ education and awareness, so I am going to try and explain why I refer to myself as a pansexual more than anything else. Most of you will probably assume this is pretentious anyway, but I’ll give it the old college try.

I am going to use cisgender and cissexual within this context because it is the most inclusive way to do so. While it seems like many people are content to lump people into “trans folks and normals” and “trans folks and people who feel okay with their bodies” and “men, women and trans folk” I am not comfortable with this, as it places trans folk into some weird other category that I feel is pretty offensive. Cisgender/sexual exist as a way of subcategorizing larger categories, such as “women.” Within “women” exist two sub categories: cis women and trans women. The same exists for sex, so within “female” there exists cis females and trans females.

There are more than two genders. Rather, there exists men (both cis and trans), women (both cis and trans) and those who fall outside the gender binary. There are many different categorizations of this non-binary gender, one of the most common is genderqueer, although it is far from being the only one. Some people who fall within this “outside the binary” gender consider themselves trans, others do not.

There are more than two sexes. We have male (cis and trans), female (cis and trans) and intersexed. Hermaphrodite is not used within a medical construct, but rather, pseudohermaphrodite is, because humans are not capable of being “true” hermaphrodites, as while they may have a mixture of sexual characteristics, they do not possess both full sets of fully functioning reproductive organs. In any case, the intersex community prefers intersex, and we should honor their right to define what terms they prefer.

Whatever social scientists may have decided, in terms of identifying bisexuals as people who engage in homosexual and hetereosexual sex, most people interpret this as having to do with genitalia, regardless of whatever the scientists were really thinking, and I cannot speak to that.

Identifying it based on behaviors based on that becomes tricky – what if I, a cissexual female, engage in sex with a pre-op trans man? Is it heterosexual because I identify as a woman and he identifies as a man? Is it homosexual because we both have boobs and vaginas? I would say the former, but if we are defining it based on sexual acts, to most people we are defining it based on genitalia.

When we discuss “gay, straight, bi” we’re not just talking about what genitalia we are attracted to – we’re talking about how they present themselves, and how they identify themselves as well. Many straight men would balk at the idea of having sex with a trans man, even though he may have a vagina, meaning cock/vaginasexual would be problematic as a term describing many people. So when we talk about our sexual orientations, we’re really discussing what genders we are attracted to.

So, if we have more than two genders, bisexual can be problematic in terms of not being specific enough. Most people assume that bisexual people are referring to being attracted to men and women, and that’s it, and generally, that’s a problem on the listener’s behalf, not the bisexual person themselves. But, because bi is a prefix meaning two, it can mean that someone is attracted to men and women, men and people outside the binary or women and people outside the binary.

As someone who is attracted to men, women and people outside the gender binary, I find that pansexual is more apt, because pan is a prefix meaning all. It doesn’t mean that bisexuals are prejudicial individuals that just need to open their hearts – people are attracted to who they are attracted to. I’m not going to rail against a gay man because he fails to find women the object of his sexual desires. It’d be ludicrous.

Yes, there are pretentious pansexual people out there who sneer about being attracted to “people,” or not seeing gender, but there are a ton of pretentious people in any other gender or sexuality category, so it seems really ridiculous that we’ve decided it’s totally fine to complain about it like it’s a new and speshul thing only inherent in people who use words that fall outside straight, gay, bi and trans*. I’m sure there were plenty of homosexual men who sneered at people who preferred the word “gay” back in the day.

Everyone deserves to have a space to occupy, and having a word that accurately describes you to a point that you feel comfortable with it is part of having that space. It doesn’t mean you should automatically assume everyone should know what obscure sexualities are (which is why I have made it part of my life to educate others), but it doesn’t mean that we should immediately stomp on anything new. Just because you are fine with common words to describe your sexuality does not mean everyone is. Demanding that I justify my right to a name that fits makes you no different than any other common bigot.