Archives for posts with tag: sex

Happy World Contraception Day, everyone!

I’m gonna talk about some different types of contraception and sex education today, in order to spread the knowledge!

There are “Barrier Methods” of contraception, which are meant to prevent the sperm from entering the uterus in order to prevent pregnancy. These would include both external and internal condoms (I refuse to say ‘male and female condoms’ because those terms are inherently cis-sexist and support a gender binary), and it also includes Diaphragms, Cervical Caps, and Contraceptive Sponges. These forms of contraception are to be used and then removed in order to prevent pregnancy and the passing of different diseases/infections.

Next, there are “Hormonal Methods” of birth control, which regulate and/or stop ovulation in order to prevent pregnancy. (At some point, I’m going to make a post about the process of ovulation and menstruation, but not today!) The most well-known method is called the pill, which has a combination of synthetic estrogen(s) and progestin(s) (unless it’s the placebo week) and you take one pill a day in order to prevent pregnancy. (There is also a pill that has progestin-only, which thickens cervical muscles to make it harder for sperm to swim around and enter the fallopian tube.) Then there is the patch, which releases hormones to the bloodstream through the skin and should be applied once a week for three weeks. Vaginal rings (NuvaRing) are thin and flexible and are inserted into the vagina for three weeks, and then removed for one week for a period. Then there are shots -Depo shot is pretty well known, and this method lasts for three months. Implantable rods are surgically inserted under the skin of the upper arm, and can remain there for up to 5 years.

After the hormonal methods, there are intrauterine methods, which are commonly called IUDs. There are copper IUDs, which cause an inflammatory reaction in the uterus that prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg, and can remain in the body for up to 12 years. The other option is hormonal IUDs, which can be used for up to five years, and causes the thickening of the cervical muscles, thinning of the uterine lining, and can prevent ovulation.

Now, all of this is, obviously, a very brief overview, and there are many other sites you could go to for more in-depth information about each of these methods. I recommend doing research before starting a new method of birth control, in order to completely understand how effective it is and how to properly use it. Then you can discuss more in-depth matters with your doctor, who will write the prescription for you.

I also wanted to pull your attention to the new Health Care Reform and how that impacts birth control. As you might’ve noticed from above, most of the methods that are available really only impact people with vaginas. Hormonal methods and intrauterine methods only impact people with vaginas, barrier methods are a little more open but still mostly focus on the same. This is to say that birth control and sexual health is commonly left up to the women* to deal with and handle and pay for (even though the best birth control is for people with penises), and now the health care reform is trying to, at least, remedy the cost. If you have a prescription, your birth control should be free if it’s the patch, pill, ring, shot, implant, IUD, or sterilization. This can be extremely exciting and liberating for those of us who have had to pay for birth control methods every month or so for a long period of time.

And, just a general word of advice, please use your method of contraception in the proper way! That means that if you’re taking the pill, you should take one pill around the same time every day -if you miss/skip more than two pills in a single pack, you need to switch methods. This means that if you’re using an external condom, get the right size -there is so much misinformation about how condoms stretch and expand and can fit any penis, but seriously you need to get the size right or there is a bigger chance of it breaking and, thus, pregnancy (it also is bad for the penis if the condom is too tight, and it can slip off if it’s too loose). Seriously, do your research and use contraception properly if you want to avoid pregnancy.

Happy World Contraception Day -I hope you learned something new about sexual health and wellness, and that you spread the information to others as well!

Before I even began this blog, a wonderful friend of mine (who actually was one of the first women to introduce me to the ideas of feminism) asked me to read and review 50 Shades of Grey. Let me note right now that this is just a themed-post, and I will most likely be writing three separate posts on each of the books individually. I will also be doing more in-depth posts on the topics below -orgasms, BDSM, consent, etc. -without having them be in-reference to the 50 Shades trilogy.

Also, SPOILER ALERT, if anyone cares.

Now, if you have not heard of this series of books, consider yourself lucky. This is a trilogy which was based off of (badly written) Twilight fanfiction. Edward and Bella became Christian and Ana. Wonderful.

Fanfiction aside, this series has hit the national bestseller list and has become extremely popular in America. I do have a few theories as to why this has happened, but we will get to those at the end of this post.

First, let’s talk about the actual content/themes of the trilogy.

For those who have not read it, the plot of the book is this: Ana (short for Anastasia) is a soon-to-be college graduate who has to work for money, but is never really left wanting because of her rich roommate Katherine (or, rather, her roommate Katherine who has rich parents.)

While doing a favor for Katherine, Ana meets Christian Grey, a CEO billionaire (understatement) with “exotic tastes” in basically everything, but specifically in sex. Christian Grey considers himself a ‘Dominant’ in a BDSM-type of relationship -this means that, in this relationship, he would be the one completely in charge of his Submissive partner during a scene that they both agree on beforehand. The relationship can last for longer than a single scene, but it is all organized heavily around lines of consent and rules (including safe-words.) Generally, that is how the trilogy begins.

Now, in this book series, author E. L. James gets a few things wrong on a variety of levels. We will start small.

Biology

Ana is, of course, a virgin when she meets Christian. He changes that by page 117 of Grey. I quote, “…I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity.” (emphasis mine.)

This idea (of a ‘ripped virginity’, or ‘popping the cherry’) is a common cultural myth. The hymen -what is seen as the woman’s virginity -is a thin and elastic membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening (there are instances where it covers the entire opening, and then surgery is needed.)

Watch this video, it’s much more elaborate and helpful!

This one sentence, with him ‘ripping her virginity’ sets the tone for their entire relationship -one that is based on violence. Even moreso, in the very next sentence, it says that he (Christian) looks triumphant. Ana is seen as a conquest, as something that he conquered by taking her virginity” as if the hymen leaves the woman after the first vaginal intercourse. She is no longer a person in this moment, she is just another one of the many women he’s been on top of. A victory.

This concept is masked by Ana’s pleasure. After the pain of her ‘ripped virginity’, she finds that sex is nice. This is true! Horray for one thing that’s right! But, James goes off the realistic track again by having Ana orgasm every single time she and Christian have sex.

No. Just… no.

I’m sorry, this just does not happen. Female orgasm just does not occur as often as male orgasm. In the majority of cases, women will not orgasm the first time they have sex, or even the second, or even the third. It takes a while -both in the sense of time during sex (women need just slightly more time on average), and in the other sense of experience. Plainly put, Ana is too inexperienced and Christian is too quick to guarantee Ana an orgasm during her first time, or really any of the times at all. There is also rarely enough clitoral stimulation involved for her to climax during their sexual encounters.

But, because Ana does experience orgasm every single time they have sex (and even in her dreams too), it can place shame on real women who read this series who don’t have orgasms when they have sex. It is not healthy or realistic to expect orgasm during the first few times, or even every single time. There are ways/methods for a woman to achieve orgasm, but this idea that it should just automatically happen during sex is just wrong.

Nothing is wrong with you if you do not orgasm when you have sex. Seriously. It’s harmful to yourself and to your relationship with your partner if you start to think this way. If you are not achieving an orgasm at all when you have sex, then talk to your partner and try to see what you can do differently, but don’t blame yourself or them. Please.

Psychology

Throughout the entire series, E. L. James makes use of the subconscious. She does this by referencing it on over fifty pages in the first book alone (51, 62, 63, 67, 75, 94, 95, 99, 126, 127, 128, 135, 145, 159, 164, 176, 199, 216, 240, 241, 242, 243, 245, 251, 252, 259, 260/1, 262, 273, 277, 285, 287, 309, 315, 334, 338, 345, 360, 368, 374, 382, 383, 391, 413, 420, 432, 434, 435, 445, 478, 482, 484, 485, 502, 507, 511.)

Ana and her subconscious interact with each other consistently throughout the book. Ana views her subconscious as some kind of stern older woman with horn-rimmed glasses that disapproves of sexual relationships of any kind and is extremely condescending towards Ana for her decisions in regards to Christian. Basically, the definition/image of an ice-bitch prude.

This is constantly contrasted with Ana’s “inner goddess,” which is apparently the part of Ana that wants to be controlled and fucked by a man. She is often ‘celebrating’ the sexual encounters between Ana and Christian by doing the salsa or yoga. Or by tearing off her clothes. (Unfortunately, I did not mark the page numbers down for the references to the inner goddess, because I foolishly thought it would not occur that often. Rest assured, I am positive the inner goddess is mentioned at least as many times as the subconscious.)

Both of these ideas are problematic.

First of all, E. L. James is completely misusing the concept of the subconscious. By its definition, the subconscious cannot be consciously accessed. The fact that Ana’s subconscious shoots her scathing remarks every 10-15 pages is completely ridiculous and oxymoronic. This is literally just bad writing. That’s it.

Moving on to the ‘inner goddess’ –this idea is redundant. James used “artistic license” on this one. Instead of allowing Ana’s ‘inner goddess’ to be the source of a strong female identity, taking shit from no one, James makes her the very thing which revels in being fucked and played with. While sex and pleasure are a part of female identity, they are not the only part, and this ‘goddess’ is not the source of a strong identity for Ana at all.

Character

On that note, let’s talk about how Ana barely has ANY IDENTITY AT ALL. She is the cookie-cutter female protagonist of modern culture. Her only flaw is that she is clumsy (which, I’m going to add, is not a flaw, because it is used in writing like this to make the character helpless and endearing to the audience and other characters as well.) In regards to character traits, we can see that she is somewhat sarcastic (witty), kind, charming, and she tries to be independent.

In regards to her physical characteristics, let’s discuss how E. L. James has perpetuated the ideals of feminine beauty throughout this entire series. Starting on the first page of the first book, Bella Ana states that her eyes are “too big” for her face.

This is written as though it is a bad thing, when in reality (in this culture) it is not. Women are constantly infantilized by this culture, and having big eyes is one way that happens. Meaning that Ana’s one physical “flaw” that she notes is not a flaw at all.

She complains that she has always been “too skinny” (Grey, 51) when, again, in this culture there is no such thing. People have died from being “too skinny” and it is still not enough. Ana ‘forgets’ to eat meals for days (Grey, 217, 312; it gets worse in the next book[s] ) and basically just does not take care of herself at the most basic level –eating.

So, for some reason, Ana believes that she is not pretty when by all cultural standards she is beautiful. Christian comments multiple times that she has beautiful skin, so we can assume she doesn’t have acne. She is thin, she has big eyes, her height can be average or so (I don’t recall it being mentioned, honestly.) Under these criteria, though, Ana could be a model. And yet E. L. James has decided to portray her as thinking she is unattractive.

This is just ridiculous. All of this adds to a horribly stereotypical female character that impossibly (by her wit and charm and mystery, and clumsiness) attracts a billionaire CEO. By having Ana fit into the thin, culturally attractive body and not recognize her beauty along with having a rich and powerful man fall in love with her, James perpetuates a stereotype about females which teaches that if a woman is fat, or if a woman recognizes her beauty, no one will fall for her, ever.

The problem is that Ana could easily be overweight. It would literally change nothing about the plot. Instead, though, James chose to perpetuate the harmful standards of female beauty that permeate the culture in every form of media possible. Instead of putting forth a message which promotes a healthy body image, or even (god forbid) sending out a message which says that a woman can still be beautiful even if she’s overweight –James makes her female character “too skinny” and ‘forgetful’ when it comes to meals.

BDSM

BDSM stands for bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism and masochism (S&M). In BDSM relationships, informed consent is essential. A relationship can last for as long as a single scene or much longer, but throughout all of it, there is a deep need for consent -both as informed consent before the scene begins or as consent throughout the scene by the use or non-use of safe-words.

Seriously, though, I cannot emphasize enough how important informed consent is in these relationships.

In 50 Shades, Christian Grey is a Dominant, meaning that he is the one who is doing things (tying up, inflicting pain/pleasure, exercising control over, etc) to a Submissive, who is receiving these things. The entire plot of the first book is that he wants Ana to be his submissive.

However, the way that this is pursued in this book is extremely problematic. James did get a few things right -written consent is fine, and Christian uses written consent for his submissives in the form of a written contract which can be edited and discussed and then signed. It is also noted twice (Grey, 187, 216) that the contract is not legally binding.

However, that’s about as far as it gets for ‘rightness’. In the book, Christian gives Ana the contract and then tells her to do her own research for the things that are mentioned in it -things like suspension, caning, and many different types of bondage -and basically lets it go at that.

Now, we have already established that Ana is extremely inexperienced at sex, and has literally zero experience with any sort of ‘kinky’ sex. Basically, he has given her this contract in the hopes that she would sign it even though he cannot actually prove that her consent was informed. She has no idea what any of these things are or what they could mean or how he could do them.

He literally tells her, on page 256 of 50 Shades of Grey, “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into” in regards to their “arrangement”. He knows that she doesn’t know what their relationship will actually be like, and yet he does close to nothing to fix that. Sure, he edits the contract a little bit and allows her some more freedom, but he does not actually do anything to make her consent informed. He actually does close to everything to make her consent forced, however (Grey, 224, 226, 240, 245, 252, 261), and that continues on into the other books as well.

In BDSM relationships, informed consent is everything because it draws the line between BDSM and actual crimes -like assault, sexual assault, and rape. And (SPOILER ALERT, SERIOUSLY) ANA NEVER SIGNS THE CONTRACT. She NEVER gives her written consent, which was the agreed-upon method, meaning that ANY TIME HE LAYS A HAND ON HER (i.e. spanking), IT IS ABUSE.

The Christian-Ana relationship is not BDSM, it is ABUSIVE. Christian is extremely controlling throughout the entire series, and even when Kate points it out to Ana (Grey, 351, 381), it is ignored.

This video talks more about the nature of a BDSM relationship and problems with the book.

THEMES

This brings us to the basic theme of the trilogy, which is that if you love your partner “enough”, then you can fix them. You can change them from their sadistic and abusive nature, and make them love you back in a way that doesn’t cause you pain/harm.

This is ridiculous and harmful. This is basically challenging victims to stay with their abusers because they (the victims) should be able to “fix” them. That is literally the entire trilogy. That is the major theme. Stay with your abuser, and eventually, they will love you enough so they won’t hurt you anymore, and you will love them enough so that even if they joke about hurting you, it won’t bother you because they don’t really mean it anymore.

I hope I don’t have to explain how harmful this can be.

CONCLUSIONS

I mentioned before that I had an idea as to why these books hit the bestseller list. There are a few ideas:

1.) At first, I thought it was just about the sex. Sex sells, right? It makes sense.

2.) It could also be because people want to think that they can change people. That they can “fix” people who are broken. That if they just stay long enough, love truly enough, work hard enough, then the other person will be magically repaired and they will live happily ever after.

3.) But, over-all, I think that it’s because we want this. We want someone who is impossibly rich and attractive and sexually-efficient to fall in love with us and give us all of the things that we can’t afford on our own with minimum-wage jobs (or even other types of jobs, but still.) We want to never worry about money -about if we have enough to pay the rent, or enough to go out to dinner, or enough to keep paying back loans. We want to be able to take random personal-helicopter flights to see the sunrise, and to live in million-dollar mansions, and to buy that front-of-the-line brand new car that everyone is jealous of. We want to orgasm every time we have sex, and we want to have sex with someone who is attractive to everyone and anyone who meets him/her. And that is the point of these books, to make us realize that we want this and to think that maybe it’s possible.

I think that we all want the easy way, the rich way, this way, because we think it will make us happy, because that is what this culture teaches us. And that is what this book teaches us. And they are both wrong.

References:

Acuna, Kirsten. “By the Numbers: The ’50 Shades of Grey’ Phenomenon.” Business Insider. June 27, 2012. http://www.businessinsider.com/by-the-numbers-the-50-shades-of-grey-phenomenon-2012-6?op=1

Boog, Jason. “The Lost History of Fifty Shades of Grey.” Galley Cat. November 21, 2012. http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/fifty-shades-of-grey-wayback-machine_b49124

Edrefferal.com. http://edreferral.com/Celebrities_who_died_or_have_Eating_Disorders.htm

“Female Orgasm.” Brown University: Health Education. http://brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/sexual_health/sexuality/female_orgasm.php

Green, Laci. “50 Shades of WTF” and “You Can’t POP You’re Cherry! (Hymen 101)” youtube.com

James, E. L. Fifty Shades of Grey. Australia: The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, 2011.

James, E. L. Fifty Shades Darker. Australia: The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, 2011.

James, E. L. Fifty Shades Freed. Australia: The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, 2011.

“Killing Us Softly: It Begins with Barbie.” Comm 101. August 5, 2011. http://introtomedia.edublogs.org/2011/08/05/killing-us-softly-it-begins-with-barbie%E2%80%A6/

Klausner, Julie. “Don’t Fear the Dowager: A Valentine to Maturity.” Jezebel. June 10, 2011. http://jezebel.com/5810735/dont-fear-the-dowager-a-valentine-to-maturity

Park, Madison. “Actress: I got compliments for looking emaciated.” The Chart: CNN Health. July 26, 2011. http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/26/actress-sounds-off-on-body-image-extremes/