Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

February 18, 2009

Calling All Chicago Readers to “Yes Means Yes”

Jaclyn Friedman, co-editor of “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape” (and also the organizing force behind WAM!) is heading to the Windy City for two public appearances on Thursday, Feb. 19.

First, Friedman and book contributor Hazel Cedar/Troost will speak at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Contributor Lee Jacob Riggs will join them Thursday night at Women & Children First bookstore for a reading and discussion about fighting sexual assault while celebrating women’s sexual agency. I’ll be there with bells on.

For a closer look at some of the topics the book covers, check out our interview with contributors Lisa Jervis and Brad Perry.

There are two stops left on the “Yes Means Yes” virtual book tour. Tomorrow, Radical Doula hosts a Q&A with Hazel/Cedar Troos. On Friday, Feministe hosts the grand finale conversation with Rachel Kramer Bussel, Toni Amato, Javacia Harris, Kate Harding, Stacey May Fowles, Hanne Blank & Heather Corinna. You can also keep up with ongoing coversations inspired by the book at the “Yes Means Yes” blog.


February 5, 2009

Yes Means Yes: Q&A With Lisa Jervis & Brad Perry

Today we’re pleased to present an interview with two outstanding contributors to “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape,” a collection of essays recently published by Seal Press.

Lisa Jervis, the founding editor and publisher of Bitch magazine, and Brad Perry, sexual violence prevention coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, take on popular perceptions of rape and what needs to be done to transform regressive attitudes toward sexual violence — in both the media and among young men.

In “An Old Enemy in a New Outfit: How Date Rape Became Gray Rape and Why it Matters,” Jervis deconstructs the latest blame-the-victim terminology. Perry’s essay, “Hooking Up With Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality, and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Program Can Benefit Everyone Involved,” revisits advice Perry received as a teenager and the more enlightened strategies he has encountered in his work.

Ultimately, they grapple with how to create an atmosphere for a healthy and empowering sexual experience for both women and men.

Please add your thoughts on the discussion, or your questions for Lisa or Brad, in the comments. And don’t miss the next stop on the “Yes Means Yes” virtual book tour: a live chat on Feb. 9 at Shakesville with co-editor Jaclyn Friedman.

Our Bodies, Our Blog: What is the allure of so-called “gray rape” for anti-feminists? How does it help serve a conservative agenda?

Lisa Jervis: The construct of gray rape does two things: it minimizes rape, seeks to make it seem like less of a big deal — if it was a “gray area,” can it really be that bad? — and it also justifies victim-blaming and its close friend, slut-shaming. This actually serves anti-feminists in two really different ways, though they’re both pretty much classics of sexism and misogyny.

The minimizing encourages an attitude of, “What are all those angry women complaining about now?”; and almost every feminist issue has been minimized at some point over the history of the struggle for gender equality.

The victim-blaming part is even more disturbing, as it updates and revitalizes one of the biggest obstacles to transforming rape culture. And it’s particularly insidious because of how it cultivates self-doubt and self-blame even more than previous victim-blaming discourses have. And, especially when paired with slut-shaming — which makes women and girls feel bad about the existence of a strong sex drive and any entitlement they might feel to (gasp!) satisfy their desires — it serves as an attempt to keep a tight cultural lid on women’s sexuality. It’s an updated and vastly more complex version of “good girls don’t.”

OBOB: Brad, how has the notion of “gray rape” complicated your teachings?

Brad Perry: In my experience, the attitude about acquaintance rape (which is what the term “gray rape” is usually referring to) amongst most policy makers, many students, and a good chunk of the general public has not changed drastically since it first entered the public’s awareness 20 years ago. There has been some progress in getting people to understand that usurping another person’s sexual autonomy is rape under any circumstances, but old mindsets die hard.

In that context, the gray rape thing just seems like more of the same but with a new name — as Lisa eloquently discusses in her essay. The only way my work has been complicated by the notion of “gray rape” is that now people have a convenient label. I don’t think it’s necessarily changed many people’s minds on whether or not to take acquaintance rape seriously — the people who are going to deny it are usually going to find a reason to do so until something happens to change their mind — but it has given those folks some hip new contemporary language to dismiss acquaintance rape.

We’re a country found by patriarchal religious fanatics who were (among other things) obsessed with denying human sexuality, so it’s not at all surprising to me that we keep revisiting the issue of social control over women’s sexualities. That’s not too say I think we should throw our hands up and say, “Oh, well” — in order to remember how much history we have to overcome so that we don’t lose our minds trying to make progress.

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January 24, 2009

Double Dose: No IUD For You!; Teens for Safe Cosmetics; Medical Debt a Growing Worry; Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome …

Nurse Pulls IUD Out of Patient; Says IUD Are a Type of Abortion: Trying to understand the logic of why someone against abortion would remove a contraceptive device will hurt your head — trust me. But do read the court story nicely summarized by Tracy Clark-Flory. Understandably, the patient is suing nurse practitioner Sylvia Olona and Presbyterian Medical Services Rio Rancho Family Health Center (Albuquerque, N.M.).

Heroes of the Week: Writing at Women’s eNews, Kristin Bender reports on Teens for Safe Cosmetics, which last year endorsed a small body care product line that promises to keep suspicious chemicals off adolescents’ skin. Sales figures through the end of December totaled $150,000, and the group, which has active chapters in the San Francisco Bay area and New York, plans to add more products this year.

The New, Improved Whitehouse.gov: The new White House website is worth a visit. In addition to the information you’d expect to find on President Obama’s cabinet and White House history, this is the first administration to feature a blog. And the agenda includes a women’s section that addresses healthcare, economic security and gender equity.

Medical Debt a Growing Worry: The problem of medical debt is “climbing the income scale, affecting not just the poor or the uninsured,” writes Sandra G. Boodman of Kaiser Health News. These are the latest numbers:

Experts define the underinsured as those forced to spend at least 10 percent of their income on health care, excluding premiums. But the nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change found recently that financial pressures on families increase sharply when out-of-pocket spending on medical bills exceeds 2.5 percent of family income. New York’s Commonwealth Fund has reported that 72 million adults under age 65 had problems paying medical bills or were paying off medical debt in 2007, up from 58 million in 2005. Many had insurance, and 39 percent said they had exhausted their savings paying for health care.

Additional stories on healthcare costs are available here, here and here — along with tips and resources for managing medical debt.

Plus: The New York Times reports that Medicaid roles are surging due to the recession and employees losing their health coverage along with their jobs. For many states it’s become an unmanageable burden.

Senate Passes Wage Discrimination Bill: The Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act this week by a vote of 61-36 (here’s the vote breakdown). When the Senate voted on similar legislation in April, it failed by two votes.

“We’ve had an enormous victory,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a main sponsor. All 16 female senators voted in favor. The legislation now goes back to the House for reconciliation before being sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign the bill.

Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome: “In the face of prominent leaders who claim helplessness in the face of biblical tradition, [Christian domestic violence survivor and advocate Jocelyn] Andersen and a small but growing cadre of like-minded abuse survivors are fighting this established conservative wisdom on domestic violence not with secular or feminist domestic violence tactics, but with new theological arguments arguing for abused wives’ rights within a biblically literalist, and in some cases even complementarian, framework,” writes Kathryn Joyce in this piece at Religion Dispatches.

Joyce has a book coming out next month titled “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.”

What Do Women Want?: The New York Times Sunday Magazine tackles the question via this cover story, summed up as: “A new generation of postfeminist sexologists is trying to discover what ignites female desire.” I haven’t read the piece yet, but I skimmed the comments. This response prompted a “hell, yeah.”


January 5, 2009

“The Joy of Sex” and “Our Bodies, Ourselves”: Mmm Mmm Good

We’re only five days into 2009, but I’m hedging my bets that Ariel Levy’s article in The New Yorker on the new edition of “The Joy of Sex” will be among the most memorable writing of the year.

For starters, Levy does a good job of introducing readers to the original author, British scientist and physician Alex Comfort (who died in 2000), and contextualizing attitudes toward sex and sexuality that framed the original book’s release in 1972.

Her descriptions are spot-on, including her humorous impression of the book’s famous illustrations and its hairy male star:

The woman depicted in these drawings is lovely, and, even nearly forty years later, quite chic. Her gentleman friend, however, looks like a werewolf with a hangover. He is heavily bearded; his hair is long, and, it always seemed, a little greasy. His eyelids are usually at half-mast, adding to his feral appearance. In some of the pictures, you can practically smell him. (The smell is unpleasant.)

There are other reasons to love this article. As Levy notes, “The Joy of Sex” wasn’t the only book released in the early 70s that offered a frank, sex-positive perspective. There was also “Our Bodies, Ourselves”:

The book announced on its original, 1971 jacket that it was “By and for Women,” and with its democratic inclusion of numerous voices it had the vibe of a consciousness-raising group. (In fact, it was the product of one.) “Our Bodies, Ourselves” covered much of the same material as “The Joy of Sex,” just with a different tone. It, too, had illustrations of a hirsute couple having intercourse in a series of positions. Both books said that everybody was bisexual, that sex should be a mutually satisfying, full-body experience, and that the communication of turn-ons could be of great benefit to this enterprise. And both books espoused the (distinctly seventies) notion that sex could be a value-neutral experience, as natural as eating, which undermined the traditional belief that sex ought to be in the service of procreation within the bounds of matrimony. “Our Bodies, Ourselves” added information on health, nutrition, self-defense, childbearing, and a rather more involved section on lesbianism. (“The Joy of Sex” has a drawing of two naked ladies kissing under the heading “Bisexuality,” while “Our Bodies, Ourselves” includes a chapter entitled “In Amerika They Call Us Dykes.”) If “The Joy of Sex” was like “Joy of Cooking” — though in some ways it was closer to Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” what with its strong authorial voice and affection for elaborate undertakings, to which Comfort assigned French names like pattes d’araignée, cuissade, and feuille de rose — “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was like the “Moosewood Cookbook.” Everything in it was healthful, enlightened, nourishing.

And here’s the part that made this non-meat eater burst out laughing:

Here’s a trick you might try at home sometime: pick almost any recipe in the “Moosewood.” Now add bacon. You will find that the addition of this decidedly unwholesome ingredient makes the food taste much better. “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” likewise, lacked a certain trayf allure. The revised edition of the book — even the original — is a fantastic resource for educating young women (and very sophisticated girls) about their physicality. But as an erotic reference for adults in 2008 it’s a little vegan.

I’ll pass on the bacon, but go read the full article. There’s also a slideshow of illustrations comparing the original “The Joy of Sex” and the new “ultimate revised edition” (the British version was published in September; it will be released in American bookstores this month). And you can listen to Levy talk about how society has changed since the book’s release and whether the new revised edition still fulfills a need.

Plus: The New York Times also recently wrote about the updated “The Joy of Sex” and talked with its author, Susan Quilliam, a British sexologist, advice columnist and relationship counselor. Some of the changes discussed:

“He had a section on tactful ways to take a woman’s virginity,” Ms. Quilliam said. “He had a section called ‘frigidity.’ I’m sure he was a lovely man, but he said that most men, given a young and attractive partner, can always get it up — it’s only when a woman lets herself go that he has a problem. And you’re going, ‘No, no, no!’ But that is what it was like then.”

Dr. Comfort said, too, that another part of the female genitalia, the vulva, was “slightly scary” to many males. Ms. Quilliam’s version has replaced his passages with some suggestions on the proper erotic care and treatment of a vulva and the observation that its image has been “beautifully immortalized in feminist artist Judy Chicago’s exhibition, ‘The Dinner Party’. ”


November 21, 2008

Challenging the Idea that Women’s Vaginas and Vulvas Need Cosmetic “Correction”

This week, Time magazine published an article on genital cosmetic surgery,
Plastic Surgery Below the Belt,” focused on women getting procedures such as labiaplasty, vaginoplasty, and “G-spot enhancement.” It notes that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement that these procedures may lead to “scarring, chronic pain, obstetric risks or reduced sexual pleasure,” and that many are calling for more research on the procedures. In fact, ACOG noted this very problem in their statement, explaining that “No adequate studies have been published assessing the long-term satisfaction, safety, and complication rates for these procedures.”

Featured in the article are protests from the New View Campaign, which has at its goal to “to expose biased research and promotional methods that serve corporate profit rather than people’s pleasure and satisfaction. The Campaign challenges all views that reduce sexual experience to genital biology and thereby ignore the many dimensions of real life” and in general to “limit the medicalization of sexuality.” The group protested New York City’s Manhattan Center for Vaginal Surgery on Monday. Time reports that some attendees held signs referencing the normal variation in female anatomy that read “No two alike;” a visit to the group’s website reveals other messages as well, such as “stop marketing discontent.”

The piece also covers the (mis)conception that cosmetic surgery is an adequate solution to relationship or self-esteem problems. LeLaina Romero of the New View Campaign noted that, “Promoting a very narrow definition of what women’s genitals ought to look like — even for those women who don’t want surgery, it harms them.” Similarly, last year’s statement from ACOG suggested “a frank discussion of the wide range of normal genitalia” and “exploration of nonsurgical interventions, including counseling.”

Along these same lines, I just recently learned via a post at Mom’s Tinfoil Hat about the “MENding Monologues,” an all-male performance inspired by the Vagina Monologues conceived as “a love letter to women, a healing for men, and a call to end violence in all its forms.” One of the monologues is a somewhat humorous character, “Dr. Vaginsky,” who challenges the idea that women aren’t fine just the way they are.

For related OBOS content, see Female Sexual Dysfunction: A Feminist View as well as our previous blog posts, Marketing Female Sexual Dysfunction: The Search for the Pink Viagra and Selling Women Unsupported Health Messages and Insecurity about Their Vaginas.


November 10, 2008

When is Sex a Problem?

A recent issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology includes an article reporting on a survey of more than 31,000 U.S. women on “sexual problems and distress,” including “low arousal,” “low desire,” and “orgasm difficulties.” Slightly more than 44 percent of the women reported at least one of these “problems,” although only 12 percent reported any “sexually related personal distress.”

As I read the study, I was bothered by the assessment mechanism, such as asking women, “How often do you desire to engage in sexual activity?” Those who reported “never” or “rarely” were categorized as having a sexual problem, but it seems clear that not all of the 38.7 percent of women who responded this way were distressed about it. If they’re not bothered, I wondered, why then is it classified as a “problem?”

In an editorial responding to the study (available only by subscription or payment), Dr. Ingrid Nygaard expresses a similar sentiment:

“It isn’t that I believe that changes in sexual function don’t create substantial distress for some women, but ever since an oft-quoted 1999 study concluded that a whopping 43% of U.S. women between ages 18 and 59 years have sexual dysfunction, I have been suspicious that variations of the norm were morphing into diseases.

…One obvious question was raised by a patient recently, who, not bothered herself by her lack of interest but very bothered by her husband’s distress at her lack of interest, asked, ‘Why am I the abnormal one?’”

Nygaard goes on to urge caution when approaching the issue of sexual dysfunction:

“What’s to be gained by overinflating rates and turning symptoms into diseases? Lots — market shares, provider income, grant support, and so on — that is, fame and fortune. What’s lost is less tangible: an increasing sense held by Americans that no one is actually normal, or entirely healthy, or just fine; and, of course, enormous economic cost to the health care system and to society at large.”

The study’s authors acknowledge that their results show that “sexual problems associated with personal distress” are “much less common than previously published and widely quoted prevalence estimates of about 40% for sexual problems (with unknown presence of distress).”

In her editorial, Nygaard goes on to ask how much of this distress may be related to media depictions of sex, asking “I wonder, at what point does sexual dysfunction represent a societal dysfunction rather than a personal health dysfunction?”

Nygaard concludes: “Balancing the daily media barrage of glamorous, stress-free sex with a realistic message about sexual problems and the potential for treatment will help to decrease the burden experienced by couples who are unable to be ‘as one.’ This article importantly sets the stage for such a conversation.”

While it’s important to not pathologize variations in sexuality, it’s also important to avoid minimizing or ignoring women who DO experience distress about their sexual issues, as 12 percent of the women surveyed did. Nygaard expresses similar concerns, noting that, “These one in eight women who feel stress, frustration, worry, anger, embarrassment, or unhappiness about their lack of sexual interest or enjoyment do indeed meet the criteria of a problem: a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation.”

Likewise, the authors note that existing medical conditions, including depression, thyroid problems, anxiety, and urinary incontinence, may be associated with distress for some these women.

For more information on how the medicalization of sexuality can harm women, see the OBOS article “Female Sexual Dysfunction: A Feminist View.”


May 9, 2008

Double Dose: A Reporter Writes About Her Own Rape; Are Doctors Shilling for Drug Companies on Public Radio?; NPR on Women Waiting to Have Children and the “Clash” Between Cuture and Biology; Books Challenged for Sexuality Content; and More

Beyond Rape – A Survivor’s Journey: Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Joanna Connors has written a five-part story about being raped 24 years ago when she was on assignment for the paper.

The story is notable not only for Connors’ reach in describing how her life (and by extension her husband and children) was affected by the rape, but she also sets out to learn more about her rapist — and in doing so peels back the layers on a family trapped in a cycle of violence and abuse toward women. While exploring the related race and class issues, Connors raises many questions as she sets about trying to answer them.

All the sections to the series are available here, along with an introduction by the paper’s editor and resources for victims of rape.

Plus: Editor & Publisher looks at responses to Joanna Connors’ story.

Are Doctors Shilling for Drug Companies on Public Radio?: Check this out — as Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer write at Slate:

A few weeks ago, devoted listeners of public radio* were treated to an episode of the award-winning radio series The Infinite Mind called “Prozac Nation: Revisited.” The segment featured four prestigious medical experts discussing the controversial link between antidepressants and suicide. In their considered opinions, all four said that worries about the drugs have been overblown.

The radio show, which was broadcast nationwide and paid for in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, had the air of quiet, authoritative credibility. Host Dr. Fred Goodwin, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, interviewed three prominent guests, and any radio producer would be hard-pressed to find a more seemingly credible quartet. Credible, that is, except for a crucial detail that was never revealed to listeners: All four of the experts on the show, including Goodwin, have financial ties to the makers of antidepressants. Also unmentioned were the “unrestricted grants” that The Infinite Mind has received from drug makers, including Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the antidepressant Prozac.

Continue reading ….

For Prospective Moms, Biology and Culture Clash: Just before Mother’s Day, NPR’s “Morning Edition” looks at the rising age of first-time mothers and the “clash” between culture and biology.

The average age of first-time mothers in the United States has been rising steadily over the past four decades — up from 21.4 in 1970 to a little over 25 in 2005, the National Center for Health Statistics reports. [...]

“Women are no longer marrying the boy they met in high school,” [Rutgers anthropologist Helen] Fisher says. “They’re concerned with getting a career before they marry. This takes time.”

But this is time on the biological clock that cannot be recaptured. …

I appreciate that the story includes a couple sharing household duties while both work, and Fisher notes that businesses are recognizing women want to keep their careers, but there’s still a tone of women should know better — and should get on with making babies.

A story on, say, the glacial speed of government and business to provide adequate paternity and maternity leave and to accommodate breastfeeding moms returning to work — along with the lack of access to quality childcare and the advocacy work of groups like Moms Rising — would be a more welcome and appreciated “Mother’s Day” story.

Plus: This Wall Street Journal’s Heath Matters column focuses on unplanned pregnancies later in life. Close to 40 percent of pregnancies among women over 40 are unplanned, according to a 2001 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics in Atlanta, the most recent data available.

Public Citizen Calls on FDA To Withdraw Ortho Evra Patch From Market: Public Citizen’s Health Research Group called on the FDA this week to withdraw the birth control patch Ortho Evra from the market, citing studies that found an increased risk of dangerous blood clots, reports Reuters.

“The considerable safety concern of high-dose, variable estrogen exposure tips the balance of risks and benefits against the availability of Ortho-Evra as a contraceptive,” wrote Sidney Wolfe, head of the research group.

A Better Method for Handling Rape Kit Evidence: Jessica Voorhees Norris, a Ph.D. candidate in forensic chemistry at University of Virginia, has created a method for handling rape kit evidence that reduces part of the DNA analysis time from 24 hours to as little as 30 to 45 minutes and improves the sperm cell recovery rate by 100 percent, according to this university release.

If her method was to be adopted by forensic labs — and the results accepted by courts — the backlog could potentially be reduced within months.

“There is an overwhelming demand for DNA analysis of sexual assault evidence, but laboratories have neither the funding nor the manpower to handle the caseload in a timely manner,” Norris said. “Juries have come to expect DNA evidence in sexual assault cases, but forensic labs are not able to perform in a timely and efficient manner due to limitations in the currently used technologies.”

“Homosexuality,” “Sexually Explicit” Most Common Reasons for Challenging Books: For the second year in a row, “And Tango makes Three,” a children’s story by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell about two male penguins caring for an orphaned egg, was the most “challenged” book in U.S. public schools and libraries, according to the American Library Association.

Other books in the top 10 cited as “sexually explicit” include “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker; “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris; and “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier.

“Overall, the number of reported library challenges dropped from 546 in 2006 to 420 last year, well below the mid-1990s, when complaints topped 750,” reports the Associated Press. “For every challenge listed, about four to five go unreported, the library association estimates.”

National Women’s Health Week: We here at OBOS like to think of every week as Women’s Health Week, but next week it’s official: National Women’s Health Week runs May 11 – May 17, and the push this year is to encourage women to make their health a top priority and take simple steps for a longer, healthier and happier life.


March 13, 2008

Marketing Female Sexual Dysfunction: The Search for the Pink Viagra

As we approach the 10th anniversary of FDA approval of Viagra — a moment of silence, please, in memory of Viagra-free email, commercials and Bob Dole — the search for a woman’s version of Viagra continues.

Even the most optimistic researchers believe that a “pink Viagra” is still about five years away, according to the Washington Post. But the race is on.

As David Segal writes, “Though it’s unclear exactly how many women would ask for a prescription, no one doubts that the first company that gets to market a remedy for female sexual dysfunction, as it’s formally known, will earn a fortune.”

Maybe it’s time to consider a different, some would say New View:

“Drug companies want to say to women, ‘You don’t need to know anything; you can have the satisfying sex life that you seek — people dancing on TV, the whole bit — without knowing anything. Just ask your doctor,’” says Leonore Tiefer, a psychotherapist and clinical associate professor at New York University, who has long decried what she calls “the medicalization of women’s sexuality.”

“I resent that, because there are specific harms that come from being ignorant and dependent in the world we live in,” adds Tiefer. “There may be lots of people who aren’t interested in sex, but is there a medical reason for that, and do we diagnose that?”

The Post’s Segal adds:

Tiefer’s critique centers, in part, on the way that pink Viagra is sure to be marketed — with ads day and night, suggesting that women who aren’t feeling frisky have a medical problem. She and her allies — organized as the New View Campaign — are also galled that so much money and media attention are heaped on the lust drug, even before it exists, when for many women the solution to their libido problems isn’t that exotic.

Maybe they have a partner who hasn’t a clue about technique. Maybe they’re stressed out. Maybe they can’t possibly get in the mood because they’re so busy raising children. Therapy, counseling, even free day care, says the New View Campaign, might do more for women’s sex lives than any drug company ever could.

The story is well worth a read for the science behind the search for a female aphrodisiac and a good discussion of the potential stigmatization of women who aren’t as interested in sex. For more reading, “Our Bodies Ourselves” has a whole section on the feminist view on female sexual dysfunction.