So I’m at a party and a stranger asks what I do.  When I tell them I’m a sex columnist, they laugh and joke that they should send me a letter.  “I’m not that sort of columnist,” I say.

Their brow creases.  “Well then, what do you write about?”

When I tell them sexual politics, they often look twice as confused.  “What’s that?” they ask, or else they shrug and say, “Isn’t that quite a limited topic?”

It isn’t their fault that they aren’t aware.  In most communities, sex is so taboo that people just don’t register the sexual side of political issues.  They know Michele Bachmann’s anti-gay stance is destructive, but they don’t particularly consider it a sexual topic.  Neither do they think that the Miss Universe contest, or Anders Beiring Breivik’s sexist manifesto, impinge on people’s sexual lives. That’s not to say they don’t care, because often they really do.  But the word “sex” doesn’t enter their minds.  Brothel closures, sex workers’ rights, condoms in porn, gay suicide…once I mention these topics, a light goes on and they’re with me.  But the fact that we’re not encouraged to view these issues as sexually political speaks to the effect that sexual silencing can have.  (In fact, in a recent column, I wrote about Michele Bachmann and the damaging power that her silence can wield).

The truth is, when we don’t talk about a powerful human issue, suddenly it’s everywhere — the elephant in the room.  That elephant can be so darn hard to ignore that we have to play psychological tricks with ourselves to keep it invisible.  Our unconscious gets used to automatically suppressing the sexual so that our conscious minds stop making the connection.  This could be viewed as an adaptive quality.  (You should see how often people glare at me because I even mention sex).  But I believe we need to start reversing this process, especially since so many are missing the lies we’re being told about sexuality.

Seeing as you are reading this post, I’m confident that your eyes are open to sexual issues.  So I thought you might be especially stirred by a list I created in order to answer the question, “What is Sexual Politics?”  I’ve entitled the list, “What Sexual Politics Is,” and it contains some (but by no means all) of the political issues that fire me up, right now:

Sexual Politics is:

When you work in a brothel where your clients dodge payment, until the brothel building is deemed structurally unsafe, and, much to the delight of the neighbors, is eventually closed down.  The fact that you were working in dangerous conditions isn’t mentioned by the local press. (And will you get arrested?  And Jesus, where will you sleep tonight?).

When five year-old children in Amsterdam ask their teacher “What is sex?” and he tells them it is a loving act, and none of the parents prosecute.

When your teenage son commits suicide because he was bullied for being gay, and then, after his death, the bullies continue to chant “We’re glad you’re dead,” when a grieving family member is near.

Sexual politics is a  vibrator that’s illegal, even when it’s shaped like a rubber duck.  It’s when queer sex and queer love are looked on as sinful.  It’s when you want to marry your lover, but aren’t allowed.

It’s when a porn movie, with consenting actors, is more shocking to many than the war scenes on the news.

It’s the boy who says no to condoms.  It’s the girl who says no to pleasure.  It’s the kid who feels neither female nor male, but is told that isn’t good enough, and wants hir life to end.  (If this is you, dear one, please look to Kate Bornstein who is amazing).

It’s the man who spends time with a sex worker and suddenly feels embraced and at peace, even though, technically, he’s just made himself a criminal.

It’s a world that doesn’t understand when a trans woman is having sex with a male partner and they identify as gay.  Or a world in which people who are attracted to both men and women are told that they aren’t real unless they choose.

It is a woman who has experienced deep trauma and decides to bravely enact a rape fantasy to deal with her pain.  Then, after this role-play with a trusted partner, she feels significantly healed, but is described by so-called “feminists” as as victimizing herself.

It’s a Facebook wall of rape jokes by men who, apparently, are making jovial confessions online, yet Facebook refuses to remove the conversation.

It’s when the word “cunt” is considered more offensive than “cock,” or when you’re in love with more than one person, yet society tells you you’re not.

(And that’s just the start of it).

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the Bachmanns continue to “correct” gay sexuality, I keep teaching erotic writing classes.  These multi-week courses are always a joy.  Writers with a rich range of sexual identities come into a safe classroom where they are actively encouraged to express desire and discuss its importance.  As artists, we ask questions about sexual expression:  Why do so many people think “cunt” is an objectifying word to use in a sex scene when “arm” and “hair” are perfectly fine?  Why is the vulnerability and power of desire, along with all its peacemaking qualities, seen as more denigrating than gunfire?  Why is erotica that is written to bring sexual pleasure, viewed, by many, as immoral or cheap?

There are countless answers.  Here’s an important one:  Many people are ashamed (beyond measure) of their own sexuality, so they project that shame onto those who aren’t.  The sexually attuned human beings of this world are attacked as if we are dirty.  Why?  Because if you make everyone ashamed of their erotic freedom, expression and pleasure, you control a heck of a lot.  And you get to feel superior while you’re doing so.

One of the biggest hurdles for the beginning sex writer is the rejection they often feel in their writing communities.  Suddenly, those who have always been supportive are asking, “But why is this piece of writing just about sex?  Can’t you write about something pure?  This is shallow, this is meaningless, this is frivolous, this isn’t your business.  This is sinful.  This needs correcting.”

Does that string of statements remind you of Michele Bachmann?

We’re in a dangerous time, right now.  We’re fighting anti-queer violence, both physical and psychological.  Religious rhetoric is often frightening to those who are already afraid.  And the message is that all of us, regardless of our sexuality, should be ashamed of human desire, intimacy and sensual connection.  The Bachmanns put sex in a box and say “This is separate to everything else,” which of course makes it easier to control.  But sexual identity and expression are about so much more than the body.  They’re about acceptance, openness and truth.

When debating the power sexual attunement, consider this:  In a multi-week erotica class that I taught in the UK, one of my students came up to me at the end of the course.  She told me how life-affirming it had been for her to write about sex in a supportive community, and how self-embraced and aglow she now felt.  “When I started this class,” she said, “I hadn’t had a period for ten months.  Two weeks ago, I had one.”  She put this down to the fact that she was feeling alive in her body.  Proud and unashamed.

Here’s my take:  When we feel good in our bodies, we’re also likely to feel good in the rest of our selves.  And if we all felt good, there’d be less war.

And where would the politicians be then?

There is a Medieval story in which King Arthur is given one of his stickiest challenges.  He will die unless, in just one year, he can discover what women most desire.  And you know what he finds?  Women want sovereignty over themselves.

Oh, eureka.

Yet look at how long it’s taken for society to accept that gazillions of women freely enjoy porn.  Thank heaven the myth that women aren’t aroused by visual images has now been exploded many times, notably by Sex and Tech expert Violet Blue whose Our Porn Ourselves campaign has taken the internet by storm. Blue incited many women – myself included – to declare that we were turned on by porn and that any generalizations to the contrary were attempts to control our sexuality. Many men also champion Our Porn Ourselves, relieved that we are shattering erroneous notions of porn as “so warped that only guys will watch it” – a belief that contains so much prejudice it’s hard to know where to start. But the sexist lies still run deep. I myself was devastated when a beloved sexpert hero of mine declared porn as “basically male entertainment.” In fact, my very first reaction to her statement was, “What if I love lesbian porn? Where’s the ‘male’ in that?”

But perhaps part of the problem with the term “pornography” is that its meaning shifts with time and usage. What is porn, exactly? Explicit visuals? Well, yeah, if you video-record sex with your lover, hoping to turn yourselves on with the images, that’s surely porn…but what if you record the sex aurally rather than visually, and listen to the noises at another time? Or what if you don’t record the sex, but just carry the memories around in your head, reliving the moment when he licked your breast or pulled your hair just right? That’s a visual used to arouse, right? So doesn’t that count? While we’re at it, can a oil-painted nude in the Musee D’Orsay be porn if it turns you on? And what of BDSM porn, in which, for legal and/or aesthetic reasons, genital contact doesn’t tend to take place?  Is such a dom/sub spanking vid only porn when it actually arouses the viewer? Is porn defined by the creator’s intention or the way the consumer uses it?

Whatever the answers, our attitudes are still shifting. This year, Oprah interviewed Violet Blue about women in porn (woohoo! A win for sex-positivity in the media!), plus mags such as the Atlantic Monthly have featured the topic. Porn itself is changing too, especially in terms of its availability. In fact, consumers of free internet porn are also becoming its performers and directors, especially now that sites like YouPorn are popular. Indeed, as internet porn becomes increasingly “real life” we may well see a rise in self-confidence among its viewers – what a great way of proving that you don’t have to be a big-boobed, California blonde to get your partners and viewers off.

As society changes so do its art forms and stereotypes. Take what women want from porn, for instance. Coyote Days, Purchasing Manager at Good Vibrations says “Women often want to see very raw sexuality and more hardcore content than would be assumed by some.” That said, her female customers also buy porn for educational reasons, seeking answers to questions such as “How would I go down on another woman?” or “Would I really be aroused by a threesome?” But however we choose to use it, we need to keep defining porn for ourselves rather than letting the haters do the job. Lady Porn Day (the creation of Rachel Rabbit White) opened up this discussion by asking women “What’s porn for you?” Answers included erotic movies, pieces of classical art, feature films, and photos. For my part, I think of porn as a sensual trigger that I choose in order to turn myself on. And I want that route to pleasure, be it solo or partnered.

There you are, King Arthur.  Suck on that.

***

For experimental research into women being aroused by explicit sexual visuals, take a look at Professor Ellen Laan’s study, which is discussed here.

There is a common misconception that submitting in the bedroom makes a person weak.  Frankly, the myth isn’t surprising.  In our society, kink is often so taboo that sex education rarely covers the topic.  And if you’re not in the habit of crying, “Spank me now!” it can be hard to wrap your head around submissive empowerment.  The truth is that most of us submit or dominate in one form or another – if not in the bedroom, then in the rest of our lives.

Even if you don’t buy into BDSM, you might well have been touched by submission and domination.  Have you ever longed for a lover to throw you against the wall, or bite your neck, or order you around?  These acts are absolutely domination and submission.  You choose to either submit or master.  In fact, the notion that submissives don’t choose their suffering is entirely erroneous.  Ever heard of the phrase topping from the bottom?  It’s used to describe a situation in which the submissive is ordering a dom around, insisting, “Tie my handcuffs more tightly!” or “You’re just not spanking me right!”

Perhaps BDSM can be tough to come to terms with when it involves violence and pain.  That said, the power to withstand pain is a very favourable characteristic in everyday life. Think of ear piercing or training for a marathon – these are all chosen acts of suffering.  In fact, I’ve heard Greta Christina argue that submission is rather like eating spicy food.  Once you can withstand a certain heat-level, you crave a hotter dish.  Apparently, the reason chili peppers are spicy is because they contain a chemical that directly triggers our pain receptors.  Think about that a moment.  We eat curry because we love the pain.  And what about stiletto heels and Brazilian waxing?  As for the latter, Rachel Kramer Bussel says it best:  “Because I lean toward being a masochist, sometimes I can eroticize the pain [of Brazilian waxing]. I think of it like candle wax in a scene, and use my kinky training to get through the momentary pain for the reward of sleek skin.”  You can read more at Rachel’s column at Sexis, which I heartily recommend.

Of course, the ultimate infliction of pain is the non-consensual kind – and that is chilling stuff*.  Outside of the bedroom, social attitudes towards brutality are often clear.  For instance, fans of the 2006 remake of Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell) will remember the scene in which James Bond (Daniel Craig) is bound to a chair and brutalised.  In spite of agony and restriction, he goads his torturer – and that’s “topping from the bottom” on a grand scale.  Considering our society views Bond as resilient in these moments, it is surprising that those of us who cry “Bring on the pain!” are so often dismissed as weak.

As a matter of fact, submission can be tremendously healing.  The first time I subbed was a direct result of watching the movie Secretary (directed by Steven Shainberg).  To give you the gist, a young woman starts taking charge of her life because her boss starts to spank her for minor transgressions.  Talk about hot!  I had never believed that pain could bring such pleasure, and once I’d had a go at masochism, I was surprised by how it affected my life.  Subbing taught me a lot about sexual assertion because I learnt to be both upfront and tuned into what I do or don’t want.  With a safe word, it’s not so difficult to learn to actively say no with words like “Enough,” or “Not so hard,” and this spilled over into the rest of my life.  (These are issues of consent – read more here). A friend recently told me that she was amazed I subbed in the bedroom because I’m such a dom when I’m teach, so I told her that part of being a sub is learning to assert yourself.  I’ve become a lot better at expressing my needs and defending others since I learnt to withstand erotic pain.

And if you think BDSM can’t be inspiring, think again.  When a lover finally ties you up, just as you’ve always wanted, and takes you with rough passion, the bond can be quite powerful.  You yield to your partner, who expresses his/her aggression directly – and that’s pretty intense.  In truth, this faith runs in both directions:  When, as a dom, you hit someone in the bedroom, you trust that they’ll say what they need.  You also trust that they’ll know this is a scene, not a real-life conflict, and that this violence is an expression of intimacy and passion.  In fact, I’ll leave it to Anais Nin to show us how subbing/domming can be breathlessly romantic.  Check out this excerpt from Henry & June, her unexpurgated diary 1931-32:

“He asks to see me again.  When I wait in the armchair in his room, and he kneels to kiss me, he is stranger than all my thoughts.  With his experience he dominates me.  He dominates with his mind, too, and I am silenced.  He whispers to me what my body must do.  I obey, and new instincts rise in me.  He has seized me.  A man so human; and I, suddenly brazenly natural.  I am amazed to be lying there in his iron bed, with my black underwear vanquished and trampled.  And the tight secrecy of me broken for a moment, by a man who calls himself the ‘last man on earth.'”

*I don’t think this can be reiterated enough:  You must always be aware of your power and rights in a BDSM scene.  Have a safe word and use it when you don’t consent.  This is key.  For more on consent, look up Charlie Glickman’s blog.

Photo on main page: Clarence Risher (via Wikimedia Commons)

When I was in the UK last week, a waiter in Betty’s Tea Rooms said their little iced cakes, which picture William and Kate, have been selling in vast quantities. Well who wouldn’t devour the fairy tale dream of a prince and princess who live happily ever after? But as many Brits pour an extra cup of Typhoo while cooing at the bridal gown, the rest of us are down the pub with a nudge and a wink. Because we know the wedding night is seldom as white as the dress and that happily-ever-after is a pretty big ask – especially if you’re a royal.

How negative I am!

But seriously, consider: It seems to me that, in many ways, the English wedding ceremony was created to permit hanky-panky, thereby encouraging the birth of kids who would soon be baptized. On the wedding day, the bride’s white dress was the color of virginity and her veil represented her sealed hymen. (In fact, the hymen is often misunderstood – there’s no layer of skin that seals a woman’s vagina like cling film, just a corona or fringe of tissue that can sometimes tear). Yup, when the groom tenderly lifts the veil from his new wife’s face, though he may not be thinking about screwing, he still symbolizes it. Indeed, at an Elizabethan ceremony, the wedding night was on everyone’s minds – for example, if a new husband didn’t wave his blood-stained sheets out of the window next morning as proof that his new wife was a virgin, the town grew suspicious. Back then your wife was your property. What if she wasn’t “fresh produce,” hmm? Irony aside, Elizabethan women were at it left right and centre – and besides, not everyone bleeds when they first have sex – so in true porn-flick fashion, the faking of fluids ensued and the sheets were indeed bloodied. Bravo.

Let’s face it weddings can be pretty extreme affairs, especially where sex and flirtation are concerned. Carl Jung was one of the first to teach us that whatever we try to repress will only appear more strongly. Deny sex enough and you’ll suddenly find it’s everywhere. Lust, it would seem, is hard to bin. At some weddings the purity myth is so intense that everyone’s at it like bunnies – after all, what’s more exciting than breaking the rules? Yet society continues to thirst for the Disney fairy tale in which prince and princess are starry-eyed perfection. Castles in the sky apparently lack bedrooms, and if you know Sleeping Beauty was a minx in the sack, chances are you’ve been reading the Anne Rice version.

But unrealistic as a fairy-tale wedding might seem, we should all own the right to have one. Sadly this isn’t the case. If you fall in love with a same-sex partner in America, the castle doors often slam shut, depending on which state you’re in. Even in Britain, where gay marriage is legal, I can only imagine the hubbub if Prince William had wanted to marry a guy. “Aw,” folks croon, “but the royal family’s so lovely!” And yet, if you’re coming out as a gay prince I doubt it’s a barrel of laughs. See, the problem is that fairy tale castles arise from Victorian tales that are entirely hetero-centric, and if you think that doesn’t impinge on the heterosexual reader, think again. A society where one kind of love or way of being is held above another is a dangerous place. Last month, a transgender woman named Chrissy Polis was beaten by her coworkers while an eyewitness recorded the brutal event and posted it on the internet. Why did they attack her? Because their erroneous notion of gender as a binary construct was shattering in front of their eyes. In 2010 we saw many queer teenagers taking their lives because they couldn’t see a way to be both living and happy. Did anyone ever tell them a gay fairy tale? I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

Of course, such fairy tales do exist, often in the form of children’s books. And Tango Makes Three (by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) for instance, is a gay fairy tale based on the true story of two gay, male penguins who cared for an orphaned egg and ended up raising their adopted chick together as fathers. Many homophobic parents flare up when kids have been taught such a tale in school – in fact, the book hit a record number of ban requests in 2006-7. But where there are stories, there’s hope. And hope is good.

What’s more, I’ll fight for it.

So when people say weddings have nothing to do with sex, I’ll continue to ask them why they think gay marriage is often forbidden, and when they tell me there’s no harm in traditional wedded bliss, I’ll agree, but only to a point. While the royal wedding certainly gives us a chance to feel proud, until marriage is an option for everyone – not just legally but socially too – such ceremonies will always be bittersweet, even when the couple seem as deeply in love as William and Kate. That’s why we must continue to harness the power of story by sharing tales of gay romances, weddings and lovemaking. Because happy endings shouldn’t be dependent on sexuality or gender. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m all about the love.

Photo on “Sex” main page – John Pannell

On April 3rd, an estimated 3000 to 4000 protestors walked the streets of Toronto armed with banners saying “Stop Slut Shaming” and “Reclaim the Word Slut.” Many who attended the Toronto Slut Walk wore classically “slutty” attire, including low cut tops and brightly colored fishnets. Here’s why they were protesting:  At a local community meeting about women’s safety, Constable Michael Sanguinetti had recommended that if women wanted to avoid sexual assault they shouldn’t dress like “sluts.”

Recently, I’ve seen many debates about how to fight such slut shaming. There are too many people who will call a woman a slut in an attempt to control her sexuality. “Be less sexually empowered,” they tell us, “because if you don’t, we’ll brand you.” Well, announcing that those who dress like “sluts” should cover themselves up to help prevent violence does even more damage. Imagine if you’d been assaulted in a short skirt and heard a thing like that. “Was it my fault?” you might ask yourself. The answer is no, no, no.

Sanguinetti has apologized for his remark, and I’m glad to hear it.  Holy heck, you should be able to walk down the street wearing anything you like without being attacked, regardless of gender, sexuality or aesthetic. Any fool knows that.

But as sex educator and call girl Veronica Monet reminds us, the “slut” archetype is deeply engrained in our culture, and many of us don’t even realize. On In Bed with Susie Bright (The Sex Remedy interviews) Monet explains that when lecturing at San Francisco State University, she asks the guys in the room to think back to when they were last called a whore. “There is a lot of laughing, giggling and shuffling around,” says Monet. But when she then asks the girls to reflect on the last time they were called a whore, the room goes deadly silent. In response, Monet tells the students, “Let me explain why sex worker rights apply to you.”

Of course, she’s spot on.  Whenever any woman is attacked because of her sexual behavior, all of us feel the impact; and when women are threatened, so are other groups, because how can we not be affected by one another? Monet also speaks to the power of reclaiming language – like many sex workers, she uses the word whore with pride. Also, it’s worth remembering that there are male and transgender sex workers too – when slut or whore are used to control women sexually, these terms mess with the rights of sex workers of all genders.

By being ready to educate society, Monet’s response to such problems is similar in many ways to the concept of Slut Walk.  When we start to confront problems like slut shaming, our response has to be creative – moving away from widespread stereotypes demands breaking free from social constraints and that’s a creative endeavor.  I’m reminded of Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” in which the artist displayed her actual bed, along with its clutter, as an artistic installation.  The piece was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1999 and has become a classic.  Complete with dirty underwear, condoms, and urine-soaked sheets, many call it an intimate “confession” about a young woman’s way of life.  But I like to look at Emin’s “My Bed” as a vehicle for the artist to shout the truth:  We’re not always virgins with clean sheets, she seems to say, and we’re done with being ashamed.

Well, as a dear friend recently reminded me, creative activism must exist in small ways as well as big. Slut Walk Boston is taking place on May 7th and I will be there. But if you can’t attend, do keep speaking out and if you don’t feel you can stand up for your rights at the time, you can always do so later.  An email, some sharp wit, or even a raised eyebrow – these are all creative responses and they count.

It’s been said that one flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a tornado. And I don’t doubt it for a second.

For more on the topic of slut shaming, including how to fight it, check out these resources from Betty Dodson & Carlin Ross.

In Boston where I live, every Borders store is closing.  It’s sad news, especially for sex.  I’ve always found the Borders staff to be a sex-positive bunch who don’t keel over with horror when I ask for the Sex section.  What’s more, Borders actually has a Sex section.  And that’s a political stance.  Acknowledging the need for Sex or Erotica shelves is akin to announcing that sex is important – and baby, that’s a statement I respect.

Frankly, my relationship with bookstores often turns sour when I ask for the Sex and Erotica sections.  Recently, in a little indie establishment, the bookseller responded by raising her nose in disgust and telling me this was a family store.  Well, where the hell does she think family comes from, dammit?  To prove a point, I spent my final few moments hunting the shelves for hypocrisy.  I found Nabakov’s Lolita, Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus, and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith.  All of them can be classified as erotica and two of them contain incestuous sex.  I’m pretty sure incest isn’t “family store” material.  Snort.  It seems that snooty woman was housing the bookshelves of doom!

In truth, any bookseller who claims they don’t stock books about sex has got to be pretty naive.  Let’s face it, you can’t avoid the topic.  It’s where we come from.  And understanding sexuality is vital.  For instance, a teenage boy who is beginning to believe he might be gay should be able to easily get his hands on a book about sexual identity.  Likewise, he should be able to find literature about safe sex without having to ask stony-faced people who send him away with a flea in his ear.  I can’t think of a more family friendly policy than having a sex section that anyone can locate.  Not getting pregnant by mistake, not living in shame, not having unprotected sex…these are family friendly notions.

Still, it isn’t all doom and gloom.  Bookstores with sex-positive policies do exist, and thankfully many librarians are knowledgeable about sexuality.  I used to live near an excellent library where the collection of sex books was expanded every year.  That said, I once borrowed a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and was greeted with a glare when I handed it over at the desk.  (It was actually so hilarious that I got a fit of the giggles!).  But would she have glared if I was a shy teenage girl who was borrowing a book on abortion?  And what if that shy teenager wasn’t used to libraries, and had to ask a library assistant for help locating such a book?

So that’s one of the reasons I will miss Borders.  But the battle isn’t lost.  Next time you’re in a bookstore, ask for the sex section, especially if you know there isn’t one.  Do it because you’re politically proactive and want plant a seed.  Because the more we learn that sexual openness is vital, the more healthy this world will be.

On the subway last week, the man sitting opposite was ranting about his groin. “See this?” he asked me, pointing at himself. “Think I don’t have anything? Well, you’re wrong. This is mine.” As he continued to spout I got out my book (Anais Nin’s Fire, since you ask) and walked to the other end of the train, before I heard him move on to the next poor soul. He was right, of course. He does own his groin. But how sad that he had to announce it.

Like it or not, there’s often a sexual vibe on the subway. Of course, sex on the train is a classic fantasy, which, during rush hour, can give rise to as many furtive looks as you’d find in a busy bar. I suppose being sealed into a compressed space and traveling superfast is a recipe for lust, particularly when you find yourself face-to-crotch with a stranger. (Depends on the stranger! Depends on the crotch!). And perhaps being in the underbelly of the city releases all those urges we attempt to suppress. In London the subway is called the Underground, a word that also connotes spycraft – rather fitting, considering the amount of watching going on.

As it happens, I’m all about sex on the subway, but there’s a context. I use my commutes to catch up on my reading, which is often about sex and sexuality. The written word offers us a wonderful way of revitalizing and nurturing our sexual imagination, broadening our erotic focus and challenging our assumptions.  As an activity that can be solo, reading is also a great reminder that our sex lives lie within ourselves – we can still experience rich sexual worlds when we’re alone, and beautifully at that.  So, seeing as I love book recommendations, here are some quotes from great sex books/stories I’ve been reading on the train:

From “Dumbrowski’s Advice” by Steve Almond, in This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey:

“At the hospital, you told Dumbrowski: I met a girl, which might have been the truth from time to time, though really you dreamed of the waitress, your waitress, sweet greasy onion rings on her fingers as you lay in a pool of your own heat.”

Riki Wilchins in Genderqueer, ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins:

“…I am speaking, of course, of intersexed infants. Such children, who are not clearly male or female, occur in about one in every 2000 births. Because anything that is not male or female is not a true sex, we pronounce them ‘abnormal,’ fit them legally into male or female, and fit them physically into boy or girl by cutting them up at a rate of about five a day. Thus are ‘natural’ males and females maintained…”

From “Lina” in Little Birds by Anais Nin:

“She bought herself a black lace nightgown like mine. She came to my apartment to spend a few nights with me. She said she had bought the nightgown for a lover, but I saw the price tag still fastened on it. She was ravishing to look at because she was plump and her breasts showed where her white blouse opened. I saw her wild mouth parted, her curly hair in a wild aureole around her head. Every gesture was one of disorder and violence, as if a lioness had come into the room.”

It turns out that 2011 may be a good time for us bookish types to bask in the limelight. Sex expert Petra Boynton predicts this will be a year of sexual introspection: “…I think we’ll see the idea of self reflection and sexual diary keeping become more of a mainstream phenomena.” Self-help, philosophy, guided explorations…these may well be the kind of texts we’ll see reflected in print and online. In fact, Susie Bright recently brought out a 2011 sex journal, entitled Love & Lust, which provides prompts and guides for exploring your sexual self – my copy’s on its way and I’m excited to get started. So we don’t have to shag in public to be sexual while we commute…though maybe a few of us will get to do both! But as sex-positive readers with a mischievous streak, we can always tell our friends, “I had sex on the train today…” before pausing for effect, and adding, “vicariously, of course.”

The photo on the main page is by By Étienne ANDRÉ

Wanking, as many of you may know, is Brit slang for masturbating – a verb that can also be used as an insult. In our teens, my friend would defend herself against the cruel boys by calling them wankers. “A bastard is tough and manly,” she’d explain, “but a wanker sounds weak.” She had a point. I once called an angry ex a wanker and almost got a sock in the eye.

Truth is, whether we’re wanking or tossing or beating the bishop, none of it sounds pretty. And the technical term is almost as bad. If I didn’t know better I’d assume masturbation was rather a boring activity, like unclogging a drain. How sad, considering the act itself can help us understand our sexual needs and even become more talented, imaginative lovers. Touching ourselves is nurturing – a form of self-love.

But as a term masturbation sucks. Like many long, depersonalized words it has its roots in Latin. Historically, this was the language of posh intellectuals, whereas your everyday Anglo Saxon (bless him) brought us tit, prick, arse etc. As an author of erotic fiction, I steer away from the technical term, favoring the more sensual touched herself. In a discussion, however, I tend to use solo-sex because I believe masturbation is indeed a type of sex; and maybe when we actually view it that way, the pride can’t help but spread.

Of course, the fact that terms like wanker and tosser double as insults speaks to how little our society respects solo-sex. When was the last time you heard someone walk into a bar and brag, “I had sex with myself last night and woah, was it hot!”? Which reminds me, when Woody Allen jokes that masturbation is “sex with someone you love,” the reason it’s funny is because loving ourselves sexually is so often seen as perverse. And yet notice how peaceful a climax can make us feel. Imagine a world where we all took care of our sexual selves – might there be less aggression? But that’s a topic for a later discussion.

Right. So here’s my 10 point, language-driven plan for encouraging folks to love themselves and promote self-pleasure:

1. Come up with sexier verbs for solo-sex. Like russing, perhaps. Heaven knows why that popped into my head: maybe I’m marrying the sibilance of pussy with the animal glory of rutting? “Last night, I was russing, and damn was it good.” That sort of thing. But better.

2. Make female self-touch sound as hot as possible – terms that suggest you have a vagina seem to be rare, which perhaps speaks to our society’s repression.  In Britain, we have jillying. I believe it comes from Jilly Cooper, a famous Brit writer of hot novels.  God love her and all that, but who wants to jilly? Holy heck.

3. Start counting solo-sex as a type of sex. Note: If we all did this, any of those social networking surveys that say, “People who use such-and-such-a-product get more action,” would be scoffed at, and rightly so.

4. Try dropping solo-sex into a conversation in a cool, thoughtful manner. e.g. “Yes, I own a pair of gorgeous leather handcuffs. But sometimes, dammit, I only need the one.”

5. Buy products from sex shops, such as vibrators, lube, body paint, and use them ourselves. I recently went shopping with a group of trusted friends, and it was great fun. There’s something sweet about your pal spotting a certain kind of vibrator and saying, quite thoughtfully, “This wouldn’t work for me, but it would be perfect for you.”

6. Support a great cause that articulates the importance of solo-sex, such as podcasts like In Bed, With Susie Bright or activism sites like Our Porn Ourselves.

7. Foster vivid fantasies in which solo-sex plays a titillating role. In Donna George Storey’s “The Big O” for instance, a woman learns to control her muscles through solo-sex with delicious results. You can find “The Big O” in Orgasmic: Erotica for Women, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. If porn is more your thing, check out Violet Blue who is THE expert on sex and the web.

8. If you’re single or have recently come out of a relationship, and someone asks whether you’re sleeping with anyone yet, reply, “Well yes, actually. I’m sleeping with myself and loving every moment.”

9. Question folks when they call us wankers. What exactly are they saying? Most of us are wankers. Aren’t they?

10. Refuse to be silenced about the benefits of solo-sex. For more information, including statistics, check out the recent National Survey of Sex and Behavior from Indiana University.

The photo on the Main Page & Archives Page is by Flickr photographer TheAlieness GiselaGiardino.

At a party, my new friend V. was ogling a blonde.

“Lovely, isn’t she?” I said. “Killer legs.”

He gave me a blank look.

“I’m bisexual,” I explained.

“No you’re not.” He laughed. “I know for a fact you’ve never slept with women.”

In my most ironic tone I thanked him for enlightening me, but how did my love of naked breasts fit into his equation?

“If you did sleep with a woman,” he said, “you might end up hating it.”

“Hold on a mo, Sir Lancelot. Let’s keep to the here-and-now.”

To make my point, I offered the following scenario: A teenage boy called Tom has never had sex, but identifies as gay. Tom can’t be bothered with topless women, but the sight of Jimmy Jones from Tech class sucking a ballpoint pen makes him hard as heck.

“Okay,” said V. “He’s gay, I guess.”

I explained that I, like Tom, haven’t had a same-sex partner but still feel a strong sense of who I am sexually. Sure, I might sleep with a woman and find I didn’t like it, but my identity is now, and unrealized desires are a part of that. We’re not solely defined through the people we’ve slept with. For instance, what about the use of lesbian erotica or heterosexual porn? If our erotic tastes contribute to who we are, then the fantasies that stir us are key. What do we like to imagine during solo sex? What arouses us? Now that’s relevant stuff.

Of course, V. is right in believing that our desires can shift. Though we don’t necessarily wake up one morning saying, “Wow! I want to give bondage a go!” we do often surprise ourselves. Buffy the Vampire Slayer explores this brilliantly. In season six, Buffy finds herself in a BDSM relationship with a vampire called Spike – a role that takes her completely by surprise and also helps her to face her own pain. Plus in season seven, Willow claims she started having gay sex because of one woman, Tara, rather than women ‘per se’. The writer and director, Joss Whedon, along with his team, explores sexuality with real elegance and feeling. The shows encourage us to ask each other, “Who are you?” and truly listen to the answers.

…If only good sex education was easier to come by. In my British high school Biology classes during the eighties, I learnt all about condoms, but nobody encouraged us to reflect on what we longed for or who we were. In spite of my attraction to women as well as men, I assumed I was heterosexual because I’d been raised that way, and it took me years to start loving my bisexual self. If someone had taught me that a man who has a wife isn’t necessarily heterosexual, and a woman who only dates women won’t necessarily kick Brad Pitt out of bed, I’d have been far happier. These days, though I know I may never sleep with a woman, it still feels wonderful to know myself.

In order to keep growing, I believe we should strive to be open about our sexual selves. If we’re gay, let’s own it. If we’re kinky, let’s own it. If we don’t yet know, let’s own that too. And when people try to tell us who we are, let’s set them right.

At the end of the party, I asked V., “How do you identify?”

“I’m heterosexual, of course.”

With a wry grin, I extended my hand. “I’m bi. Nice to meet you.”

The photo accompanying this post is by Suicide Girls from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Rambo).