First, in the late ‘70s, when I was about 7 years old, my mother presented me with a picture book called How Babies Are Made. One section of the book showed paper cut-outs of cocker spaniels  frolicking in a field of dandelions. Suddenly, one dog was on top of the other dog, and then both dogs looked traumatized. The final section of the book showed a white man in bed, lying on top of a white woman who had her eyes closed, and they both just looked like they were sleeping.

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.