Some thoughts on ending rape

Recently, I started noticing references in my Twitter feed to a Twitter account called @EndingRape. The account belongs to a man named Richard Hart, who has a Web site and book called Keep Your Daughter Safe.

Now, I don’t think Richard Hart is a bad guy. I don’t think he’s evil or malicious. I think he probably sincerely believes that rape is a Bad Thing and he probably genuinely wants a world with less of it.

But his approach is deeply troubling, and in some cases even destructive, for a number of reasons.

The most obvious problem with Mr. Hart’s approach is that it focuses on women, and on listing things that women shouldn’t do if they don’t want to get raped. His Twitter feed is a litany of thou-shalt-nots for women:

The problem with these “tips” is that they shift the responsibility of preventing rape onto the potential victim. This opens the door to all sorts of victim-blaming behavior (“You walked down the street alone and you were raped? Well, what did you expect would happen?). By placing the burden of responsibility on a victim to avoid a crime rather than on a perpetrator to not commit a crime, we end up, whether we want to or not, creating two classes of victims: those who did what they were supposed to do (and if they get raped anyway, it’s not their fault, they followed the script) and those who didn’t do what they were supposed to do (and therefore bear some of the blame for what happened).

Mr. Hart says in his Twitter feed that rape is the responsibility of the rapist, not the victim; he claims that he isn’t engaging in victim blaming behavior:

But this brings up a troubling aspect to telling women it’s their responsibility to avoid rape: If we accept the notion that women should do these things in order to avoid being victims, what we’re really saying is “women, make sure some OTHER woman is assaulted.” Essentially, we’re saying that rape is inevitable, rapists target the low-hanging fruit, so women should avoid being that low-hanging fruit and let someone else be targeted.

In his Twitter profile, Mr. Hart says he is “committed to ending rape and sexual assault in America.” This is not possible if we address only what women do. His tweet saying “there will always be rapists” belies his claim that he wants to end rape and sexual assault.

The title of his book is especially telling. It’s called Keep Your Daughter Safe, and it suggests to me that his goal isn’t actually to end rape in America; it’s to make sure that his family members–people he cares about–aren’t victims of rape.

This is, fundamentally, a monkeysphere issue. He doesn’t actually want to end rape; he wants to end rape for people inside his monkeysphere–people he has an emotional investment in. It’s okay if his advice means that some other woman is targeted; there will always be bad people, after all, so the way to end rape among women he cares about is to give them an easier target to go after.

If we are actually to be sincere in our desires to end rape in America, at some point we must step outside of our own personal monkeyspheres. We must address that the end of rape will never come by telling women what to do; it can only come–it must only come–by addressing the causes of rape. Violence, anger, misogyny, rape culture, a perception of entitlement to sexual access to women’s bodies–these are the things we have to talk about if we are seriously to make progress on ending rape.

But these things are hard. Harder than telling women to keep the door locked and don’t walk alone. And they won’t fit in 140 characters.

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Link: Why I hate 50 Shades (it’s not what you think)

With the 50 Shades of Grey books the most popular novels in the country right now (one out of every five fiction books being sold in the United States as I write this is one of the 50 Shades books), there is plenty to say about the series.

Over at Crushable.com, author Katherine O’Clare talks about one of the things that bothers her, and me, the most about the books: the fact that they falsely portray an abusive relationship as BDSM. From the article:

When women are already fighting against rape culture so pervasive that they are expected to just not get raped, what will a novel like Fifty Shades of Grey do? BDSM is already largely misunderstood. It’s esoteric enough as it is. A mainstream novel that equates BDSM with emotional abuse will only affirm false conceptions of what bondage and discipline really entails.

[…]

And so I am not OK with Fifty Shades of Grey. I am not OK with seeing four or five or ten people reading it on the subway. I am not OK with knowing that those people are reading some version of the hell I got myself out of and that they’re getting off on it. I am not OK with yet another modulation of the “she was asking for it” defense.

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Top Tips for a Lousy Sex Life

It’s a truism that women’s magazines encourage an approach to sex that isn’t very healthy. Sex is often portrayed in magazines like Cosmo as a mechanistic set of techniques to learn, much like auto repair or hooking up a stereo, that women must master or risk losing their men. Missing from these magazines is any sort of guidelines for healthy communication, or any accounting for the variation between people; men are portrayed as mysterious but somewhat simplistic animals who, if they are jiggled and poked at in the correct way, respond with orgasm (and, presumably, slavish devotion).

None of this is particularly news.

The Nerve magazine, however, has this awesome article about the 44 Most Ridiculous Sex Tips From Cosmo. Some of the winners include this gem:

2. “Tickle his feet with your nipples: climb on top of him in reverse cowgirl position, then bend over until your nipples reach the tops of his feet. …Yowzah.”

When this sounds spicy, you have hit new heights of erotic boredom.

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The last sex tips you’ll ever need

Women’s magazines love running articles, often with lurid headlines, about the amazing sex tips you can use to keep your man happy in bed (and thereby, presumably, keep your man). They’re often filled with terrible advice, like “Stick a finger in his bum when he least expects it.” Of all the things most likely to have an unhappy ending in the bedroom, “surprise anal” is very near to the top of the list.

Being good in bed isn’t about memorizing the secret technique that makes you special. It’s actually much simpler than that. It’s about openness, honesty, and willingness to explore. It’s about boldness over fear. It’s about confidence, not timidity. If you want to be a good lover, here’s a list of tips which will get you there:

1. Learn what blows your partner’s mind.

There’s only one way to do this, and it isn’t by reading women’s magazines or sex tips on Web sites. Instead, try this: Ask your partner.

Seriously. It does no good and makes no sense to say “What do guys like?” or “Do girls like it when you do this?” because every single guy and every single girl is different. Even if 99.999% of the people in the world really like something, that does you no good if your partner doesn’t like it!

It doesn’t matter what “guys like” and it doesn’t matter what “girls like.” It doesn’t matter what the editors of magazines like. What matters is what the person you are with likes.

2. Don’t be afraid of a partner’s sexual past.

I call this “being responsible.”

Many people have the idea that anything that happened in the past should stay in the past, and doesn’t matter, and you should never, never, ever tell your current partner about sexual experiences in your past.

This is nonsense, for a number of reasons. First, it does nothing except shelter insecurity. When you are confident and secure, then understanding a partner’s past is no longer scary; in fact, it helps you to understand your partner better. We all have past lives. The fact that you have a past doesn’t mean you don’t really want to be with the person you’re with now, right?

More importantly, though, the things you have done in your past are significant to the sexual health of your current partner. It does not protect your health just to get a standard STD screen and call it good. Some STDs, such as HPV, can not be reliably tested for (and the risk of HPV infection goes up with a person’s total number of partners). Some STDs, such as hepatitis, are not part of a standard STD screen.

Furthermore, a person’s past says a lot about that person. Does that person have a long history of multiple, short-lived relationships? Does that person have a history of honesty and integrity? Does a person have a history of backing out of difficult relationships? These are all significant to whether or not that person might make a good partner.

And finally, the whole point of intimacy is to share yourself with another human being, honestly and completely. Warts and all. Everything you hide destroys intimacy. Everything you are too jealous, insecure, or afraid to share destroys intimacy. Everything you are unwilling or unable to discuss destroys intimacy. If you don’t want intimacy, what’s the point of a relationship in the first place?

3. Don’t be afraid that sex will make you “too loose.”

Many people seem to think that the vagina “stretches out” if you have a lot of sex. But the vagina is made of muscle, not Silly Putty; muscle becomes stronger and more limber, not looser, when it is used. The notion that the vagina gets “loose” when you have sex is as silly as the notion that your mouth will get “stretched” if you eat too much.

4. Does anal sex hurt? And won’t I get loose if I do it?

Again, the human body does not work that way; you will not get “loose” by having anal sex. The only thing that can cause that is if you actually tear the muscle–and believe me, if that happens, you’ll know. It’s not going to happen easily; you have to work at it.

When done properly, anal sex is not painful. If it hurts, you’re doing something wrong–most likely, going too fast. Be prepared to spend an hour or more at it the first time you try.

Many people believe they’re relaxed when they first try anal sex, when in reality, they aren’t. Most muscles in the human body are normally limp, and you have to do work to tighten them; the sphincter is tight in its normal state, and you have to do work to relax it.

The best way to learn how to relax it is to experiment on yourself, using a small dildo or a finger. (Don’t worry–unless you have to use the bathroom right now, you aren’t going to get “dirty”–the last several inches of the rectum does not normally contain anything.)

Another thing to keep in mind: Use a condom for anal sex, to avoid the possibility of your partner getting a urinary tract infection. Don’t go from anal to vaginal penetration, to avoid getting a vaginal infection.

And guys, being penetrated anally doesn’t make you gay. Having sex with other men makes you gay. If your girlfriend wants to try a little pegging, that doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly start hanging out in men’s rooms looking for action or become an anti-gay Senator or something.

Of course, not everyone likes anal. You don’t have to be into it in order to be good in bed. But it doesn’t need to be scary, either.

5. Don’t be afraid of being bad at something the first time you try it.

Seriously. Relax. Every single person in the world is bad at things the first time they try them. Will you be bad at any kind of sexual activity when you do it for the first time? probably. So what?

Sex is a learned skill. Just like riding a bicycle or playing a piano. You get to be good at any learned skill by doing it. It’s that simple. There’s no other way. Everyone here was bad at something in the past.

Lighten up! It’s not a reflection on you. Your partner isn’t going to abandon you, leaving you alone until your dying day, if you haven’t mastered the Monkey With Lotus Blossom And Chainsaw position the very first time you try it. Learned skills have to be learned. You can only learn them by doing them. If you live your life terrified of being bad at something, then you’ll never get good at anything!

And if you try something you don’t like, no big deal; don’t do it again. It’s not like the world will come to a sudden and nasty end if you try something and decide you don’t like it!

And while we’re on the subject of the Monkey With Lotus Blossom and Chainsaw position…

6. Don’t be afraid of being “weird.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say something like “I’m bored. i want to do something new, but, you know, nothing, like, kinky or anything,” I would never have to work again.

First step in dealing with sexual boredom? Get over the fear of being “kinky.” Your happiness is your own responsibility; who cares if someone else might think you’re kinky? If you never try anything new, then yeah, you can expect to be bored!

If you’re bored but can’t think of any new ideas, try mixing things up a bit. Do the same things you already know you like, but in different settings, or at different times. Experiment with role-playing–invent an imaginary character and scenario in your head, and act it out. Try adding new things to the bedroom–sex toys, blindfolds, things like that. Try new positions. Try all of the above.

And don’t expect that every new thing you try will work. If you find something that doesn’t work, try something else. If all else fails, take a look at the scenarios I’ve posted here; even if there’s nothing you like, it might spark some ideas.

7. Don’t be goal-directed. Don’t be hung up on the Big O.

Speaking of being independently wealthy, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard some variant of “I can’t get my partner to orgasm. I feel terrible. I’m worthless! I suck in bed!” I’d never have to work a day in my life again, and I’d start collecting Ferraris for a hobby.

Orgasm has far less to do with what happens between your legs and far more to with what happens between your ears than most people realize. If a person is not in the right head space, then there ain’t nothing you can do to make that person orgasm. Fifteen supermodels with extensive training in the secret arts of sexual seduction can’t make a person orgasm if that person is not in the right head space.

And so what? Orgasm is, for many people, a learned response anyway. It takes time to learn it, and even if you can’t get there every time, it’s no big deal. Sex is fun all on its own; it’s not like sex is no good if there’s no orgasm. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters–the point, after all, is to have fun, or else why do it at all? Hell, orgasm denial–deliberately not letting your partner come–can be a great way to spice up sex!

8. Don’t be afraid of the S-word.

I’ve had 2 (or 3 or 6 or 9 or 127) partners–does that make me a slut?

I firmly believe that the word “slut” is what someone who has an uninteresting sex life calls a person who has an interesting sex life. In reality, thee’s no such thing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had 2 or 3 or 9 or 27 or 127 sexual partners in your life; there is no magic number that is “right,” above which you’ve suddenly lost your membership in the Good Person Club.

What matters is being responsible, ethical, and honest. Someone who has slept with 127 people but has done it honestly and responsibly, treating his or her partners with compassion and respect, is a far, far better person than a virgin who is a liar or is irresponsible or unethical. Don’t sweat it. Don’t even waste your time worrying about it; what’s the point?

9. Don’t be afraid of being silly.

Role-playing is a great way to spice things up in bed, but often, we are reluctant to do it out of fear of feeling silly.

As with any other form of sexual activity, role-playing is a learned skill. All learned skills feel awkward, silly, and uncomfortable when you first do them. First time you get on a bike or pick up a pool cue, you feel awkward and self-conscious.

Don’t worry about it. Do it anyway. In time, you’ll find that role-playing, like any other learned skill, becomes completely natural and effortless. And there is little that spices up your sex life better! Besides, sex is supposed to be silly and fun. You’re not writing an MBA thesis; you’re doing something that’s fun and exciting and that you and your partner enjoy. If you can’t laugh during sex, what can you laugh at?

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Psychology today: “How to Grow Up”

From Psychology Today comes an article with an unusual (at least in contemporary America) premise: The best way to have healthy, happy, sexually fulfilling relationships is to learn to be an individual. From the article:

Becoming an authentic adult means going against the whole drift of the culture. It specifically means, among other things, soothing your own bad feelings without the help of another, pursuing your own goals, and standing on your own two feet. Most people associate such skills with singlehood. But Schnarch finds that marriage can’t succeed unless we claim our sense of self in the presence of another. The resulting growth turns right around and fuels the marriage, enabling passionate sex. And it pays wide-ranging dividends in domains from friendship to creativity to work.

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Some thoughts on human rights

Today, I want to talk about the war that’s being waged in some parts of US society against contraception, sexual determinism, and women’s agency.

Before I get started, though, let me say this: I am a white, cisgendered heterosexual man. That puts me in a uniquely privileged position; since I will never be pregnant, the assault on women’s right to choose doesn’t affect me directly. Since I am straight, the assault on the rights of gays and lesbians doesn’t affect me directly. Since I am a man, I am almost never the target of slut-shaming. I am, in other words, not the target of the campaign against women and gays that’s playing out on the airwaves and in the ballot boxes all over the United States right now.

But in a way, that’s kind of the point, because even though I am not the target of the attacks on women and gays, they still very much affect me. The thing is, these are not assaults on women’s rights or gay and lesbian rights; they are assaults on human rights. I am not gay and I am not a woman, but I am a human being. It would be a mistake for me to think that these things don’t affect me directly.

Let’s look at contraception. The debate over whether or not women should have easy access to contraception has turned into one of the defining issues in the current political discussion. Last October, presidential candidate Rick Santorum said “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK; contraception is OK. It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” More recently, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh referred to Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “whore” and said that she should be made to post sex tapes of herself online for his viewing pleasure when she said that the insurance policy covering fellow students were wrong to deny coverage for drugs to treat ovarian cysts on the grounds that they could also be used for contraception.

Now, a lot of folks are rightly horrified that a presidential candidate who supposedly favors “small government” would advocate government control over contraception in order to make sure that citizens only do what he thinks they should do in the bedroom, and were rightly appalled at Limbaugh’s slut-shaming tirade against Ms. Fluke. But a lot of folks have cast these as being women’s issues, and described them as attacks on women’s rights, and I think that misses the point.

If a woman wants access to contraception as contraception, presumably it’s because somewhere along the line there’s a man involved. Parthenogenesis is rare in the extreme in human beings. When a woman chooses to use contraception, she’s not the only one affected; her partner is affected to. Restricting access to contraception is not a woman’s issue; it’s a human issue. It affects all of us.

I was married for eighteen years. For twelve of them, my wife used hormonal birth control. This wasn’t just about her; it was about both of us. Neither of us wanted children. Had Santorum been in the White House, and had he been successful in his crusade to prevent her from obtaining birth control because he wanted the government to have the final say in how our lives were “supposed to be,” it would not have affected her; it would have affected both of us. Attacks on contraception are not attacks on women, they are attacks on people.

The issue of gay rights is similar. The language being used today against gay marriage–that it violates the “sanctity” of marriage, that it goes against the “natural order”–are the same arguments, almost word for word, that were used against interracial marriage in the 60s. Many of the opponents of gay marriage, like the National Organization for Marriage, actively seek to use racial division to achieve their goals. Other opponents of equal rights for the LGBT community also oppose divorce even in cases of abuse; Republican state legislator Don Pridemore told a news station that abused women should not get a divorce, but should “get back to why they got married in the first place.”

Again, these are not LGBT issues or women’s issues, but human issues. The moment a person says that it’s acceptable to use manipulative, divisive strategies to achieve a political end, or that victims should not be permitted to leave abusive situations in order to satisfy some kind of abstract idea about the way people “should” be, that affects all of us. Domestic violence doesn’t just affect women; it affects everyone.

Even if these things did only affect women or gays and lesbians, I would still support them against the systematic attacks of the political right, because it’s simply the right thing to do. But by casting these things as women’s issues” or “gay and lesbian issues,” those who seek to control our sexual choices hope to divide us. This strategy only works until we see past the artificial divisions and realize that an attack on women or on gays and lesbians is an attack on all of us.

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I Love Sex and I Vote

Some time ago, before Rush Limbaugh and his buddies launched their all-out assault on women in their effort to give the Democratic party a landslide victory this November, I created a bumper sticker over at Cafepress: “I (heart) Sex and I Vote”.

I abandoned Cafepress years ago. However, this sentiment seems far more relevant and necessary today than it did back then, so I’ve set up the store again.

So, here it is again. If you’d like to show Rush’s fans how you feel about sex, click here!

I’ve also created icons in two different sizes suitable for blogs, Twitter, and forums from the same design. These icons are free to download and use however you’d like:

100×100 pixels

80×80 pixels

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Slut-Shaming: How Framing Matters

As almost anyone with television, radio, or Internet access is no doubt aware by now, a woman named Sandra Fluke was recently attacked for three continuous days by right-wing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh for her testimony in front of Congress regarding women’s health care.

Limbaugh referred to Ms. Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and ridiculed her for trying to get free contraception from the American taxpayer to fund her “recreational sex life.” In a particularly odious statement, he proposed that any woman who receives taxpayer-funded contraception be forced to have sex on camera for his entertainment.

His tirades provoked an enormous backlash, as a result of which many sponsors have ceased advertising on his show.

There are a lot of things that can be said about this entire embarrassing debacle. Mr. Limbaugh has had four wives and has been known to have multiple affairs and also to frequent sex workers, so the notion that he should resort to slut-shaming when he is promiscuous himself is a bit baffling, and points to an appalling double standard held by many social conservatives.

Additionally, the fact that female health care is still, even now, so fraught with controversy in an age where male health care is routinely covered by insurance, and insurance companies pay for Mr. Limbaugh’s Viagra, indicates that in many ways, women still aren’t quite considered equal members of society, equally deserving of the same medical treatment.

But rather than talk about either of those things, I’d rather talk about something else: the power of framing.

This is Ms. Fluke’s testimony. If you watch it (you can also read a transcript here, if you’d prefer), you will probably notice something interesting: At no point does she ask for free contraception.

Instead, her testimony is centered around other issues, such as insurance companies which refuse to cover medically necessary treatment for women if the treatment can also be used as a form of birth control. Here’s an excerpt:

A friend of mine, for example, has polycystic ovarian syndrome and has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. Her prescription is technically covered by Georgetown insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancy. Under many religious institutions’ insurance plans, it wouldn’t be, and under Senator Blunt’s amendment, Senator Rubio’s bill, or Representative Fortenberry’s bill, there’s no requirement that an exception be made for such medical needs. When they do exist, these exceptions don’t accomplish their well-intended goals because when you let university administrators or other employers, rather than women and their doctors, dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose aren’t, a woman’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.

In sixty-five percent of cases, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they needed these prescriptions and whether they were lying about their symptoms. For my friend, and 20% of women in her situation, she never got the insurance company to cover her prescription, despite verification of her illness from her doctor. Her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancy. She’s gay, so clearly polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy. […] Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary.

I have written in my personal blog about the power of framing. By taking testimony about discrepancies in health care coverage between men and women in the guise of religious morality, and re-framing it as “women want free birth control so they can have recreational sex with someone else’s money,” Rush attempted to manipulate people’s opinions toward those he preferred.

And, sadly, to a large extent he succeeded. The ensuing discourse about this issue has tended to center around subsidized contraception–which is definitely a worthwhile topic for discussion in its own right–in spite of the fact that that isn’t what Ms. Fluke’s testimony was about. He spent three days referring to her as a “slut” and a “prostitute” despite the fact that she was not talking about her own sex life at all, nor even about insurance coverage for her own contraceptives!

One of the more insidious problems with slut-shaming is that it is such an entrenched part of many societies, including US society, that public debate about important topics can be stifled by careful framing of the debate in terms of female promiscuity.

In this particular case, Mr. Limbaugh’s attempts at using slut-shaming to derail conversation about health insurance have backfired, but it remains a powerful tool for manipulating public discourse, even on topics not directly related to sexuality.

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Food for Thought: Telling little girls “He hits you because he likes you”

On Views From The Couch comes this essay, You Didn’t Thank Me For Punching You in the Face, which questions the idea that boys tease, bother, and harass girls because they like them:

I will teach my daughter to accept nothing less than respect. Anyone who hurts her physically or emotionally doesn’t deserve her respect, friendship or love. I will teach my boys the same thing as well as the fact that hitting on girls doesn’t involve hitting girls. I can’t teach my daughter to respect herself if I am teaching her that no one else has to respect her. I can’t raise sons that respect women, if I teach them that bullying is a valid expression of affection.

There is definitely an important lesson here. Harassment is not acceptable as a way to express affection.

I think the lesson goes deeper, though. We as a society often fail to teach children (or adults) good interpersonal and relationship skills, period. It’s not just about boys using harassment as a way to express the interest or affection they feel, though that’s an especially odious manifestation of it. It’s also in the fact that we don’t seem to place a high priority on teaching people the tools for expressing any kind of emotions–especially intimacy and vulnerability–in healthy, constructive ways.

I personally would like to see a society that values open, constructive expression. Ceasing to excuse bullying behavior with “Oh, he’s only doing that because he likes you” would make a great place to start.

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Consciousness raising in Tumblr

Asked of a Tumblr blogger:

If you had a daughter and she was going to go out to a party with guys drinking would you let her go out looking like a slut?

There is a brilliant response by Tumblr blogger marxisforbros. The original Web site is down, but there’s an archive of the post here.

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