Friday, August 31, 2012

Why We Need SlutWalk

(Although I'll concede that usage of the term 'slut' is problematic at best).

The answer is this: because a better approach to sex means changing the way we currently view sex, but doesn't involve criticizing or minimizing sex or sexual expression. Sluts are not the problem. Eliminating harassment by eliminating sluts reinforces the problem, it does not undermine it.

Conservatism is easy. It's convenient. It's a lot easier to tell women to expect inappropriate attention if they dress provocatively than it is to tell men that harassing women is wrong regardless of the circumstances. But only because that's the way it's been for so long.

But that's not right. Women deserve to be able to choose how to express themselves, but they do not deserve to be harassed for it. That's why I'll always support a woman's choice to, for example, dress like a slut. That doesn't mean I condone the harassment that's heaped on her for it. God no - the contrary is true.

I despise the harassment, but for me the solution isn't to stop women from 'inviting' it, but to stop men (and other women) from believing it's okay to dish it out. And the way to do that is NOT to tell women to stop dressing provocatively, but to focus on why the harassment is wrong (while simultaneously celebrating women who have the courage to express themselves).

Yes, women sometimes dress like sluts today and they often get harassed for it. This is a symptom of our sex negative culture. I want women to keep dressing like sluts, but I don't want them to be targeted by so much harassment. Telling them to stop dressing like sluts is indirectly condoning the harassment they receive in the sense of saying they deserve it for dressing that way. They don't deserve it! Being sexy is not license to be treated like shit! Are we puritans here?

Preventing harassment by telling women not to dress like sluts does NOTHING to combat the poisonous attitude many have which enables them to shamelessly commit that harassment in the first place. I want to live in a world where women can express themselves confidently and sexually, and be appreciated for it, without fear of harassment and inappropriate attention (which is defined not as sexual attention, but as bothersome attention, whether sexually oriented or not).

That's why I support SlutWalk, and why I support women who dress like sluts. Because they deserve to be able to choose to do that and be celebrated for it, not condemned. If you condemn SlutWalk and what it stands for, you are participating in a sex-negative culture of slut-shaming. That's not feminist, and it's not right either.

Segregation vs. Exposure

I'm in a unique position. I identify with femininity much more than I identify with masculinity. But one thing I don't have in common with most women, and have in common rather with most men, is the fact that I am attracted to girls, and not guys. Which keeps me from feeling entirely female in the standard sense.

I imagine women must have some kind of biological impulse to consider other attractive women as competition for the men in their lives. I, on the other hand, am preoccupied with considering attractive women as potential sex partners (which, incidentally, puts me in a great position to encourage women who express themselves sexually, rather than jealously shame them as sluts).

Thus, though I might feel more comfortable hanging out with girls, doing girly things, there is also a sexual component that undermines the motive of gender segregation (that is, the idea behind the traditional practice of not allowing boys and girls past a certain age to live under the same roof unless married). This puts me in a difficult place, the same place in which I imagine most homosexual individuals must feel every time they have to change in the locker room (not that it's necessarily a bad one to be in ^_-).

But if the idea is to separate persons who may have a sexual attraction to one another, does it even make sense to segregate by gender? You might get the majority that way, but now you're making a different set of rules for homosexual people than you are for heterosexual people, and that's not fair.

Do we really need to separate boys and girls that strongly for fear that spontaneous orgies might break out if they had to change or bathe or sleep in the same room? I doubt that would happen very often even with teenagers, who are notorious for their supposed 'raging hormones' (and those that want it are going to find ways around the rules anyway). Or are we so tied to the idea that, presented an opportunity, men will sexually abuse and exploit women who are too weak to protect themselves? Sexist much?

I think an ideal world is one where the sexes can intermingle peacefully, and where men and women both have the responsibility not to misbehave toward one another regardless of whether or not they have to share some of the same spaces, and engage in some of the basic activities of life together (living, sleeping, dressing, bathing - god, can you imagine if we didn't even allow unattached men and women to eat together?). And on the topic of bathrooms, I like privacy when I use one, but that's because I don't want other people around - it doesn't make a damn difference to me whether the person in the other stall is male or female!

Maybe I'm biased as a nudist, but even though I delight in seeing attractive girls' naked bodies, I know how to behave myself in the presence of one. Furthermore, I believe that being periodically exposed to that sight enhances the quality of my life significantly (which is why I embrace rather than shun those opportunities), and I think we all would be a bit less neurotic about sex and nudity if we were exposed to other people's bodies with a bit more regularity. Especially during puberty...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Some Thoughts On Fantasies

There are some people who believe the line between fantasy and reality is a tenuous one. Most people, thankfully, understand the difference between daydreaming and plans of action. A person, for example, could imagine robbing a bank, and even be entertained by the excitement and danger of that fantasy. Is this person then unfit to be put in a position of trust regarding other people's money? I think not. While it's true that a person who will actually rob a bank or steal money is likely to think about doing so, there are many more people who may fantasize about it while having no expectation of carrying out any such actions in reality - because they understand the reasons why doing so is wrong.

It is extremely simplistic and short-sighted to attack imagination in the hopes of preventing crime. You may as well choose people at random, because people of all sorts tend to imagine - and enjoy imagining - all sorts of things. A FAR better indicator of future behavior is to examine not a person's thoughts and fantasies, but their past behavior. A man who fantasizes about bank robberies but has never stolen money should, in principle, be far more trust-worthy than someone who does not fantasize about bank robbery but has a long history of not handling other people's money well.

Some people accept this, but for some reason, choose to draw the line at sexual fantasies. They might say, "other kinds of fantasies, including violent fantasies, are just that, but if a person has certain kinds of sexual fantasies, they are dangerous." But sexual fantasies are just like other kinds of fantasies. A person can fantasize about all sorts of sexual scenarios, and it doesn't have any more bearing on what kinds of acts he will commit in reality than his own record of past behavior would suggest. A man who understands the reasons why certain sexual scenarios are not realistic is in a good position to derive entertainment from fantasizing about them, while a different man who does not understand those boundaries will be in more danger of committing certain types of inadvisable acts, whether he devotes any length of time to imagining such acts or not.

And so it is, like with the bank robber, that a man can fantasize - for example - about being a teacher and taking advantage of his position to solicit his students for sexual favors, and doing so does not put him at particular risk of carrying out any such activities in reality. We can go to the movies and glory in the senseless destruction of cars and buildings, and the careless expenditure of human lives, and noone suspects us to be a wannabe serial killer or antisocial terrorist in hiding. Yet revel in the wrong sexual fantasies (usually the ones that are the most exciting), and people get paranoid about potential sexual predators. I get it - sex pushes our buttons in this day and age. But we need to take a step back and look at these issues more rationally. Sex is not a great exception, it's just a part of human life.

Would you like another example? Here's something I've discovered:

It's possible to be turned on by incest fantasies, despite not actually having a sexual attraction to anyone in your immediate family (I say "immediate" because most people have at least one sexy cousin, and that's hardly the same issue). Some people, I have observed, think incest is gross because they feel disgusted thinking of their actual family members in sexual terms. But the great thing about fantasy is that you can imagine having someone you are sexually attracted to in your family, and then go from there (think: family members have special advantages in terms of closeness and intimacy that strangers and often even friends don't get the benefit of).

I'll be straight with you. If I even consider my parents or any of my siblings in sexual terms it totally squicks me out (I love them, but I'm not sexually attracted to them), but that hot imaginary sister with whom I would have had to share a bathroom (or perhaps even a bed)? I doubt I'd have that sort of interest in a real sister, who I grew up with and knew as a person; but purely as a fantasy, the idea of it pushes certain buttons, and I don't see any problem with exploring or indulging that. The important point here is that incest fantasy does not constitute incest, and an indulgence in or encouragement of the former does not, by necessity, imply a similar attitude toward the latter.

Of course, another reason people think incest is gross is because they consider it a perversion of what should be an asexual interpersonal relationship. They believe family members ought, on principle, not to have sexual feelings for one another, and thus the fantasy transgresses the social order. Even the simple idea of it, alone, is enough to introduce cracks in the conservative conceptualization of "family". But this is simply an attempt at thought control ("we must snuff out all impure thoughts!"). Newsflash: people are going to think things that bother you, and 'pervert' (or blaspheme) your own personal sense of values - whether you like it or not.

But here's the rub: you can't prevent people from thinking those thoughts. And more importantly, you shouldn't. They're only thoughts, and society thrives on diversity of opinion. I happen to take comfort in the thought that 'nothing is sacred', because once something becomes sacred, it is unchallengeable. And that is immensely dangerous. We are flawed beings living in an uncertain world where even "almighty" God himself is incapable of making his existence certain, and has to ask us (through the voices of men - don't you find that more than a little bit suspicious?) to rely on blind faith. Skepticism is the highest virtue. And it cannot thrive where speech is regulated.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Care About Sex Worker's Rights?

Unlike some people I've known (and respect), I don't have any real desire to solicit prostitutes. As such, being able to do so legally is not really a pressing concern for me. So why am I passionate about the debate over decriminalizing sex work?

Aside from the fact that it's a basic civil rights issue, and one that cuts deep into the issues of sexual dysfunction that are socially endemic in the current cultural climate - therefore making it a great position from which to address and hopefully treat those dysfunctions...

Aside from those very good reasons, I see it as an excellent example of how - particularly on the topic of sex - moral crusaders will attempt to outlaw consensual behaviors they don't like (in this case, sex for money), by focusing on non-consensual behaviors (trafficking and slavery) and arguing either that:

a) outlawing the consensual behaviors will reduce the instances of non-consensual behaviors ("no tolerance for prostitution will eliminate opportunities for the slave trade");

or b) that the consensual behaviors actually literally are the same as the non-consensual behaviors ("all prostitution is sex trafficking"), in spite of evidence and direct testimony;

or they might argue both at once (or in turns - whatever it takes to scare or confuse people into agreeing with them), when the rational facts demonstrate quite clearly that all their efforts to stamp out non-consensual behaviors actually do very little to accomplish that (on the contrary, those problems are just exacerbated) but instead are very successful at stigmatizing those consensual behaviors they set out to demonize in the first place.

What I'm wondering is, why do so many people fall for it?

And I'm thinking the answer is, too many people have internalized the sexual morals of the moral authority. There's just something untoward about prostitution, that we can't accept it into life and society - that would be like inviting evil and hedonism into the system. Totally ignoring all the celebrated evils that are already part and parcel of the system (politics, public education, the economy). But we've been raised to accept those evils, even celebrate them, while simultaneously being taught to shun our sexual selves.

That's why this is an issue for skepticism. People who just go along with what they're taught, whether it's about people, society, or God, aren't in a position to judge facts and evaluate truths for themselves. That's why skepticism is the path to the future, a transhumanist future where we can rise above our all-too-human flaws and become better than we've ever been before: to live better, feel better, and act better toward ourselves and each other.

That's the vision I have in my head, and that's what's pushing me to argue for a world with better sexual morals. Not everyone would feel better having more sex more often - and that's quite alright. But nobody is benefiting from the deep-seated shame with which we're taught to view one of our strongest and most rewarding biological urges.

I want a neutral approach to sex education, that gives equal weight to the risks (transfer of disease, unwanted pregnancy, interpersonal complications) and benefits (pleasure, intimacy, confidence, and self-actuation) of sexual activity; an approach that views sex as just as much a recreative as a procreative activity (if not more so - considering that most people will have sex more often for recreation than for procreation); an approach that does not in any way teach a person to feel ashamed of their sexuality and how or when they choose to express it.

People should not be made to feel ashamed of their decisions, they should only be made responsible for the consequences. That is a very important distinction. It's how you teach people to make good decisions, not just to parrot the decisions of others who have come before without critically analyzing them. That, on the other hand, leads people to continue making bad decisions generation after generation, often times while thinking they're good.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dynamic Attraction

I think we should abolish the notion that sexual attraction is something that occurs between genders, and reframe it as something that occurs between people.

Yes, it's probably true that a great number of people generally have a preference for one gender or the other (and it's still okay to acknowledge this), but even a man exclusively attracted to women is not going to be attracted to every female alive. Gender is just one of many attributes he is attracted to, even if it is a particularly strong one.

But the idea of attraction occurring between genders puts us into a framework where all women are expected to be attractive to all men - usually by a communally pooled set of standards - where I argue the human species would be better served by considering attraction a phenomenon (not necessarily mutual) that occurs between specific people.

If you're a woman, you can't possibly expect all men to be attracted to you; and this way, if one man says you're ugly, it's more obvious that this is his opinion and not your failing - unless this is a person whose opinion actually matters to you. Really, I think we'd all be much better off this way.

Plus, it would be a lot more considerate (and less assuming) of non-hetero sexualities.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Categorical Exclusion

As far as alternative sexual desires go, I am not at all a fan of categorical exclusion.

It seems so mean to tell a person, "you're interested in what? Oh, I'm sorry, there's no possible way for you to achieve sexual satisfaction. That's just wrong." When instead you might say, "well, that's tricky, but let's examine our options, and see if we can't come up with something."

Certainly, the ethical implications of certain types of sex acts are more dire than others, but I think that rather than ruling something out entirely, it might be possible to find certain approaches that work better than others - like hitting during sex. If that's a turn-on for you, you're in a tight spot.

But it would be wrong to say that noone could ever enjoy being hit during sex, or that there is something intrinsically wrong about hitting a woman for sexual satisfaction (if you're unlucky enough to be attracted to what is patronizingly stereotyped as the gentler, more vulnerable sex).

Hitting a person against their will is pretty much categorically unethical (although not always illegal), but there might be (and indeed there are) people out there who are not only willing to consent to it in a sexual context, but might even enjoy it!

Furthermore, a person who gets off on hitting needn't be categorized as a monster, as it is very possible (I would even say likely) that he doesn't go around selfishly hitting people in an antisocial manner, but actually cares about and respects other people in spite of his unusual sexual interest.

And to demonize him for that interest, and to say that there's something wrong with him for deriving enjoyment from the sort of sexual fantasies he probably likes (which many people would call "sick") would be wrong.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Anatomy of a Slut

What is a slut? How do we define that word? I think the connotation is generally meant to be an insult toward a person who engages in sexual promiscuity, with an implication not of mere sexual license, but some form of indiscriminate or otherwise reprehensible behavior. By that token, 'sluts' may deserve some amount of condemnation, because they are engaging in risky and poorly thought-out activities. But all too often, the term 'slut' is used to indiscriminately criticize sexual expression and activity that is, in truth, laudable from a humanitarian but not sex-negative perspective.

You see, the real problem with slut-shaming isn't that sluts (by our definition above) are being shamed for engaging in slutty behavior. The problem is that normal girls are being dissuaded from expressing their sexuality at all. The solution, then, isn't necessarily to praise actual sluts or slutty behavior, but to find that middle ground that allows - even celebrates - sexual expression in direct opposition to prudish values, without presuming that all sexual expression is 'slutty' in nature.

Assuming our definition above, conceding that all sexual expression is slutty (with the conviction that that's a good thing) is still submitting to the prude's conception of sexuality. It's like protesting religion by professing to worship the devil. You're announcing your opposition to God, but you're still buying into the religious worldview, and reinforcing the devout's belief that you are evil. If you don't really believe in the devil (any more than you believe in God) because you think the whole system is screwed up, you ought to say as much.

We must, therefore, be able to understand that wearing a miniskirt in public, or speaking frankly about sex, or any number of sex positive behaviors are not the same as sleeping around indiscriminately, or whatever sort of sexual behaviors we might still define as 'slutty' in the sense considered above. Thus they ought not to be criticized, and the term 'slut' should be reserved for someone who makes bad decisions about sex (from a sex positive perspective), and not just anyone who embraces sex from a positive perspective.

In other words, 'slutty' is not a synonym for 'sexy'.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Feminists who are out of touch with reality...

Example:

Q: Why is Slave Leia popular?


Feminist Response: Men are attracted to Slave Leia because she represents an archetypal symbol of patriarchal oppression, whereby women are subjugated through degradation and objectification by the male gaze, as part of the process of transformation into a disposable sexual commodity.

Typical Male Response: She's hot.