Category Archives: Relationships

Well here’s a novel concept

The internet is bursting this week with great things to share on sex and relationships. Following up on the sex education video I posted yesterday, here’s a wonderful article on communication, titled…

Un-memorizing the “silence is sexy” date script.

An excerpt:

What a wonderfully radical idea.  But I mean, isn’t it strange that this idea is so radical?  Women saying yes.  It’s not radical because women never want sex or agree to have it, but because the typical “sexy” date script society expects and encourages from us usually involves a man trying whatever he wants and a woman either putting the brakes on, or consenting…by not putting the brakes on.  Sound familiar?

We’ve gotten the idea from movies and magazines that silence is sexy.  Ultimate romance means fireworks and fairy dust sprinkling down from the heavens and instilling in us some magical intuition where both people suddenly just know what the other wants.  Speaking out loud in full sentences would break the rhythm, ruining the mystical thrill of the spontaneous moment.  And GOD FORBID you ask permission to do anything.  I mean, come on, major boner killer.

Here’s an idea.  Give women some agency by pausing now and then and allowing them to say YES and ask for what they want!  I swear,  it is sexy as hell to give somebody exactly what you know they want, without wondering if you’re guessing wrong.

Silence is only sexy because we like to assume that everybody is on the same page!  Imagine how much sexier it would be if you didn’t have to assume, if a woman said, “Yes, please do that.  I like that.” To have a woman actively pursue what she wants, and not just passively receive what someone assumes she wants, guarantees more fun and more pleasure for both parties.  Just think of all the pornography that depicts women screaming “yes!”  Consent is sexy; giving someone what they want is sexy; knowing without a doubt that your partner is satisfied is sexy.

I didn’t realize how much I agreed with this until someone put it into words!

What do you think? Do you talk explicitly with your partner(s) about what you want? Do you wish you didn’t have to talk about it?

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The best video about sex on the Internet

You guys, this is GREAT sex education video. Seriously. It uses a musical collaboration analogy to talk about sex in a sensible way, and to put to pasture the BS ideas about sex our society has provided us with. I can’t recommend it enough!

Give it a watch.

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Reasonable thoughts on premarital sex

There was an excellent article in the Guardian on Monday making a positive case for premarital sex and rebutting the myriad silly arguments against it. I don’t have anything to add to the article – the author hits all of the relevant points. Just give it a look.

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A good article on non-monogamy

Here’s something I’ve been meaning to share for a while – an article on non-monogamous relationships. I don’t want to add a whole lot of commentary on the subject right now; I’ll just point out a few of my favorite points, and then leave it to those interested to read the article.

I agree that it’s better for everyone to recognize monogamy as something to be consented to, not coerced into. I think for many people monogamy is the only relationship structure they’ve considered accepting, so they haven’t really chosen it. They’ve been “forced” into it, and this isn’t good because 1) some of these people may actually be happier in non-monogamous relationships, and 2) people who have been coerced into monogamy will never be very accepting of those (other couples) who want to choose something else.

The author makes a point about marriage that I heartily agree with, even in the context of monogamous relationships. “When we commit ourselves to someone for life, we often fail to fully take into account the degree to which we grow and change over periods of ten, twenty, or thirty years.” Yes, people change, sometimes in ways that render them incompatible. The universe does not guarantee that two humans who love each other deeply will continue loving each other for the decades of time that our now-long life spans afford us. That is why I do not think marriage as a promise of lifelong committment is a tenable concept.

The author makes another point about marriage – we have a cultural expectation that one person should be able to “fulfill us in all ways—romantically, sexually, intellectually, and otherwise—for the rest of our lives.” What reason is there to expect this, other than the fact that we’ve always been told to? It’s quite a tall order, and, empirically speaking, it’s false. Many “monogamous” people go outside their relationships/marriages to obtain fulfillment that they aren’t obtaining within. Wouldn’t we be better off considering that, for at least some couples, non-monogamy works better? It’s a valid point. I’m not saying that non-monogamy is for me, but it’s clear that it works for some, and I think such a choice should be respected.

The rest of the article is worth reading.

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Clarifications on casual sex

In my previous post, I made the argument that there is nothing inherently harmful about casual sex, and I linked to a scientific study that supported my claim. The other day, a friend responded to my post, and levelled two criticisms against what I’d written. The criticisms were, I think, based on misunderstanding. But – knowing that others may have similar criticisms – I’d like to share with you the response I wrote my friend. This will clarify a few details, and hopefully address some objections.

The study I cited in my last post found no differences in psychological well-being between young adults who engaged in casual sex and those who had sex with a committed partner. In alleged contradiction of that study (though not really, as I will explain), my friend cited another study, which found that women were more likely than men to have negative feelings following a one-night stand. For example, many women (though still a minority) reporting feeling “used” after a one-night stand, or felt that they had let themselves down.

Based on this, my friend argued it was false to claim that “casual sex isn’t harmful.” Rather, it is more accurate to say that casual sex can be harmful. Secondarily, my friend criticized me for having a “my way is the only way because it works for me” attitude toward this topic. Here is how I responded:

To understand what I’m saying about casual sex, you have to think a bit more carefully about causality.

Imagine two people who decide to have casual sex because they want to and they believe sex is generally a good thing, and they both are able to go about it in a mature, responsible, and safe way. Let’s say these two enjoy themselves and suffer no ill consequences.

Now imagine two people who decide to have sex because they want to and they believe sex is generally a good thing, but they aren’t open about what this sex means to each of them. Let’s say that to the man the sex is completely casual, and he wants it just because it’s pleasurable, meanwhile the woman wants that too but she’s under the impression that sex is leading toward a more sustained interest in the other person. To her it’s a little less than casual.

So imagine that the two have sex, and the sex itself is good enough, but afterwards the woman feels disappointed when she finds out that the man was just looking for a casual experience. She maybe feels a little used, even though that wasn’t the man’s intention. And let’s say the man is generally happy with the experience, but a little upset that the woman isn’t happy about it, as well as a little frustrated that she was expecting more when that wasn’t something they agreed to.

Now if one couple had casual sex that matched their expectations and was happy about it, and another couple had casual sex that didn’t match their expectations and wasn’t happy about it, exactly what caused the problem – the sex, or the lack of communication beforehand?

You can see that it was the latter.

Of course, these are hypothetical scenarios that I made up, but they jibe with reality. When something negative results from sex there is always a reason, a specific mechanism by which the negative thing happened. It may be a miscommunication, or a lack of trust, or religion-induced guilt, or a disease that was contracted, but you’ll never hear of people who have safe and responsible sex because they want to and who were communicative with each other about their expectations, and yet still didn’t enjoy it because the very act of genital contact is harmful.

That’s what it means to say that casual sex is harmful. It means that genital contact itself is harmful, regardless of your feelings about it. And that’s not true.

So I’m not telling anyone to “do things my way.” I’m telling everyone that the claim made by some that sex without a contract is inherently harmful is a lie. If I were to counsel the unhappy woman from the scenario above, I wouldn’t tell her to “have sex and enjoy it.” For pete’s sake! I would explore with her the possibility that her expectations about casual sex aren’t really realistic, and that if she’s looking for sex that exists on the road to a more serious relationship, then she needs to be more careful in choosing when and with whom she has it. (And none of this has anything to do with what I want; the point is that there are things she can do to get what she wants.)

On the other hand, the response of many clergy to this woman would be to say that what she did was wrong, period, and that she needs to stop doing it if she wants to earn the respect of others, or be a good person, or go to heaven, or protect herself from emotional harm.

How’s that for guidance?

Religious authorities will avoid looking this deeply into the specific causes of harm, because they are bound by their dogma to denounce premarital sex. No matter what the evidence shows, they cannot admit that it’s possible to enjoy “sex without a contract” in a completely healthy and fulfilling way, because to do so would mean that their religious teachings were wrong. And so they have focused their energies and admonitions on the act of sex itself – genital contact and orgasms – instead of on anything that actually matters, like respect for the person you have sex with, honesty about expectations, safety, and shared pleasure. To focus on anything other than this isn’t guidance, it’s ignorance – and we shouldn’t stand for it. Casual sex isn’t harmful. But there are safer and more fulfilling ways of going about it than others.

Let’s talk about that.

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Study shows casual sex isn’t psychologically harmful, despite contrary claims by the religious

Remember when I got into a bit of a debate with UMC minister Gregory Neal? He was making the argument that there is something harmful about premarital sex (in order to justify his disapproval of it). He had nothing but anecdotal evidence to support his claims.

I feel like I should have harped on this more at the time, but anecdotal evidence is bad. Really bad. Everybody has anecdotal evidence to support their personal biases. Anti-gay pastors will share with you anecdotal evidence for why gay people are immoral or harmful to themselves and society. Misogynistic preachers will share with you experience that has taught them not to listen to women. Take one man, who believes in a God who cares who you have sex with, who believes in a long tradition of condemning those who have sex outside of marriage, and who has been taught that marital sex is better than non… and what are the chances that he isn’t going to “see” support for his preconceptions in his experience?

The chances are bad. That’s why our personal experiences may be convincing to us, but they shouldn’t therefore be convincing to everyone else. And that’s also why it’s incredibly irresponsible, and unethical, to make people feel guilty and bad about what they consensually do for pleasure when all you have to support your claim is your own biases and preconceptions.

At the time I was debating Reverend Neal, I made an attempt to find scientific studies that bore on the issue of premarital sex and risk. I found some correlational studies, but nothing from which causation could be inferred. In short, there was no evidence that Neal was right, and that premarital sex was in any way harmful to a person or a relationship.

Well, now I can do one better. Thanks to a citation in a recent blog post by Greta Christina, I can share with you a study that shows that casual sex is not psychologically harmful.

Of course, everyone except certain religious people already knew this. When was the last time you heard an atheist find fault with someone for having sex without a contract? The fact is – and we have scientific evidence to back this up – there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Sex is good, and pleasurable, and people enjoy having it. What you should do is be safe about it, be responsible, and be honest with your partner(s). What you shouldn’t do is listen to people who get their information from a 2,000 year old book.

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Oppressing women, the Christian way

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the ludicrous bit of misogyny that is Kirk Cameron’s “marriage-strengthening event.” I said that it was important to recognize that the Christian teaching that women were meant to be helpers and servants to men is sadly not uncommon. I provided a link to a news article that quoted Michele Bachmann, a current candidate for President of the United States, saying that wives should submit to their husbands.

GirlWell, there’s more where that came from. Lots more. Ophelia Benson has been posting quite a bit lately on the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy movements. These movements are made up of families in which daughters are raised to cheerfully embrace their God-given roles as servants to their future husbands. They are trained to handle massive amounts of domestic work, to eschew “worldly” things like aspirations or higher education, and to be whatever the men in their lives want them to be.

Libby Anne is a former daughter of Christian patriarchy who has emerged as a prolific writer and critic of the movement. From the summary of her upbringing:

Daughters of Christian Patriarchy are essentially servants in their own homes, but this does not mean they are necessarily miserable and unhappy. While some daughters of Christian Patriarchy rebel and inwardly resent how they are being raised, most don’t. Most accept what their parents teach them as true, and look forward to their wedding day as the beginning of their lives. This was me. I was perfectly happy to help with my younger siblings and cook for a dozen and do load after load of laundry. At age ten, twelve, or fourteen, I was being trained to be a “helpmeet” to my future husband, preparing for my life’s role by working alongside my mother and serving as junior “helpmeet” to my father. I dreamed of my wedding constantly, and thought of what a wonderful wife, mother, and homemaker I would be. A wife and mother was all I wanted to be, because any dream of anything else was nipped in the bud before it ever took root. I truly believed that this was what God wanted of me, and that serving my family and raising my siblings was serving God. And I gloried in it.

Of course the girls are not just forced into their roles, but indoctrinated into it. They are taught to want the subservient roles that men (and their God!) have prepared for them. Another escapee of the movement writes:

It sounded so romantic when I was ages 10-13. I was going to be amazing someday! My husband was going to be pleased that I was so good at caring for children and keeping house. I was practicing submission to my father, taking it very seriously whenever he pointed out some behaviour of mine that “would infuriate my husband someday.” He knew what God wanted, and what men wanted. If I wanted to be successful and happy someday, I had to start by pleasing my Daddy.

Frightening, yes – but the heartbreaking part is what happened as she got older.

I put my whole self into my role as a stay-at-home daughter. I loved studying, but I couldn’t keep up with my self-taught high school materials and get all of my work done, so I gradually fell further and further behind. But school wasn’t as important as pleasing God. Sometimes I wished that I had the chance to study more than just cooking, cleaning and sewing, and I did ask my parents if I could take some classes while living at home, but I was reminded that it would only be a waste of time and money to go to college when none of that education would apply in the home. A college atmosphere could take my focus off the Lord, and fill my head with thoughts of career and rebellion. After some begging on my part, Dad said he would permit me to take a few online courses from a very conservative school if I insisted, but it was clear that this was not what he felt was wise. He also said that I had to finish all my high school material first, and that my school work could in no way interfere with my household duties. I was so overwhelmed at the thought of trying to keep both my father and a school happy, that I gave up on the idea of further education.

Heartbreaking.

Keep in mind that Christian patriarchy is just a few steps removed from the complementarianism espoused by most evangelical Christians and Catholics, who teach that men and women have separate God-given roles. As Libby Anne explains in her piece above, Christian patriarchy simply takes these beliefs to their natural conclusion.

I was reminded of these similarities just yesterday, when I learned that a popular American evangelist and author was instructing Christians not to listen to another popular evangelist and author because she’s a woman. Quote,

But I don’t want to get into a relationship of listening or attending a church where a woman is becoming my pastor, my shepherd or my authority. I think that would be an unhealthy thing for a man to do.

Yes, it’s fine to learn the occasional thing or two from a woman, but don’t learn too much! Then you might have to admit that a woman had something to teach you, that she’s something more than a follower and a servant.

And we can’t have that.

Image source: seriousbri

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