"Whether we’re being told we have to do it with someone else (masturbation isn’t “real” sex), we have to do it with someone of the opposite sex, we have to do it in a bed, 2.5 times a week, or some other form of this lie, there are no lack of people who want to feed you the lie that there is only one (or two) right ways to have sex. The truth is that there are no rules (beyond age and consent) to how you can have healthy and fun sex. Whenever you catch someone feeding you this lie, call them on it." From "Lies We're Told About Sex" by Cory Silverberg, About:Sexuality
I was interviewed by Fusion for an article on the toxic cultural forces that tell guys to lose their virginity as soon as possible–and to feel like utter losers if they don't. It's based on the male virgin section of a secret-sharing site called Whisper, which is cool on one hand because it allows these guys (gay, straight and bi) to be honest about their feelings about wanting sex or not, but also feels a little like a sex work matchmaking service for losing it.
I spoke to the reporter about the lack of honest conversation about sexuality, the dearth of actual sex ed and the huge vacuum this leaves for young people just when they're trying to make sense of their sexual feelings. When the vacuum gets filled with sexist, judgmental and usually inaccurate pop culture, porn and abstinence-until-marriage classes about what 'real men' are supposed to be like, it's no wonder 17-year-old guys think life is over because they haven't yet had intercourse. I've said this before, and I said it in the article: I believe that becoming sexual is a long and gradual process. It's not some race to the finish line where the money-shot is the end goal.
The same day I was interviewed, I saw this quote from Cory Silverberg at About:Sexuality, with a collection of articles on delayed ejaculation and erectile disfunction in young men:
"The stories we tell each other and ourselves about men and sex are all pretty bleak. They want sex all the time but never want to talk about it. They are ready any moment but are sexually callous. They are fundamentally aggressive. On and on it goes, and it's no wonder that men are so messed up about sex when you think about the options presented to them. And what do they do when the problem they are having doesn't fit neatly into the options they have?"
A lack of understanding about sexuality doesn't just harm the guys themselves, it also affects their partners. Here's a disturbing study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine about young men's attitudes towards having anal sex with female partners. While some women participated enthusiastically in receiving anal sex, the majority felt coerced:
"The researchers found that many young women who did engage in anal sex found the experiences painful and full of pressure. They seemed to occur in sexual climate in which the concept of mutuality wasn’t highlighted enough amongst teenagers, for reasons that ranged from a lack of open dialogue and education to young men attempting to mimic what they see in porn."
Ah, mutuality...Guys receiving anal sex from their female partners. What a concept!
Guys, what do you think? Where are you getting your messages about sex and how to 'be a man.' What can we do to change the conversation about sexuality and masculinity?
So, this is cool: Scientists are growing vaginas in a lab made from patients' vulvar tissue. This is a big deal for women with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a rare genetic condition in which the vagina and uterus either underdevelop or fail to develop at all. It's so far been tested on four teenagers, ages 13 to 18 at the time of their surgery, and all are now reporting full function and good sexual sensation. Although the article doesn't mention it, I wonder how this could work for trans women, who would presumably need to get donated starter cells. Cory Silverberg explains some of the fascinating science here.
I was particularly interested in this because of a really great V-Card Diaries submission we received a while back from Erinn, who has MRKH, and wrote about rethinking her definition of virginity loss if she had no vagina.
Rape Culture grows right out of Virginity Culture, which gives women no sexual autonomy, sees their bodies as the property of men, but also tells them they are responsible for any sexual activity directed at them, including sexual assault.
The latest Rape Culture scandal erupted at American University with the release of emails between member of psuedo-frat Epsilon Iota. Click through for some of the 70 conversations reported by Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel, but please consider it completely covered with trigger warnings. The unrelenting tidal wave of casual talk about raping 'bitches' at our colleges is sickening and overwhelming. What the f**k is wrong with these guys????
It's hard to be a dedicated rape-culture denier when shit like this pops up on such a regular basis. And yet they're out full force telling The Fratergate AU that they're picking on poor innocent frat boys. The curators of this blog are trying to force AU to deal with the situation and take disciplinary action against the frat. They're doing a good job remaining calm in the face of all the frat-boys-will-be-frat-boys commentary.
In other depressing news (with more trigger warnings), Cambodia's 'Virginity' trade is what happens when extreme poverty, male power and myths about virgins collide. Marie Claire wrote about the deeply disturbing reality of parents selling their young daughters to brothels due to economic hardship, something happening all over Asia.
"The virgin trade thrives partly due to a cultural myth. "Many older Asian men believe sex with virgins gives them magical powers to stay young and prevent illness," she explains. "There is an endless number of destitute families for the trade to prey on, and the rule of law is very weak." Human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and the buying and selling of sex are illegal in Cambodia. However, because of official corruption and substandard police resources, no one has ever been convicted of purchasing virgins in Cambodia's courts."
The Atlantic wrote a story about later-life virginity loss. I'm glad 'older virginity' is being discussed, but it still focused too much on one P-in-V moment instead of a pretty long and diverse process of becoming sexual. Not counting anything before intercourse is really narrow, especially because it's not the way lots of people have sex. But it's so hard to change deeply-ingrained ideas about what 'counts.' Also most of the subjects were religious, furthering that older-virgin myth as well.
In our film, Shelby Knox talks about her pastor's abstinence classes and being told having sex before marriage makes you a dirty toothbrush (prospective husbands supposedly wanting their toothbrushes, and vaginas, sealed in their orginial packaging.) Amanda Hess writes about the flawed internal logic of this handy Abstinence Parlor Trick of comparing a girl's sexuality to all sorts of chewed-up things:
Passing around a piece of chocolate is an evocative image, but it doesn’t ultimately make much sense as a sexual metaphor. Sure, nobody wants to eat a dirty piece of candy, but why is anyone passing around an unwrapped chocolate anyway? You just eat it, and then it’s gone, so I’m not sure what the problem is.
And clean toothbrushes are great, but do you really want to use that same toothbrush for the rest of your life? Doctors recommend replacing it every three to four months. And about that pristine stick of gum we keep hearing about: If having sex with a woman leaves her like a chewed-up gob of polymer, why would you ever want to have sex with a woman more than one time, ever? Much less marry her? Marriage sounds disgusting!
Sexist, unscientific and scare-mongering curriculums of this kind have been adopted by 60% of Mississippi schools.
For some much-needed comic relief and palate-cleansing, watch this really funny monologue by Julia Sweeney about talking to her young daughter about sex.
"The virginal membrane, a fold of mucous membrane stretched across and partially closing the external orifice of the vagina."
Our friend Cory Silverberg at About:Sexulality came across this curious definition for the hymen in the Oxford English Dictionary. It makes sense to maybe do a hymen=virginity in concept or culture, but–no, no–never in physical reality. As we've written a gazillion times, the state of the hymen has nothing to do with a woman's sexual history. Seriously, people!! There's enough mythology around virginity already without some respected dictionary adding to the problem. Thanks, Cory, for flagging that.
Readers of this blog know I'm a huge fan of About:Sexuality's Cory Silverberg. A piece he just posted debunking 'college hookup culture' stories included this great bit at the end. It's sort of off topic, but very interesting to ponder.
For me the most insidious lie in the hookup culture narrative isn't about quantity of sex or sex partners or the kind of sex or anything behavioral at all. It's the notion that sex doesn't mean anything...embedded in the narrative is the idea that hookup sex is sex without love or commitment and that therefore it isn't meaningful....
This is a lie I can't tolerate. I've never spoken with anyone who had any kind of sex with someone that carried absolutely no meaning. They may start by calling it meaningless, but once you ask a few questions, and give them a chance to tell a sexual story that doesn't have to fit inside societies narrow frame, some meaning always emerges."
Here's a very quick roundup of news on virginity and sexuality:
While spending a weekend at the Kinsey Institute getting all fan-girl over everything, I had the great fortune of going through lots of archival material, especially the shitstorm caused by the groundbreaking Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. It's been 60 years since details of Dr. Alfred Kinsey's landmark book caused all hell to break loose. Women masturbated? Women had affairs? Women liked...sex?
In the words of Reverend Billy Graham: "[Dr Kinsey] certainly could not have interviewed any of the millions of born-again Christian women in this country who put the highest price on virtue, decency and modesty." Happily, many clergy said "Kinsey's work would benefit humanity because knowledge of our sexual natures could only improve people's lives."
Learn more and check out some seriously awesome images here.
An Indonesian educator has suggested using his city budget to institute annual virginity tests for female students 16 to 19, describing it as "an accurate way to protect children from prostitution and free sex". He also said "This is for their own good," and "Every woman has the right to virginity … we expect students not to commit negative acts."
And if you think this makes no logical sense, you're right. And not just because there is no such thing as a virginity test as, we have now written 39 separate times. The good news is even the local Islamic Council thinks it's a stupid idea which was already rejected in Sumatra and West Java. So, progress, maybe?
“It was a miracle,” Elida Mendoza, 59, said through a translator about seeing the mother of God on the windshield of her truck. She and others tried to wash the windshield, but couldn’t wipe the image of Mary away with mere cleaning products."
"There isn't one right time to start, and most sex educators will tell you that it's a lifelong process (because sexuality is just another part of life). The thing to realize is that if you have kids you're already teaching them about sexuality. So why not do it consciously?"
The wonderful Cory Silverberg in a group of columns about talking to your kids about sex education, porn and masturbation.
"On what basis, I thought, do we continue to assume that [Louis XIV mistress] Marie remained a virgin until her wedding night? Was it possible that young women of her time knew how to convincingly fake it?"
"The project of assuring ‘evidence’ one’s virginity might have been a familiar one to many young women, whether or not they had previously had intercourse with a man. In seventeenth-century comedy, a familiar scene is a dialogue between a young bride-to-be and her governess, who advises her on how to act like a virgin on her wedding night."
From a very delightful and informative article called "On Faking Virginity"
Cory Silverberg is one of my favorite sex writers and if you don't follow him, you definitely should. This is a small part of his response to someone who says they're a virgin and doesn't know what to expect the first time they have sex. "Even after you do get to have sex with someone else, all you'll know is what that sex was like. No two bodies are identical, no two people are the same, and so no two sexual encounters will ever feel exactly the same way. If you're sober and at least a little self-aware, sex will be different with every new partner, and it can be completely different with the same person from one encounter to the next.
Sex can be a cookie-cutter experience, you could do it the way you ride a bike, shower in the morning, or get ready for bed, meaning more or less the same order of things, the same thoughts, the same feelings every time. But good sex, great sex, is sex that begins without you really knowing where it will end. It has boundaries and parameters (so good sex doesn't mean anything goes, nor does it mean you shouldn't plan) but it is as free of expectations as any encounter with another human being can be."
Cory wrote this response a while back and is still wondering what exactly the right answer would involve. Your best time? Your worst time? For me, above is one of my favorite parts of his reply, but there's so much more.
Personally, the first time I had intercourse (which is often what people want to know about) it felt like a totally mechanical experience–someone put their penis in my vagina–and it was a total let-down. Also, it didn't hurt and I didn't bleed and it wasn't the least bit exciting, except for the getting-it-over-with part. It was only after I had sex different times with different people that I understood all the subtle different kinds of things I would and could feel. That's one reason I wonder at the wisdom of having one partner in life–the one you marry (aside from the sexist, homophobic, moralistic, shaming aspects involved in those teachings). But I digress. Please read his full response here and weigh in if you'd like.
Cory Silverberg at AboutSexuality recently tackled a question that we get asked pretty often: How many college students are virgins? Usually the safest answer is 'More than you think' Having said that, I wanted to share some stats that Cory pulled together in his column. The data comes with disclaimers to consider: Virginity means different things to different people beyond vaginal intercourse which Cory talks about here and we talk about a lot here, having intercourse once is different from being sexually active, every peer group is different in terms of sexual experience, the age of college students varies greatly, and statistics only mean as much as you let them mean.
Every study comes up with slightly different numbers, but a recent large scale study using a nationally representative sample of just under 14,000 US adolescents found that by the age of 18:
75% of people reported having had vaginal intercourse 67% had engaged in oral sex 11% had engaged in anal intercourse
A much smaller study which also used a nationally representative sample reported the following
31% of 16-17 year olds reported having vaginal intercourse 63% of 18-19 year olds reported having vaginal intercourse
In that study, if you consider sex to include oral sex, sexual touching, vaginal or anal intercourse, then 45% of people report having had some kind of sex by the time they are 17.
For a much more tongue-in-cheek analysis, check out Virginity by College Major.
The wise and wonderful Cory Silverberg from About.com Sexuality on First Time Sex:
"Many women, for example, may have had a lot of sex, but still be waiting for their first orgasm. For people whose first experiences with sex were not by choice, the idea of “first sex” can be very different and may evoke more anxiety or fear than excitement. But there aren’t any rules to this, we each come to every first time sexual experience with our own history as well as our own unique feelings and expectations."
Tips and techniques for First Time Orgasm, First Time Intercourse and First Time Anal Sex are here.
The Discovery Channel is just ran an episode of Curiosty called "Why is Sex Fun?" The website has several clips from the show about brain activity during orgasm, intercourse as seen on a sonogram and the giant swath of genital real estate known as the clitoris. They're pretty interesting, although I could do without the intense rumbling 'orgasm' music and the soft-focus camera work. The 3-D graphics blow our junior high health class films out of the water, though. In a bit of genius synergy, the show is hosted by smart/sassy/sexy Maggie Gyllenhaal. Aside from her excellent sex-on-film credentials, she's starring in a new movie called "Hysteria," about the early days of the vibrator-as-medical-tool. It's a subject she also covers in one of the videos here: the practice of Victorian physicians curing their female patients of 'hysteria' by bringing them to orgasm with one of these gizmos.
As popular as this idea has become, even in this very blog, its veracity is under some serious dispute by sex historians. For one thing, it was hard to imagine this took place in a climate where doctors were extremely nervous about being accused of sexual impropriety with their patients. Do check out this article from Cory Silverberg, and a fascinating collection of Victorian sex myths and facts.
Researchers at Indiana University have just released the very large and very comprehensive National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). With responses from 5,865 people ages 14 to 94, the survey asked about frequency of sex, types of partners, paying for sex and even how much pleasure or pain they got from sexual activity. The always-interesting Cory Silverberg at About:Sexuality spent the weekend with the report (bless his heart) is doing several posts on this gigantic study, the first of which includes some of the highlights (and the entire thread is here.) His posts explore both the good and questionable data, and he makes the point that some of this information has been known to health educators for a while now, but not to the general public.
Unfortunately, he hasn't done anything on age of first sexual experience or the number of non-sexually-active respondents, but that may come in later posts or papers. You can click here for a chart on different sexual activities by age. If you want to do your own research, you can download the first nine papers here.
Here are some of Cory's and our highlights:
Not all teenagers are the same. By collecting data from adolescents age 14 and up, the survey foregrounds the transition moment between the ages of 16-17 and 18-19, where teenagers show a huge leap in both kind and frequency of sexual activities. To offer one example, twice as many women between 18-19 report having had oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal sex as women who are 16-17. The data also let us see that condom rates also drop during this transition, in some groups by as much as 50% between the ages of 14-17 and 18-24.
53% of participants were with a romantic partner, 24% had a casual sex partner, and 9% had sex with a "new acquaintance"
Across age groups 6% of men and 30% of women reported some pain at their last sexual encounter. These percentages are striking both in terms of the sheer number of people they represent who are experiencing pain during sex, and the significant (but not surprising) gender discrepancy.
Overall 91% of men and 64% of women report having an orgasm at last sexual encounter. At the same time, 85% of men and 92% of women believed their partner had an orgasm the last time they had sex. These data can't be directly compared given the small group of people who have same sex partners, but the discrepancy, particular among men, is notable. Clearly more men think their partners are having orgasms than they are.
Read more at About:Sexuality.
Sex.Really. does at least one thing right: They have Lena Chen blogging for them. You may remember Lena from some notorious goings-on at Harvard University that pitted her (and her blog Sex & The Ivy) against True Love Revolution, the on-campus abstinence group.
Her Sex. Really. post, entitled "Oxytocin: The Pseudoscience of the Hook-Up Hormone," is strong blast against ongoing contentions that casual sex reliably leads to heartache, loneliness and even mental illness due to all that crazy oxytocin coursing through our girly après-sex bodies. Citing recent evidence to the very contrary, she writes:
"As a now-monogamous former sex blogger, I'm living proof that hooking up doesn't make you crazy or unable to commit. But if mainstream media reports of the past few years are to be believed, I'm the exception, not the rule. Recently, however, researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted one of the first large-scale studies on the effects of hooking up and found the following:
"Although there has been speculation in public discourse that sexual encounters outside a committed romantic relationship may be emotionally damaging for young people, this study found no differences in the psychological well-being of young adults who had a casual sexual partner verses a more committed partner."
We recently caught up with Lena at the Harvard Abstinence Conference and we're excited to share a bit of our interview with her on this blog next week. But for now, here's how she describes one of the chief proponents of the oxytocin-is-dangerous theory in her post:
Media coverage of the supposed "hook-up culture" often echoes misconceptions first promoted by abstinence advocate Dr. Eric Keroack, the Bush-appointed former deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services. During his tenure, Keroack made the case for abstinence-only sex education by claiming that premarital sex damages one's ability to form attachments down the line.
The layman's version: oxytocin, the so-called "bonding hormone" which is produced during intercourse, will be less effective at bonding us to our future mates if we overindulge in the chemical cocktail by bed-hopping through our youth.
Aside from Lena's updates on these discredited oxytocin theories, I find it totally delicious that she directly challenges Laura Sessions Stepp's work on oxytocin and the perils of casual sex (Unhooked) – who we recently learned is closely involved with Sex.Really, the host of the post. I would say it's totally cool they ran with it, except the editors seemed to feel the need to include a note from Laura Sessions Stepp saying "I have never heard of Keroack nor read anything he wrote"
Really, Laura? Because Bush's appointment of Dr. Keroak was major, major headline news. Keroak, an anti-contraception and anti-choice crusader, and abstinence-till-marriage advocate, was actually appointed the head of the office charged with providing women with contraceptives and pregnancy prevention counseling. How did a self-described feminist like Laura Sessions Stepp miss that?
Cory Silverberg, writing at about.com:sexuality, came up with a wonderful definition of casual sex, which inovlves no craziness whatsoever:
"When sex is casual, I think the word is used to mean that the sex is detached from those traditional sexual and gender scripts. This is, I would suggest, precisely what is so threatening about casual sex. Casual sex isn't sex by the rules."