I witnessed a birth. Conclusion: Vaginas are awesome!
Wednesday was a vagtastic day! It was a day that started with me witnessing my sister push life into this world through her vagina, and ended with Ashton Kutcher posting an article on facebook in which I’m heavily quoted, about vaginas, of course. Pretty rad day for a sexologist! Vagina, vagina, VAGINA!
Watching my little sister give birth, holding her leg with one hand and shoulder with the other, was an experience that gave me all the feels. And not necessarily the feels I thought I would have. I’ll try to explain them, in no particular order.
1.Vaginas are awesome. All I can think about is the “I Was There In The Room” monologue from the Vagina Monologues, and the introduction: “Eve Ensler was present for the birth of her granddaughter. She was in awe of vaginas before that moment; she’s in deep worship now.” I had a similar transformative experience. It’s no secret that I think vaginas, vulvas, and clitorises are pretty damn neato. But now I’m just like- HOLY SHIT! Honestly. Holy fucking shit. Wow.
I have seen the Vagina Monologues approximately 60 times, and I cry every time during the birth monologue. Every time I’ve seen a birth video in class, I cry. Even that old show “A Baby Story” on TLC made me get teary. So I figured I would cry seeing it in real life, up close and personal, and with someone I love. But I didn’t. I was too busy being stunned silent by the electrifying realization that the human body is a remarkable machine. Holy fucking shit. Wow.
The line where I always cry during the birth monologue is
We forget the vagina- all of us.
What else could explain our lack of awe?
Our lack of reverence?
I never understood why people hate on vaginas so hard. They belittle them, hurt them, condemn them, treat them like they’re repulsive. I’ve dedicated my career to trying to end this. But seeing what the vagina can do- it literally tears and bleeds to bring life, LIFE, into this world, it makes me doubly infuriated that they are shit on by society at large- by, frankly, all of us. (and I’m crying typing this… damn). It’s an important question Eve asks. How in the hell do you explain our lack of awe and reverence? Because I can’t think of any other way to describe what I witnessed other than deserving of roll-out-the-carpet, bow-down-and-give-thanks awe and reverence. Holy fucking shit. Wow.
2.The medicalization of birth makes me uncomfortable. It some ways, I’m glad my sister could get medication to make her comfortable. She was even able to sleep through several hours of the labor. But when she wasn’t asleep and was balled over in excruciating agony, and 10 minutes seemed like hours, I was so thankful for the medical technology we have. I kept thinking of how people 10,000 years ago dealt with this suffering without any drugs. Yay modern medicine!
But at the same time, the medicalization just seemed cold and lacking a human component. A lot of the staff we encountered just treated her, and her life altering experience of giving birth and becoming a mother, and baby Ethan’s life altering experience of… becoming alive, like just another day at the office. They just seemed like they were punching a time card. Like an “Oh, another delivery, and then I’ll take my lunch break” kind of attitude. There was a relentless parade of random strangers walking into the room for something- a tech person taking vital signs, a med student introducing themselves, someone coming to make up the tray of instruments the OB will need during the delivery, and on and on and on. After she gave birth she couldn’t sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time because of the constant interference of people just needing to check “see patient in room 211” off their to-do list.
My favorite was when she just got admitted, and she’s in pain and scared because, OMG this is actually happening!, and she’s mostly naked, hobbling to the toilet while my mom and I have one arm each trying to help her get to the bathroom and someone walks in and announces “I need your driver’s license and insurance card”. My sister winced and tried to reach for her wallet on the table, and I’m like “Can she get her damn clothes on first??!!” It’s like, c’mon. Could you possibly have a shred of compassion for fuck’s sake?
When the anesthesiologist came in to give an epidural, my sister was in the midst of a contraction. The doctor shoved the clipboard in her face, needing her to sign the consent form, while my sister is, you know, having a contraction and thus a little too preoccupied to take the clipboard, read, and sign it. It was a 40 second contraction, and the doctor couldn’t even wait. She tried to be patient for a second, but then would move the clipboard closer. My sister would moan in pain. The doc would try to be patient for another second, and then moved the clipboard closer to her face again. This happened 6 times in 40 seconds. If your day is so busy and getting your paperwork done is so important that you can’t give someone literally 40 seconds to writhe in pain in peace, you might need to revisit that course on bedside manner. And humanity.
Also it was startling when random people came in, introduced themselves, and then looked at or touched my sister’s genitals without asking. Like “Hi, I’m Dr. _____.” And then their finger was in her vagina. I know it’s your job but, no. Unless there is a medical emergency and touching them will save their life, doctors should still ask first. How hard would it be to say “Hi, I’m Dr. ____, is it OK if I check how many centimeters you are dilated?” But that might take 15 extra seconds, and evidently taking 15 seconds of a doctor’s time is a lot to ask.
There was one nurse who was exceptionally awesome, patient, and attentive. And I told her I thought so :)
3. It was a real treat to be around people for whom sexualized body parts can be discussed without so much as a hint of shame or embarrassment. Cervix. Vagina. Rectum. How to wipe the scrotum when changing his diaper. How to bring the baby to the breast. How to squeeze the nipple to get milk flowing. Penis. Foreskin. All these things were discussed extensively with us by doctors and nurses, and there was nary a snicker. No “who-ha”. No “private parts”. No awkwardness. Not even subtle awkwardness from people who are uncomfortable but try like hell not to show it because they know it would be unprofessional, which I’ve seen before. None of that. Everyone just acted like it’s all totally normal. Because it is, and it was so refreshing.
4. OMG circumcision. My sister made a decision to not circumcise Ethan. But the assumption was that she would, by everyone. And remember, there were a lot of people coming in and out of the room, asking questions, filing out charts, and all of them assumed there would be a circumcision.
Pediatrician: So when you circumcise him later today…
Circumcision was even on the list of things that needed to be done before being discharged from the hospital. Granted, it says “if applicable”, but I got the sense they didn’t mean applicable, meaning if you chose to, more applicable meaning if the baby has a penis, because it couldn’t apply to vulva-bearing babies. Argh. I’ll save my rant on routine neo-natal circumcision for another day.
5. Breastfeeding is perfectly natural but not naturally perfectly. In fact, it can be really really challenging. It’s hard enough, I’m now extra annoyed that people make it that much harder for moms by giving them shit for breastfeeding in public.
6. I’m ever more convinced that the United States needs to get on board with the rest of the industrialized world and require paid maternity leave. He feeds every three hours, sometimes for an hour. That leaves 2 hours. In that time, my sister needs to change him, use the bathroom herself which is an ordeal because of the pain and swelling, and try to find time to sleep, eat, and do other life things. I don’t know how many weeks/months/years that’s supposed to go on for, but how the hell is someone supposed to do that, and work?
7. Vaginas are awesome, but the people they are attached to are awesome too. I am so proud of my sister! She is so strong. Mothers don’t get enough credit. I’m also finding a new appreciation for my own mother.
On a personal level, this experience was incredible. Getting to support my sister and have the women in my family share this moment is something we’ll all never ever forget. On a political/policy/professional level, it just confirmed what I already suspected. I always believed that the vagina’s ability to give birth was incredible in theory. I always thought routine circumcision was wrong as a matter of principle. I always supported destigmatizing breastfeeding and promoted paid maternity leave as a part of my personal ethics of compassion. I’ve always thought that many doctors could really stand to improve their bedside manner (I actually wrote a research paper on this in grad school as bedside manner relates to sexual health and medicine). But SEEING it all was totally different than believing it in theory. And I am so thankful that I got to SEE it. It’s literally the most ordinary thing in the world. Births occur every few seconds. But this will likely be the only time I’ll get to be a part of a birth, other than my own, so for me, it was extraordinary. And for Ethan, it’s the single most important thing that will ever happen to him. I’m still in awe.
Walking down the street in West Chester on my way to give notice to the person who owns my apartment that I am moving to California and that he can put my place up for rent.
Young Man: Hey, are you Jill? Me: Yes YM: I love everything you do. Me: Wow, thank you! YM: I hope you have a great day!
That’s what I needed today as I confront the bitter-sweetness of leaving this place. That reminded me that I did good things here, and I can feel at peace about that legacy as I turn the page. Thanks Young Man!
Add “die cut sticker printers” to the long list of businesses over the years who have refused to do business with me because my business is in normalizing human sexuality, which in itself speaks to why my business needs to exist in the first place. Also on that list are banks, credit card processing companies, realtors, lawyers, graphic designers, and a ton of different advertisers (groupon, clipper magazine, the list goes on and on).
Here’s the back story.
For my Female Orgasm 101 college workshop and in-home party, I created an activity called “pin the clit on the vulva”. It’s always been extremely popular because it’s fun and silly (I make people close their eyes, spin around and everything). Pedagogically, it’s a wonderful way to introduce the different parts of the vulva, what they’re called, and where they are. It’s an excellent lesson plan to fulfill my stated learning objective of participants appreciating the nuance of the vulva, and understanding how erasure of the different parts from popular vernacular and the reduction of the entire external genitals to a “vagina” is harmful and oppressive. It’s a strong ice breaker activity, as people who moments before were sitting in the audience nervous, suddenly are shouting out “to the left! to the left!” as their friend or classmate is feeling their way around the wall with their eyes closed and a larger than life labia majora or clitoral hood in their hands.
But there has been a problem as far as the logistics. Years ago I used an 8 1/2 by 11 laminated paper as the back drop, and smaller laminated parts for the vulva which participants taped on, and it worked perfectly. But as the Female Orgasm 101 got more popular and elicited bigger audiences, it was hard to see all the way at the front of an auditorium, and so I made another laminated version, this time 12x16. It’s easier to see for sure, but because it’s bigger, it’s heavier, and it always falls off the wall no matter how much blue painters tape I use. So I started brainstorming ways to make this work.
How about felt? Make a felt board like the ones in kindergarten classrooms, and the little felt clitoris and urethra and such will stick to the other felt and it would be great. But the problem would be getting the felt board on the wall. It wouldn’t stay upright. I couldn’t figure out a way to hang it without damaging someone’s living room wall, or prop it up without having to carry a heavy and cumbersome easel with me every time I teach. Not practical.
So I thought about removable vinyl. It could stick right to someone’s wall, and be removed for the next class. But apparently die cut vinyl in the size I would need would be almost $1,000?!? No.
Which brought me to stickers. If I could custom make a sticker sheet with all the different parts, and simply tape a piece of paper to the wall, which will be lighter not laminated, and have participants place the stickers on the paper, very much like kid’s “pin the tail on the donkey” games. It’s not reusable, but I figured it’d be cheap enough to be able to use a new sticker sheet for each event, and then I could also give away the finished “artwork” they make to someone in the audience. Win. I found a company that makes custom die cut sticker sheets and emailed them for a price quote.
I got this email in response:
It’s a shame I have to, but whenever I do inquires like this I’m sure to emphasize the EDUCATIONAL use. And it’s ridiculous and the whole reason I do clitoris education in the first place; it’s bullshit pleasure isn’t a valid enough reason to exist. We can include vaginas in “polite” conversation, textbooks, sex ed lesson plans, news reports, whatever, because they have “valid” health functions with reproduction and the like. But a clitoris’ only function is pleasurable sensations, and that’s not acceptable, so boom, clitorises get erased and excluded. It’s the same thing with creating vulva and clitoris stickers. If I wanted to make vulva and clitoris stickers because i wanted to cover my room in vulvas because I think they’re awesome and I like to look at them, or because they arouse me, or whatever, that’s not acceptable. So I have to capitulate by saying they are for TEACHING and HEALTH awareness and other “valid” and “acceptable” reasons a clitoris’ existence could possibly be acknowledged.
But it didn’t work this time. Emphasizing my position as a sexuality education teacher needing help with printing a lesson plan did nothing to lessen the sex-phobic, and ultimately misogynist, knee-jerk reaction to silence and suppress anything related to clitorises.
Clitorises are not offensive anymore than earlobes, fingernails, shoulder blades, or any other body part is offensive. What is offensive is that this part of my body is considered offensive. In this email, this is what I hear:
"There is a part of your body that is repulsive. Not my body, your body. It’s repulsive because if you figure out how to use it, you might not want or need a penis, and then my body kind might not be able to rule over your body kind anymore. This part of your body is so repulsive that a cartoon rendering of it will offend my staff who will have to see it. Losing your money is worth being spared from having to participate, however remotely, in this indecency that you possess. But no offense."
Welp. It’s material for the book I’m currently writing which is all about clitorises, why they’re fucking awesome, and why no one wants to talk about them.
This is the big one! I am moving my sexuality education business and my life to San Diego, California! This move will be taking place during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I will be starting my new adventure in southern California on January 1, 2015!
Why? Two words: sunshine and sex-positivity. Or is that three words? More on why I’m moving in a bit, but first, some logistics:
East coast folks: Let’s fit in a college workshop or in-home party before I go! I know there are so many of you that have been wanting to for years but never actually scheduled one for whatever reason. We have two months to make it happen! Regular clients, let’s squeeze one more in!
West coast folks: I’m so excited to finally be able to bring sex ed to you on the regular after so many years of asking if/when I’ll ever do a talk on the west coast. Now is the time! You can help make this major personal and professional life transition smoother by lining up a college workshop or in-home party now for January or February, and being one of my first clients in my new home! Email email@example.com! Also if any west coast, specifically San Diego journalists read this blog, I’d be super happy to do an interview about making SD the new home base for my sex-positive, social justice focused sexuality education efforts.
Middle of the country folks: I’ll be driving cross country, again, on my move to Cali and can do parties along the way if we can line it up right. Inquire via email if interested.
So here’s more on why.
As I get older and ponder the existential quandaries of my mortality, I realize that I’ve been doing a poor job of following my own advice for this one opportunity at life that could be gone tomorrow. For a person who advocates seeking pleasure unapologetically for a living, I haven’t been seeking much pleasure, and when I do, I’ve been very apologetic about it.
I love the sun. It fills me with so much joy physically and emotionally. I am literally a better person when the sun is shining. So why, to borrow from a meme circling last winter during the polar vortex, am I living where the air hurts my face? Most of the year the sky is cloudy, dreary, overcast. The snow is muddy and wet. Everything is dead and abysmal. It’s freaking cold. During the short summer, it’s humid and rainy, but when it’s sunny and nice I spend as much time as possible outside, have weekday “pool days” and drive to the beach several times. And I feel guilty about this. I feel like I’m “wasting time” or “being lazy”. Fuck that. I’m done depriving myself of the bliss I feel from enjoying a warm sunny day because I’ve been taught to believe that suffering builds character.
I currently have a light therapy lamp to deal with my Seasonal Affective Disorder sitting on my kitchen table so I don’t fall into a horrible clinical depression like I did last winter when it was -3 degrees for weeks on end. I’m not going to be depressed and miserable 8-10 months out of the year (which is 66-83% of my life) anymore. Moving to southern California will be my boldest act of self-care to date.
Exhibit A of why I need to move: The weather this week at home, and in San Diego. Chilly and overcast vs warm and sunny. Some people might like east coast weather, but I do not, so I am going to go where the weather makes me happy.
Exhibit B of why I need to move: Last winter I took a picture of the street I live on. It was grey, and snowy, and just… ugh I get anxiety even looking at it. I searched Instagram that day for #sandiegoliving to take my mind off of it and found the picture on the right, taken the same day by someone who lives there. I want that to be my day when it’s snowing in Pennsylvania. I want that to be my day everyday.
Exhibit C of why I need to move: As these car selfies demonstrate, sunshine brings me a positive cycle of I look good because I feel good, and I feel good because I look good. Sunshine means less clothes, and I HATE clothes. I hate coats, I hate pants, I hate sweaters, and I especially hate socks. I feel whole when my skin is bare. If I could get away with wearing a bikini 24/7 for the rest of my days, I would. Sunshine also means blonde hair and freckles, which makes me look and feel amazing. (left, winter- boo!, right, summer-yay!)
I think southern California will be an ideal place to do my work. It’s far from perfect in terms of sex-positivity, and sexuality related social justice, which is good, because I don’t want to live somewhere where I’d be uselessly preaching to the choir. But there is at least a certain level of backbreaking work that’s already been done in SoCal by others before me, and I don’t foresee me having to spend time, legal fees, and emotional bandwidth on fighting about whether or not a heart is pubic hair. It’s a good balance.
Exhibit D of why I need to move: How my governor and California’s governor have different attitudes on sexual violence. One just signed groundbreaking affirmative sexual consent legislation into law. The other is still defending and protecting a powerful millionaire who knew about 10 year olds being raped in the facility he oversees and did nothing to stop it. I will be able to get so much more done and help make so many changes with this kind of attitudinal infrastructure.
In the last few years I’ve done a bit of traveling. The idea had been building for awhile and when I returned from my European honeymoon I said, “that’s it”. I’m moving.” It’s a great big world out there with all kinds of people, experiences, and climates that would give me life. I’m extremely fortunate in that I have the means and life circumstances that I could choose to live literally anywhere in the world- a Greek island, Australia, Hawaii, wherever! I’m child-free and self-employed with 100% control over my choices and yet I choose to live in a provincial Pennsylvania town where I’m cold and uninspired. Why? That ends December 26, when I’ll take only the possessions I can fit in my car, drive to San Diego, and start a new life.
I’ve been back from my fall 2014 Sex Ed Road Trip for a little while, but still recuperating.
It started out fine. On the first day I drove about 16 straight hours to Alabama, rocking out to Jagged Little Pill on repeat. I haven’t listened to that album since I was 11 years old. Listening to it at 29 years old while on a cross country road trip teaching hundreds of people about clitorises was like, “OMG I get it! The feminist angst. The anger. I get it!” in a way that was completely over my head as a kid.
One of the highlights was eating local food. I had sausage gravy and biscuits in Oklahoma, enchiladas and a margarita in Tucson, BBQ ribs and cornbread in Texas, and gumbo and jambalaya in New Orleans. So good.
Speaking of New Orleans; YES. I’m so going back there on my next vacation. I was dog tired with a pounding headache from all the driving, and I was alone, which sucked, but I dragged my sorry as to a jazz club and sat there by myself listening to live music. I didn’t even know I liked jazz music until I heard it live in New Orleans, and that’s what I love about getting to travel for work, is learning things I didn’t know I didn’t know.
I also got to visit my dad in Tucson and spend some time with him which was nice. I went to the Grand Canyon. And on days when I was neither driving nor speaking, I laid by the hotel pool and read about clits in preparation for writing my forthcoming book about clits. It was so great to do sex ed for folks all over the country. One group made vulva cupcakes, which was fun. I had one of the best student audiences ever during my stop at Hobard and William Smith Colleges.
Also the tour was lucrative. Since this is my full-time job, that’s important.
Those were the good things. There were other things that were… less than ideal. We will call them learning opportunities. Things I learned:
1. It takes more than 2 months to plan an event of this size. I didn’t have as many speaking engagements as I wanted, so there were large gaps. This was bad because it meant too much driving in between, days away from home with nothing to do, and paying for extra hotel rooms. The next Sex Ed Road Trip is planned for April, giving me 7 months to market and fill up the dates. Lesson learned.
2. Four weeks is way too long. WAY too long. Two weeks is my limit. It’s my limit for how many days I can go not sleeping in my own bed. It’s my limit for not getting laid. It’s my limit for not being touched in non-sexual ways like having your legs on someone’s lap while you sit on the couch. It’s my limit for having my daily routine thrown off schedule. I don’t like not being able to respond in a timely manner to emails because I’m driving 15 hours a day. I don’t like taking a few days to ship out online orders because I’m in the middle of rural Texas and I have no idea where to find a post office. Two weeks is the limit for now on.
(As such, by the way, my next Sex Ed Road Trip speaking tour is happening along the I-5 corridor from San Diego, CA to Vancouver, BC and back. If you’re along that route and want to bring me to your college or living room for some sex ed, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
3. Hotels (room door opens to inside corridor) only. No motels (room door opens to the parking lot). Even if it’s 3 times the price. Even if I only plan to rest my head there for a few hours before waking up early and hitting the road again. Long story short, I had a HORRIBLE experience in a motel in rural Oklahoma in which two different men coincidentally and independently of each other banged repeatedly on my door with the side of the fist until I screamed. I ended up fleeing in the middle of the night afraid for my life and drove to Arkansas. One of the men later tracked down my email and emailed me saying he saw my SEX DOC license plate, saw what room I went into, and wanted to “talk”. FML.
4. When speaking at colleges, encourage organizers not to attempt to put butts in seats by requiring fraternities to attend, having professors offer extra credit, and raffling off huge, several hundred dollar cash prizes. That creates a packed audience of people who do not really want to be there and sabotage the experience with all kinds of unpleasant tactics up to an including sexual violence and misogynist jokes in the middle of my presentation. I don’t even want to talk about it.
5. Speaking again and again and again on clitoral orgasm during this trip made me realize it’s time to acknowledge the specializations of my skill and interest (namely sex, pleasure, politics, and oppression specifically of the sexual experiences of women). Earlier in my career I thought I had to be able to speak on every single sex topic. Inexperience and financial uncertainty in my young business made it such that I would speak on any sexuality topic anyone asked me to. I thought it would make me seem unqualified if I said no, and I needed the money. But now I know I not only can limit my scope, but that’s it’s best for both me and the students if I do. I’ll enjoy it more. Doing the same workshops I love and am good at over and over will make me better at my craft, which is better for students. Quality over quantity. I feel good about this. The shorter list of topics I now offer for colleges are here.
So that, in a nutshell, was Sex Ed Road Trip. Can’t wait to fix my mistakes and have Sex Ed Road Trip: west coast edition, be even better!
I write and lecture a lot about slut-shaming; this damned if you do, damned if you don’t predicament in which people, often women, are ridiculed and demeaned (and sometimes murdered) if they don’t exhibit sexual attractiveness and availability (“prude”, “frigid bitch”, “why bother, she doesn’t even put out”) but also ridiculed and demeaned if they do (“slut”, “whore”, “that skank will fuck anybody”), etc.
It’s bad enough when this pervasive oppression and social control is lodged against adults and teenage girls, but children are off limits, right? Adults sexualizing kindergarteners and then adults ridiculing and shaming the 5 year olds for the adult sexuality said adults erroneously endowed on them - that breaks the social contract, RIGHT? Everyone agrees this is a line not to be crossed, RIGHT!?!?!
Nope. A conversation I had on facebook today, transcribed below (blocked out editing my own):
Someone I’m friends with on Facebook shared a Vine video made by @i_dooble_e and shared by WorldStar Vines without additional commentary that showed a 5 or 6 year old girl acrobatically sliding down a pole at a playground and landing on the ground on her butt with her legs in a straddle position with the words “that moment you realize your daughter’s a baby thot”, then a clip of a man, staged to be her father, crying.
[Thot defined by Urban Dictionary: “That Hoe Over There” 1. A hoe who everyone knows about. 2. A girl with no values when in comes to sexual activity. 3. A girl who runs through groups of friends and gets passed around like a loosely rolled blunt. Used in a sentence:
Friend: Dude Lauren is so hot Me: She’s slept with like 5 of my friends dude, she’s a thottie thot. Friend: I heard she lets you cum inside her bare too. She’s a superthot!]
So someone made a vine about a 5 year old “baby thot”, and someone on my facebook shared it, presumably such that his friends and family could see it, LIKE IT’S NOT A FUCKING EPIC DISGRACE. “Hey ma, here’s a video of a little girl being sexually degraded. Isn’t it hilarious?!”
So I called him out and the following conversation ensued:
Me: Did you just call a 5 year old girl a hoe? What the hell is wrong with you? Him: I didn’t. I just shared it. Me: Oh well in that case you are not at all a creepy ass man who sexualized a little girl and participated in her slut-shaming… again I ask, what the hell is wrong with you? Him: Damn! What’s wrong with you??
Things I’m stewing on after this encounter:
1. I am really struggling using the term “slut-shaming” when referring to 5 year olds. If she was 20 that’s exactly what we’d call it, but I just can’t with a 5 year old. I’m switching to “sexually degrade”.
2. His “I didn’t. I just shared it” comment it SO SO eye-opening about the kind of disconnect that happens when people actively contribute to the sexual exploitation of others online. I’ve heard this kind of language be used about downloading child pornography (“I didn’t rape any kids, I just watched it”), the sharing of stolen celebrity nude photos (“I didn’t hack their phone, I just looked at the photos”), and various high profile rape cases involving teenagers in which the rape was filmed and shared all over school (“I’m not a rapist, I just watched a video someone texted to me and then texted it to a few friends”).
I can’t understand how people still think that a. the Internet isn’t real life, and b. consuming and sharing sexual exploitation or sexual degradation someone else committed “doesn’t count” as exploitation or degradation. It’s real life, and it counts!
3. I’m wondering why am I so surprised and shocked by this. Men have been sexualizing young girls, particularly young girls of color, as in this video, for a long ass time. Nothing new. I think my shock comes from how often times this type of taboo, socially unacceptable behavior (because even though it happens everyday, sexualizing 5 year old girls is still considered really bad), happen privately, because they know it’s big time frowned upon. But this was so flagrantly and shamelessly posted publicly, for all to see and judge, with his full name and photo attached. Why? Is it that he doesn’t see Facebook as “real life”? Is it that he doesn’t think his friends, adult children, neighbors, and acquaintances will call him out? It’s been hours and I’m still the only one who objected, so if that’s the case, he’d be right. Does he think it’s funny and honestly not see the problem? I don’t know what prospect concerns me more; that’s we’ve gotten to a place where 5 years old girls sliding on a pole at the playground are likened to “thot” strippers for the entertainment of adults, and people are so busy finding it funny that it doesn’t register as exploitative, OR, it registers as exploitative, but people are so brazen they feel safe posting such content because they probably will never be held accountable in any real way. Why are we letting such people feel safe? Why are grown men able to post a video of a “baby thot” and no one says anything except me*?
(*also no comments objecting on the facebook page of the original poster, or the youtube video… Of all the places this has been shared, I am literally the only person, that I saw, who said, um, this is horrible.)
4. I wrote about in my book a time when I was 6 years old and playing at the playground across the street from my house. I slid down the slide on my belly and when I landed at the bottom, I had one leg on each side, essentially straddling the slide. A teenage boy sitting on the swings nearby smoking a cigarette yelled over to me, “you look like you’re fucking that thing.” I felt hot in the face and uncomfortable knots in my stomach. I didn’t know how to describe how I felt at the time (because I was 6!) but I would now describe it as utter humiliation, and the first time I was ever sexually demeaned and degraded.
It was bad enough with no additional witnesses or participants in my humiliation. I can’t imagine how dehumanized I would have felt if someone had filmed me innocently straddling the slide that day, made an internet meme about me growing up to be a slut because I was so loose with opening my legs around the slide, imply that my dad would be so disappointed in me that he would cry, and find out grown men watched the video and shared it with their family for entertainment, and that none of the adults thought this was a big deal or a problem at all.
tl;dr: When you share, forward, download, or “like”, digital media of someone being sexually degraded, exploited, dehumanized, or abused, YOU ARE PARTICIPATING! I know it’s not possible to speak out to every single asshole you encounter online, but try to keep in mind how powerful your silence is. Don’t slut-shame, but if you absolutely must be a horrible human being and use sexuality as a method of belittling people, slut-shame adults because CHILDREN ARE OFF LIMITS. Seriously! I can’t believe I had to write this.
I have a college workshop all about how people who are uptight about sex are a minority, but yet have a lot of political power. Whether that’s getting books about sex banned, nude statues covered, sex toy shops run out of town (ahem), or making birth control pills a hot button issue again, their uptight ideals about sexuality have been successful in terms of laws and governance in diminishing other people’s sexual freedom. I’m renaming said workshop. Which do you think best captures the essence while being catchy on a marketing flyer:
I had a goal for this month to be my best yet, and I’m just a little bit short with two days to go. To boost my numbers, I’m offering a huge BOGO sale on my website. Whatever you buy, you’ll get another FREE! Order one Butterfly vibrator, you’ll receive two! Order two bottles of Wet lube, you’ll receive three! Great for stocking up, or giving away as gifts. Spread the word!
I paid more for neglecting a parking ticket than he did for sexually violating a human being
It’s been 10 months since my friend was sexually assaulted, I accompanied her to the police station to report it, and I wrote a narrative about that experience that went viral. Yesterday the assailant was sentenced. This is what happened in between.
I always knew sexual assault is a grotesque act and that it often goes unreported for a host of reasons including being intimidated by uncooperative and victim-blaming police, but seeing it with my own two eyes that day we went to the police station really struck me in a way I’ll never forget. I will never forget the systematic ineptitude, cruelty, and general lack of human empathy that I witnessed from members of the police, medical staff, and almost everyone else we encountered when she shared her story.
But that was only the beginning. In the 10 months since, I learned about another layer of incompetence and cold-heartedness: the justice system.
She dealt with:
Languid, apathetic detectives missing deadlines and losing information.
Driving 2 hours to the police station and 2 hours back multiple times for interviews.
Piles of paperwork and headaches to get reimbursed by the victim’s compensation fund for missed work, therapy, and to replace her brand new jeans that were taken as evidence.
Having to completely cut off contact with her good friend whose house the assault took place in for fear that the defense would accuse them of conspiring to frame the assailant if they talked.
There were so many upsets and setbacks my friend told me about regularly in the past 10 months I frankly can’t even remember them all but through her narrative, the justice system just struck me as… unjust. She had to deal with the assault. She had to deal with the awful police reporting episode. And then she had to deal with one major life inconvenience and aggravation after the next for months and months on end.
When he was finally arrested, he denied the accusations. He was charged with Unlawful Sexual Contact in the First Degree, Class D Felony, and Sexual Harassment in the First Degree; Misdemeanor. He was offered a lesser plea that would still require him to register as a sex offender, something my friend really wanted so he’d be held accountable and have to continue to answer for what he did, but he rejected the offer and the case was planned to go to trial.
Meanwhile, my friend finalized arrangements she made before the assault to move to Spain for a year and lined up a teaching job. She was promised the trial would be scheduled for before she moved abroad in August. It wasn’t, and she was told if she did not attend the trial (meaning leave her new home, take time off of her new job, fly across the Atlantic ocean, pay $1,300 for a flight, have her life evermore inconvenienced), the case would be dismissed. She bought the ticket back to the US.
The trial was to be open to the public and she encouraged people to come, not only to support her, but so folks could see for themselves how the justice system works, or doesn’t work. I pledged my support, of course, to be with her in that courtroom during the trial.
About 14 days before the scheduled trial date, the assailant changed his story. Whereas before he was saying that he did not do the things my friend accused him of, now he was saying that indeed those things did occur, but that she consented.
As a lay person not involved in the criminal justice system in anyway, this is something that never sat well with me. I never understood hearing about murder cases, for example, that would go something like this:
Killer: I did not do it. I’ve never even met that person. I’ve never even been to that house.
State: Well we have your DNA on their body, your fingerprints at the house, video of you with the victim at the house right before they died, and 6 witnesses who saw you kill them.
Killer: In that case, I did do it, but _____ (insert defense) I’m insane/it was self-defense/ it was kinky sex gone wrong/whatever.
OK, if you have an explanation for your behavior, why deny it in the first place? An innocent person would say, yes XYZ happened, but in ABC mitigating situation (it was consensual, etc). But to deny it, and then when it’s clear you’re caught lying come up with a new story = you’re a liar, and nothing you say for the remainder of this case should be trusted.
But that’s not the way the justice system works. How it works is you can be accused of sexual assault, deny it, and then 2 weeks before trial, offer the following defenses, all of which were defenses to be used in this case:
1. My friend didn’t say the word “no”.
Correct, she didn’t. But here’s the problem. No is the default setting. Consent must be affirmative. If I walked into your house and took your laptop, I’m thinking you will probably feel like I STOLE it. I’m thinking the factual statement that you’ve never told me I couldn’t come into your house and take your laptop to mean that you consented to this would not please the court. Have you ever told me I couldn’t take your laptop? Nope. So therefore you consented? No. Unless by “laptop” you mean “body”, and you’re in the US criminal justice system, in which case evidently you can take people’s laptops if they never explicitly told you that you can’t.
Correct, she didn’t say the word “no”. But she did say the following:
Leave me alone
Get the fuck away from me
Get out of my room
Don’t touch me
Apparently that all means “yes”.
2. She showed her friends, and her friend’s friends at the house (of which he was one), photos of nude men on her phone before they went to the bar. This was a signal to him that she was interested in having sex with him.
She has no recollection of showing anyone nude photos of men on her phone.
If she did, this was not a sexual come-on.
If it was a sexual come-on, it could have been a sexual come-on to any one of the people in the room. So any one of the people she supposedly showed the photos to were entitled to touch her? No. This is not enough for consent.
If it was a sexual come-on to him specifically, her saying “get the fuck away from me” and “don’t touch me” was a clear rescindment of that sexual interest. Anyone can rescind a sexual invitation at any time. She did not show nude photos, and if she did they were not a sexual invitation, but if they were, she rescinded that invitation and he violated that either way.
3. When the group was walking down steps in a single file line out of a bar and the assailant assaulted her from behind for the first of several times that night, my friend doesn’t remember who was walking in front of her, only that he was behind her. So she’s lying, according to his defense.
Trivial nonsense. Traumatic experiences are far more memorable than mundane ones, thus who is in line behind you, if the person behind you is assaulting you, will tend to stick out in the mind better than the person in line in front of you, who is, you know, not assaulting you.
4. She was sexually assaulted as a child. She is confused, triggered by that memory, and thought he did something when really it was just a flashback to that incident.
I won’t even dignify that with a response.
5. After the final and most violent of the assaults that night happened back at the house after returning home from the bar, she didn’t leave.
That was HER place to sleep. Why should she have to flee?
She wanted to go to bed. She was scared, overwhelmed, just wanted to sleep.
She lived two hours away. It was the middle of the night. She didn’t think it would keep escalating. She didn’t want to drink and drive. A million reasons. Why is this relevant?
She was pretty outraged when she learned the tactics of the defense. She was outraged that after everything HE did, HER integrity, HER morals, HER decisions would be the ones scrutinized, not his. The prosecutor told her that given these victim-blaming, slut-shaming strategies (and the fact that his wealthy parents secured one of the best defense attorneys in the state), he would probably win with a jury trial. Cases are decided by a jury of our peers and unfortunately for people victimized by sexual violence, our peers were raised in a culture that victim-blames and slut-shames. The prosecutor recommended offering an even lesser charge; Offensive Touching, a class A misdemeanor with no jail time, no sex offender registration, and it’s expunged after 5 years.
She was faced with the prospect of either going to trial, be slut-shamed in front of a courtroom full of people, and have him likely get off scot-free, or accept the plea, avoid the degradation of the trial, and at least have him be held accountable for something even though it’s not everything. She chose the latter on the condition that he would reimburse her for her flight back and that she could read a victim impact statement. The trial hearing turned into a sentencing hearing, and she flew home to the US.
Yesterday, on the morning of the sentencing hearing, I donned my teal CONSENT shirt and prepared for the drive to the courthouse only to find that in my ongoing war with my hometown, my car had been booted. In a panic, I called in a lot of favors, got dropped off halfway there, waited at a gas station for two hours, and found a ride for the rest of the way to the courthouse. I was freaking out that I would miss it when she needed me there but I thankfully made it just in time.
I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to prepare that victim impact speech. I get knots in my stomach thinking about how it would feel to stand up there and address the court about such a violation and disruption of your body and life. I can’t describe it. It was so real, and honest, and raw. Her words were powerful, but her delivery was just so incredibly moving. I don’t know how a human being could listen to her speak and not be touched. People in the courtroom on other business were visibly shaken and moved to tears. I am so proud of her courage.
His attorney spoke next, and asked the judge for a lenient sentence, saying alcohol was to blame for his behavior. The assailant spoke last, and said he was seeking treatment for alcohol abuse, apologized to my friend, and said he understands the gravity and seriousness of what he did. He went from uninvolved, to involved but welcomed, to wrong and remorseful at the most opportune times for his own well-being. Ugh.
In the end, the judge sentenced him to a $100 fine, Level II zero- tolerance probation, plus the money for the flight that was previously agreed upon. Level II probation essentially means he has to check in with a probation officer. If he does something wrong, like get a DUI, he can go to jail for 30 days. He also is supposed to continue seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. Both are for no set period of time, so until the probation officer decides is good enough.
My friend was not particularly happy with the outcome. She found the alcohol abuse excuse to be phony, making himself the victim, and avoiding responsibility and was not impressed with how he had no real consequences. His employer already knows about all this (and continue to employ him anyway) so his professional life won’t be affected. His record will be expunged. He’s fined a whopping 100 bucks. It’s a joke. But she’s glad it’s over and glad she got to speak her truth.
At first, I was happy with the outcome. I know that only 40% of assaults are reported. And of those, few lead to arrests. And of arrests, even fewer lead to prosecutions. And of prosecutions, next to none lead to convictions. Sad to say that even with all the massive failures from top to bottom, beginning to end, this case was more successful than 93% of sexual assault cases. Because of all the flaws and failures in the system, it would not have reached this level without her tenacity, bravery, and relentless self advocacy .
After the sentencing I went right to a different courthouse; the one back in West Chester to get the boot off my car. I had to pay a several hundred dollar fine yesterday in cash on the spot, plus a $100 fine to get the boot off, and then had to set up a $50 a month payment plan for the next 9 months for the remaining fines. It hit me in the two back-to-back courthouse experiences that I paid significantly more for running out a meter and neglecting the subsequent parking tickets than he did for sexually violating another human being. There is no justice.
PS: This guy does some kind of physical therapy work. He literally touches people for a living, and his employer didn’t find it problematic that he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor Offensive Touching? I wish I knew who is employer is.
Last December I wrote a post about accompanying someone to the police station to report a sexual assault and running into a host of insensitivity, victim blaming, and incompetence on multiple levels. In August I wrote the man was charged with felony Unlawful Sexual Contact.
I have another update.
The assailant plead guilty to a lesser charge (Offensive Touching, a misdemeanor) and will be in court tomorrow for sentencing. My friend will be reading a victim impact statement and is asking for as many people as possible to show up to the public hearing, and wear teal, in public support of her. I will be there tomorrow at 9:30am at the New Castle County Courthouse (500 North King Street, Wilmington, DE). I want to see a sea of teal, and a tough and fair sentence tomorrow. I know it’s a work day, but if you’re available, I hope you’ll be there!
I get a lot of emails from folks who sell sex toys and do sales presentations on sex toys and want to know what certification they can get to be *seen as* more knowledgeable and credible. I seldom get emails asking how they can actually *be* more knowledgeable and credible. This kinda irks me.
I have an amazing and intensive boot camp training for sex toy consultants. They won’t get any letters behind their name for enrolling in the course, but they will be better sexuality, pleasure, and sex toy educators when I’m done with them. The interest in that program has been miniscule and they scoff at it. I wish they were as interested in actually being trained sex educators as they are about being seen as trained sexuality educators.
A sexologist's two cents on the TMZ photos of Daniele Watts
A. If you think those photos show people fucking, you have a very active imagination. I see a fully clothed person sitting in a car…
B. Let’s say for the sake of argument, they are fucking. And? I have summoned police dozens of times in my life. They were all because of violence and destruction: drunk drivers, horrible car accidents where people were injured, a man dragging a woman down the street in a headlock while punching her in the face, beatings so violent I could hear the sound of knuckles on cheek bone from inside my house 30 yards away.
If I saw a fully clothed couple sitting in a car together and suspected they might be getting a little frisky, I would smile that for once I witnessed a public display of love instead of a public display of violence, and go on my merry way. Call the police? Absolutely not. What John Lennon said:
Let’s tell the truth. This incident occurred at the intersection of racism, sexism, and good old fashioned American prudery and erotophobia.
Sometimes vaginas are kind enough to help deliver babies
Only in a patriarchy can birthing a human being out of your body and into existence, an intrinsically vagina-centric phenomenon, be credited to the person with a penis first, and credited to the person with a vagina who, you know, actually gave birth, as a secondary actor and afterthought.
While driving through rural Pennsylvania I just heard a radio DJ say “The father-to-be delivered the baby… with help from mom”.
In other news, when someone serves you a plate of food, and you chew and swallow it, they actually ate it. But hey, you helped! If someone kindly hands you a wad of toilet paper under the stall door, they’re really the ones who took the shit. But your colon was a great helper! Thanks!
My west coast sex ed speaking tour will be April 6-17, 2015 with stops in San Diego, Irvine, LA, Sacramento, Eugene, Portland, Vancouver, Olympia, Seattle, and other towns along I-5. If you attend a college in any of these areas, email email@example.com to get the ball rolling on setting up a speaking engagement on campus!
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
Just yesterday I was responding to speaking requests from colleges and universities. It struck me that again and again, the requests were for “The Female Orgasm”, a program on the right to seek sexual pleasure, “Sex: Am I Normal?”, a program that advocates for showing compassion and refraining from judgement about the sexual diversity that exists among humans, and “Virgins and Sluts”, a program on why attempts to control free expression of sexuality is damaging.
What I have not gotten a request for is “Safer and Sexy”, my safe sex/condoms/STI workshop. 5 years ago, 90% of my speaking requests at colleges were for workshops on sexuality as a health hazard. Now 90% of the requests are for workshops on sexuality as a social justice issue; the right to pursue pleasure, the right to exist without sexual violence, the right to not face discrimination and cruelty because of your sexuality.
Growing up, sexuality, if ever discussed (in school, by politicians, on the news, etc) was always discussed from a one-dimensional deficit model; sexuality is a problem (it can kill you!), and sex ed aims to give you some tools to not die. Starting out as a young sexologist, I promoted a new paradigm for sexuality education; sex should be fun, pleasure is good for you, free expression of one’s sexuality is a vital part of being human, and everyone has the right to enjoy their sexuality without fear of violence.
My idea was that preventing disease was about 1% of what it meant to me to be a sexual person, but the rest got ignored with the deficit model of sex education. Sexuality is a complex interaction of the body, mind, and social domains that change and evolve throughout the life cycle. It’s not all bad; some of the best physical joys the body can experience and emotional highs are related to sex. It’s not all good either; there has been so much suffering and exploitation tied in with sexuality. It’s just… human, and I believe should be acknowledged and celebrated as such.
The fact that there is now such a thing as World Sexual Health Day, and that it acknowledges “sexual health” as so much deeper than just disease prevention, and the fact that I’m getting asked to speak on sexual pleasure and justice instead of gonorrhea, leaves me optimistic that that paradigm shift from sex education = disease prevention education to sex education = social justice education is actually happening. It’s not happening on its own, of course. A lot of people worked really hard for a really hard time for these changes to begin to be felt. But it’s happening, and that is something to celebrate on World Sexual Health Day.