Once ‘married with kids’ stopped being the only idea of adulthood I knew (c. 7yrs old) it stopped being the kind of adulthood that would ever happen to me.
Pretty early on, way back before I gave a damn about sexuality I was sure that I’d never be a housewife and not much after that I knew I’d never be like my mum.
[Insert stuff and things – to be considered later(?)]
I was 15 before I ever heard of being bisexual (no I don’t know why it took so long – yes I even read porn mags without twigging..) and so for many years I believed I had to choose. Boobs or cock. Babies or dildos. Shaved head or shaved pussy.
I faked some interest in boys (I like older, macho, hairy Men – not footballers and Leo diCaprio) but could never commit and I just knew that only proper heteros got married and had children. Gay marriage was but a twinkle in an activists eye and besides which who would inflict that kind of lifestyle and bullying on any child. Even if I gave up my inclinations towards women, perhaps I would be too feminist, too career-oriented and selfish to dedicate my time to a child. A quasi-lesbian, semi-feminist? I would be a BAD mother.
Even without a commitment to a bisexual poly life, I had planned my funeral long before a wedding – no disney romance, no white lace and church for me and all in all the message was if you can’t be a good wife you can’t be a good mother – and queer folk ain’t good for marriage…
But married I am. and happy no less.
Lesbians with kids aren’t big news any more, whole functioning adults exist who not only grew up with gay parents but weren’t even in a media storm because of it.
I am 7 again and kids are back on the table and I don’t know how that feels.
In About Intimacy I wrote about the sense of loss and confusion felt by a friend of mine at the sexual dry spell she has been experiencing and I want to reprise some related issues in this post. I was especially inspired to further consider the points by This Blog Piece
As a young active sexual individual I both crave and enjoy sex on a physical level and on an emotional level. I don’t need sex to feel attractive or validated or loved….but it helps. This has nothing to do with my lovers or the attention they pay me or the affection they offer me.
It is all about how I feel I should be a good partner.
If (in my rather self-critical and paranoid head) I am to be a good wife then I should be sexually attractive and available.
I should be pleasing to their aesthetics in order to make them pleased – this applies to my general physique, weight hair-cut and to my dress and ‘beauty regime’.[I would note I have never had to contend with conflicting views of what is pleasing about my body -but I would definitely dress differently for a date with each of my loves]. In my head although failure to put effort in is not a major crime it has the potential to become so if it is persistent because it implies that I don’t care enough to make myself pleasing. On the whole I dress to be comfortable and practical and maintain basic personal hygiene rather than indulge in active ‘beautification processes’ as sold by cosmetic industries and women’s magazines but occasionally I feel the need to present myself as someone they would be proud to be seen with. This I think is related to an occasional need to dress in such a way as to turn heads in order to boost my sense of self-esteem. But is there a subtle difference between a desire (need?) to be praised (for my looks), a desire to make my loved ones smile because I have done something for their pleasure and a fear that if I don’t look or act attractive I am somehow failing as a partner.
This leads to the sex issue.. I am anti sexual coercion of any but the pre-arranged bdsm variety and this explicitly includes guilt-tripping within a relationship or withholding favours in anger or as a means of control (again this is with the clear exception of good ol’ pre-negotiated play scenarios) and yet I routinely feel that I should have more sex with my partners.
The sense that is my duty as a woman and and as a wife to provide sexual pleasure is mystifying to me on an intellectual level – I am after all in a relationship configuration that specifically allows additional sexual contact (albeit with certain provisos) and I am not against masturbation or porn and therefore I am not the sole means of sexual gratification for my partners. I am aware of the fact that sexual desire is not a constant; neither the same from person to person nor individually from time period to time period and that it is appropriate to express my desire or lack of as I wish as long as I am not coercive or intimidating. I also aware that not doing so is in fact both demeaning and unpleasant for my partners since it is disrespectful of the intimacy of our relationship. I am as commented before regularly and happily sexually active.
Yet despite all of this in my head some days there is a nagging voice that tells me ‘I should’ and perhaps even ‘if you really loved him/her you would’ when my body is telling me that it doesn’t want to. This little voice believes that without regular sex my partners will not want me any more, that an absence of sex is a sign that love is fading and that without sex there is no intimacy- it is not what my intellect or even my heart tell me, it just the voice of fear. So what self-esteem demon is it that believes that my body and what I do with it is a key marker of my affection and my ability to be lovable? Is society really that prescriptive about what makes a ‘real’ relationship that I am frightened any failure to conform will render me worthless?
On a side note to depression I once mentioned the difficulty of a “diagnosis”…
The issue that I wanted to highlight centres around the problem with labels. A concept that gender and sexuality politics refuses to let go of. In respect to mental health although a diagnosis offers problems of expectation (which can be especially difficult when that might result in chemical intervention and social restrictions) it is usually [though frighteningly not exclusively] based upon socio-scientifically agreed criteria. That is, although there may be many reasons for suspecting the grounds for proposing rules by which our sanity may be judged (including the involvement of interested parties like enforcers of political norms or profit margins of pharmaceutical giants), there are at least agreed guidelines for professionals to link us together and scientific research to link traits and treatments by statistical analysis. This means, in general, if two diagnosed schizophrenics sit in a room and chat there is a good chance there will be a common experience.
With gender and sexuality, however, the expectation of shared experience seems higher but in practice the actual similarities are lower and the cross-over is unfeasibly complicated.
For example – If homosexual means attracted to the same sex – do we specify sex meaning physically similar genitalia, or do we assume a degree of gender related association?
If (for argument’s sake) an all-american ‘jock’ falls in love with a person who dresses as Audrey Hepburn and prefers baking, shopping and embroidery to contact sports and pornography but also has a penis which s/he is happy with – is that Jock gay? Is Audrey male or female? If Audrey sleeps with a man who wants a vagina and dresses like Ellen de Generes are they straight? If all three live together and never have sex are they polyamorous?
Of course these questions are themselves irrelevant (if emotive) as long as that/those relationship(s) is itself comfortable [please do not message me with answers to these hypothetical questions – I in fact do not care about your answers]
That practical irrelevance doesn’t mean that in daily life we are not constantly encouraged to select shorthand for ourselves. But should we?
Many liberal postmodern commentators urge us to free ourselves from labels – arguing that the prescriptive nature of labels enables society to pigeon-hole, sanitise, stigmatise and stereotype us. Yet in the same dialogue we are reminded of our own discursive power to formulate meaning for the labels we use, to problematise, re-use and reclaim our own labelling.
Most modern scholars would be offended if anyone suggested that when they wrote about women they only referred to the Holly Golightlys or Cinderellas or Mother Goddesses or Miss Havershams of this (anglo-centrically stereotyped) world and nor do most men-on-the-street use such glib shorthands but we choose to still signify people using these words.
I believe we do it because we like to both categorise others and to belong. It is easier to fight for womens rights or gay rights or poly rights than to fight for my rights. I do not have to match a role or force others to fit my idea of a label to see that we share issues, worries and needs. Our commonality allows us to empathise with each others needs and to recognise our insecurities and appreciate our quirks.
Perhaps in the end we have labels because it is nice to have something in common rather than always focusing on what makes us unique. We are individual everyday, we are all in a category of one in our preferences, styles and aspirations perhaps sometimes there is a comfort in appreciating what is similar despite all that difference.
I don’t want to stop being the singular special me and I don’t want you to stop being the utterly unusual you but I do want to notice that we all love and live in this small space.
There is in its own way a delightful irony that the arraignment/hearing/whatever word they use in french for my sister’s sexual assault case was on International Women’s Day.
For me there are two key thoughts to this; firstly that there is still a massive amount of violence against women and that sadly there are still a vast number of countries in the world where women are less than second class citizens and the effort we are putting into changing that is still minimal and secondly that my sister and I have been extremely privileged in that we have grown up in an environment that actively supports our right to speak up as well as theoretically.
Starting from the second point – though I haven’t asked my sister about what happened in detail and though I was not there for court time or am in any way responsible for the reactions of her colleagues, I feel it is fair to say that she is (& I am by extension) privileged by the fact that there has never been assumption that she is lying and that there was no suggestion that she should be less of a person because some arsehole raped her. My father has unquestioningly stood at her side to make sure that she was not (any more) broken or frightened by trying to bring her attacker to justice. But in all truth not only am I proud of my quasi-conservative father for his attitude but I am pleased with the response of the company she is working for. They have offered her time to come home and collect herself and the opportunity to move to a different venue to do her job as well as helping her deal with lawyers and police in a different language whilst still letting her get on with her job looking after kids. This is a world of difference to the attituds seen by various of my older friends and it represents a world where a woman is allowed to be affected by and deal with these things.
As we move forward in our attitude to respecting and supporting people who have been attacked and condemning those who attack we don’t just make our society more fair, we also allow those groups most afraid of admitting they have been hurt by others to come forward – men who have been systematically abused and/or raped, women who don’t ‘dress appropriately’, prostitutes and others . The world is slow but it gets better.
Sadly though this brings me back to the first point – that in some respects our privilege underscores the lack thereof enjoyed by other people. I don’t think any number of statistics can convey the experience of women living under oppressive regimes (though plenty have been offered – See also the UN page on women’s day) and I think that as we come closer to a better position in our lives we are in danger of assuming gender dialogue is no longer relevant.
I became involved (the friday after IWD) in an online debate where a number of men suggested that the focus on women perpetuated the notion of division rather than celebrated diversity. The key contention was that continuing to have separate days of focus on a particular group reinforced a negative perception of difference and allowed a culture of ‘feeling persecuted’ and encouraged positive discrimination rather than meritocracy. I was deeply saddened by these thoughts; partially because I genuinely feel that there is a danger of negatively stereotyping men in the quest towards equality and partially because I feel that the processes and rhetoric we are using in our gender discourses clearly obscure real issues.
So what should we be doing to help people reflect on the engrained social biases and unconscious stereotyping we indulge in (and I am just as guilty…more on that in a rant about beer I feel) without getting bogged down in petty trivia when there is still a war against poverty and violence to be fought?
What is the longest time you have been without sexual relations whilst in a loving relationship?
How did it feel?Did you feel rejected? relieved? How long would you wait til your level of desire synchronised with someone else’s? At what point is it reasonable to suggest you are incompatible sexually but still love each other?
To be honest I’m not looking for an answer for my life – I’m pretty happy with what I have, and when I’m not I feel in a position to change that. I don’t think there is a formula for happiness in this respect and every couple can work to find something that suits all parties.
But what brings it to mind is a friend’s dilemma. Though not an insatiable creature she craves the intimacy of sex but her husband currently does not. This hasn’t been a constant feature of their relationship [ie they have been at it like the proverbially bunnies at other points in their relationship], although she has previously had sexual and emotional relationships at the same time as her relationship with the man who is now her husband (with his knowledge and consent I hasten to add) she has deliberately reduced such contact since they married in order to focus on their relationship and consider working towards a family. At some point their sex life dwindled and she is left frustrated but unsure how to approach the issue.
So suggestions please – how do you ask for more sexual contact whilst respecting someone’s personal fluctuating sex drive and without pressurising someone who is unkeen or suffering from physical/emotional problems they are not yet ready to share? As a poly relationship how much is it fair/reasonable/uncomfortable/avoiding the issue to simply transfer sexual interest elsewhere?
What suggestions do people have to (re)kindle a fire or to really experience non-sexual intimacy in order to keep a relationship close?
Bloody meds, f***ing hormones!
I don’t consider myself to be a raw sexaholic teenage male but neither am I a dried up old maid. I think my sex life is reasonably average – I usually have sex between 3 & 6 times a week, dropping to once or twice if I or my beloveds are miserable or in pain or our social life is oddly frantic and rising 9 or 10 times if we are feeling good. Similarly I consider my sex drive to be fairly average, I think about sex a few times a day, wank regularly and am generally satisfied with the amount of sex I get or else happy to ask for more if desired. Now in my late 20s it seems a fairly comfortable pattern.
So a shift in my desire and performance is odd… and more than odd it is unsettling – more unpleasant in fact than my strangely muted responses.
Loss of libido and anorgasmia are well-known and oft-complained about side effects of a number of anti-depressants; but aside from the first few weeks of prozac I have been largely unaffected. However, for the last few weeks during the tapering off of prozac and the rise in my mirtazapine dosage sex has been off the menu.
Physically -if not emotionally- sex has seemed repulsive (emotionally I crave physical intimacy constantly just as normal). I can to a certain extent relate this to my somewhat feeble self-esteem body image wise and to the fact my hormones aren’t really sure which way is up. In itself this is merely irritating since it is easily ignored in favour of the joyous physical sensations except that orgasms are currently difficult to achieve (even when masturbating!). I will stress this a problem with both my lovers and is not a sudden rush of heterosexuality or monogamy..
But all of this pales into insignificance next to the fact that neither intercourse nor orgasm is reaching the mental and emotional core. Sex is mechanical and unsatisfying no matter how fierce-some the orgasm. I am struggling to find the release and connection I expect from that level of intimacy and its horrendous.
So um yeah bit crotchety right now – think maybe I should have lots of sex until the problem goes away, or else its off to the Dr for me cos appetite changes and sleep problems and random suicidal ideations I can deal with but messin’ with the sex man that’s serious.