Category Archives: sexuality

More juxtapositioning

I was looking on the web to see if there is a book-group locally, and was deeply amused to find a coherent and sensible conversation about reading books on….

…. a forum called “Swinging Heaven”.

It really IS a site for Swingers.

It really is a conversation about books.

I’ve never been ill-disposed towards swingers, and now I rather fancy the idea of being felt up while discussing Ian McEwan, or chatting about Illywhacker between mouthfuls.

Well, its a way to meet people and to have something to talk about.

I’m no prude, but Debbie… pastels?

It fascinates me how most of the times that someone starts a sentence with the phrase “I’m no prude, but….” they then go on to demonstrate that yes, indeed, they are a prude. (My two favourite responses in a party-game were “I’m no prude, but unfortunately my sheep is” and “I’m no prude, but I think that’s illegal in Texas” – make of those what you will).

Anyway. I am no prude. Obviously. No-one ever is. However, three things recently worried me.

The first was an advertisement for a lap-dancing and pole-dancing club which I saw on the back of a mini-bus contracted as a school bus. The juxtaposition made me uneasy, though the fact I only saw it once suggests that I was not the only one to raise a disturbed eyebrow.

The second was a joke and party shop which sold “naughty” maids outfits, pink fluffy handcuffs, “naughty” uniforms and other joke bondage gear and next to them there were little-girl fairy wings and children’s Halloween costumes. I found using infantile words like “naughty” disturbing when combined with blurred boundaries between fetish gear for adults and fancy dress for children.Playboy Stationery

The one that worries me most recently, however, is playboy stationery marketed at little girls. I’m obviously not the only person who finds this disturbing: Brand Republic reported protestors as saying:

Jennifer Drew, chair of Object, said: “We are challenging the normalisation of porn into mainstream media. We feel that … WH Smith … is giving out the message that it is acceptable to have girls as sex objects. Object is not against sexuality, but it is against exploitation.”

They also report WH Smith’s breathtakingly disingenuous reply:

WH Smith is claiming that the stationery is being sold as a popular fashion range and that the image is not inappropriate in any way. The group also argues that many youngsters do not know what the image stands for.

I don’t even know where to start with those remarks.

I’m trailing way behind the zeitgeist here, since all of the stories I found are so-o-o-o-o last year darling, but the fact that I came across the stuff about 10 days ago in WH Smith troubles me, as does their spokesperson’s comment, reported in the Guardian last year.

“Playboy is probably one of the most popular ranges we’ve ever sold,” says head of media relations for WH Smith, Louise Evans. “It outsells all the other big brands in stationery … by a staggering amount … We offer customers choice. We’re not here to act as a moral censor.”

playboy_punch.jpgWhat? I mean WHAT? “Not here to act as a moral censor”. Is Ms Evans disengaged and morally unimaginative? Is she naively innocent? Is she just stupid? There is a category error so large you can drive a horse and cart through the middle of it. The issue is not about censorship, it is about what is appropriate. It’s about what has become a very old fashioned word: it is about propriety. In an age where the Internet and mobile phones enable adults to obtain unsupervised access to young children in a way which they have never had before, is it wise to normalise erotica in the presence of children, or to infantalise sexuality in the presence of adults?

Mohair Fetish Gear
Perhaps it takes a deviant and dirty mind to think these deviant and dirty thoughts. Although we live in a very knowing age, it can still be a surprisingly innocent one. Certainly, I was astonished by the naivete of the conversation about this particular piece of what is obviously fetish-gear. (If the link from that image does not work, then try the knitter’s main page instead). It seems that the darker aspects of human sexuality are being re-wrapped in ways which are cute, fluffy and frequently pink. I am reminded of Anjelica Huston’s line in Addams Family Values:

“You have gone too far. You have married Fester, you have destroyed his spirit, you have taken him from us. All that I could forgive. But Debbie… pastels?”

I don’t think that the pastelisation of what used to be called perversion is a bad thing: it’s just a thing. BDSM gear spent a long time being black rubber, black leather and studs. A lot of it still is, though recent goth imagery is bringing purple and red into play too. Previously, in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was all mahogany furniture, and crimson satin and velvet-wrapped ropes and, from von Sasher-Masoch to Elinor Glyn, 19th and early 20th century kinkiness was frequently surrounded by fur. Fashions change. Now BDSM is made safe with fluffy handcuffs and angora home-knits. So what?

However, I do find myself asking what sort of society is it which will happily market pornographic brand icons to little girls, and appears to have no qualms about placing strongly sexual imagery and products in the same space as products marketed to young children?

What sort of society makes sex a pink and sparkly thing for little girls to appreciate?

“… but transsexuality is NOT a sexual orientation…!”

OK. It was dumb of me to yelp that out at 60% volume into a silent and almost empty office, but I really was astonished and outraged. I was user-acceptance testing some on-line diversity training software and found the question:

“What is your sexual orientation:

(a) bisexual
(b) gay
(c) heterosexual
(d) lesbian
(e) transsexual?”

(Note the careful alphabetization of the options to avoid prejudgement and offence. *sigh*)

I don’t know where to start with this, to be honest.

The woman sitting opposite me was startled by my outburst as well she might be. We discussed transsexuality for a while (or I talked about it, while she listened and made the odd comment). She did ask if I was being overly politically correct, but she was shocked by the only discrimination story I told her. Like most people she thinks she can always tell when she sees a transsexual. I said “well, my transdar’s pretty good – and I went to Alton Towers with four transguys, and I would only have known with one of them”.

I wrote a fairly clear explanation of why transsexuality is not a sexual orientation in the feedback form, and pointed out that asexuality is, and suggested that they include it for the sake of inclusiveness. I also gave them the web-page and email address of one of the UK’s most respected legal specialists on gender issues and suggested they contact him to ask what the best way to word a question about transsexuality and transgender would be. I even offered to ask the question informally if they liked.

It remains to be seen what happens next. I am aware that I can get a little shrill on this subject, and it is quite clear that the training providers had no idea what they’d be unleashing on themselves when they asked me to test the software. I want to ring them tomorrow to put my point of view across, but I think it is probably better if I wait and see how they reply.

But honestly…..

Secret hates

I’m feeling mentally a little punch drunk right now.

I’ve just taken a couple of Implicit Association Tests.

These are tests which purport to pick up on your unconscious prejudices and report them back to you. Unfortunately they are very US-centric. But apart from that particular bias, (which – surely – the academics concerned must be aware of), they are fascinating.

The tests are exhausting to complete – images and words are flashed up on the screen at high speed and you have to categorise them, sorting the words into “good” and “bad” and sorting the images into “gay” and straight”. A predilection for hardcore BDSM would seriously skew your results. “Humiliation” and “pain” are both presumed to be “bad”. I’m not too keen on either, but I did find it an interesting choice of words for a test about attitudes to sexual preferences.

Apparently I have a slight subconscious preference for homosexuality. Well, there’s a thing.

I then did a test to determine my reactions to Asian Americans. This was where it got really confusing, because the comparison was between Asian American faces and White American Faces and between American Images and Foreign Images. I grew up in sight of the Severn suspension Bridge and have never seen the Golden Gate other than in movies. And I am sorry. Tower Bridge and Stonehenge are not Foreign. It was like trying to sort images of cards where the clubs and spades were red and the hearts and diamonds were black.

Apparently I am more likely to think of Whites as Americans and Asians as Not Americans. Which is hardly a surprise really, given that Americans on film and TV are predominantly white, or not Asian, at least.

But the image > click > image > click > image > click > image > click > image > click > has worn me out.

Interesting tests though.

Madonna and whore

Heaven knows, I am no sociologist, but it seems to me that the basic economic unit is a mother and child. Single motherhood has a bad rap for a infinite number of reasons, but it’s clear that the glue which binds mothers to their children is the strongest emotional tie there is.

This makes the notion of soul-mates pretty ridiculous, really. “Falling in Love” feels great, and usually lasts just long enough for lots of unprotected sex to be followed fairly rapidly by a well-supported pregnancy, and for the baby to get just mobile enough to toddle around and sustain itself on berries and worms which it will put in its mouth. We are descended from millennia of just such golden toddlers. (The ones who poisoned themselves had no descendants, of course).

But these days we don’t have unprotected sex. Of course we don’t. And if we do, we make darn sure that there’s a pill or a coil or an implant or something to prevent the patter of tiny child-minders’ bills from disrupting our hedonistic adult lives. As a result, the basic economic unit is 1, and coupling is for sex and not just for child-rearing.

The Christians probably have it right when they say that Marriage is For Children; where they have it wrong, of course, is the suggestion that marriage is better than any other form of relationship which two or more adults may enter into.

I strongly suspect that in the past mistresses, whores, courtesans, “seamstresses”, kept women, “actresses”, “artists models”, prostitutes, sex workers, madams and other working women vastly outnumbered their respectable married sisters. But the victors write the history books, and there is no doubt about it, the respectable folks claimed moral victories if no others. As a result, our view of what used to be normal is heavily biased in favour of marriage, as was demonstrated by the Tories’ frighteningly ironic commitment to “Victorian Values” in the 1990s. Yeah. Right.

The days when “confirmed bachelor” meant “as gay as a galleon” are over. A confirmed bachelor these days is as likely to follow a rakish and almost 18th Century model, but a heterosexual model nonetheless. He is just as likely to be a straight guy who prefers to play the field with independent and childless women than to settle down with a wife and 2.4 dependants.

These days we are free from those societal constraints and parent-hood is optional. As a result more and more varieties of relationship are being entered in to.

There is marriage, of course, which has explicit commitment and implicit family life; and some same-sex couples are forming relationships based on the heterosexual family model.

There are also couples described as “living apart together” who are in monogamous or mainly monogamous relationships but who choose to have separate living arrangements. They have separated their sexual and romantic lives from their domestic lives – and no reason why not other than their parents’ assumption that the family unit is the best one there is.

There is the traditional relationship of the kept woman, and there are still plenty of those out there. These are pretty women who have someone pay for their accommodation, pay for their clothes, pay for all sorts of things. They used to be called mistresses, if the man was married, or courtesans, if they were particularly successful. These days they are called girlfriends, or footballers’ wives.

Homosexuals have had a variety of pattern of relationship over time, depending on the place of homosexuality in the culture concerned. In the late 20th Century, after legalisation and before AIDS, male homosexuality was was basically one giant fuck-fest. Men’s preference for commitment-free sex has its ultimate expression in cottaging. This is not to deny the large number of devoted homosexual couples, whether they took on the Warrior model of Achilles and Patroclus, or the married model of so many Actors with their “life-long companion”s.

Some people are serial monogamists. Some people seek trophy eye-candy. Some people want a fuck-buddy. Others want a pleasure man.

What is unusual is that these different forms of liaison are now coming into the light. And the reason that there is space for them is that – in the West at least – it is possible and acceptable not to have children.

The Madonna is finally stepping over and giving way to the Whore. And do you know what? That whore is your sister and your girlfriend. She’s me and she’s you.