Originally posted on wellness@smith:

So I went to tea at a house where a student asked about orgasm, and I went into my usual spiel about myotonia and allowing sexual tension – physical muscle tension arising from sexual arousal – to rise and trusting your body to do its thing even though you might feel sort of out of control, and this student goes,

“The science is really interesting to me, but what do you actually DO?”

Which is a question hardly anyone has ever asked me, not because everyone knows the answer but because most people don’t have the balls to ask. So BRAVA!

There are many different ways to masturbate, but as a beginning, let’s imagine you’re lying on your back, naked in bed. (You can also try lying on your stomach with your hands clamped between your legs, lying on your side, a pillow locked between your thighs, or standing up…

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k-y lesbians

I was dogsitting for my sister and therefore had access to television, and I saw this:

And I would just like to say:


Okay, so it’s two thin white women. So it’s poorly written. (“People always ask us how we’ve stayed together so long…” “KY Intense!” but she just bought it and they’ve never used it, so how is it why they’ve stayed together so long?) So what?? It’s a tv commercial about lesbians improving their sex lives, that treats them like normal people.

From a cynical point of view, it values the buying power of same-sex couples over any moral outrage experienced by people who weren’t customers for KY anyway. And there are lots of ways that I’m interested in problemetizing the entire concept of mainstreaming. But still. They’re just like regular people.

Seriously. We have made progress.

Can I get a slow clap for this one little burst of same-sex couples being presented as ordinary in mainstream media?

*did* men evolve to be overconfident?

This coming week’s lecture is going to be about reproduction and mate selection. It’s a really good night, full of complicated ideas and the opportunity to cull a bunch of bullshit from students’ minds, and even to teach them how to be critical consumers of sexuality-related science in the media.

Like this Discovery News article about a speed-dating study that showed men thought women were more interested in them than they were.

The study was conducted by a psychology faculty member at Williams College who, on investigation, did her PhD at UTexas Austin. She now teaches Evolutionary Psychology among other things. Would I be surprised if she studied under David Buss? I would not. Because this is precisely the kind of just-so story conflation of history with evolution (TWO DIFFERENT TIMESCALES = TWO DIFFERENT CAUSAL MECHANISMS) that makes me need a drink and a night of reading Sarah Blaffer Hrdy that Buss’s work causes in me.

(I’ve just checked and it turns out I’ve never actually written a post about eye-rollingness of David Buss, though I’ve mentioned him several times. Must get on that.)

Now, one of the problems with my point of view on the evolutionary forces that shaped human sexuality – and evolutionary forces DEFINITELY DID shape human sexuality, that’s just inevitably true – is that it’s just a lot more complicated than the straightforward “men are promiscuous, women are choosy” argument.

And complicated arguments take patience and thought to understand.

For example, mathematical modeling has shown that males actually have to be TWICE as reproductively successful with a promiscuous mating strategy than with a partnered mating strategy in order to make it worth its energy expenditure. So men are not “naturally promiscuous;” if anything, they’re promiscuous conditionally.

You really needn’t – and indeed I think oughtn’t – invoke an ultimate cause (evolution), when a proximate cause (social dynamics) meets the case perfectly well. In this case, there is truly no need to look to evolution to explain men’s behavior. Culture accounts for it perfectly well, with evolution playing only a peripheral and distant role.

The article quote Peter Todd of my alma mater, whose work I love, and whose quote brings an important but unmined insight:

“The research in this area is important because it provides insight into some of the sources of potentially harmful misunderstandings regarding sexual intent between men and women,” Todd said. “This paper in particular gives more support for the idea that men over-perceive the sexual interest of women, and it indicates which men paired with which women are most likely to show this over-perception.”

Notice he makes no mention of selection pressure or reproductive success.

Seeing evolutionary roots in modern human behavior is REALLY REALLY HARD; our origins are buried deep under 10,000 years of agriculture and written language.

But the media luuuuuuuuvs a good (that is to say, bad) evolutionary just-so story about why men and women are the way we are. There’s something so appealing, so comforting, in the idea that we evolved to be this way, that is is Who We Naturally Are.

As if nature had a plan for how we would behave at speed-dating events.

I want my students to finish the class with pretty good bullshit-o-meters; I want them to be able to tell the difference between interesting thinking about the evolution of humans as sexually dimorphic large apes and simplistic storytelling that conflates cultural selection with natural and sexual selection. Cultural selection is important, but it is not even a little bit the same.

As Douglas Adams says, “The thing about evolution is, if it hasn’t turned your brain inside out, you haven’t properly understood it.”

In other words, it’s all really much more complicated than that.

I ♥ my…

On Valentine’s Day, the Peer Sex Educators had a “Love Your Body” table at the campus center. One of the fun things they did was have people write on a white board what they loved about their bodies.

Slide show here!

You should go look at it. It’s beautiful and hilarious and, if you need more incentive, I’m in it!

My favorite juxtaposition is that my “I love my uterus” is followed immediately by someone else’s “I love my butch cock.”


(And yeah, my ode to my uterus is totally peacemaking following my adventures in birth control.)

wanting, willing… open!

One of my earliest posts on the blog was about responsive desire, the phenomenon of not being really interested in sex until sex (or something sexy) has already started. It’s crucially important to understand this, since the mistaken belief that “desire” is “supposed” to be spontaneous – like, you’re walking down the street or having lunch and you go, “Hm! Sex please!” – can cause a person to believe that if they have responsive desire they’re BROKEN. And if people believe they’re broken, then you get into medicalization of what is in fact perfectly normal, healthy, functional sexuality.

It’s also an important concept in the context of consent. In an ideal world we’d all be able to consent when we’re definitely into it, but it’s just true that sometimes you only get into it after it has already started. I tried out the idea of calling this willing consent, following Suzanne Iasenza framework of “wanting” sex (spontaneous) versus “willing” to have sex (responsive).

But that language often feels uncomfortable for people; there’s too much room for passive aggressive “YesokayFINE” in the word “willing.” Like, “if you MUST,” rather than, “Sure, let’s see what happens.”

But I was talking with a student who both is in my class and works in my office, about responsive desire, which I had just covered in class the night before. I was talking to her about this problem in the language of “willingness,” and she said, “It’s more like OPENNESS.”

And with that word, an entire world cracked open.

Being “open” sex is connotes a kind of readiness, appreciation, porousness, and connection that “willing” just doesn’t quite get.

If you’re a responsive desire person, if you mostly begin wanting sex only when sexy things are already happening, you can frame your sexuality as “open” – to possibility, to invitation, perhaps even to persuasion. And where persuasion enters the picture, my controversially tepid advice is Go. Slow. If you just maybe wanna do something, try it out, and go slow. Keep monitoring your internal experience for what feels good and what feels uncomfortable. And remember that just becomes something feels sexually arousing doesn’t mean it feels GOOD: when it’s right, it’ll feel both arousing and emotionally certain.

My main problem now, really, is finding a word for “wanting” that sounds AS GOOD as “openness.” Wanting is so much sadder and desperate than openness!

But surely you, dear internet, will help me find a better word?

it’s not the money

The romantic euphamism is doing a Kickstarter project related to his comic, and it has been wildly successful, funded 1,000% over its original goal in the first 8 (out of 30) days, so you can rest assured that I’m not writing a post about it because he, like, desperately needs more support:

(If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s crowdsourcing site to fund creative projects. If you’re an artist with a creative idea that needs funding, it’s a fabulous tool.)

I just wrote a post about being a highly educated woman and the impact that has on my relationships – or at least on the way my relationships are perceived. And, ya know, I’ve got a jobby job, I go to an office and I write annual reports and I sit on committees. My life looks pretty grown-up, all things considered. I have benefits. A retirement plan. And here I am with this guy who makes his living DRAWING A COMIC STRIP. And you don’t have to tell me that comics aren’t just Dilbert and Garfield, I totally know, but really. Take that one home and introduce it to your mom, who’s been worried about you for the past 6 years while you floundered in singledom. It just doesn’t SOUND very promising.

(Actually my mom really likes him.)

So here I am, with my jobby job and my biweekly paycheck, attached to this person who, let’s face it, doesn’t have a retirement plan. And then along comes Kickstarter, with its financial exhibitionism….

Kickstarter looks like it’s about money, right? With its percent funded statistics and its system of pledges and rewards.

But the money part of it is a mask for the substance of the experience.

And I’m telling you, the substance of the experience has been kind of a turn on.

His creativity, his humor, his excited commitment to the project are all things I love about him, and there they all are, posted in public. And there are 700+ people in the world ready to pay for that creativity, humor, and excitement, to get something they would eventually be able to get for free. Why? Well there are people who commented along the lines of, “I have no idea who you are and never read your comic, but your Kickstarter is so funny I had to back it.”

They all share a little fragment of what I experience every day.

I have watched the Kickstarter for 7 days. I have created Excel spreadsheets to analyse the performance of various incentive levels relative to Kickstarter’s averages. It’s been a fun project to work on together – me doing all the mathy part, him doing all the creative part. And I’ve been dazzled all over again, brand new, like I was when we met.

It’s not the money, it’s the brilliant. It’s the funny. Long before we met, I wrote that humor is my number one mate choice characteristic. Well, now I let a professional comedian walk my dog.

Thinking about sex and relationships is part of what I do for a living, so I can’t help considering the larger meaning of my individual experience.

Could it be that the narrative that women are turned on by money be a misconstruction (by the men, who create the narrative), boiling the intelligence, humor, social abilities, and creativity of a guy down to the monetary reward that might, but doesn’t usually, go with it?

Could the standard “evolutionary” thinking that female humans are seeking a “provider” for their offspring be totally off-target, and actually what female humans want is not a provider of food and shelter, but a provider of inspiration, intellectual engagement, insight, humor? (Could it also be that what women want is context dependent? Why yes, I think so.)

My brother is a creative genius too, but only recently has he been able to make any kind of a living out of that work. And my dad, in his way, has that arty vibe. And both of them were supported by organized, intelligent, and (cultural conditions permitting) educated women.

No no. It’s not about the money. It’s the brilliant. It’s the funny.

Need help finding a story about…

I’m looking for a movie or book or short story or comic about sexuality fluidity.

The storyline I *don’t* need is, “Here I am going along in my life and WHAMMO ALL OF A SUDDEN IT TURNS OUT I AM GAY (or straight) WHEN ALL ALONG I THOUGHT I WAS STRAIGHT (or gay).”

I’m looking for an example of a person (let’s call them Chris) who has one identity, falls in love with a person whose own gender is incongruent with Chris’s identity, and Chris does NOT decide that they were in denial all along but instead goes, “That’s unexpected! I’m in love with someone who violates all my expectations about the gender of the people I love!” and keeps or queers their identity, rather than switching to another category.

Anybody know anything like that?

The one example I know of is Erika Moen’s excellent and now defunct Dar.