Tag Archives: censorship

The Privilege of Pleasure: OSU and Tristan Taormino

A few weeks back I wrote about access to sexual information and how social privilege informs the sexual conversations we can access. The current controversy over OSU, Tristan Taormino and the Modern Sex Conference contains an excellent example of this dynamic in play.

You may have heard the hullabaloo over OSU’s decision to uninvite Tristan Taormino from delivering the Modern Sex Conference keynote speech. In response to public criticism OSU sent out a press release and today their spokesperson, Todd Simmons, commented on the situation in an Examiner article. In that article, part of his defense for the decision rests on the assumption that taxpayer dollars cannot be used to pay “somebody who describes herself as a pornographer”.

The thing is, pornography is not illegal and there is no statute I am aware of in Oregon state law that restricts the use of taxpayer fees in this way. He goes on to say that private universities such as Yale and Harvard had every right to book her because they are using private monies.

Welcome to the privilege of pleasure and sexuality.

This is the same general dynamic in sex education. Any groups using public money or grants (outreach organizations, public schools) restrict their conversations to the most conservative common denominator. Never mind that many OSU students want her to speak. Why should public university students have a choice in their education? That right is apparently reserved for private university students.

The way social hierarchies and privilege play out in every aspect of  our lives never fails to amaze me. Private high school students can have unquestioned access to issues about sexual orientation, gender, pleasure and agency while programs in public schools are vulnerable to moral panics and content restrictions. This serves to reinforce a sense of access and privilege in the world.

In a way, I understand why OSU administrators made this decision. Social conservatives don’t usually attack private universities on curricula or education issues. These are institutions for grooming the social elites and their attacks would go nowhere. But a public university is a much easier target to grapple with because of who they serve: the general public, the middle and working class.

At this juncture, I highly doubt they will rescind and reinvite Tristan. The only thing I can hope is the next public university that wrestles with a decision like this will take a chance and defend the intellectual freedom of their student population.

No Pleasure in the Ghetto

Social injustice is a hard wall to break (pic via yoostin.com)

This morning I woke up to a local housing project’s message about canceling a workshop on safer sex. The reason? No funding for outside presenters.

Welcome to the most frustrating injustice in sex education: information access and restricted conversations. Continue reading

Human Obscenity is Forever

As my friends and I prepared the dinner table last night, the sweet sounds of 1930s blues filled the room. The scratchy, canned recordings of that bygone era masked the lewd lyrics, so it wasn’t until the second verse of Lucille Bogan‘s “Till the Cows Come Home” that we knew for sure she was singing about fucking with a capital “F”.

A sample verse:

If you suck my pussy, baby, I’ll suck your dick

I’ll do it to you honey, till I make you shit

Listen to the song in all its glory:

Lucille Bogan Till the Cows Come Home
Uploaded by sergheirugasky. – See the latest featured music videos.

We stared at each other in total disbelief as she sang of giving her lovers the clap, her floor sweeping pubic hair with “funk from those hairs that will shut the door” and how her two lovers had dicks like baseball bats. There is an extra layer of shock when you discover our predecessors could be just as smarmy as any modern day porno.

We have a preoccupation with sanitizing the past in order to present its occupants in a more noble light, similar to the way we eulogize the dead and forgive them their earthly indiscretions. Hindsight is not only 20/2o; it is also easily manipulated for our own comfort.

Champions of family values often shriek about impending moral doom, holding up copies of Penthouse and rattling off porn sites as evidence for cultural entropy. But the moment you dig below the bleached façade of official history, you’ll find the same old dirty jokes, songs and images. Drawing cocks on the walls is nothing new for humans.

Of course, social sanctions against sexual innuendo and expression are nothing new either. Though the urge to create “dirty” entertainment and art is culturally ubiquitous, the urge to eradicate those creations waxes and wanes. Even the bounds of what constitutes prurience are in constant flux.

Personally, I find it humbling that Ancient Romans scrawled offensive lines on public walls or that medieval writers drew dirty cartoons  in religious texts. Perversion is a uniquely human trait and I am happy to embrace bawdiness.

Proposed Sexting Laws Solve Nothing

"So that's how Sally's breasts landed Quinn in jail..."

New technology brings new moral panics. Zippers on pants in the early 20th century scandalized older generations. (Easy genital access!) Cars created a moral panic among mid-20th century parents. (Our kids can have sex in those things and we can’t stop them!)

Cell phones and computers draw the same type of ire. The youth will use it for sexy stuff! They will be defiled! Panic!

So if new technology brings moral panics, what do moral panics bring? Stupid, stupid laws and court cases. First, prosecutors charged teens with child pornography for taking and sending naked photos of…themselves. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over too well.

Knowing that we can’t charge a “child” (is 16 really a child?) with pornographing themselves, several state legislatures created teen-targeted sexting bills. So, instead of a felony charge for the cock-pic, you may only get a misdemeanor in Ohio or Arizona if the sexting bills pass. A New york lawyer is seeking federal legislation on teen sexting. Vermont is the only state considering decriminalizing consensual sexting between teens ages 13-18.

Conservative Christian groups like the United Methodist Church are not happy about Vermont Senate Bill 125. Pat Trueman, legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, says “It’s the only state in the union ever to consider legalizing the production of child pornography.”

[Point of order: a teenager is not a child. We make a distinction between children, adolescents and adults in our culture. Don't conflate the terms for your own political gain. That's just tacky. Not to mention dishonest and misleading.]

Everyone needs to take a collective deep breath and think about the right approach to a serious issue. We want to protect teens from making life-destroying decisions. High school is a tumultuous time and the mortification of nude pics passed around the school is very real and damaging. Recent sexting legislation debates in Ohio came about after 18 year-old Jesse Logan committed suicide after the colliding stress of a friend’s suicide and nude photos of herself circulating among other students at her high school.

But simply downgrading charges from felony to misdemeanor is not the answer. We are still telling teens that their sexuality is dangerous. This message we instill does not magically disappear when a teen steps into legal adulthood at 18. If we all agree that adults are allowed to sext each other even though it’s usually a stupid idea, legislative action against teens is the wrong move, especially considering how few teens do it in the first place. Teenagers are not the drunk, sexting, hormone-saturated maniacs the media portrays.

How about, you know, talking to teens? If you have not seen the LG teen texting safety campaign with James Lipton, go check out their “Give It A Ponder” website. (Or check out their collection of videos here.) This is a perfect example of non-punitive measures to deal with one aspect of this issue.

Beyond these PSAs, a good start would be open discussions with teenagers about sexuality, something that is confusing territory enough for adults. I spoke with a couple of high school students today about the sexting laws and one girl brought up an excellent point: “Say, like, a girl does it because she doesn’t want to have sex but she doesn’t want to be a prude. That’s not really fair that she’ll still get punished.”

That statement sums up the tightrope walk experienced by many teens. Do it, don’t do it, try to find an alternative that allows some degree of social acceptance, get in trouble all the same.

Thanks to @josephpred for alerting me to AZ Senate Bill 1266.

Vulvanoia

New and Improved Rorschach Test

I love eavesdropping. I am a nosy observer of human nature and adore catching the conversations people think no-one hears.

I overheard a tampon crisis in a university bathroom last week. At first listen I thought the poor girl had dropped her last tampon on the grimy bathroom floor so I started to search through my bag. (While still eavesdropping. I’m awful.)

“The whole thing?,” asked her friend outside the door.

“No!,” said the hidden stall girl. “The applicator! I don’t have the applicator to put it in! It’s on the ground. Iiiiick.”

I quietly dropped the OB tampon back in my bag.

Her friend became exasperated. “If you still have the tampon, just use your fingers.”

“EEEEWWW! Omhigod, no! I don’t want to put my fingers in there! Ugh, whatever, I’ll just fold up some toilet paper.”

The conversation baffled me. I hoped she didn’t want to stick her fingers in her vagina because they were dirty. I know that’s not why. She would have washed her hands and then dealt with it instead of shrieking in panic.

The applicator-less girl feared her own vulva and vadge. *facepalm* Ladies, aren’t we over this? No? No, no I guess not.

From the youngest of ages the land between our legs (Bonny Banks of Lochlabia?) is stigmatized. Dirty, dirty thing that, later in life, will ooze potentially embarrassing blood and possibly get you pregnant. The first time you have sex will probably hurt and whatever you have down there smells. Like itself. Gross. The only pictures you ever see are symmetrical, sterilized versions of  the hair-covered, asymmetrical fleshy folds between your thighs.

The one redeeming quality is the clitoris, but only sexy lady magazines tell you that in passing reference to a new sex position to use. With your male partner sticking his ween inside your gross dirty place, possibly the only thing it’s good for aside from baby delivery.

No wonder that girl didn’t want to touch her own body part. Seems icky.

But it’s not. Our collective hyperfocus on the vulva and vagina as a hygiene issue and birth canal, respectively, leaves out the potential for pleasure.

Imagine a world where we tell girls about clitoral erections. Imagine a world where we discuss the pleasure that can throb between your legs,  the heady rush of orgasm chemicals and how anyone can do this themselves with one (or two) hands.

This is not a world that we need to fill with Vulva Merchandise: charm bracelets, plush pillows, necklaces, paintings. I see no need to make merchandise out of any human body part. That’s just weird. And, no, the first step is not checking it out in a mirror. The first step should be touching your vulva. Touch it, really. I’m sure it’s all kinds of warm and slick and soft.

But we do need to stop freaking out about periods. Understand the pleasure potential of our entire bodies, including the vulva and vaginal walls.

Maybe we can start by pointing out that vulva (outside) and vagina (inside) are two different things.

Fear of Teen Sex

Rainbow Parties: One of many sexual urban myths. I woke up this morning with wicked stuffed sinuses and headed to the gym to try and run from the sickness. My mode today is sloth and I stepped on the treadmill just in time for midday trash TV. Nestled in between CNN and Martha Stewart was Maury Povich and his headline scare topic of the day was teen sex parties. Sorry, make that, TEEN SEX PARTIES: AN ALARMING NEW TREND.

This is not new and endemic to the current generation. Continue reading