Tag Archives: concepts

A Vulva By Any Other Name

The David Nolan Gallery in New York teamed up with Francis M. Naumann Fine Art to present “The Visual Vagina”, a vulva-focused art exhibition. The art is provoking and were I in New York, I’d be giddy to check it out. (Seriously, they have a vulva yurt. The real vulva yurt is image #18 in this NSFW gallery.)

People well schooled in genital anatomy are none-too-happy with naming a vulva-centered exhibition “The Visible Vagina.” Why? A vagina is technically an invisible potential space while the vulva is the outside bits.

Marina Galperina at Animal New York did a write-up about the exhibition a couple weeks ago and some commenters got a little upset about the title.

One was teasing:

Clara Hamer

Man, talk about false advertising. All I see here are vulvas.

Another felt a bit stronger about proper terminology:


Enough already! Unless you’re using a SPECULUM, it’s the VULVA you’re seeing. The vagina is a tube. And it’s inside.

Francis M. Naumann Fine Art and David Nolan Gallery, shame on your[sic] for proliferating this!

So Francis Naumann stepped in to defend the title:

Francis Naumann


I’m getting tired of people trying to correct the title. Of course we know the difference between the vagina and vulva (so do most kids who take sex education courses in high school), but the rapport that the show shares with Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” would have been lost. Although anatomically inaccurate, they two words have been used interchangably[sic]. All proceeds from the sale of the catalogue will go to Ensler’s not-for-profit organization, V-Day, which is devoted to preventing abuse to girls and women worldwide. All of this information is provided in the catalogue, as well as in our press release.

Fair enough Mr. Naumann, though as someone working with youth I can assure you that most teens look at me weird when I say vulva. Not really a well-known term. Also, since the show paired up with Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, I get why vagina is used.

But I suspect another reason: far less people would see the “Visible Vulva” because the term is either foreign or steeped in the feminist sexual politics of its advocates. People know what a vagina is. Not everyone knows what a vulva is.

I don’t blame them for using status quo terminology. You can’t communicate with a person if you don’t speak their language. But if art is something to provoke our critical minds and to challenge our reality, why is there no mention of vulvas on the website press release? What I would advocate is setting up a prominent info piece in the gallery that explains the difference between the two and why the distinction is important.

Aside from that, I am tickled pink that so many people are screaming “Vulva!” in response to this art show. Only referring to the hot spot between a woman’s legs as a vagina privileges penetrative sex and renders the clit, the Almighty Pleasure Button, invisible. The clit is very important. Respect the Clit. Command the Clit.

Kindness and Hot Sex are Not Mutually Exclusive

Yesterday, WordPress caught me with my pants down. I posted some partially formed thoughts on nice guys vs. bad boys in the bedroom. Namely, the pervasive idea that nice guys are duds in the bedroom. Or that any nice person will not be good in bed because sex is naughty and only bad people can be good at naughty things.

Today I’m going further down the rabbit hole. Continue reading Kindness and Hot Sex are Not Mutually Exclusive

Good Guys Make Bad Lovers and Other Stupid Stereotypes

Sometime ago, I found myself in a bar, engaging in a verbal struggle with a soon-to-be ex-lover. He stirred his Mai Tai and told me why I liked him. “I’m an asshole. Women like assholes. Why do you think the sex is so good?”

Yes. Because all 3 billion plus men on the planet fit into two categories: nice guys and bad boys. No complexity to their personalities, no context to their actions, no mistakes leading to growth. Just wusses and studs.

Why do we deem nice behavior as incompatible with sexual skills? A friend of mine sent me a link to a PUA (Pick-Up Artist) blog where the author asserted that men were either good boyfriends or good lovers. Never both.

The ex-lover I mentioned based his sexuality on the false good guy/bad boy sex norms. In his mind, being highly sexed meant he was secretly an asshole, despite any acts of kindness: Bringing me a bottle of wine and chocolate when I was dying from cramps. Mixing me drinks. Making me dinner.

What a blatant jerk.

Underlying the alpha and beta male mindset is that hot sex is incompatible with kindness. We think nice girls can’t be sexual or that sexual girls are bad and bitchy. Is this just a logical fallacy rooted in demonizing sex? If sex is bad then all sexual people are bad people?

Let’s drop this sexual construction like the bad habit it is. Sure, some jerks are good in bed. But lots of perfectly nice people can fuck like madmen. There is no real correlation between social kindness and sexual satisfaction. The only sure thing we can say about bad boys is that they have more sex partners, but a high number of sex partners does not equal sexual skills.

In fact, it might mean the opposite. Jerks could be so self-obsessed that they are awful in bed and so flip through partners quickly. Just because you get someone into bed does not mean that you will get them off.

Edit: If you think this post is a little underdeveloped in the idea department you’re right. Want to read an expansion of these concepts? A follow up post can be found here or by clicking the “Kindness and Hot Sex are Not Mutually Exclusive” link at the top.

Academia and Its Sexual Malcontents

(image via guyism.com)

In my first year of graduate school, I spoke to an undergraduate class about life pursuing a Master’s in Sexuality Studies alongside an alumni from my program.

While we waited for the professor to introduce us, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Are they still teaching sexuality but not sex in that department?”

My eyes went wide and I only managed to utter a small “Yes” before the professor called the class to attention. Sitting next to that polished, astute woman, all I could think was, “Holy Shit. Sex is taboo in sexuality studies.”

I often feel straddled between two worlds.

On one planet, populated by the smart kids from high school, everyone talks about structural violence, theory, race, sexual identities, gender and queer politics.  The denizens of this planet worship ideas.

On the other planet, populated  by the weird kids from high school, everyone talks about cock rings, lube, blow jobs, anal sex, genital sores and Pedobear. The denizens of this planet worship acts.

I want these two worlds to collide but only if they fit together post-collision. Why can’t we talk about cock-ring use as a part of sexual identity? Lube access as a structural impediment to sexual happiness? Anal sex as it relates to gender?

Academia shies away from sex. We only talk about sexuality, not because academics in this field are prudes, but because we want funding for research. People with lots of money are prudes. They will sponsor HIV/AIDS prevention research but not studies on women’s attitudes towards blow jobs or condom use in the porn industry.

In a rather testy final essay for a professor, I wrote the following on academia and sex:

One major thing I have learned, in general, is that many academics like to skirt around the topic of sex as if the act were something crass, best left to the plebes. I am now absolutely certain that change cannot come from an institution so bent on removing its hive mind from that of the general population. Wherever I have seen organizations doing great change to make people feel comfortable with their own and others’ sexualities, academia is suspiciously absent.

On the flipside, community organizations struggle for funding because they seem unprofessional. Part of this is due to the heavy sex talk but the other part is because they don’t do the polished professional dance practiced by academics. I wonder if this is unconscious distancing.

So I sit in both worlds, always feeling a bit on the outside. Too sex-minded for academia, too theory-minded for grassroots sex ed.

Ideas and action must come together to be effective. Sexual theory and sexual bodies must be understood as inherently linked. I am one of the only people in my cohort with a good grasp on physiological and biological aspects of sexuality.

Go ask someone from my department how an erection works. I would expect an incredulous blank stare for that kind of question. Go ask someone in the streets about queer theory and you will get the same weird stare. Bodies matter when talking about sex. For most people sex = physical.

You can’t spit sexual theory to the general population without relating thoughts to their visceral experiences. And mental masturbation does not count as a sex act.

The Marquis de Sade was Crazy. We Like That.

Portrait of an Overprivileged Psycho

Marquis de Sade, sadism’s namesake, is one of those pop culture symbols that I see raised up and lauded by people unaware of his full life story. Some people in the kink community associate his name with their own pain and pleasure proclivities without understanding what he was: a total nutjob.

Born into French aristocracy, de Sade spent  nearly half of his life in different prisons and insane asylums for sexual assault, blasphemous writing, physical abuse, kidnapping, and poisoning. Often his victims were servants in his employ and the father of one servant attempted to shoot de Sade at point blank range. Later in his life, an angry mob attacked one of his estates.

For the most part, the de Sade family tried to distance themselves from him until a 20th century descendent named Xavier de Sade found his writings. The publication of the Marquis de Sade’s works and subsequent biography sparked contemporary public interest in the lunatic libertine.

A friend wanted to order a copy of The 120 Days of Sodom for me but I declined. I’ve read bits of his work and I would rather explore the writing styles of Dahmer or Gacey. Want some samples? Here, have a taste. Continue reading The Marquis de Sade was Crazy. We Like That.

Linkage: Fleshmap

Digital Sex Mosaic

Oh. My. Yes. My friend Horvath turned me  on to this amazing new website called Fleshmap, a visual sexual data representation project done by Fernanda Viégas and Mark Wattenberg with Dolores Labs. I have an academic boner for slick data visualization and this site is making me dizzy. In a good way.

The site comes (heh) in three flavors: Touch, Look and Listen. Continue reading Linkage: Fleshmap

Reason vs. Libido

Sexademics have weird arguments on Facebook. In my opinion, our reason creates the very idea of libido. This does not mean that we are without sexual desire. It means the idea that we have a sex drive that controls us (especially XY genes aka Men) is in part a cultural construction.

In the academic world we call this Biological Essentialism. Our bodies drive us, all that we are is natural and our actions are driven by biology. Many cultures use biological essentialism to justify social norms. In the Victorian Era, women stayed in the home and made babies. Doctors said that this was the natural drive of women: child-bearing but not sexual pleasure.

Norms change. We now argue that a sex drive exists in women, separate from their biological clock, but men are puppets to their sex drive. Libido controls all. I’ve argued against this sexist thinking before.

We justify our choices between desire and reason. One does not battle the other. There is no “fundamental” nature to males or females.