What It’s Like to Date a Married Man

The Mother and The Whore, 1973  (La Maman et la Putain)

Scene from “The Mother and The Whore,” 1973
(La Maman et La Putain)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My boyfriend is married to another woman. Yes, he’s in the process of divorce right now, but for much of the past year that I’ve been dating him, he’s been legally married and informally separated. Dating a man with a wife tars me as a hussy, a vixen, a minx—all the stereotypes of the devouring woman. And since I’m blonde and a quarter of a century younger than my boyfriend, I become a walking cliché, a symbol of the mid-life crisis, a threat to marriages everywhere.

People assume I’m a homewrecker, which I’m not. I can see it in their eyes.  There’s a certain look that you’re given when your recently separated boyfriend introduces you to his friends, a look that suggests with little subtlety that you are a stain on the pristine fabric of society. That you have dared to entered into a relationship with someone who is still legally married to someone else is still a socially fraught act, even in this supposedly progressive America. Sure, fewer people are getting married, but make no mistake about it, Americans still revere marriage. Gays are clamoring for it. Women are Pinteresting the shit out of it. Parents continue to pressure their children about it. In this matrimonialist culture, I’m cast as the villain to my boyfriend’s soon-to-be-ex-wife’s martyr.

I’m used to being judged for studying sex or having controversial viewpoints, and I’m fine with it because I’ve made a choice to devote my life to helping to change attitudes about sex. But being judged for falling in love with a married man is a different experience because falling in love is not a choice. I guess I could have not acted on my feelings. I could have walked away. But that would have left me and my boyfriend miserable. And his marriage would still be over. Continue reading

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Why Vibrators Should Be Covered By Insurance

Doctor Love

Imagine this scenario:

A woman walks into her doctor’s office complaining of an inability to orgasm. The doctor compassionately explains to her that there are millions of other women just like her, women who are also suffering from anorgasmia. An inability to orgasm can be caused by high blood pressure, aging, or other physiological reasons, the doctor reassuringly says, as she opens up a cabinet to reveal a plethora of gleaming vibrators made of medical-grade silicone and filled with the most powerful miniature motors known to man. But I can’t afford these vibrators, counters the patient. Access to orgasm is not a luxury for the rich, replies the doctor, as she explains that with a co-pay, each vibrator will only cost five dollars.

Is this scenario wildly utopian and unrealistic? Not necessarily. Insurance companies have been paying for men’s erectile dysfunction drugs for over a decade. It’s time that women’s sexual health devices received the same coverage.

Why is insurance coverage of vibrators necessary? First, it’s about access. High-quality vibrators usually cost around $100, so women on a budget frequently purchase cheaper, lower-quality versions or forego vibrators altogether, because they see vibrators as an indulgence. Second, insurance-subsidized vibrators would take us one step closer to defining women’s sexual pleasure as a right and not a privilege.

Continue reading

Terrorist Porn

Time magazine's Boston Marathon coverage shown above. http://nation.time.com/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-explosion-gallery/

Time magazine’s Boston Marathon coverage shown above. http://nation.time.com/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-explosion-gallery/

“Warning- Horrific Images From Boston Marathon Blast” screams just one of the 1.6 million results from a routine YouTube search on the Boston Marathon attacks. Graphic. Disturbing. Chilling. Bloody. These words pepper the coverage of the bombing, enticing our reptilian brains that are wired to respond to sex and death. Gruesome photos of runners with legs blown off and tendons dangling like jellyfish are all over news sites, along with photos of victims lying in pools of blood as bystanders helplessly look on. While publishing some horrific images is necessary to convey the magnitude of this tragedy, these photos aren’t just serving to inform the public or to bring the community together. They are fulfilling our sadistic urges.

This disaster coverage frequently devolves into “terrorist porn,” as On The Media referred to it in their most recent podcast. Terrorist porn is news that is stops informing and instead fills our screens with never-ending loops of destruction.  It happened after 9/11 with repeated images of planes slamming into buildings, and also during the tsunami, with TV news obsessively airing the crashing waves. But unlike run-of-the-mill pornography, terrorist porn is splashed across the front pages of CNN, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post, under the rubric of informing the public. This sadistic impulse is sanctioned by American culture, becoming so routine as to be quotidian, which begs the question: why are we so comfortable displaying unjustified images of death and violence in our news media and so uncomfortable with sexual imagery?

The phrase “terrorist porn” is apt, because the similarities to sexual porn are numerous. Both are disseminated and consumed in a similar way. The images frequently consist of decontextualized, graphic close-ups of body parts covered in bodily fluids, which are shown in endless loops. There’s usually no narrative, or if there is one, it’s merely an afterthought, a means to delay satisfaction, to increase the payoff when the desired images are finally shown. The CNN Slideshow: Deadly Attack at Boston is a prime example, as it intersperses wide shots of the explosions with close-ups of things like people’s feet covered in blood. Continue reading

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Playtex Thinks Your Genitals Are Dirty

Playtex Fresh and Sexy Wipes Ad

How many times has this happened to you? You’re furiously ripping off your partner’s clothes in a mad, hormone-fueled dash, when you unbutton their pants and you catch a whiff of their malodorous genitals. Sighing, you zip their pants back up and tell them you’ve changed your mind, all the while thinking to yourself, “If only there were a product that could instantly remove rank genital odors…” That’s never happened to you? Well, some mastermind at Playtex seems to think it has because they just trotted out a new product to cure this problem: a wet wipe for cleaning your genitals before and after sex.

Although the product is simply another in the long line of rebranded wet wipes, Playtex’s Fresh + Sexy Intimate Wipes are the first attempt by a major company to address pre- and post-coital cleanliness (although the ad campaign exclusively focuses on the former). With clever taglines like: “A clean beaver always finds more wood” and “A clean pecker always taps it,” their message is clear: your genitals are smelly and gross and nobody will have sex with you until you deodorize them. Ironically, the opposite is true. Genitals secrete pheromones during sexual arousal that attract mates. Wiping away these pheromones may actually make you less attractive.

Although Playtex’s ads may seem novel, they actually follow a simple formula that companies have been using since the 1880s to convince consumers of the necessity of soap and mouthwash (which Julian Sikulva skillfully details in Stranger Than Dirt):

  1. Pinpoint a part of the body as particularly dirty
  2. Connect this dirtiness to social reprobation
  3. Offer a product that cleans the area, and, in turn, helps the aspiring consumer to achieve a cultural norm

What’s new is that our cultural norms have shifted. Instead of urging consumers to buy personal hygiene products by persuading them that cleaning their bodies will win them a spouse, companies are asserting that their products will bring consumers copious amounts of sex. Companies have been telling men this for years (see: the Hai Karate ads from the 1970s).  But, for the most part, they’ve shunned sex appeals in favor of marriage appeals when selling women personal hygiene products.

Listerine Ad From 1923.

Listerine Ad From 1923.

To trace this cultural shift, it’s instructive to examine the father of all orificial-odor shaming ad campaigns, Listerine’s “Often a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride”  campaign from the 1920s.  A typical ad from this era featured an image of a dour woman bemoaning her lack of a husband, a lack which the ad traced directly to her bad breath. But it was the prose that laid the message on thick, as this ad from 1923 shows: Edna’s case was a pathetic one. Like every woman, her primary ambition was to marry…And as her birthdays crept gradually toward that tragic thirty-mark, marriage seemed farther from her life than ever.” Little did Edna know, the ad suggested, but it was her halitosis that was scaring away all her potential suitors. “That’s the insidious thing about halitosis (bad breath). You, yourself, rarely know when you have it,” said the ad. The ad worked because Listerine tied their mouthwash to the aspirational goal of the middle class woman of the 1920s: marriage.

Like Listerine, Playtex’s Fresh + Sexy ads shame women into purchasing their products to achieve an aspirational goal. In their most widely run print ad (shown above), an innocent beaver makes its way through the water, gazing at the consumer with imploring eyes. Next to the furry animal is this statement, “A clean beaver always gets more wood.” The implication is that women’s dirty vaginas are preventing them from achieving a cultural ideal. But instead of telling women that a cruddy cooch will stop them from attaining their dream of marriage, Playtex has a radically different message: A dirty vagina will prevent women from having a lot of sex. Playtex is implying that the 21st century woman aspires not to marriage (or a long-term relationship) but to sexual fulfillment.

Although the Fresh+ Sexy Wipes campaign is problematic, its pro-sex message represents a sliver of progress in our consumer society. It would be ideal if its sex-positivity weren’t tied into a larger message shaming women about their naturally occurring genital odors. However, the bigger problem lies not with Playtex, but with our commercial culture itself, which has succeeded by playing on our profound fears, one of the strongest of which is a fear of  sexual rejection.–Hallie Lieberman

 

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Why We Need Taboos

taboo
In almost every news story about sex, someone declares that we’ve “broken down the taboo of” a sexual practice or sexual device. Breaking down a taboo is always assumed to be a social good. The implication is that once we break down all the taboos we’ll live in peace and harmony in a mesmerizing sexual utopia. However, not all taboos should be destroyed. Some taboos are needed for our imagined sexual utopia. The problem with our discussion of taboo is our failure to distinguish between types of taboos. We conflate social taboos with sexual taboos. The former needs to be destroyed; the latter needs to be savored.

A social taboo involves shunning those people whose consensual sexual or relationship practices differ from the norm (whatever that happens to be at the time). Social taboos affect groups as wide-ranging as gays and lesbians, the BDSM community, plushophiles, and the happily non-married. This type of taboo can and should be destroyed. Historically, non-procreative sex has always raised suspicion, but we should be enlightened enough in the 21st century not to ostracize people for engaging in sexual acts that make us uncomfortable. What people do with their genitals should be irrelevant to their social status. We’re making a lot of progress on this front. That nine states have legalized gay marriage is a start, but we need to stop thinking in terms of having gays and lesbians conform to heterosexual ideals and actually allow them to make their own space.

In contrast to the social taboo, the sexual taboo should always remain. The sexual taboo is the I’m-doing-something-wrong-and-it-turns-me-on taboo that leads to the eroticism of such practices as anal sex, double penetration, and rim jobs. Because it heightens sexual pleasure, the sexual taboo should never be destroyed. There’s something erotic about violating rules. Sex is dangerous, and there’s no reason we should pretend that it isn’t.  The possible complications of sex are serious, from the physical—unwanted pregnancies and STDs—to the emotional—soul-crushing blows to self-esteem and unshakeable heartbreak.  Of course the possible benefits outweigh the risks: sex can bring you the most acute pleasure that the human body is capable of. And, there’s a particular euphoria between two people that can only come from a sexual relationship. The taboo that says that sex is dirty needs to stay. It is this taboo that brings us love and happiness. Continue reading

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Let’s Rebrand the Butt Plug!

Young's Rubber rectal dilator, circa 1890's, Courtesy Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History

Young’s Rubber rectal dilator, circa 1890’s; Courtesy Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History

Butt plugs get a bad rap. And they shouldn’t. While vibrators have served as feminist symbols of liberation, and cock rings are manufactured by major corporations, the butt plug remains on the sidelines as the outcast, the pariah, the sex-toy-that-dare-not-speak-its-name. The butt plug is a cultural joke. But in many cases, people’s mockery of the butt plug is caused by terror that they would enjoy using them.

One reason the butt plug is so repugnant to a wide swath of the population is simply its association with the rectum. But it’s larger than that. Mocking butt plugs is one way people confirm their heterosexuality, while insisting that their anuses remain utilitarian.  Straight men often see anal sex with their girlfriends as a cool and edgy variation on vaginal intercourse, and the assumption is that men are the instigators who are getting the bulk of the pleasure from the act.  But a butt plug carries no such camouflage, and behind every man’s purchase lies the gnawing question: “If I get off on a butt plug, will that make me gay?” While straight women ask themselves: “Can a woman who uses a butt plug still be considered feminine?”  

Even in the most sexually progressive corners of American popular culture butt plugs aren’t wholly accepted.  Witness the words of Hannah, the main character from the controversial HBO show Girls, who defines her sexuality in relation to the toy: “I feel like I’ll do almost anything sexually. I feel like the only thing that I won’t ever do again is a butt plug.”

Its disorienting name also doesn’t do it any favors. Butt plug manages somehow to contain within its nine letters both the juvenile and the antiseptic, garnering images of arcane plumbing tools and cartoon adolescents, boisterous gastroenterologists and giggling toddlers. We don’t call dildos vagina plugs or cunt corks, so why do we call the rectal equivalent a butt plug? It’s related to both the shape of the sex toy and its storied history. Continue reading

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One Vibrator Per Teen

Hello Kitty Vibrators

One Vibrator Per Teen: Changing A Teenager’s Life, One Sex Toy at a Time.

To get sex toys when I was a teenager, I had to break the law. Like all teenagers, I was obsessed with sex. Unlike all teenagers, I was obsessed with sex toys and would tromp into sex-toy stores just to gaze at the bizarre dildo packaging. This being the late 1990s, shopping online wasn’t an option. So I went to brick-and-mortar stores for my dildo fix. The only problem was that I was 16, and the minimum age was 18. So every time I went into the Adult Fun Shop, I was afraid that I’d get kicked out. Even its name reminded me that I wasn’t welcome. That added to the thrill, of course, but it also made me think that exploring my sexual desires was illegal, which leads me to my proposal (actually it was my boyfriend’s idea) that all adolescent girls should be eligible to receive a free vibrator when they turn 13. 

Here’s how the One Vibrator Per Teen program would work:

When a girl turns 13, she would be eligible to sign up for the One Vibrator Per Teen program via a website, which would feature information on masturbation, sexual health, contraception, and all the other things you need to know when you develop breasts and pubic hair. A week later, a phthalate-free rechargeable silicone vibrator clothed in discreet packaging would arrive at her home, packaged with water-based lubricant and an informational booklet.

Not only would teenage girls benefit from this program, but sex-toy companies would also profit from the early brand recognition. Gaining brand loyalty by giving away swag to hormonal girls is a time-worn strategy. For decades the feminine-hygiene company Kimberly-Clark has offered free sex-education materials to teachers in an attempt to get their maxi pads in the hands of as many new menstruators as possible, so why shouldn’t Trojan also get in the game?  Continue reading

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Let’s Abolish Sex Addiction

Michael Fassbender: The Most Beautiful Sex Addict in the Land.

Michael Fassbender: The Most Beautiful Sex Addict in the Land.

To be human is to be a sex addict. To be subsumed in sexual fantasy, to masturbate regularly, “to have sex with inappropriate people,” “to think that there might be more you could do with your life if you were not so driven by sexual or romantic pursuits”: All these things are normal.  And yet we’ve clumped these behaviors into a haphazard diagnosis: sex addiction. In its pathologization of normal sexual behavior, sex addiction is a dangerous concept.

Even sex addiction experts themselves cannot agree upon what characteristics make up the sex addict. The founder of the sex-addiction movement, Patrick Carnes, offers up this unhelpful definition:

No single behavior pattern defines sexual addiction. These behaviors, when they have taken control of addicts’ lives and become unmanageable, include: compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual and homosexual relationships, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, child molesting, incest, rape and violence.  

Not only is sex addiction nearly impossible to define, but there’s also no consensus on whether the disease actually exists. The bible of psychology, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of disease (which is used by insurance companies to determine coverage) included sex addiction in its pages in 1987, but then removed it in 1994. However, a lack of scientific evidence has not prevented popular culture from becoming captivated with sex addiction, and a slew of celebrities have blamed sex addiction for their cheating ways (see: Tiger Woods, David Duchovny, Rob Lowe). Furthermore, sex-addiction centers abound, supporting a healthy industry of 12-step treatment programs, expensive sex addiction therapies, and innumerable books. Given its shaky scientific basis, sex addiction should have faded away a long time ago. So why is the concept still being taken seriously? Continue reading

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Why Older Men-Younger Women Relationships Make People Uncomfortable

Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in "Whatever Works."

Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in “Whatever Works.”

Neighbor: “I saw your father walking your dog.”

Me:  “That wasn’t my father. That was my boyfriend.”

So goes a typical day in the life of a gerontophile. I’m not upset when people mistake my boyfriend for my father. In fact, my boyfriend and my father do share the same name and ethnicity, and while my boyfriend is 11 years younger than my father, he is 56 years old, the same age as my mother.

No, it’s not this type of honest mistake that bothers me. It’s the assumptions that come with our age difference that bother me. My boyfriend refers to the age difference as our dischronicity, which is a combination of the Greek chronos, meaning time (from Chronos, the god of time), and the Latin dis, meaning apart.  Saying that your relationship is dischronic or “apart in time” lends it a poetry that relationships with wide age differences are rarely given.  But it’s an appropriate term for my relationship because part of what makes it so appealing to me is the delicious strangeness of it, the taboo of it. There’s an eroticism to the violation of norms, a separate, tangible eroticism unrelated to my own gerontophilia.

And my recognition of this eroticism leads to another level of problems.  This actually wouldn’t be so much of a problem except that people I barely know question me about my choice of boyfriend.  They want a reassuring answer as to why my boyfriend is 24 years older than I am; they want me to fit into the standard narrative of the gold-digging younger woman. They want to make sense of the abnormal. I disappoint them when I say that I’m just attracted to older men. Even though I am careful never to mention the inherent eroticism of dischronicity, I still get a side-eye because they want to see an ulterior motive driving us together. They find it difficult to believe that our relationship could be based, like many relationships, on sexual attraction and love. (Gerontophiles! They’re just like us!) Continue reading

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Why Don’t We Have More Strip Clubs For Women?

Two weeks ago my friends and I spent 45 dollars to watch semi-naked men clad in firefighter outfits awkwardly gyrate to Bon Jovi songs at the Ho Chunk Casino in Baraboo, Wisconsin. While watching the “blokes” from Thunder From Down Under tear off various pieces of clothing, I was by turns revolted, disturbed, and amused but never aroused. And I thought to myself, Women deserve better strippers than this. 

Envision a theatrical production concocted by a not-particularly imaginative 5-year-old and performed by intoxicated WWE wrestlers, and you’ll get the idea. Each vignette featured a new theme in an attempt to cover a wide variety of stereotypical female fantasies. So we got to see gangsters and Roman soldiers and cowboys, who, after some choreographed combat, stripped down to thongs and showed their sculpted buttocks to the crowd.  The closest we came to seeing a penis was when we glimpsed the side of the bare shaft and testicles of Alex, a mid-30s, steroid-filled Australian stripper.

Then it started to get interesting. They’d bring overweight 40-something women on stage for lap dances, guiding the women’s thick hands inside their thongs. They’d simulate cunnilingus and intercourse on the deliriously happy women. They’d jog into the audience as women grabbed at their crotches with a fierceness usually reserved for plucking bulk condiments from Costco’s shelves. Clearly, the audience loved them. Continue reading

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