Sexual Selection

I was telling a friend yesterday about my New Year’s Eve; I mentioned that a young woman (mid-twenties) asked me to come home (sic – her hotel room) with her as she was leaving the bar.  Her sister was visiting her, so I didn’t know if they were sharing a hotel room or not, and she seemed pretty soused.  I left the bar a half hour after she did and received a message from her on my way home, asking me if I was going to come over.  No, I said — I was going home to sleep instead.  My friend interrupted me at this point in the story and said, “Why didn’t you go?”  “I guess I was more tired than horny,” I said.  “Yeah,” he said — “That sounds like the entirety of my thirties.”  When did that happen?  Ten years ago, I would have done this without question.  Fumbly, drunk 3:00am sex doesn’t have the same appeal that it used to.  

(It should be noted here that I tried to have an actual conversation with this girl at a few points in the night, and we just had no rapport.  Like, crickets were chirping in the background.  If I had found her intellectually stimulating, I would have gone… so I guess this story isn’t about lowering libido so much as it’s about becoming more selective in my sexual partners.) 

On Becoming Friends with my Gynecologist

I have heard and read a lot of horror stories about visiting the gynecologist in Korea during my five years here.  Because of this, I’ve saved my visits for back home, even though it’s more expensive since I don’t have insurance in the US.  Most of my female friends and acquaintances in Korea have told me that there is a curtain placed between the doctor and patient so they can’t see each other and that the doctor will often do things without first getting the consent of the patient, like an ultrasound or a biopsy.  This would be totally unheard of in the US, where malpractice insurance costs an arm and a leg and there are entire classes taught in medical school regarding consent and liability.  In the US being able to see your doctor and ask her (or him) questions is comforting; perhaps in Korea, because sexuality isn’t really talked about, it might be embarrassing to be able to see your doctor’s face while she’s looking at your vulva.

I’ve also read stories about women being asked to recount their entire sexual histories aloud in a waiting room full of other patients, or doctors calling a woman’s boss to report her pap results.  Because individuality permeates US culture so thoroughly, complete privacy is expected in a medical setting, but the concept of privacy is much less important in communal cultures.  Visiting the doctor here often involves getting on a scale, having blood pressure checked, or even getting blood drawn in a public area.      

I found an English-speaking gynecologist through an expat website and was elated that her office was only a short bus ride away from my apartment!  What I experienced there was astonishingly different from what I’d read and heard.  There’s one doctor in the clinic; she’s retired, but still practicing privately.  I was called into her office and had a conversation with her beforehand, specifically telling her that I didn’t want an ultrasound or a sonogram – just a regular old pap smear and STI panel.  The receptionist took me into a changing room to put on a skirt with an elastic waist (no giant, awkward paper cover!  This might freak out people who are germaphobes, but it’s definitely more environmentally-friendly…) and then called me into another room where I sat on a chair that was much like a dentist chair but with a super short seat.  The back of the chair could be electronically raised or lowered.  Instead of heel stirrups, there were thigh stirrups and a flat place to put your feet underneath them. 

The doctor, who did not put a curtain between us, did a normal speculum / swab routine, but then she surprised me by telling me she was going to take a picture of my cervix.  “Oh!” I said… “Okay.”  Suddenly, a full-color picture of my cervix popped up on a monitor across the room, which was pretty rad.  However, I then felt a sudden, slight, sharp pain.  “What did you just do?” I asked.  She told me that she had applied an acidic solution to my cervix to check for HPV, which I thought was kind of neat at the time, until I researched it and found out that not only does it not really test for HPV, but the CDC recommends against having it done.     

Afterward, the doctor took out the speculum and she and the receptionist (who had been next to her the whole time taking notes!) lowered my feet onto the floor so I could go change.  I went back into the doctor’s office, and this is where it got good.  We talked for at least thirty minutes about which STIs she tests for on her STI panels, the prevalence of HPV in South Korea and how it’s changing, the HPV vaccine and how guidelines for who should receive it and when are changing, and the various types of abnormalities that can be seen during cervix photography.  Her medical English was incredible, but that’s not what impressed me.  What impressed me was that she treated sex and sexuality as a normal part of the human experience — basically, she was sex positive.  She treated me as an educated person who was fully capable of discussing my sexual health.  She even gave me her mobile number and invited me to drive around the coast with her so I could see parts of Korea that I normally don’t have access to while she practices her English!

It was a visit to the gynecologist that left me feeling confident and comfortable, which is a rare and beautiful thing.  She called me yesterday to report my test results (all good – yea!) and reminded me to come hang out with her.  And I actually want to.       

US Middle and High School Dropouts are Fuuuuuucked.

Over the past year, the United States has seen an increase in employment, and the economy is finally beginning to recover a bit after a long recession.  So the good suits over at Pearson, the for-profit company (the largest education company in the world, worth billions of GBP and headquartered in London) that is responsible for writing and producing the GED diploma, was like, “Wait, what?  People are getting jobs?  And learning?  And being able to support themselves?  Before you know it, they’ll be wanting a voice and power!  Well, we’ll just see about that.” 
   
The new GED test was implemented at the beginning of 2014 to reflect the Common Core national educational standards for public schools that most states adopted quickly (but which some are beginning to drop).  Ostensibly, the reason for the changes in the content of the test is to prepare GED test takers to enter a four year-university, which is one of the primary goals of the Common Core.  Changes to the test included:

  • More of a focus on critical thinking and analytical skills, such as close reading, essay writing, and advanced algebra;
  • The test is now only available online;
  • Test samples now cost $6 per sample and require a credit card to purchase;
  • The cost of the test itself has tripled, from $40 to $120.

The reason this has been in the news recently is because passing rates from 2014 have just been released; in 2013, the last year that the old test was implemented, 540,000 test-takers passed.  In 2014, only 55,000 passed.  That is a decrease of 90%.  Ninety percent!  Imagine if your local DMV suddenly changed the written test to get a driver’s license, and suddenly 90% of people were failing. We would find that problematic, no?

Who does this affect?

  • Anyone who’s just trying to get a high school diploma equivalent in order to get a job and doesn’t plan on entering a college or university;
  • Anyone who doesn’t have a computer;
  • Anyone who doesn’t have a hundred and twenty fucking dollars to fork over to a wealthy company which is profiting off of making the test more difficult;
  • Anyone who doesn’t have a credit card;
  • Anyone who didn’t grow up with computers and doesn’t have computer skills;
  • Inmates, many of whom need to pass the GED in order to get a job upon being released from prison

Basically, anyone who’s already screwed from the start.

In addition to all of this, most adult education is taught by volunteers who might not have the skills or knowledge to teach the new material.  Luckily, there are other testing companies that have developed alternative equivalency tests, which some states are beginning to accept.  Being able to pass this test has real-life implications for hundreds of thousands of people; passing the GED and being a better job candidate because of it can mean being able to financially support a family, get health benefits, and work on paying off debt.  It contributes to agency, self-actualization, and survival.  This shit is important. Read about it more here.

College Sex and Orgasm

This article from the American Sociological Association highlights a hilarious discrepancy between how many heterosexual men in colleges in the US think their female partners (during casual sex) have had an orgasm and how many women actually report having had an orgasm.  That kind of hilarious where you laugh really loud because you’ve experienced it, and then realize that it’s funny and sad at the same time.

Two takeaways from the research:
1. Sex is usually better with someone you feel comfortable and connected with, and
2. Oral sex and penetrative sex seem to be a winning combination (I personally concur).

The article mentions that although women report having enjoyed hookups more with an orgasm than without, they still report “the same degree of overall enjoyment” in their hookups as their male counterparts without climaxing.  Orgasms aren’t necessary for positive and fulfilling sexual experiences, and there’s too much pressure on making them the only focal point of sex.  I’ve had super hot sex, intimate sex, and incredibly fun sex sans climax.  However, this article demonstrates the importance of getting to know your body and what turns you on (yea for masturbation!) and working on being a stellar sex communicator so that the next time you hook up, you can tell your partner exactly what you like.  Partners who are worth having sex with again will listen.  Orgasms don’t happen in a vacuum, people (except when they do).    

More Than Two: A Book Review

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory
Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

This book has changed the entire way that I look at and talk about relationships, and I honestly believe that the philosophy behind it has the power to radically transform societal relationship narratives.  It is a long, thorough, and complex book to be considered carefully, while simultaneously being engaging and fun to read — quite an amazing feat!

Although ostensibly about polyamory, the ideas and lived experiences that went into this book are applicable to anyone who’s in a relationship.  Any kind of relationship.  In fact, it applies to everyone who cares about another human being.  The focus of the second section of More Than Two is self-care, nurturing relationships, communication strategies and pitfalls, and jealousy.  Chapter nine, regarding boundaries, is also beneficial for anyone in a relationship.  Even though the rest of the book focuses on polyamorous frameworks, structures, transitions, and community, the threads of section two are woven throughout the book, and the authors continuously come back to them, which makes the entire book a beneficial read for all people, regardless of their chosen relationship model.

As this book is largely about building and maintaining ethical relationships within a polyamorous framework, Veaux and Rickert present two axiomatic ethical principles that underlie the content of More Than Two:  First, don’t treat people as things.  Second, the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship.  Within these axioms are the ideas that all relationships should be consensual (which requires a lot of honesty; you can’t give consent without being informed), that we shouldn’t sacrifice the self for the relationship or expect others to do so, that seeing partners as need-meeting machines dehumanizes them, that one partner’s needs are not more important than the other’s (the needs and desires of everyone involved should be recognized), and that we are not entitled to anyone’s time or love — that being in a relationship and giving our love and time is a choice.  The Relationship Bill of Rights included in chapter three is invaluable as a conversational springboard. 

Some things that I absolutely love about this book:

  • It doesn’t present polyamory in a Utopian or ideal way; in fact, the introduction lays out that polyamory is hard fucking work, that it’s not inherently safe, that growth often includes pain, that it means being vulnerable and giving things up, and that we can’t control and shouldn’t try to prescribe how relationships will grow and change.
  • It presents monogamy as a legitimate relationship model and specifically claims that polyamory is not more advanced, enlightened, or progressive than monogamy.  There are people on polyamory discussion boards who disagree with this interpretation because Veaux and Rickert criticize the relationship escalator and the socialization of Oneitis that stems from fairy tales and romantic comedies; however, I don’t see a critique of the way we’re socialized to believe that we have one true soul mate and that if we don’t find that person we’ve failed as synonymous with a critique of choosing to be in a mindful and ethical monogamous relationship. 
  • At the end of each chapter are self-reflection questions to guide the reader through applications of the theories and themes of that chapter to his or her (or hir) life.  I’m bringing a bunch of these questions with me on vacation and am planning to actually write out answers.  It’s like therapy, but for the cost of a book.
  • More Than Two espouses compassion and non-judgment in all of our interactions with people we care about; it advocates the use of active listening; and it encourages readers to own their choices (and feelings) and acknowledge that our choices have real-life consequences.  It tells us to assume good intention on the part of our partners, which is an incredibly valuable relationship skill.   
  • It presents the idea that self-worth cannot come from another person; it has to be built from within.  That it’s very difficult to have agency within a relationship unless you feel secure, and security is something that has to be practiced.  That you must have compassion for yourself in addition to being aware of your needs, value, limitations, and boundaries.
  • The authors write about their own experiences and how they’ve learned from them.  They don’t present themselves as perfect experts; they present themselves as people who have fucked up, have learned from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and are in the process of continuing to learn from their relationships and the relationships of others in their communities and networks. 
After finishing More Than Two yesterday, I skimmed through The Ethical Slut again; there are many differences between the two (you can read all about them on poly forums).  One important idea that is agreed upon by both, however, is that our capacity to love is limitless and that love is abundant.  There are many kinds of love in the world – platonic, romantic, erotic, and all the shades between and combining those types – and choosing to give your love to someone in any capacity is a gift. 

I consider myself ethically non-monogamous; before reading More Than Two, I never would have considered myself a polyamorous person, even though I’ve had the experience of being in love with more than one person at the same time.  In fact, I often joke that I’m barely amorous, so how can I be polyamorous?  As an intensely introverted person, the idea of committing the kind of time it takes to make a romantic relationship work with more than one person while still maintaining close ties with friends and family and working and having hobbies scares me a bit.  Or at least it did.  I didn’t realize until reading More Than Two that a lot of poly people have long-distance relationships in which they only see their LDR partner(s) once or twice a year.  Or that relationships can be what you choose to make them, which although it seems fairly obvious, is kind of a radical idea.  So maybe I am poly.  Still figuring that out… and very glad to have Franklin and Eve supporting me along the way.