Life is a Mystery

I’m not a tech person, but when I heard about the Mystery Vibe Crescendo, I understood why tech people were stoked about it.  With six different motors inside and not only the ability to flex and bend into different shapes BUT ALSO Bluetooth connectivity / an app from which you can create your own vibration patterns, it feels futuristic. It’s a brilliant concept – make one vibrator that can fit the needs of a variety of people.  That can be a G-spot stimulator one day and a dual-stim vibe the next.  That has twelve different patterns built into it already as well as a variety of speeds, so you don’t even need to download the app.

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The Crescendo comes in beautiful packaging – an elegant black box with a magnetized lid which stays tight when you close it.  The instructions come on a black card with gold lettering in a black envelope tucked into the lid of the box – like an invitation to a remote and lavish ball.  Actually, it kind of reminded me of the murder mysteries I used to love playing as a teenager!  Opening the box, you discover that the vibrator also comes with what I can only describe as a knife roll for sex toys – a silky pouch that has separate compartments for the vibe and the charging components, easily rolled up and tied round with a black satin ribbon.  It’s a very classy design, and I can’t even say how excited I am that it’s not pink.  Seriously, industry people – SO HAPPY IT’S NOT PINK.  None of it is pink.  Thank you for that, Mystery Vibe.

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The Crescendo comes with a charger that can plug into a computer or wall adapter; the charging cord plugs into a base on which you set the vibe to charge.  This blew my fucking mind until a friend pointed out to me that other electronics do that – I’d just never seen it before.  Again, not a tech person.  Despite this and despite being wary of privacy concerns (I don’t use my phone to do anything blog-related), I tried to download the app onto my phone – no dice.  The Android version said that “there was a problem parsing the package,” and the Google Play store said that my phone wasn’t compatible with the current version of the app (it requires Android 6.0 or higher).

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I was actually okay with this – while I’m sure the app is fun to play with, the vibrator is fun enough on its own.  To be quite honest, it took me some time to warm up to the Crescendo.  It’s called the Crescendo for a reason; most of the patterns rise and fall or switch between different motors in the vibrator.  I’m used to using vibrators with one major point of vibration, so even when they use patterns, it’s always in the same spot.  Not so with the Crescendo.  At first, I found this frustrating – this is not a vibrator that you use in a pinch to get your rocks off before running out the door.  It takes a bit of time and buildup.  This is a lazy Sunday afternoon vibrator.  Because of that, however, and because it can be used hands-free (awesome!), I found that my orgasms with it were more intense than usual.  Instead of tensing into my orgasm, I could lay back and let the sensations build and build before coming, which is something I’ve been trying to work on lately.

There are a couple of minor drawbacks for me – I could bend it into the shape I wanted, but couldn’t get it inside of me while it was in that shape… and once I had it inside of me, could no longer bend it into the shape I wanted.  I got close, though.  At times I would go to push it deeper inside and accidentally hit the buttons, changing the speed or pattern; it would be nice to have a kind of locking mechanism to prevent that were it possible.  It is a lot noisier than the website lets on (it is “expected to create some noise”); that’s not a problem for me, as I’m noisy as fuck when I’m having sex… but there is one pattern that involves a sound that to me mimics an elephant trumpet, which I find mildly alarming.

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There are also some major drawbacks.  The Crescendo falls somewhere in the middle of the buzzy – rumbly spectrum, but a lot of the vibrations are on the buzzy end; I wish they were a bit more rumbly.  Maybe it’s that the motors are buried underneath the flexing mechanisms, or maybe they’re just buzzy motors.  Perhaps that’s why it takes me longer to get off with this vibe.  Another big drawback is the price; at $200, it feels like you’re paying for the novelty of having a bendable vibrator.

That being said, there are also big benefits.  It has wireless charging, and you can wash it after use (just don’t submerge it) – a big deal for an insertable vibrator.  You can register for a warranty if you buy it, which I think is fantastic!  It has a nice feel to it, too; the outer shell is made of soft silicone (not medical-grade).  My very favorite thing about it is that after using it as a dual-stim vibrator, I can take it out, change the shape, and keep using it as an A-spot stimulator without having to change toys.  That’s pretty badass in my book.  You know that feeling right before you come where your whole body is tingling and you feel waves of ecstasy?  The Crescendo had me in that state for a loooong while; it’s a toy I will use whenever I have leisure time.

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Like Gumby with boobs.

All in all – the Mystery Vibe Crescendo is an innovative and creative (but rather expensive) product that can suit many needs, comes in beautiful packaging, and will be lots of fun to experiment with!

UPDATE!  I just got an email from the creator of the Crescendo; he tells me that a) they’re working on a firmware upgrade so that the device can be locked into a certain pattern / intensity; b) they’re working with the motor manufacturer to make a quieter motor and more rumbly motors on the ends of the device.  Yea!

 

*Full disclosure: Mystery Vibe sent me a sample of the Crescendo, but did not ask me to write a review.

The Butters: A Lube Review

LTASEX was one of the first sex blogs I ever started reading on a regular basis, so when Jerome asked me to review his new creation, a lube called The Butters, I was so excited!

The Butters is an all-natural lube – no parabens, no glycerin, no added colors or scents or chemicals.  It’s vegan and plant-based, and I can pronounce and identify all of the ingredients, which makes me feel good.  It’s not just lube, though – it has a multitude of uses.  The first thing I used it for was makeup removal; as someone who wears makeup infrequently, it was nice to have something to remove my foundation once in a while that wouldn’t dry out my skin without having to buy a special product.  The second thing I used it for was shaving my legs (I usually use conditioner), and it worked great!  I’ve used it for moisturizer as well, and I’m kind of sad that I don’t have Docs to shine with it.

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Bullshit-free, people. Bullshit-free.

By the time I got around to putting it on my naughty bits, I was already sold.  The Butters is longer-lasting than water-based lube, but not as fluid as pure coconut oil; best of all, you can use it on silicone toys (but don’t use it with toys that are made from porous materials).  Something I really like about this lube is that I can use it externally and not have to re-apply (a reason I like to use silicone lube on my vulva) while using a silicone toy internally at the same time and not worry about getting silicone lube on it accidentally. This lube is fantastic for butt toys – I’ve used it with beads and plugs, and it’s perfect!  I like that it’s slippery without being runny – it’s creamy instead.  I’ve used it for manual sex, externally on myself and on a male partner; in a long hand job session, I only needed to grab a bit more lube once!  My partner was really into it, too (I believe his exact quote was, “Where can I buy this?!”).*

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As for vaginal use – I think that’s a personal call.  There’s a lot of discussion and disagreement among sex educators about using plant-based oils as vaginal lubricants; if you’re fine with other oils, this might be okay as well. I’m prone to yeast infections, so I prefer not to use oils inside my vag at all.  And a quick PSA: Please don’t use oil-based lubes with condoms, kids.

Something I love about The Butters is the discreet packaging – once you take the label off, it’s just a small black tub.  It could be anything – meaning you can leave it in plain sight and never have to answer questions about it.  I wish it came available in a pump or squeeze tube, though; maybe someday down the road?  One of the best things about it is the price; at half the price (or less) of other lubes on the market, it’s a steal!  A 4oz tub of The Butters is only $4.50 compared to the $8 – 10 price range of other lubes at that size.

The Butters has a faint scent kind of reminiscent of a new silicone toy – not unpleasant, but present.  Not strong enough to smell if your nose isn’t right next to it, but it will stay on your fingers for a little while.  It kind of looks like semen when it’s being rubbed over a body part, which is delightful… and hot.  Overall, this is a great lube.  The texture, the endurance, and the multiple uses won my… heart.  Highly recommended! And if you’re not in the market for oil-based lube, pop over to LTASEX anyway for a good dose of entertainment and education.

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*Answer: http://www.getthebutters.com

The Vibease: A Toy Review

As some of you know, I have a partner (The Texan) who moved back to the US last year, which has been rough to say the least.  One of the things I was worried about when he left is that since my heart lives in my vagina, the physical distance would make us emotionally distant.
Enter the Vibease.
                   

Remote / app-controlled sex toys have popping up all over the place in the last couple of years, so I had the opportunity to do a lot of research before choosing the Vibease over the Blue Motion (OhMiBod) or the We-Vibe 4 Plus, which seem to be the two most popular long-distance vibes currently on the market.  I read news articles, blog posts, and Amazon reviews about all three; although I prefer the design of the We-Vibe, its cost was a deterrent to me*, and the Vibease’s app had better reviews. 
Last week, I finally got the chance to use my Vibease with The Texan, and it was Fucking. Hot.  We chatted while using the toy, so he could gauge how well it was working.  He could control the speed, the strength, and the pulsation pattern from his phone 7,000 miles away, which blows my goddamn mind; having someone else control the vibrations on my clitoris while my hands were free to touch elsewhere made the experience richer and more intense, as did being unable to anticipate what was coming! 
The app was super easy to download and set up, and inviting him to play was a piece of cake.  The device disconnected from my phone a couple of times, which was only a mild annoyance – never seemed like a big deal because I could immediately reconnect.  It took a few minutes for us to get it going, but once we did, everything was aces.  It makes me uncomfortable that the app wanted access to my photos and contacts; a company representative said it was so that I could send photos and connect to my partner using the app, but it still makes me nervous!
The design of the Vibease could be better, in all honesty.  There’s a small knob that’s supposed to sit at the entrance to the vagina while the flat part of the vibe rests against the clitoris; however, the end that’s supposed to rest at the vaginal entrance is the end with the stronger vibe, which doesn’t make any sense to me.  That little knob is kind of small, too – I have to wear pretty tight panties to keep it in place (a rope harness might be fun…).  Actually, what works best for me is to wear panties that have that extra crotch-protecting liner and slip it in there!

It looks like an adorable baby bird…
As far as strength goes, it packs a punch for being so small.  The vibrations are a bit more buzzy than they are rumbly, so it’s not silent; I wouldn’t wear it in, say, a library, but am super stoked to try it out on the subway!  The vibrator itself only has five pulse settings, but the app has more – as well as music / nature-based sounds / erotica that pulse as you listen.  My personal favorites are the mountain top setting, which makes the vibe rock back and forth (!) and the wave sounds (Beach Play).  The erotica is way too cheesy for me to take seriously, but good for a laugh if you’re hanging out with friends.  Use of the vibrator alone without the app features has been enough to get me off several times, but I do like the app’s pulse patterns.  The Vibease is also USB-rechargeable and high-grade silicone, both of which are huge bonuses.    
The thing I love most about the Vibease is that because the strong end is supposed to sit away from the clitoris and someone else can control it, there’s a lot of opportunity for tantric buildup and edging. 
Last weekend, I had my date slip it into her panties on the way out the door to a night club; her face when I suddenly made it vibrate while we were grinding on the dance floor was priceless.  The possibilities are endless, people. 
Overall, I really like it.  I’d like it a bit better if it didn’t move around so easily (perhaps there’s a Vibease 2.0 on the way…?), but as for now, I’m a satisfied customer.  While it’s no substitute for skin to skin contact, it helps us to maintain a sexual connection while we’re very, very far apart.

A great start to a Saturday night.

*Because I bought it near the holidays, the Vibease was only $89; the cost has since risen to $99, which doesn’t put it that far off from the $129 We-Vibe 4 Plus (app-only version; the regular version is a whopping $189) or Blue Motion.  

The Lobster: A Movie Review

SPOILER ALERT!  This film will be released in the UK this Friday; a shitload of plot spoilers lie ahead.
In the past ten years or so, it’s seemed to me that pop culture has become saturated with dystopia – books, films, and television shows that would have us believe that the future is a dark, desolate, desperate place with scarce resources and no humanity.  The Lobster, a new film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, is a light in that darkness. 
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The film opens with the main character, David, played by Colin Farrell (in a mustache strongly reminiscent of 1980s Bruno Kirby), being dumped by his wife.  In the next scene, he’s checking into a hotel, where he is informed that he has forty-five days to find someone else in the hotel to pair off with – no grieving period for his lost relationship; no time to heal his broken heart.  If he doesn’t find a partner, he’ll be (through some future scientific miracle) transformed into the animal of his choosing.  In case you didn’t catch that: all that separates us from the animals is monogamy!
What ensues is a process of calculation by all hotel guests in terms of potential choices: Find someone you can tolerate and pair off in order to get out of the hotel.  Commit suicide.  Escape from the hotel and live in the woods with a ragtag band of loners – but then live a life of celibacy (or face extremely severe consequences).  Or, in the case of one hotel guest, get really good at hunting.  For each loner that a hotel guest catches in the woods, they get one extra day to find a mate.
When two people announce their official coupledom, they are literally given privileges – bigger rooms, better meals, time on a yacht, access to sports and hobbies that require pairs.  Guests are further motivated to partner up via a series of hilarious skits – woman alone is raped.  Woman with man is felt alone.  Man alone dies by choking to death.  Man with woman is saved.      
How does one find a partner, then?  It seems that people pair up based on physical and psychological maladies.  Characters feel that they are adequately matched based on the fact that they get nosebleeds or that they have a limp.  There’s a telling scene in which David asks the woman he’s sleeping with (played by Rachel Weisz) a series of questions to find out if they have anything else in common besides their bad eyesight; they don’t.  We hold onto tenuous threads a sign of destiny when first meeting someone – “Wow!  This person also likes Miles Davis!  We are SOULMATES!” – and Lanthimos nails it.       
His presentation of the intersection of sexuality and partnership is also fascinating; in the hotel, partner sex is encouraged, but masturbation is banned (and there’s a horrific physical punishment in place for breaking that rule).  Guests are forced into a state of arousal but then forbidden to jack off.  On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Loners are encouraged to masturbate, but partnered sex is forbidden.  Even flirting is punishable by physical deformation.  It’s here where the dystopia (and the main point or the film, I believe) really took hold for me: There’s a Manichean binary between monogamy and dying alone. 
And so people in this imaginary world, not so different from our own, couple up in order to avoid transformation or being hunted.  In what is my absolute favorite scene in the film, the Loners hold the couple who run the hotel (and enforce the rules) at gunpoint, asking the husband how much he loves his wife.  From the bottom of his heart, he claims.  They then ask him to choose whom they should shoot: Himself or his wife.  Shoot her, he says; he can live alone. She can’t.  So much for true love! 

The Lobster is not a very subtle allegory, but it gets its point across in a hysterically deadpan, macabre way that left me eager to see it again.  It is wonderfully strange and presents a delightfully different vision of dystopia.  This movie is comical satire at its finest, even when what it’s satirizing – the serious social pressures we face to become we instead of me at any cost – isn’t so funny.        

Playgrounds are for everyone!

  I first heard of the Life on the Swingset website in a Sex is Fun podcast six or seven years ago (it isn’t being produced anymore, but you can still listen to archived episodes!).  Although I often directed friends toward the Swingset website, I never took a good look at it myself, mostly because I was not a swinger.  Non-monogamous?  Yes. Slutty?  You bet!  But for me, the word “swinger” conjured up images of wife swapping, key parties, and for some reason, shag carpets.  I didn’t think I belonged because I wasn’t married.  Or living in the 1970s.  It turns out I was wrong!

Image result for my life on the swingsetHands down, the best thing I got out of reading Cooper Beckett’s collection of essays / blog posts My Life on the Swingset is that it challenged and changed my mind about the nature of swinging.  About what swinging involves, who swingers are, and the types of relationships and community that swingers have.  This book forced me to think hard about my preconceived notions and examine my stereotypes.

Cooper’s writing is insightful, hilarious, and incredibly personal – as many reviewers (mostly other sex educators) have written about the book, it’s not theory; it’s practice.  There’s a lovely mix of analytical pieces about topics related to sexuality and relationships (some examples include jealousy, porn, divorce, coming out as a swinger, and risk aware sex) and firsthand narratives; however, even when the writing falls on the analytical rather than the personal side of things, it’s clear that every opinion Cooper includes in his writing comes from his life experiences (it feels weird using someone’s first name instead of their last in a review, but his online persona makes me feel comfortable doing so, which is a beautiful thing). 

And he seemingly has a lot of experience.  Enough to make me think: Man, I am missing out!  Can you be part of a swinging community without a partner, though?  Certainly!  …if you’re a woman.  One of the issues that Cooper tackles gracefully in his book / on the website is the double standard of accepting bisexual women in swinging communities and at play parties but not bisexual men.  This is manifested in part by the fact that single women are often invited and encouraged to come to play parties while single men are banned (I realize there are other reasons for this – some of them very good reasons – but I think that biphobia plays a part in it).  He also includes an essay about another issue of inclusivity in swinging: ageism.  It’s nice that in a body of work that so clearly supports and advocates for its subject, there’s still room for constructive criticism of that subject.

For me, the book’s greatest strength lies in Cooper’s thoughtfulness regarding complex and murky issues.  He writes very honestly about changing relationship dynamics and how we have to let go sometimes in order to grow and change.  About experimenting with polyamory and trying to navigate the amorphous landscape between swinging, poly, and ethical non-monogamy.  About the bullshit hierarchy that some folks in SOP communities try to impose on each other despite the fact that we have more similarities than differences.  About feelings of confidence and fear of rejection and how they relate to being able to engage in open relationships.

He even calls on his readers to reconsider their definition of sex (and tells us in no uncertain terms that sex becomes better when you do, which I would attest to).

There are comic pieces, too – how to install a sex swing; a story about an amazing prostate orgasm, making me wish on ALL the stars that I had a prostate; and lots of funny entries about how not to be a dick.  There are a few long-winded pieces toward the end that were written in the wee hours of the morning after fucking all night at Desire Resort in Mexico; reading them was akin to listening to the high ramblings of your one friend who still has dreadlocks even though he’s 37.  I can forgive those pieces, though, seeing as how sex actually makes us high (see Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are for more about that). 

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who’s considering opening up their relationship OR anyone who just wants to swing along vicariously through Cooper Beckett’s life.  He’s bared it all for us, and it costs less than a fancy coffee house drink, so there’s really no excuse not to read it.  There’s even an audio version if you want to hear it read in Cooper’s ridiculously sexy deep voice.  Speaking of – I had never listened to the Swingset podcast before reading this book, but I do now; I also recommend checking that out!    

Lastly, a personal note: there’s this piece in the book about the joy inherent in making out like a teenager – that kind of making out where your lips hurt afterward.  I had this magnificent two-hour makeout session under a subway station in the pouring rain after being inspired by reading it.  It was all quite giddy and romantic, even when we got yelled at by old men.  Especially when we got yelled at by old men.  So thanks for that, Cooper Beckett!      

Come As You Are: A Book Review

Image result for come as you are nagoskiIt’s rare that a book about sex makes me cry, but this one did.  It’s not just a book about sexuality and neuroscience, although it is that — it’s a call to action to women everywhere to see themselves and their sexuality as normal.  To understand that they are not broken.  To listen to their own bodies and desires instead of to harmful media messages about what they’re expected to feel and desire.  To connect with themselves and their partners as women who (surprise!) have sexual characteristics of women.  To reject male sexuality as standard sexuality and to claim agency over their pleasure and joy. 

You’d think that it wouldn’t be such a radical idea to accept yourself where you are and practice self-compassion — but it is.  

I’m getting ahead of myself, however. 

The book opens with a chapter on anatomy and explains in great detail the homologous features of male and female genitalia, which is absolutely fascinating.  It also discusses  at great length the variant features of vulvas and how we’re taught to see them and talks about the myths we perpetuate regarding hymens.  

Nagoski goes on in subsequent chapters to introduce the key concepts of her book one by one: the dual control model of sexuality (we all have a sexual inhibition system and a sexual excitation system, and everyone differs in the sensitivity of both); the One Ring in our brains that controls our emotional and motivation systems; sexuality in context and responsive desire (as opposed to spontaneous desire); sexuality as it relates to the stress cycle; sexual non-concordance (when arousal doesn’t match genital response); the brain mechanism that controls goals and expectations, which she calls the little monitor; and how meta-emotions (how we feel about our feelings) affect our sexual lives. 

Even if you’re already familiar with some of these ideas, having them all intertwined and presented with stories from peoples’ actual relationships is effective at making everything sink in.  Throughout the book, Nagoski keeps referring back to previously-discussed concepts in order to link them together and show how they affect each other.  She uses the same central metaphor (a garden) in different contexts to make complex scientific concepts relatable, and continually comes back to examples, analogies, and stories that end up creating a kind of sexy neuroscience schema.  She also uses millennial shorthand (I could have done without it, but I use standard punctuation and whole words in my text messages, so that’s just me…) as a way to draw in a younger audience.    

And there are worksheets!  She provides actual worksheets, available on her website, that you can fill out and use to improve your sex life.  As a teacher, I can’t not love that.

Important Takeaways from Come As You Are

  • Your sexuality and your body are normal.  You are not broken. 
  • Everyone has the same parts, organized differently. 
  • We all have a sexual “accelerator” and sexual “brakes,” and everyone differs in how sensitive theirs are. 
  • How we perceive sensation is dependent on the context in which we experience it; the same experience can feel different in different contexts.
  • Stress has a negative impact on desire and arousal; it reduces sexual interest and pleasure.
  • Self-criticism creates a buttload of stress.
  • Our responses to sexuality are learned, not inherent.
  • There is only a ten percent overlap between women’s self-reported arousal and their genital response!  For men, it’s 50%.  Sexual arousal does not necessarily lead to genital response and genital response does not necessarily indicate arousal. 
  • Sex is not a drive – you won’t die if you can’t get your sexual interests (not needs) met.  Instead, sex is an incentive motivation system. 
  • Only 15% of women have a spontaneous desire style; 30% of women have a responsive desire style, and about half of women experience a combination of both.  As more men experience a spontaneous desire style, spontaneous desire has come to be viewed as standard in sexual narratives.
  • Novelty, a focus on pleasure rather than outcome, and ambiguity can increase sexual desire.
  • 70% of women do not reliably have an orgasm from penetration alone.  Women most commonly orgasm from clitoral stimulation.
  • How we feel about our sexuality has a profound impact on our sexuality.  If we let go of where we think we should be sexually and accept ourselves where we are (which takes a lot of hard work emotionally), we can start to heal.  Better emotional and mental wellbeing leads to a better sex life!  Noticing our feelings instead of judging our feelings is a start to this process.

In the introduction of Come As You Are, Nagoski says that the “purpose of [her] book is to offer a new, science-based way of thinking about women’s sexual wellbeing.”  I feel well.  Read this book, you guys.    

P.S.  Dear Emily Nagoski,
Thank you for the intense orgasm I had last Saturday night.  Focus on sensation indeed.
Love,
Jo

“Loving another without losing ourselves is the central dilemma of intimacy”: Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

Image result for mating in captivity While I was reading Sex at Dawn, it seemed like every person I mentioned this to asked: “Have you read Mating in Captivity?”  I can finally say yes, and I am better off for it.  You may know Esther Perel from her excellent and highly popular TED talk about maintaining desire in long-term relationships; it has almost six million views, and that’s just on the TED website.  Obviously a topic many people care deeply about, as it affects most of us at some point in our lives.  I’m not in a long-term relationship, so I wondered how this book would apply to me, if at all.  I was delightfully surprised that it had a lot to offer single people by way of general relationship advice. 

Perel begins the book with the idea that we want both stability and desire in our relationships, but that we often forego one for the other, thinking for some reason that we have to.  We don’t, she argues.  We can have both if we accept that these things don’t necessarily happen at the same time.  She stresses that erotic desire naturally waxes and wanes over the course of a relationship, and that it’s normal to go through periods of intense desire and lowered desire. 

Within relationships, a feeling of comfort and security can often lead to boredom; Perel says that in order to rekindle desire, you sometimes have to let go of your security because eroticism is fueled by uncertainty.  She says that in order to build erotic desire you need separation — that separation begets connection.  “Our ability to tolerate our separateness – and the insecurity it engenders,” she argues, “is a precondition for maintaining interest” (p. 36).  Sometimes we need distance in order to become closer; furthermore, maintaining a strong sense of self and personal identity — that “me” rather than “we” — allows our partners to see that they might not know everything about us, and there’s something enticing about that mystery.  Sexual desire is fueled by yearning and elusiveness, and constant contact / co-dependence smother that desire.  She points out near the end of the book that our partners are not ours — admitting that they are choosing to continue to be with us of their own free will is paramount to preserving our attraction to them.

Some of the takeaways that I got from reading this book are:

  • Contemporary intimacy has too many expectations placed on it; we expect our partners to be everything to us, but that’s impossible.
  • If you want to fall in love with your partner(s) again, watch them doing what they’re good at doing.  Try to see them through a stranger’s eyes.
  • We can’t expect spontaneity all the time, and making plans creates anticipation.  Being intentional in our sexual lives is healthy and builds connection.
  • Sexual power play and negotiation can ignite erotic desire; these things create tension and foster creativity.  Being playful is a great tool to help nurture our desire. 
  • We’re always told to be giving lovers, but being selfish in bed once in awhile isn’t a terrible thing.  If we can be selfish sometimes with our partners, it’s a sign that we trust them; moreover, it can be a huge turn-on to acknowledge your own sexual needs to your partners.
  • When we view a lowered desire or libido fluctuation as a “problem,” then we try to fix it with sexual band-aids instead of looking at underlying causes, and that doesn’t help anyone.  Perel puts it this way: our sexual and romantic connections are a “paradox to manage, not a problem to solve” (p. 81).  We need to take the time to reflect on these connections.
  • Our communication patterns stem from how our parents communicated with us when we were children, and our childhoods “shape our beliefs about ourselves and our expectations for others” (p. 107).  The way we balance between autonomy and dependence depends a lot on the way we were raised.  

Hands down, the biggest and most important takeaway I got from this book regards communication style.  Perel devotes an entire chapter to verbal vs. non-verbal communication; she points out that intimacy based on talking has a female bias, and that men are at a disadvantage at times because of this.  That society values and expects verbal communication, but men are socialized to do rather than say (and to be invulnerable), so when they don’t verbalize their feelings, their partners are often offended.  “The pressure is always on the non-talker to change,” says Perel (p. 42), not on the verbal communicator to adapt to a different style of communication.  She emphasizes that we need to honor ALL of the ways we connect — by doing things for each other, doing things together, touching each other, smiling at each other, spending time in the same room quietly — not just saying how we feel.  She goes even further to say that sometimes the sharing of intimate feelings can be seen as coercive if there is an expectation that the partner returns those sentiments verbally.  As someone who is a very verbal communicator and easily expresses myself with words, I have been guilty so many times of not seeing the value in my partner’s non-verbal communication.  This book has changed that and will shape the way I communicate with partners in the future.   

In addition to all these incredibly valuable points, Mating in Captivity includes chapters on parenthood, erotic fantasy, non-monogamy, finding sexual desire inside of a partnership in addition to finding it outside of a long-term partnership, and the Madonna-whore complex.  The book is filled with real-life examples to support her theories and case study conversations with clients she’s had as a relationship therapist.  This is a useful book even if you’re not in a long-term relationship; the central ideas that run through the text alone are worth reading it for.  It’s beautifully-written and both deeply thought and felt.  Also, it’s just really fun to read.  One-click it now! 

(P.S. Esther Perel is hot, y’all!)  

The (Not So) Sexual Politics of "It Follows" ***ALL THE SPOILERS***

I’m a huge horror fan, so I was stoked when this indie horror film from the US suddenly popped into Korean theatres mid-spring — seemingly odd timing for a horror film (even for Korea, which usually releases its horror films in summer), but given the monster in the movie, I’m hoping the release date was thematically intentional.

Spring is the season of love — of flirting, sex, and new relationships.  Once those buds start to bloom, the air gets a little bit warmer, and that freshly-cut grass smell hits our noses, we develop a spring in our step and start acting like ovulation is happening non-stop.  We wear less bulky clothing, showing off curves and muscles.  We start giving people around us the sex eyes.  And that’s why I think this is such a genius time for this particular film to be released — because the mark of a good scary movie is that it makes you feel like YOU’RE NOT SAFE ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME!!!

The creature in It Follows happens to be passed on via sex.  The concept is that there’s a supernatural being which follows the person It’s connected to (in an attempt to murder said person) until that person has sex with someone else, at which point the being passes on to the next person.  Well, until It kills that person — then It comes back to the person who passed It on.  It kills that person and then goes backward down the line of transmission until, we may only suppose, It kills every single person who has passed It on and It can finally take that vacation It has always wanted in Bangkok… an obvious place to vacation for such a creature.

Image result for nana plaza

Critics and reviewers of this film keep likening the monster to a sexually-transmitted infection (favorite review title: The Ring Meets Chlamydia), but in my eyes, it acts much more like a parasite (trich?) – only it’s the host’s job to find a new host.  Most STIs are asymptomatic for years if not forever; a lot of people never know they’re infected.  Pretty hard not to know something is wrong when there’s a dead hooker walking toward you in your kitchen.     

I found it interesting that the main character, Jay, chooses a guy who she considers to be objectively attractive (I cannot say I concur with this opinion) to pass the creature onto in the assumption that it will be easier for him to pass It to someone else — completely overlooking the fact that he doesn’t actually believe in the creature and also has the IQ of a third grader.  It isn’t until the end of the film when she decides to transmit It to a lifelong, trustworthy friend who happens to be much smarter and is actually willing to come up with a plan to kill the creature rather than rely on the ability of others to continue transmission.  (Maybe not the best plan — who decided it was a good idea to try to use electricity as a weapon in a place that’s supposedly abandoned? And if the electricity doesn’t work, how do the lights work?  And if the pool is abandoned, why is it so clean?!  Anyway.  I digress.)  Lesson: Always bang the nerdy guy.  
 
One of the most tired (but arguably loved) tropes in the horror genre is to use sex as a moralistic impetus for murder.  Teenagers are always getting offed once they get off.  So I lovelovelove that in order to stay safe in this film, the characters not only have to have sex, but also have to communicate (some are better at this than others) at some point during their sexual encounter in order to preserve their own lives. 

Does the film reward abstinence?  Not necessarily, as It could be transmitted via rape.  Does it reward the refusal to pass the being on — the refusal to put someone else in harm’s way to save your own skin (I.e., is the film making a moral judgment about people who have sex knowing that they have an STI and choosing not to disclose)?  I don’t think so, since in order to stay alive, the characters really have to disclose their status as The Followed (if you don’t know you’re being followed, you don’t know to pass It on).  More than focusing on sex, the moral compass of the film seems to center on choice, responsibility, and the loyalty of friends.

But Choosing To Do The Right Thing doesn’t save you, either.  At the end of the film, we see Jay and the nerdy boy who’s loved her forever (Paul, who I am begging the writer to tell me was named after the awkward and gangly best friend from The Wonder Years) walking down the street, hand in hand, having just killed It for good.  In soft focus juuuust far enough behind them so we can’t make out a face or distinct features is someone following them.

Image result for it follows     Because YOU CAN NEVER KILL IT!  Mwahahahahaha!

This movie is great.  The filming style, the soundtrack, and the homage to classic horror tropes with a new twist make it a very exciting watch.  Go see it!

Other possible messages the film gives about sex:
-Fuck all of your friends!
-Have all the gay sex you want!  Apparently this being is on a pretty straight trajectory.
Image result for jake weary it follows-Never fuck a dude who is for sure using a fake name.  Seriously – does this guy look like a Hugh to you?  Definitely not.  Ray?  Maybe.  Donny?  Sure.  Hogan?  Absolutely.  But not Hugh.  

P.S.  What if David Robert Mitchell and John Cameron Mitchell had a baby?  That kid would be awesome. 

The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy

A friend recommended Donna Freitas‘s The End of Sex to me months ago; at the time, I remember feeling skeptical, thinking that it was going to be a pulpit piece (especially given that the author received her Ph.D. in religious studies from Catholic University) about how sex is ruining college students’ lives.  
 Image result for the end of sex donna
I was sort of right. 

Not in the way I expected, though.  I expected the book to be pro-abstinence; instead, it turned out to be pro-critical conversation and agency.  The End of Sex contains a strong critique of hookup culture as a ubiquitous force that places specific normative markers on the sex lives of university students in the United States; it argues that this culture is so dominant that students feel socially coerced into getting drunk and have meaningless (and uncaring) sex on the weekends, then gossiping and / or bragging about it.  She says that students feel pressured to engage in hookup culture because they don’t have other relationship or sexuality models to fall back on, and that there are social repercussions for not participating or criticizing it. 

For the purposes of this book, Freitas went to seven universities (both religious and secular, public and private) and conducted online surveys and in-person interviews, and had a selection of students maintain journals detailing their relationships.  She touches on the history of hookup culture and spends a chapter defining it: who is involved, what it means, and where / why / how it takes place.  There’s a chapter on the role of alcohol in casual sex and chapters on social expectations of young women and men in terms of sexual identity and gender roles: young women are expected to express their sexuality via acting as an object of men’s desires, while young men are expected to aggressively seek out sex and encouraged to disconnect from their emotions when it comes to sexuality.  She talks extensively about theme parties on college campuses and how these parties promote and perpetuate sexual roles and identities.  The last three chapters of the book are focused on ways to opt out of the hookup culture — namely, virginity pledges, abstinence, and dating.   

The chapter I found most fascinating was the dating chapter; most students that Freitas interviewed said that they had never been on a date; that furthermore, they didn’t even know how to ask someone out.  Students said that for them, dating came post-hookup, if at all.  That they desperately wanted to go out on dates, but didn’t.  Freitas talks at length about a professor at Boston College, Kerry Cronin, who gave her seminar students the assignment of going out on a date (read more about it here).  The students used the class as a justification to ask someone out — as in, “Hey, I have this assignment where I have to go on a date, so, uh, you wanna go out sometime?” — because they didn’t know how to just SAY to someone, “Hey, I like you.  Want to get a cup of coffee?”  There seems to be a strong disconnect between what young people want (or what they’re told to want vis a vis romantic comedies and television shows) and their lived behaviors.   

Of course, the book made me reflect a lot on my college experiences; I definitely didn’t go on dates in university — but I would have loved to.  I never felt pressure to hook up like the students in Freitas’s book say they do, but I did hook up – a lot.  All of my relationships in university started after I’d already had sex with my partners. 

Not to say that Freitas is condemning this practice; rather, she’s encouraging an open dialogue on college campuses about what good sex is and why we engage in the sexual practices, attitudes, and behaviors that we do.  About who we are sexually and what we want from relationships.  She says that university faculty and staff “should be opening up young adults to a broad conversation about the many possible goods of sex and empowering them to ask about its meaning” (p. 11); that students need to be given space for personal reflection and a chance to discuss hooking up as just “one option among many for navigating sexuality and relationship[s]” (p. 186).As a university teacher, I think this is an outstanding idea.  To me, the greatest strength of this book lies in the conclusion, wherein Freitas makes a call to action to folks who work at universities to open a discussion about sexuality, romance, and relationships in their classrooms, on panels, in special programs and lectures, and in freshman orientation.  So often in university, students are taught to analyze and deconstruct theories, but never given the opportunity to discuss real-life applications of theories.  Students should have a space in which they can talk about desire, pleasure, connection, and intimacy — not just the possible negative outcomes of sex, which is what most college campuses focus on.  She makes a very powerful argument at the end of the book that discussions of the personal enhance academic discourse and that conversations about how best to navigate our lived experiences is empowering.          All this being said: I still hook up, and I love it.  When I’m really into someone, I absolutely want romance, intimacy, and connection, and dates where we talk for hours on end are wonderful.  But there’s also something special about getting a text message that says, “I’m going to pop in before meeting my friends on Saturday just so I can taste you.”  Whew.      

It’s important that there’s room for all kinds of sexual connection in our lives. 
    

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.