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Category: sex (page 1 of 3)

I swam naked… and survived! Reflections on skinny dipping

Today I got naked with 800 people and jumped into the ocean. It was an attempt at the world’s biggest skinny dip at Perth’s Swanbourne Beach.

You may not know this, reader, but at one time I was a rather enthusiastic nude beach goer. In my Mormon days, no less. Even though I normally wore the g’s, I loved the opportunity to throw off the constraints of clothing and swim freely with nothing on.

The first time I went to a nude beach was in Barcelona in 2004. I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was people, doing people things. Some old, some young. Gay couples cuddled, a professor-looking type strode au natural across the sand. But the thing that stood out most to me was a young couple kissing. He drew a modest towel around himself, and he and she kissed like boys and girls have kissed on that same Spanish beach for millennia. I was seeing something primal and human. I was watching Orpheus and Euridice. The eternal dance.

I’ve had that kind of experience at nude beaches several times. Once on a stroll, I saw a nude man and woman, and as I got closer, I saw their baby was with them. The human family. Somehow the lack of clothing made the moment transcendant.

Then I would go back to church, with their conventional views on ‘modesty’ and ‘morality’, and I’d think, What a small worldview. This world is so much more than they can imagine. It was one more thing that got me thinking, and put some mental distance between me and the church.

The people at Swanbourne Beach are not much of a draw really — lots of dudes, some younger couples (shy female, won’t undress), and gangs of leathery 60-somethings sitting around talking, being entirely too comfortable around each other. But that’s okay; I don’t care how people look. There’s something about getting nude in public that’s very come-as-you-are. Everyone looks fine to me. Which was the message of the Skinny Dip: everyone’s body is fine. Proceeds are even going to the Butterfly Foundation, which raises awareness about body image.

So this was a good chance to get back to the dear old Swanny. Oldest Boy (now 19) opted not to come along because a) Dad naked, and b) there might be too much penis for his liking. He’s quite right; these things do tend to get rather penisy.

I wondered what the headline in the West would be: perhaps Naked Skinny-Dip for Charity: 800 Nudists Hit Swanbourne for World Record Attempt. I actually ran into some friends at the event, and we chatted in our sarongs, provided by the organisers. It was a cold grey morning, but no one seemed to mind.

But when we all got to the water and got our gear off, there was a plot twist: choppy seas and huge waves. A horn sounded, and in we went, the front line getting battered by walls of water. Now the headline was Terror Dip: Sexy Swim Becomes Desperate Race for Survival as 3-Meter Waves Pound Shore. It was such a struggle to get into the water that I could hardly concentrate on the boobs. The trick to avoiding waves is to get out past them, but the 600 or so people who made it that far found themselves on a roiling roller-coaster that was quite worrying, but actually really fun. Good thing the Surf Life Savers were out there on their jet skis, watching everyone like hawks.

Did we make the world record? No, for that to happen we’d all have to be in the water for 5 minutes, and about 100 people looked at those waves and said NOPE. I don’t blame them, especially if they didn’t feel they were strong swimmers. That stuff was dangerous. I was dumped by a serious wave on the way in and lost my hat, but hats can be replaced. It was still fun, and I’d do it again next year.

Stuff Republicans don’t like

I was checking out this Gallup pollAmericans, Including Catholics, Say Birth Control Is Morally OK.

That’s interesting, but what’s more, they provide a breakdown of what people think is okay and what’s not. Here’s the list.

Okay, so people mostly approve of birth control, divorce, and gambling, and they disapprove most of suicide, polygamy, and (for some reason) cloning humans. Singled out for special condemnation is people who have affairs, which is surprising because haven’t a lot of people done that? Gallup says that’s their most consistently disapproved item. Interesting.
But the best part is that they break it down by political tendency. This chart shows the same things, but it’s  sorted by Republican minus Democrat approval. In other words, the top of the chart is things Democrats don’t approve of, but Republicans do (comparatively), and the bottom of the chart is stuff Republicans don’t like, but Democrats are like ‘meh’.
Top of the list of things Republicans like: the death penalty, medical testing on animals, and wearing fur. (Although I actually approve of medical testing on animals — not cosmetic testing.)
Cloning animals is a wash.
Most revealing, however, is the bottom of the list — the stuff that Democrats don’t mind, but that Republicans don’t approve of. I notice suicide — not many people like it, but GOPers slightly less. So let’s take a look at the issues that cut across the political divide more than suicide:
  • Porn — I doubt the Republicans are using less porn than Democrats, but maybe they disapprove more while still looking at it.
  • Sex between an unmarried man and woman
  • Having a baby outside of marriage
  • Gay or lesbian relations

In short, anything having to do with people having unauthorised sex. So really, Republicans don’t just hate gay sex — they hate straight sex too, if it’s not sanctioned by marriage. On the other hand, Democrats approve of unmarried straight sex about as much as they approve of (probably unmarried) gay sex — at 66% approval for both, it’s all the same to them.
Could this explain why conservatives are fighting gay marriage so hard? For them, marriage is what legitimises sex. So if gay people can get married, for them that’s like saying gay sex is okay. And for them, that’s not okay.
I’m trying not to read too much into these results, but this is an idea I hadn’t thought of before. Am I onto something?

Post 1100: GAC Edition

By tradition, every 100th post is an open thread. You can chat about anything you want, but as it turns out, I’m heading off to Melbourne to the Global Atheist Convention, where I’ll be posting lots of bloggy atheist goodness. If you’re short of topics, that would be a fitting one.

Are you going? Or are you gazing enviously at us travellers through the tiny plane windows? Or don’t you care? Maybe you think atheists shouldn’t convene at all because that makes us a religion! Someone told me that, but she was silly because getting together is a human thing, not a religious thing. If convening makes you a religion, then Linguistics and stamp collecting would be religions. Even Sexpo would be a religion. (NSFW link)

Hmm. I think I found a religion I can get behind.

Chat away while I’m on the plane.

PS: Gold Pass!

Should we encourage religious abstinence, or “safe religion”?

Anti-porn with Save the Source

Madge stumbled upon this flyer, and I had to go because I’m such a sucker for Word Art. Would you turn down an invite to an anti-porn lecture?

No, I didn’t think you would. Nor would about 20 other Perth Skeptics. The speaker had no idea what he was in for.

The sponsoring organisation was “Save the Source“. The “source” is men, or “johns” — they’re the source for all the money that goes to keep the “girls” enslaved in porn. Apparently. And just because the speaker (did anyone catch his name? I’ll have to call him Mr Source) wants to “save” men, this does not mean StS is a religious organisation. No, no. The similarity of his shtick to Judeo-Christian horseshit is purely coincidental.

Rather than describe the sight of Mr Source broken and worn down by logic, facts, and reason — yet still holding fast to his opinion! — I thought I’d present his talking points and arguments so that other can learn from the tactics of this spiritual quackery.

Some men are “addicted” to porn. This would be valid, if a valid definition of addiction were provided, which it never was.

Porn leads to prostitution. This makes no sense. Wouldn’t jacking off at home mean less employment for sex workers?

Porn leads to harder porn. The speaker imagined porn along a spectrum: A nude woman sitting in a chair on one end, and “bestiology” (his term) at the other. But this is by no means a given; it’s a slippery slope argument. Porn could be seen as a collection of genres, where people tend to gravitate toward the kinds of porn they like and leave the rest alone.

Porn leads to rape and violence. In fact, the FBI reports that rape and violence is down. Yet Mr Source claims that porn consumption is booming! How does that work?

Porn harms men. Well, asked someone, what if porn doesn’t harm a certain man? Then, says Mr Source, porn is still bad because it harms the women who act in it. What if (asked someone) a woman is is a porn film because she wants to be? For example, in amateur porn? Then it’s still bad, said Mr Source, because it harms the men who view it. This is circular reasoning. It took him a while to figure out why, but I think I got it through to him in the end.

Porn is a serious problem because he’s seen so many problems associated with it. This is actually two logical problems: confirmation bias — he notices people who have problems, but ignores people who quite enjoy porn. And if they enjoy porn, well, that’s a problem, too! Because he’s defining porn as a problem. This is begging the question, or assuming the antecedent.

Porn gives young men unrealistic expectations about what sexual acts girls ought to be doing. This may be true — inexperienced guys may have unrealistic expectations — until a girl stands up to him and tells him. But this is true for any set of expectations we might have, no matter our age or gender.

One thread that came up over and over again is that women are vessels of purity that must remain pure and unsullied, while men are the drivers of the process — the “source” of the money. Does he know that women look at porn? He does now — the audience saw to that.

In short, Mr Source wasn’t terribly concerned about any empirical work showing the downsides of porn, or using reason or logic. Instead, he chose to argue from his own personal preferences, saying that porn is bad because he knows porn is bad.

I’m a father of two teenage boys, and I’m sure that they are either looking at porn, or they will. When they do, my hope is that they’ll be able to come to me with questions or ask for information, like they already do about sex. I don’t want them to be laden down with guilt and shame about it — guilt and shame that is promoted by people like Mr Source, and converted into money for his courses and workshops.

It’s a relationship.

Occasionally I talk to people who identify as Christians, and they’re into God and Jesus and all that, but they somewhat paradoxically claim that they’re not “in a religion”. What’s with that?

Somehow, it doesn’t clear things up when I explain that God and Jesus are religious beliefs, so they’re in a religion, sure enough. No, they say, it’s a relationship.

Can you have a “relationship” with someone who isn’t a real person? Then I remembered objectophiles. Some people fall in love with objects, as did Erika Eiffel, who fell in love with (and married) the Eiffel Tower. Before that, she was in love with a crossbow. Other objectophiles have formed attachments to rollercoasters, videogame characters, and public buildings. Their attachment seems visceral and very real. You kind of have to stand in awe of the variability of human sexuality.

And yet, the object of affection is not a sentient being. The relationship is all in the lover’s head. And:

Interestingly, Objectum Sexuals – they call themselves OS people – believe their love with the objects are reciprocal and that they can telepathically communicate with them.

Sound familiar? Some women think they’re marrying public landmarks. Some think they’re marrying Jesus. Similar delusion.

Purity, but without the balls.

I am so sick of sex-negative religious bullshit. And it’s not just because they fill children up with guilt and shame about their bodies and their desires. It’s also because they hector other grownups about how they should conduct their sexuality.

Take this video from the Mormon Church, for instance, which focuses on the meaning of ‘pure’. (h/t profxm)

Wow, feel the waves of pent-up energy.

George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, is big on the idea that metaphors are instrumental in guiding our thinking. And it seems to me that the metaphor of ‘SEXUAL ABSTINENCE IS PURITY’ is being used as a giant Trojan Horse to smuggle in a very sex-negative view.

I’m going to put on my cognitive linguist hat, and try to unpack what’s going on with this metaphor.

1. Who would disagree with ‘purity’? If purity is an unquestionable good, then going up against it makes you automatically bad. This is an underhanded tactic commonly used when ideas aren’t strong enough to be accepted when stated clearly. Run ‘abstinence’ up the flagpole, and who salutes? Sexually repressed ninnies and religious folk (lots of overlap there, though). Call it ‘purity’ instead, and it’s a lot more palatable.

2. A thing becomes impure by having something else put into it. A pure vial of water becomes impure with the addition of some other liquid. A hypothetical Miss X, before intercourse, was just herself, presumably with no liquids added. She was, if you will, a pure vessel, unadulterated. (Ah, le mot juste. It nicely preserves the etymological link to ‘adultery’.) But after sex with Mr Y, she is impure, coated with someone else’s sticky remnants inside her.

3. Mr Y, on the other hand, doesn’t have very much put into him during (typical) sex. Which is kind of a shame, because it can be nice if done well. Sex doesn’t impurify men. They’re still 100% themselves (minus a few teaspoons).

4. So, taking this metaphor to a logical conclusion, the consequences of impurity should therefore be more serious for women than for men, since according to this metaphor the Anti-Sex Brigade is handing us, they have more to lose in the purity game.

We could therefore make a prediction that the bulk of efforts toward maintaining ‘purity’ would focus on women. And indeed, they do. Is it surprising that the young women in the video says the emotional consequences of having sex are serious, “especially for girls”? The Book of Mormon even says that the Lord delights in the chastity of women. And so the Church obsesses over female ‘purity’, while ignoring the fact that Joseph Smith got as much ass as any sex guru in the modern era (with the possible exception of Brigham Young).

As a linguist, I’m not a fan of language engineering; language is such a big thing that it’s hard for any one person or group of people to move it. But this is one instance where the use has taken hold among the religious community, and now they’re trying to export it to the rest of us. This is kind of a thing for Christians, who have taken a lot of good words for good things, and crammed them into their own sex-hating definitions.

It’s not just the word ‘purity’. It’s also the word ‘morality’. As a Mormon living within the Mormon speech community, I came to think of morality in terms of sexual morality, not in terms of what it took to be a moral person. For many Christians, Bush was a ‘moral’ leader even though he lied about Iraq, but Clinton was ‘immoral’ because he got a blow job. This is a perverted standard of morality.

Virtue‘ is another. It comes from Latin vir meaning ‘man’ and it once meant something like ‘excellence’ and ‘valor’. But that’s not the prevailing sense among Latter-day Saints, where it just means ‘sexual abstinence’.

This use of language debases these concepts among its users, and elevates a standard of behaviour that is easy to measure, but which does nothing to promote actual morality, virtue, or purity.

‘Accidental’ affairs

There’s a story about a cowboy who told the doctor he’d never had an accident. He’d been bitten by a snake, though.

“Goodness,” said the doctor. “Wouldn’t you call that an accident?”

“Nope,” said the cowboy. “The varmint meant to do it.”

What called this story to mind is a curious article in today’s Deseret News:

Facebook is a breeding ground for accidental affairs

Lawyers are using Facebook as a source for evidence in an increasing number of divorce cases, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Of lawyers surveyed, 81 percent noted this increase.

Accidental affairs” are suspected to be the growing result of these online connections, Nancy Kalish, psychology professor at California State University told Bloomberg.

Kalish has found most Facebook cheaters did not set out to have an affair, and even sustained happy marriages before they strayed. But “our brains often romanticize the past, in ways not entirely within our conscious control,” according to Bloomberg. “Recollecting people, places and experiences can affect our neurochemistry.”

“Accidental affairs”? The term smells of the evasion of responsibility. Spraining your ankle is an accident. Having an affair is a string of careful decisions. It’s not an accident, though it might be a mistake.

I used to consort with a group of people who believed in supernatural beings, unseen agents that could influence your behaviour with their lascivious whisperings. For people who believe in such beings, the reasons we do things must be terribly mysterious! You’d never know if you really thought something, or if some succubus had implanted the idea in your brain.

And with your locus of control that far removed from yourself, it would be anyone’s guess why you do the things you do. I remember a talk by a church leader where he said that he’d never give a woman a ride home in a car. He’d go home, get his wife, and then give the woman a ride (in the car, I mean) with his wife right there. Now, props for avoiding temptation, certainly. But how did he feel about thinking that — just because of mere physical proximity — the decision to go for the gusto with this lady was no longer entirely his? How did she feel with a man who wasn’t sure he could control himself?

If someone’s flirting on Facebook, wouldn’t it be better to admit that they’re doing it because they want to? At least then they could get an honest glimpse into their own desires and their horrible marriage, and get some idea of what to do next. Instead of claiming, oh, it was an accident, I didn’t mean to. Perhaps even thinking that some external being caused the temptation. And then praying to another one to help them sort it out.

I just can’t imagine going back to thinking that way. Now that I think the responsibility for my actions is my own, my reasoning about my actions is a lot more direct and controllable. No mysterious beings. No vicarious expiation, either. Just me.

What I tell my children about sex

Sometimes you want to talk about sex, and sometimes it is thrust upon you. Like this week, when a BYU basketball player was nixed off the team for an ‘honor code violation’, which turned out to be consensual sex with his girlfriend.

Some people are congratulating the BYU for standing up for old-fashioned values like sexual repression. It ties in neatly with a recent article by K-Lo of the National Review about her longing for a new sexual revolution, except without the sex. Others are congratulating BYU for upholding their ‘honor code‘ at great cost to themselves. Of course, the BYU ‘honor code’ has as much to do with honor as an ‘honor killing‘ does — in both cases, it’s about social control.

And that’s the real thrust of this issue: The Mormon Church (and to varying degrees, the rest of Christianity along with many other religions) claims the right to control the sexual behaviour of other adults, and for some reason these adults allow them to have that right. The church claims this right in the name of moral purity or social order, but I think it’s really because sex competes with the church. Sex makes you feel good, and this is a challenge to a church that wants to be the only source of good feelings — indeed, a church which enshrines good feelings as the highest form of evidence. So they try to take over sex by controlling the conditions under which it occurs.

Sex is normal. Critters have been bonking each other since there was bonking. But if you do something perfectly normal that the church has prohibited, and you admit that what you did was wrong, then they’ve got you. You owe them now. They hold the keys to your forgiveness, your imaginary salvation, and your entry into Fictional Heaven. But only if you hand them the right to control that most personal part of yourself.

(Especially to young Mormons: Your bishop has no right to take you behind closed doors and question you about your sexual or masturbatory habits. This is creepy behaviour. Tell him it’s private.)

I endured a Mormon upbringing, which meant that I was loaded with messages about sexual guilt from since I was about yay-high. The messages were also strangely vague. When I asked my mom about sex, she threw me a book about animal reproduction, which was confusing. Was I supposed to have sex, or amplexus? My dad’s advice was gruff, but simple: “Don’t do the Marriage Thing.” He said sex was a priesthood ordinance. (I asked him if that meant that if you got the words wrong, you had to start again? He smiled at this, despite himself.)

My advice to my boys has been different. I hope that they get all the love they could ever wish for, both in body and heart. But the pursuit of love must be conducted with responsibility.

The responsibility I’m talking about takes four forms:

Take care of your body, and those of others.
Take care of your heart, and those of others.

The first two are related:

Take care of your body, and those of others.

This means if you’re sexually active, don’t have unprotected sex. Condoms are available at my place, and the boys know where they are. They know this because recently I was looking for something in a bathroom drawer, and hollered, “I can’t find anything in this drawer for all the condoms in here! I wouldn’t mind if they disappeared!” Clumsy, but effective.

Care for your body also means that if you are sexually active, you occasionally get tested for HIV, chlamydia, and all the other nasties that are out there. Don’t be Patient X.

Take care of your heart…

Taking care of your heart could mean a lot of things. I think of it as not getting involved with people who are bad for you, either because they’re using you at your expense, they’re mean or careless with your feelings, or they’re physically or verbally abusive. Value yourself enough to not have a sexual relationship with people who are wrong for you. The cost is too high.

…and those of others.

Look out for the feelings of other people. The philosopher Martin Buber described two kinds of relationships: ‘It’ and ‘You’. This applies to sex. You can have sex because you like the person (a ‘You’ relationship), or you can have sex because you like the sex (the ‘It’). I think either’s fine, but your goals have to match those of your sex partner.

That means taking the time to DTR. Define the Relationship before having sex, and make sure you both want the same thing. If she’s having a ‘You’ experience, and you just want ‘It’, then there’s a mismatch. Best to let it go. There are lots of people that you can find ‘it’ with. Otherwise, you’re just screwing someone over, and that’s not taking care of other people’s hearts. I’m pleased to say that I’m on good terms with people in my past because I took the time to DTR.

I think this advice is much more helpful than the ‘Never Never’ advice I got as a young man. Talking about sexual responsibility instead of sexual avoidance allows that young people are likely to engage in sexual behaviour, and reduces the likelihood of negative consequences.

So my message is: When you’re ready to have a sex life, have a good one. But do so responsibly. I’m here to help, but if you don’t want to talk to me, talk to someone you trust. And I hope you have some great experiences.

Election day and the Australian Sex Party

On Election Day, I volunteered for the Australian Sex Party, handing out ‘how-to-vote’ pamphlets at polling places for a few hours. Here’s how it went.

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