Category Archives: sexuality

Let’s Have Some Links

Debbie says:

The last few times I’ve sat down to do links, I’ve ended up with themed posts, but this time I have a wider range.

You might think Serena Williams wouldn’t be expected to smile when she had just defeated her sister and close friend, but no. Anita Little at Sociological Images defends Williams.


… during a post-match press conference on Tuesday, a reporter had the gall to ask why she wasn’t smiling.

Williams looked down and gave an exasperated sigh before shelling out the best response an athlete has given in an interview since football player Marshawn Lynch’s “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” trademark phrase.

It’s 11:30. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be in bed right now and I have to wake up early to practice and I don’t want to answer any of these questions. And you keep asking me the same questions. It’s not really … you’re not making it super enjoyable.

no matter how insanely accomplished or famous you become, you will still be subjected to the innocuous-sounding but ever-so-pernicious “why don’t you smile?” interjection from those who feel entitled to make demands of women. Williams’ retort was her attempt at dismantling that sense of entitlement. For those who say the reporter’s question was a harmless jest, they should ask themselves if Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal would ever be expected to defend their stern or tired expressions.

Williams is being honored, along with eleven other inspiring women, in a huge sea change in the famous Pirelli calendar.

Usually known for featuring the most beautiful models of the day, the famed Pirelli calendar is taking 2016’s issue in a whole new direction by featuring some of the world’s most inspiring women – from artists to athletes and even to bloggers.

In a preview clip aired on the New York Magazine website, the likes of Serena Williams, Patti Smith and Yoko Ono are spotted posing for legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Perhaps Pirelli has been paying attention to Rosie Nelson, crusading inside the modeling industry for ditching the skin-and-bones look. Liz Dwyer at TakePart reports:

“When I walked into one of the UK’s biggest model agencies last year they told me I ticked all the boxes except one—I needed to lose weight. So I did,” wrote 23-year-old Rosie Nelson on the petition she launched. “Four months later I lost nearly [14 pounds and] 2 inches off my hips. When I returned to the same agency they told me to lose more weight, they wanted me ‘down to the bone.’”

“When I look in the mirror I see someone that is healthy and comfortable in their skin. That’s because I had the guts to carve out my own path and refuse to let people pressure me into losing more and more weight,” wrote Nelson. “But… the reminders are everywhere that we need a law to protect young girls, and boys, who are put under pressure to be dangerously thin.”

Being healthy and comfortable in your skin is something so many of us are looking for. Sydnee Thompson at Black Girl Dangerous reminds us that “Defining Your Gender As A Black Queer Femme Is Revolutionary“:

Growing up, I knew three things: One, I was a girl. Two, I didn’t like it. And three, there was nothing I could do about either of them.

But how could I trust my feelings? As a Black femme, I already had the deck stacked against me. No matter what we feel, society tells us from the beginning it doesn’t matter. We face misogynoir that deems us unworthy of femininity and womanhood by default while simultaneously being objectified and fetishized, not to mention femmephobia that forces us to adhere to standards of presentation and then punishes us for it.

From childhood, we’re objects for the consumption of others, lacking agency or inherent value. All of that baggage muddies the waters when you realize you’re different and start trying to figure out why. Is it the internalized oppression talking, something else, or both?

Read the rest: Thompson is a clear, powerful, angry writer.

Jennifer Swann at TakePart talks about advances in transgender health care–and one trans woman behind a lot of the positive change.

Though [Tommilynn] Travis now lives in California, one of 16 states that have banned health care discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, she has nonetheless faced insurance-related delays and outright denials for transition-related health care.

But Travis now knows that such denials can be illegal, and she is at the forefront of a movement to get all trans people access to health care and force health insurance companies to pay for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. …

All the hours Travis has spent “calling, fussing, trying to figure out who’s in charge, who’s holding things back—it’s going to pay off for all these other people who were too scared to say anything,” she says. She’s no longer alone in the fight for transgender health care, as she sometimes felt she was in New Mexico. Now she’s surrounded by a community of transgender men and women with urgent medical needs. “Rather than just be an advocate for myself,” she says, she now has “these 400, 500 other girls” to fight for. “It’s not just me. That’s the way I always try to look at it—as not just helping me but helping everybody where I can.”

And just in case you thought — as I kind of did — that you were versed in the complexities of gender, here’s an amazing gender variation story from Diane Kelly at Throb.

In an article for the BBC Magazine, Michael Mosely talks to families [in the Dominican Republic] with children that were brought up as girls because they lacked obvious testes or a penis at birth, but grew penises and had their testicles descend when they neared puberty. The local name for these children is “guevedoces”, or “penis at twelve.” But the change they go through isn’t magic–it’s an example of how multi-layered and complex human sexual development really is.

Here’s how it works.

The condition is the result of an enzyme deficiency. Guevedoces are genetically male, and have Y chromosomes in all of their cells. Their earliest sexual development is also normal: a gene on the Y chromosome turns the undeveloped gonads of the 7 week old embryo into testes, which soon start pumping out male hormones. Two of those hormones–testosterone and Mullerian-inhibiting substance–are critical for the development of the internal male reproductive system. …

When guevedoces are born, their external genitalia look female even though their internal reproductive structures are male. They’re raised as girls. But at puberty, the testes inside their abdomens start producing large amounts of testosterone. The effect is startling.

During puberty, testosterone makes the penis and testes grow into their larger adult form. The same thing happens to the guevedoces: but since their penis starts closer to the size of a clitoris, there’s a lot more growing to do.

I would have liked Kelly to acknowledge that there is no such thing as “the size of a clitoris,” (some are bigger than some penises). but basically I’m just fascinated by the story.

As always, I harvest my links from my usual reading around the web. Laurie found the Pirelli calendar story, and I thank Lizzy for pointing out the guevedoces story; I had already found it, but you never know — I might have missed it.

Sex-Linked Links

Debbie says:

Last time I set out to do a links round-up, I wound up with a themed post on penises. This time, I’m finding a set of themed links on human sexuality. One day, we’ll have a real wide-ranging links round-up … but not today.


Diane Kelly at Throb shares an interesting insight into why more babies are boys than girls … and why what we’ve always believed about that is wrong.

For nearly two centuries, experts have assumed that the skew came from a higher rate of male conceptions. In an article at Nautilus, David Steinsaltz, J. W. Stubblefield, and J. E. Zuckerman explain that an early, 19th-century guess that more males were conceived to compensate for greater losses in utero–the so-called “fragile male” hypothesis–snowballed into a rarely-questioned “truth. …

In fact, new methods of looking at the sex ratio during development have shown that … X and Y sperm are equally likely to fertilize any given egg. The skew comes instead from differences in survival rates during embryonic development. There’s a complex shift in miscarriage ratios over time, from more males to more females at different moments in gestation. In the end, more female embryos are lost to miscarriage, skewing the birth ratio slightly to males.

I will forbear from making jokes about the “fragile male” hypothesis. Really I will.


In other news, the FDA has approved Addyi, a libido-enhancing drug for women. This sounds like good news, but Sarah Boseley at The Guardian is viewing it with alarm, and I think she makes sense.

[Cynthia] Graham, [professor in sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton] and other critics believe the FDA was pressured and half-shamed into approving Addyi (generic name flibanserin) by a campaign headed by a vocal group called Even the Score, which pitched the absence of drugs to help women with low libido as a gender inequality issue. It describes itself as a campaign for women’s sexual health equality which was “created to serve as a voice for American women who believe that it’s time to level the playing field when it comes to the treatment of women’s sexual dysfunction”. On the front page of its website now runs a banner saying “Thank you, FDA”. Sprout Pharmaceuticals, which owns Addyi, is one of the funders, as is Trimel, another company in the same field.

Nothing makes me more nervous than “grassroots” political groups which turn out to be funded by corporations with a financial interest in their activism. And learning that Addyi is “only moderately effective, should not be taken with alcohol, and has potentially serious side-effects” doesn’t calm my nerves.  I also appreciate the comments by Dr. Petra Boynton, an extremely smart and sensible analyst of sexual issues, who said:

“People have a perception that everybody else is having fantastic sex all the time with exotic positions.” There is, Boynton said, “anxiety brought about by misinformation about sex”, which is perpetuated by the media and especially men’s and women’s magazines. “The cultural wallpaper is telling you that to keep someone and be desirable and not left alone, which is a huge fear, you must be having and providing frequent sex.”


In a related vein, Mona Chalabi at 538 is talking about “the gender orgasm gap” from her point of view as a data analyst:

In 2009, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) asked 1,931 U.S. adults ages 18 to 59 about their most recent sexual experience. The topline findings show that men are more likely to orgasm than women — 91 percent of men said they climaxed during their last sexual encounter, compared with 64 percent of women.

But there seems to be a perception gap, too — at least among men. Eighty-five percent of men said their partners in that recent sexual encounter had reached climax, far higher than the percentage of women who said they orgasmed. That can’t simply be explained away by saying that the men were referring to different sexual partners. Most of these sexual encounters were heterosexual — 92 percent of men and 98 percent of women said their last sexual encounter was with someone of the opposite sex. So it seems like some of those men were wrong when they said their partners had orgasmed — either their egos are causing them to overestimate, or some of those women are faking it.

Nothing surprising here (and it’s six-year-old data); nonetheless, 538 is always refreshing because of its focus on data. Chalabi has a lot more to say about which sexual acts, done with whom (including alone), etc.  And who can resist a chart about what acts lead to orgasm entitled “How Come?”


Finally, Liz Prato at Hippocampus has a rich, nuanced article about female masseuses, male clients, and erections.

Massage school was the first to teach me that there were two types of erections: hostile and benign. My instructors taught me how to deal with each erectile happenstance, ranging from saying nothing at all, to having a clinical discussion with the engorged client about what’s appropriate behavior during a massage. I was confident that, by the time I graduated from massage school, I would have no problems dealing with erections, hostile or otherwise. After all, I’d seen a few in my private life without eliciting trauma, and (thought) I had a clear concept of professional boundaries. This would be no big deal.

My first encounter with a hostile erection popped up a lot sooner than I expected. … My school was a blond brick office building with bleached linoleum floors and industrial-grade carpet (in other words, not a bordello), and my student uniform was khaki pants and a green polo shirt (not a mini skirt and knee-high fuck me boots). My client was in his mid-twenties, with dark hair and a cheesy mustache. The massage began with him lying on his stomach, so if there was an erection, I didn’t see it. Sure, he moaned and groaned a little, but, Hey, some people are expressive, I reasoned. But when he turned over, there it was, pitching a tent under the thin white sheet.

Okay, ignore it, was my tactic. I figured bringing attention to the erection was always the wrong way to go, and just massaged his shoulders. That’s when his moaning turning into loud groaning. “Oh, God, oh, yes! It feels so good!”

Prato goes on to discuss the relationship between massage and sexuality, between touch and sexuality, and the complexities this entails. She looks at the issues with directness and compassion:

I used to have a forty-something client named Tom who saw me weekly. He was referred by a psychotherapist who treats sex addicts. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. I’ve worked with several recovering sex addicts, and they’re no more interested in a Happy Ending than anyone else who lies on my table. These folks have a pretty good idea of where to go for sex and don’t want to waste my time and theirs if that’s what they’re looking for. What they are looking for is touch that’s not a futile attempt to mask their emotional pain. See, for them, sex isn’t about pleasure, and it sure as hell isn’t about intimacy. It’s usually about trying to cover up some horrible wound inside of them, but that’s like trying to douse a flame with kerosene. All it does is create a firestorm of emptiness and shame. When they come to me they want touch that isn’t sexual. They want intimacy with boundaries. They want – and they get – no self-hatred.

When I lay my hands against their skin, it might very well be the first time that touch hasn’t been manipulative or degrading. So they come back. Each time I touch them, they relax a bit more. They feel a little more pleasure. They get a little less scared. It reminds me of how we all walk around carrying fear and self-doubt and weeping wounds, and we’re just doing the best we can to dance around all that pain. I wish I didn’t need to be reminded of that, but I’m so glad I am.

Read the rest; Prato is a fascinating writer.

Thanks to oursin for the Addyi link; the others are from my regular reading