On porn, or the decidedly awkward moments of writing about sex

22 04 2016

As you may know, I have MS. As you also may know, I am writing a book about MS and relationships, particularly intimate relationships. Why? Well, they say, them as can’t do , teach…

Seriously, though, I started this project (to my children’s everlasting squeamishness) when I was first diagnosed with MS. I am single, and dating, and I wondered. So many of my friends with MS have given up sex, or have such difficulty with it. Their relationships suffer from these difficulties, or other problems with communication and touch.

I asked my neurologist about it and got inappropriate giggling. I asked the MS Society, and got the advice, “Talk to your partner”. My MS nurse said “Well, some people use a bag of frozen peas.” Giggling was demeaning, I didn’t have a partner, and I like to eat frozen peas, but not after using them for, ahem, other things.

It wasn’t enough information for me, and I wondered what others felt. We held an information session in Ottawa on sexuality and MS and it was a packed room, with people staying on to ask many questions. I did an online survey and over 100 participants had challenges and questions about sex and MS. They wanted information.

Girl-Hiding-Behind-BooksSo in I plunged, as it were. I’m a public health nurse by background, so a bit middle class and vanilla and of course have no experience in the darker arts of intimacy, so suffice to say it has been an education for me (and my long-suffering friends).

I’ve investigated all sorts of equipment, I’ve spoken to experts, I’ve looked at the scanty research. My borrowing history from the library is slightly embarrassing. For the most part, it has been fascinating – new information to me, some things I would never have known. Things like how people with MS may have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, or how we can lose concentration right in the middle of things through no fault of our own or our partners. All about sensory overload or underload and the challenges of incontinence and muscle spasms and the glories of sex furniture…(I’m saving up for a Liberator lounge, but primarily because it looks like a perfect place to curl up with a good book).

I’ve been to sex shops, played with the toys, found much to inappropriately giggle at. Investigated safe and unsafe nipple clamps and binding equipment, lifts and DIY vibrators. Wandered the aisles of Dollar and hardware stores with a titillated eye, looking for ticklers and sensation increasers.foodporn_july1

But what about porn? Some people find it arousing, so I figured it was something I should include for those who need a bit of visual help. Most porn is, to my mind, degrading and boring, but perhaps that’s just me. I asked at the sex shop – I didn’t want the icky stuff you can find online, I wanted the stuff that was deemed “female friendly”, the stuff that didn’t feature brutality and that maybe had a plot. My counsellor there was unenthusiastic. But she was a girl, and I honestly think it’s unusual for girls to enjoy porn – women seem to need more context, prefer a storyline, like Diana Gabaldon’s fantasy series. So I asked some guys of my acquaintance.

They sweetly, and shyly, shared their DVDs with me.

And nope. Still gruesome, still blah, still all too frantic and yet uninteresting for me.  Three thoughts occurred to me – first, honestly, why do people watch this stuff? Secondly, do people actually think sex is like this? And third, I can see immediately the urge to escalate.

See, it’s all pretty boring. In out in out. Same old. I always think of the late great Alan Rickman as the Metatron in Dogma,

Bethany: What’s he like?
Metatron: God? Lonely. But funny. He’s got a great sense of humor. Take sex for example. There’s nothing funnier than the ridiculous faces you people make mid-coitus.
Bethany: Sex is a joke in heaven?
Metatron: The way I understand it, it’s mostly a joke down here, too.

So what I got to wondering is, for the people who use porn as a stimulant, wouldn’t you get bored? Wouldn’t you want to up the ante, as it were? Wouldn’t you want to seek the more challenging sites? The ones with force or whatever? And how does this fit into our rape culture? What does constant exposure to porn do to our minds, our hearts, our sense of ourselves and others? What does it do to the image of loving connection?

I’ve got a list, from an expert, of possible okay movies and links to include in my book as a reference. I’m glad I had an expert to consult because I don’t want to take my brain there.

My dad once told me about how you have to be careful what you put into your mind. (He was right – I can still see the opening sequence of Friday the 13th Part 2, which I saw when I was in university back in the 80’s. To this day I look around before I open my fridge at night.) I don’t want to have images of women and men faking sexual enjoyment fill my head.

Right now I still think of sex as fun.

And funny. Where is the Metatron when I need him?

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Returning to modesty

13 08 2014

I picked up this book the other day – bought it new! Thought it might have some pertinence in our lives of TMI, loudness, lack of privacy or respect, rape culture writ large and small.

Well.

It’s not that the author is a nutter, exactly. I mean, she does have some good points about modesty and keeping oneself for those who honour you with a relationship. Though I don’t want to come straight out and talk about my misspent youth (which was about four years ago), I have found that intimacy is MUCH better with someone you like, or better still, love. I do feel that the “hookup” expectations are of more benefit to men, who enjoy that sort of thing, than to women, who often react better sexually in a place of safety.

Me, I always made certain I could physically take down the men I dated if I needed to.

Until one time, I couldn’t. And that was the end of taking the risk. Because someone took me, without permission.

So then you get to being distrustful and all that and maybe that isn’t where you want to be.

So she has a point.

Maybe being more hesitant, more modest, more unassuming would help things, reduce assaults. Fair enough, she encourages men to be modest, too.
But not very firmly. It’s mostly about women.

And then she starts going on about the shame – about how masturbation is a sin, about how lying with a woman who is menstruating is a sin, and all that stuff that simply makes sex and bodies “dirty”, and she loses me.

Yes, I want to be respected and treated with concern and care. But no, I’m not going to cringe in the dark, afraid of the sexual being that I am. I’m not going to insist men only hold my hand on the third date, and never kiss til the sixth or seventh.

Life is too damn short.

The author says she got hate mail when she originally published the book. I’m not surprised. It’s not so much her idea of abstinence that is offensive, because that is always a viable choice, but her slut-shaming women who take the pill, who have more than one partner, who enjoy their bodies. We’ve had enough of that, don’t you think?IMG_0264.JPG





“Sex is a word count” Lilly Cain

21 04 2013

Often, in a gathering of writers (what IS the proper collective noun? A scrawl of writers? A clattering of writers? A thesaurus of writers?), wisdoms shared expand to more global proportions.

Yesterday I was thrilled to attend the Romantic Writers of Atlantic Canada’s event on publishing your first novel. As with the mystery writers I hang out with more regularly, the crowd and panel were so wonderfully friendly and open and willing to help each other out. Even if I never ever publish a book, I like hanging out with these guys/gals – they are people worth knowing.

NRLLilly Cain writes erotic fiction, and was discussing how she is now writing a series of sweet romances and having trouble bringing down the steam rating. The quote above was from that discussion – she is used to having a certain number of words dedicated to hot scenes and now has to fill the space in with other words, actions, adventures.

Something about her statement resonated more deeply with me.

Sex as a word count…a space holder…a part of life, not so important, but needed in its own way. Without it, you must fill in the empty spaces with other activity, other stories. With it…well, life may be more full and rounded but you might miss out on some of the other generative activities you may use to fill up your own personal word count.

It becomes a balance, the sex, no sex, too much sex, not enough sex thing.

In writing, steaminess level (like bloodiness level) determines where your book is placed, whether a given publisher will buy it, who will be turned on or turned away. Many people write erotica under a pen name so that they can have a safe “real” identity. I know my tell all book about my post-marriage life won’t be arriving under my real name. Oh no.

In life, there are costs to pay for taking a relationship to that new, sexual, level – friendship becomes more difficult, things seem more fraught, you feel either intensely attracted or repelled, you feel shame or love or regret or joy. I used to believe it was something that people made too much fuss over, but I could have been wrong there.

In both, sex takes up time and thought and memory and room. How much and how it tilts your story is up to you.

For more thoughts, check out Lit Drift…or Tayari Jones (click on the cartoon to link to her blog), or Steve Almond’s article from the UTNE Reader: (I’m having trouble getting wordpress to accept another hyperlink…) http://www.utne.com/Literature/How-To-Write-A-Sex-Scene.aspx

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Single and okay with it…

6 02 2013

ImageIt’s still not approved of. Especially for women, but I’ve got to admit I’ve been guilty of it, too. When I see a profile on a dating site that says the guy is 50 or older and never been married, I have to admit it gives me pause.

Because, if we aren’t totally horrid, someone must’ve wanted us enough at one time to marry us, right?

If you get to age 50 and no one has, you must have mighty carbuncles or a secret axe-murderer personality or some wild collection of ephemera – or maybe you don’t believe in showering or doing laundry or you’ve been in the pen for the last 20 years…

Right?

As my single time lengthens, though, I realize that single-hood is, in fact, rather lovely. I don’t sit at home patting my 50 cats. I have good friends that I can see without feeling guilty that I’ve left someone at home, pining for my totally glittering company. I have hobbies that I can indulge without having to clear them away every time someone comes home. I can SLEEP IN. I can make a dinner of vine leaves and artichokes and love it.

If I’m having a bad day, I can sit about in my jammies all day and watch movies where I take out my essential angst or joy or sorrow on the screen without having to think about getting meals and having a discussion. Sometimes it’s good to be in my head.

And if I want to take off on an explore, I can just up and do so. I can go to movies about one thing with one set of friends, go with a date to another, go alone if I want.

It’s all pretty good.  I have the occasional lonely afternoon, but that’s only because I’ve momentarily run out of things to occupy myself. I can usually find something. And being comfortable with solitude is a true life skill.

There’s only this one problem – it has to do with my perceived availability/wantonness by others. Married women seem to think I am after their man. It’s pretty funny, that one, since usually I’ve learned about their man from them and know it’d have to be a cold day in hell before I took them on. Seriously, though, the thought of breaking up a marriage or encouraging cheating makes me totally uncomfortable. I remember going absolutely crazy when my ex came back from a deployment suddenly liking Shania Twain just because he had fallen for his driver. He never did anything other than enjoy her presence rather too much, and make the terrible error of sharing that with me. I was shattered.

I couldn’t do that to another woman.

The other supposition is that I must sleep around. I’m a cheery nurse who doesn’t know enough to keep her mouth shut, so most people know I’m not a tightly sewn gal – seen too much to not talk shockingly at times…besides, I’m a natural flirt, and love it, so people see the sparkle in my eyes and think its due to more than an enjoyment of the parry of conversation.

As Jessica Rabbit would say, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way…”

I suppose it’s natural to try and figure people out when you meet them, but it’s a bit offensive these days to assume that a woman is single solely because no one wanted her. Or because too many did.

For a great article on this subject, check out Melanie Notkin’s “Single and Childless: I know what you’re thinking”

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Sexual politics and boundaries and the messiness of both

12 04 2012

Lately I’ve been involved in a bit of reading and discussion about sexual politics and etc. The politics started with the excellent book by Laura Kipnis, The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability. It’s well worth a read, well-written, funny, and to the point, about the foolishness of the roles we assign ourselves as women and have assigned to us.

ImageThe etc. has been the subject of much earthier discussion. Emails flew around about what men and women think about during sex – which, for me at least, usually includes some feelings of self-doubt, some obsessive compulsive thoughts about appliances turned off or on, mutterings of delight or despair. I don’t know if this is a universal experience, I can only speak for myself, and to tell you the truth, I’m not that comfy discussing these things in specific, though general is okay, thanks to my background as a nurse.

There are boundaries, though. I’ve broken a few of them now and again. During some misspent time, I remember being delighted about my sex life and going about glowing about it. That wasn’t right. It’s like eating chocolate and then going to a Weight Watchers meeting and telling everyone how good it was, how it melted on your tongue, how you can eat it by the pound and remain slim. Some things shouldn’t be shared. The gods watch. They keep tallies. They note if you are having too much fun and then they teach you a lesson.

Karma sucks. That’s all I’ll say.

Besides, no one wants to hear about your sexual experiences. Nope. They don’t mind READING about them in a storyImage or a letter to Penthouse (whatever) but being told leads to inevitable comparisons between your life and that of the speaker. It’s like that old Desiderata line: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

And advice is best given in generalities, knowing that each person will take what they need, reject the rest. Free advice is worth what you pay for it, as they say. It can be offensive, even without meaning to.

I guess the thing is, we wander alone in our heads. Our thoughts are not like anyone else’s. Our self-view and history and background and comfort level are unique. Though, in general things, too, we often offer advice, we really don’t know the lives of those we advise. It’s hard to understand where people’s lives have led them, or where they plan to head as they evolve. We don’t know how past experiences have affected them, or haven’t. What upsets one person can fly by another. What seems simple to one is impossible to another.

compare human life to a large mansion of many apartments, two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me

 John Keats quotes (

We need to be respectful of the squashy borders around people. If we want to reach them, perhaps writing is the best approach. It’s an intimate conversation where it won’t matter if the reader blushes, reads voraciously, or tosses the book away. In addition, it is a personal conversation, not global. The characters in the books have experiences we may not want but from which we may learn. It doesn’t say we must all do this, or be found lacking.

Thank heavens.








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