Sunlit Water

May 31, 2014

Concepts I Hate

Filed under: Sex — by teofilo @ 10:38 pm

The aftermath of the Isla Vista shooting has led to a lot of welcome discussion of gender relations, misogyny, and the idea among many lonely, resentful young men that they “deserve” sex with women of their choosing. I think the underlying concept in the latter is what I would call “Sex-as-Prize,” and it joins two other conceptualizations of sex that I also hate and have been thinking about for longer: “Sex-as-Conquest” and “Sex-as-Performance.” The former is pretty closely related to Sex-as-Prize, but with the difference that it involves the assumption that (in a hetero context) the man will pursue the woman actively with the goal of having sex with her, regardless of her initial opinion of him. It’s all over romantic comedies and so forth, and shades rather obviously into rape. Sex-as-Prize is similar but the assumption is that the man doesn’t even have to put in the effort of pursuit; the woman will just fall into his lap as long as he’s a Nice Guy or whatever. This is also fairly common in the media. Sex-as-Performance is somewhat different, and less obviously gendered, but still quite widespread. You see it in stuff like the idea that being “good at sex” is a quality someone (usually a guy, again in a hetero context) can acquire as an independent quality not tied to the preferences of any particular sex partner. I think it finds its most extreme realization in strip clubs, where there isn’t even any actual sex, just performance.

I hate all three of these concepts, for what I hope are obvious reasons. I don’t have as pithy a term for my preferred way to think about sex, but it’s basically just that it should be fun and both parties should be totally into it, without all the other baggage associated with the other concepts.

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August 25, 2013

On Sex As Conquest

Filed under: Dating,Sex — by teofilo @ 1:11 am

I agree entirely with this. I can’t stand the whole idea of sex-as-conquest that is so prevalent in our society, and I absolutely refuse to play along with it. If someone acts like she doesn’t want me, I assume that’s the case and give up on pursuing her. This probably has cost me some romantic opportunities, but so be it. Some things are more important.

August 17, 2013

More Frustration (And Introspection!)

Filed under: Dating,Personal,Sex — by teofilo @ 12:41 am

I’m feeling kind of mopey right now. There are a variety of reasons for this; work has been kind of stressful lately, and the social prospects that I thought were developing a few weeks ago seem to have not really developed at all. My life is pretty good overall, and I have no doubt that with enough patience I’ll eventually be able to overcome even my formidable social problems, but it may take a while. In the mean time, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I got to this point, and I think I’ve figured at least a few things out.

I guess what I’ve always wanted most of all is to have sex with women who want to have sex with me, but not in the context of a series of random one-time encounters with people I have nothing in common with, or in the context of a long-term relationship so serious that everyone assumes it will end in marriage. The problem, though, is that for a long time I sort of implicitly assumed those were the only two options. Back in college, when I was a frustrated virgin, I knew I didn’t want the former, so I assumed what I needed to find was the latter (and to eventually break it off before it got too serious, but that was a problem for later). I was aware of the concept of “friends with benefits” and so forth, but I didn’t really understand how it differed from a serious relationship. And, to be honest, I’m not totally sure I understand the distinction even now. The idea that I could be friends with someone, and have sex with her a lot but without any expectation of anything more, was something that just didn’t really occur to me.

So I spent my college years unsuccessfully chasing a serious relationship, which is what I thought I wanted. This involved a lot of poor judgment in who to ask out, and a lot of rejection as a result. After college, when I finally met someone I liked who liked me too and we managed to have sex, I rushed into a serious relationship (over her initial skepticism) without thinking it through or understanding what I was doing. And, of course, it eventually ended badly and I realized that, no, a serious relationship wasn’t what I had wanted at all. Not long after that I had a nice fling that was more or less what I had been looking for all along, but we were in different places in our life and it couldn’t really continue. Since then I’ve had three brief sexual encounters in as many years, and that’s all.

Looking back, I really wish I had realized when I was in college that I didn’t have to worry so much about doing this the “right way,” and just taken the opportunities that arose. I also kind of wish I had gone to a different college that was more congenial to my social needs, but that opens so many what-ifs that I try not to think about it too much. Whenever I read stuff about the “hookup culture” on college campuses I think “Yes, that. That’s what I want. Why can’t I find it?” Even in grad school, where I probably could have had the sort of social life I’ve always wanted if I had tried, I made a conscious decision not to, in order to focus on school and not be distracted by girls. I think that was the right decision as far as it went, but in retrospect there were really obvious opportunities I should have taken.

And now I live in a place where I still don’t know many people even after two years, and most of the people I do know have so little in common with me that they aren’t really plausible friends, let alone romantic partners. I know there are people I have more in common with here, and I’ve even met some, but developing social relationships is really hard for me so it’s been slow going. I just start to worry too much, partly because I’m afraid of rejection, but also because I’m really worried about being perceived as a jerk who assumes all women are going to be into him (or whatever). Lately I’ve been realizing that both of these things are inevitable and I need to just take the risk, but I’m very risk-averse so it’s been hard to put that understanding into practice. I’m sure I’ll get it eventually but for now I’m still just generally kind of lonely and sad.

February 3, 2012

Self-Knowledge

Filed under: Dating,Personal,Sex — by teofilo @ 10:23 pm

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that college was a spectacularly unsuccessful period for me romantically, and that it was only after I had been out of school for a few months that I finally managed to have a modicum of success in dating. You might think that, having reached that point and figured a few things out, graduate school would have been a more rewarding experience in this respect, but you would have been wrong. My graduate school experience was almost as sexless as my undergraduate experience, and to the extent that it was more successful that had nothing to do with being in school per se.

What I’ve come to realize from this is that school is actually a really terrible environment for me romantically. (Obviously this is not true for everyone.) On reflection, there have been two major aspects of school life that have interfered with my romantic success: the time-limited nature of the experience and the fact that you never really have any true free time while in school.

The time-limited aspect was really more of a problem for me in undergrad than in grad school. It generally takes me a fairly long time (weeks to months) to decide if I’m really interested in someone, and given the compressed time frame and frequent breaks of the school context it would often seem that pursuing a given person wasn’t really “worth it” given the limited time that would be left before the next big disruption. This was particularly a problem for me in undergrad since I was (in retrospect weirdly) focused on finding a serious, long-term relationship rather than a casual hook-up. In grad school I would worry about this a bit, but I had decided that I was not actually interested in anything serious or long-term, which took off a lot of the pressure and made the limited time less of a concern.

The lack of free time was a much bigger issue in grad school, though. In general, one thing I really dislike about being in school is that I never felt at ease or like I had any time to myself. There was always something that I should have been doing, which made it very difficult to enjoy any of the time when I wasn’t in class, even though there was a lot of it. In both undergrad and grad school, but especially in the latter, my friends generally seemed to study a lot more than I did, which made it even more difficult to be social. Even if I wanted to hang out, the people I would have hung out with were probably doing something more important. This made finding time for dating and so forth really challenging, and for the most part in grad school I just didn’t bother trying. In retrospect this was probably a bad call, since I met a lot of great people, some of whom seemed to like me rather a lot, but it’s hard to see these things in the moment.

Now, of course, I have plenty of free time, but I don’t know anyone where I am. This seems to be sort of a fundamental trade-off between school and non-school; in school there are loads of opportunities to meet people but no time to hang out, whereas out of school you have all the time in the world outside of work but don’t necessarily know anyone or have any easy means of meeting people. I still prefer the non-school situation (not having real free time was incredibly stressful and I never want to go back to it), but I can see the trade-off much more clearly now than I could when I was in school.

February 14, 2011

Dinosaur Sex!

Filed under: Blogs,Nature,Sex — by teofilo @ 11:56 am

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Brian Switek has an interesting article on what we know (and don’t know) about the sex lives of dinosaurs, as well as a blog post looking at the possible role of the crests on hadrosaurs such as Parasaurolophus in all this.  Interesting stuff, although I for one would like to hear more about the role of chai tea and Scrabble.

May 17, 2008

Sodomize Intolerance

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Sex — by teofilo @ 7:13 pm

There has long been a tendency for scholars studying Native American history and culture to conceive of their subjects as static and unchanging, whether as brute savages easily overwhelmed by the onslaught of European “civilization” or as romanticized noble savages living in perfect ecological harmony with nature but unable to resist the cruelty and greed of the European invaders. In recent years much scholarship has pointed out the many problems with this perspective, often termed “essentialist,” regardless of what specific agenda it is being used to advance. One area in which there has until very recently been relatively little literature either putting forth or debunking this sort of essentialism, however, is sexuality and gender. This is in some respects unsurprising, since there is quite little information to start with on precolumbian gender and sexuality, and what information there is in colonial sources is both scanty and obviously biased, so there is little foundation to base any sort of analysis on. On the other hand, sexuality and gender are such key elements of any society that it certainly seems like there should be something to say about them, despite the problems with the evidence, and indeed some have tried. Many of the most notable efforts, however, have had definite ideological preconceptions that have tended to lead to an overly romanticized picture.

Such, at least, is the contention of Richard Trexler in Sex and Conquest: Gendered Violence, Political Order, and the European Conquest of the Americas. Trexler’s focus is the berdache, an enigmatic figure found in nearly all known Native American societies. The berdache (the word comes from the Arabic bardaj, meaning an enslaved male prostitute or catamite) was a biological man who permanently took on the clothing, attributes and roles of a woman. This culturally condoned transvestism has made the berdache a key figure for modern homosexual activists, who now prefer the less offensive term two-spirit, and this has led to many scholars interpreting the presence of berdaches in tribes as indicating a societal acceptance of homosexuality and gender ambiguity, a powerful weapon for an argument that modern western gender conceptions are not universal throughout all societies. Berdaches in this view are seen as respected members of their communities who freely chose to change their outward gender, associated not just with standard feminine gender roles but also, in many cases, with magic, divination, and other spiritual practices.

Trexler, however, thinks this is yet another example of romanticism and wishful thinking applied by modern scholars to “exotic” peoples. He argues that, rather than valued members of their societies who freely chose to transvest, berdaches were, at least in precolumbian times, primarily sex slaves whose primary purpose was to be raped and exploited by powerful men to establish and confirm their power. He depends almost entirely on textual evidence from early Spanish observers, with occasional forays into other times and places to find parallels to illuminate conflicting or obscure accounts in the texts. He is well aware of the obvious biases, in various directions, of the Spanish sources, and seeks to counteract them by opening with a detailed examination of homosexuality and attitudes toward it in the ancient and medieval Mediterranean in general and the late medieval Iberian peninsula in particular. Through this he shows that, whatever their protestations of shock at encountering homosexual behavior in America, the conquistadors would have been well aware of the practice in their homeland. This then provides a baseline for him to examine the specific accounts they give of native sexual practices and attempt to deduce what the roles of berdaches really were in these societies.

What he finds, in many different accounts from throughout Latin America but primarily the best-attested areas, Mexico and the Andes, is that berdaches were indeed primarily young adolescents (thought their exact ages are generally impossible to determine, Trexler thinks they generally attained their status around age twelve) used for sexual purposes by the other men of their society. He connects this to a general horror of femininity and thirst for power among men, both European and Indian, that leads them to try to acquire as many dependents as their power will allow, both women and men, and to penetrate them sexually to demonstrate that power. He makes a big deal about the distinction between passive and active homosexuality, and shows (convincingly, I’d say) that the passive role was much more universally derided, at least among Europeans, for being “weak” and “feminine,” while the active role was just seen as a man doing what men do: penetrate. Indeed, he rejects the use of the term “homosexuality” at all for this time period, since he sees it as anachronistic for societies with this attitude toward sexuality, so different from our own.  He contrasts this view, which is based on an elaborate theory of the formation of social structures based on the primacy of warfare and masculinist ideology, with what he sees as the wishful romanticism of those scholars who have tried to show that Indian societies were more comfortable with gender ambiguity than our own. Indeed, he sees a male propensity for sexual violence against weaker members of society, whether male or female, as more or less universal, and the main difference between the European and American manifestations of it with regard to male victims as being the fact that it was only in America that this violence was associated with lifelong transvestism.

And, indeed, much of what he argues is convincing. It certainly seems true that, given the similarities in depictions of transvestism and sexual violence in many different colonial sources, the berdache was at least in some places at some times a role filled by victims of rape rather than men of natural homosexual inclination. Trexler is also right, I think, to point out the importance of sexual violence to premodern social structures and the problems with trying to find justification for our current ideas about gender and sexuality in those of past civilizations. It is certainly interesting to think about what the connections might be between his theories about social power being expressed by number of dependents and the much later system of captive exchange, revolving around children of both sexes as well as adult women, in the southwest borderlands described by James F. Brooks.

There are, however, also some problems here. Trexler never really establishes how or why a close look at Spanish sexuality allows him to see through the biases of Spanish observers of Indian sexuality. Indeed, his rather credulous attitude toward Spanish sources makes for a marked contrast with the careful skepticism of John Moffitt and Santiago Sebastián, who even use some of the same sources Trexler does.  It is therefore difficult to see how Trexler can put so much faith in the early Spanish sources that document widespread sexual use of berdaches, while dismissing accounts by later mestizo historians claiming that the Aztecs and Incas ruthlessly punished homosexual behavior.  I wouldn’t say he’s just accepting the evidence that suits his thesis and rejecting the evidence that doesn’t, since he does at least give plausible reasons for doubting the reliability of the mestizo historians on issues of sexuality, but he is never really able to justify the use he makes of the sources he accepts.  If he doesn’t accept the testimony of the Spanish writers, of course, he has no story at all to tell, since there aren’t really any other sources of evidence for precolumbian sexuality.  There are later anthropological accounts of berdaches in other areas, especially the western US in the nineteenth century, which are more reliable, and Trexler does use them occasionally to buttress his arguments, while (appropriately) conceding that it is hazardous to use them too much to explain the much earlier situation in precolumbian times, before the dramatic restructuring of the native world in the face of the European threat.  Nonetheless, Trexler’s use of his sources is problematic, and tends to inspire skepticism about the validity of the story he tells, plausible though it may be.

An even more serious problem, however, is that, while Trexler sees himself as fighting against romanticization of the Indians, he seems to fall rather deep into essentialism himself.  There is little attempt to contextualize any of the sexual behavior he describes, and he instead tends to throw everything he finds into one category, the berdache, no matter how far apart and otherwise culturally distinct the regions his evidence comes from are.  Much of his most convincing evidence, for instance, comes from Central America, but it is not at all clear that something attested there but nowhere else in the Americas can be assumed to be a universal aspect of the berdache figure.  This doesn’t stop him from assuming just that, however, and the result is a theory that, while plausible, is almost impossibly general and abstract, to the point that it becomes very dubious.  Trexler’s tendency to stretch his thin sources this far has the unfortunate result of casting doubt on even his more convincing arguments.

There’s nothing particularly “exoticist” about this essentialism, however.  He falls into the same problem when describing European attitudes toward homosexual behavior, where any sort of mention of sodomy in the middle ages gets thrown in to support his thesis, from early Norse epics to late Judeo-Hispanic poetry.  His own specialty is Renaissance Florence, and I can’t help but wonder whether the well-attested prevalence of homosexuality there and the resulting societal attitudes toward it have instilled in him a mindset that looks for similar conditions everywhere else (and, of course, finds them).

I would, therefore, be very cautious about using this book to form any conclusions about the subject it addresses.  This is not to say, however, that it is totally worthless.  It is certainly thought-provoking, and Trexler’s frequent statements that further research should be done on a given issue could well result in more reliable conclusions.  The extensive notes, complete with the original text of most of the quotes translated in the body of the book, are also quite helpful in tracing the background of the claims presented, and the sources cited there would be good places to check on some of Trexler’s more dubious arguments.

This is a problematic work, but an interesting one, and while I wouldn’t recommend it to a general audience without serious reservations, it contains quite a bit that could be useful and thought-provoking for those who already have some background knowledge of the subjects covered.

May 11, 2008

I Will Put Playgrounds Next To Sewage Systems

Filed under: Culture,Personal,Sex — by teofilo @ 5:00 pm

On my last night in Budapest I went to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall with the friend I was visiting and a couple of her friends from work.  Notwithstanding the weirdness of spending my time in a foreign country seeing an American movie, I enjoyed it.  I hadn’t seen any of Judd Apatow’s previous films, most of which took on subject matter a little too familiar for comfort, but I thought this was an interesting take on the romantic comedy genre, and while it did hew to some of the conventions of that genre I thought it undermined others in unexpected ways.  The main character is oddly unsympathetic, especially at first, and it’s quite an achievement on the part of the filmmakers to make him at least somewhat sympathetic by the end.

I’ve heard that a common criticism of Apatow’s previous films is the lack of depth to the female characters, and while this one is definitely primarily from a male point of view, I think all the characters are presented as real people with real emotions and foibles.  Even the new boyfriend, while he is irritating in many ways, isn’t the cardboard villain that many romantic comedies put in this place.  Indeed, almost all the characters are pretty sympathetic, some more than others and some more at some times than others.

I do think it ran a bit long, which is typical of pretty much all movies these days, and while I appreciated the relative lack of obvious plot machinery, it could have been a lot more focused.  Still, this is an interesting movie, quite funny, and worth seeing if you’re into this sort of thing.

April 14, 2008

Still Pretty Great

Filed under: Dating,Personal,Sex — by teofilo @ 10:01 pm

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while.  This woman’s insatiable.

March 27, 2008

It Was Pretty Great

Filed under: Dating,Personal,Sex — by teofilo @ 11:01 am

Sometimes, if you wait long enough, you find exactly what you were looking for and everything works out just right.

August 12, 2007

Who Buys This Stuff?

Filed under: Sex — by teofilo @ 1:11 pm

Via Fleshbot, it seems that men who are limited to having sex with actual women now have the opportunity to experience the joys of RealDoll ownership.  (NSFW, obviously.)

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