Some worrisome nonsense about condoms in the news

Wafting across my monitor like the diffusion of a singularly sulphurous fart comes this article, which the Guardian saw fit to run on their front page today. 

An article about safer sex ought to, by rights, display a fairly grown-up attitude towards safer sex. Unfortunately, this doesn’t. It opens with a lot about how “hilarious” condoms are. There’s little explanation as to why, just repeated exclamations that they’re funny. Further compounding this rather worrisome attitude is a reference to the “clap clinic”, which I can only presume is a rather stigmatising way of describing getting oneself checked for STIs regularly. On top of all of this, it spreads misinformation, referring to the practice of “double-bagging”–wearing one condom over the other is a terrible idea, unless you like condoms to break on you.  Of course, it’s hardly surprising her attitude is so bad: in the last paragraph, the author expresses surprise that adults ever use condoms. 

While there are some decent points made, like the impact of condoms on pleasure, on the whole the piece is rather lacking. The author concludes that better condoms are needed rather than a better attitude to them. 

Unfortunately, a magic super-condom that’s thinner probably won’t make much difference. I remember about a decade ago when Durex launched a condom which was supposedly far better and made from a different material. It didn’t wow me, and, crucially, it was way more expensive than the bog-standard model. For students and working class people (who dance and drink and screw because there’s nothing else to do), this is not going to help matters at all. 

Ultimately, this article represents one of those well-intentioned things which contributes to a poor societal attitude towards condoms. It just adds shit to the pile of excuses that people use not to wrap up and play safe. The fact is, barriers like condoms are the best thing out there if you don’t want STIs. They don’t protect against everything–such as HPV (although the author seems to think they do, mentioning something about genital warts)–but the protection they offer is pretty good. They’re also pretty cheap and readily-available, and fairly portable because they’re small.

So basically, I’d love to see less misinformation in the mainstream media. It’s not a big ask, surely; it’s no like there isn’t a massive host of sex educators doing good stuff. Fuck controversy, and fuck ironic hipster bollocks. Let’s celebrate condoms, the unsung heroes of sex. 

Poly Means Many: Consent, negotiation, and group dynamics

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at

This month’s PMM topic is “negotiation”, which is so broad I’ll admit to having had trouble with where to start, what with having the material for approximately nineteen sextillion blogposts and a million bajillion conversations swimming round my head. And even though a lot of the PMM bloggers are taking this month off due to IRL things, I really don’t feel like I ought to subject you to every little thought rattling around my brainspace, because you will probably die of boredom before finishing, and my fingers will have worn down to little stubs from all the typing. So, I’m focusing on a small area, one which people have asked me about before, and of which I’ve had both positive and negative experiences.

There has been a hell of a lot of discussion and modelling of consent and negotiation within relationships–however fleeting–between two people, but we don’t talk so much about what happens when there are more than two present. Decades of social psychological research have shown us that weird shit tends to happen in groups of people, and the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.

So how does negotiation of sex and relationships with several people together work? It’s easiest to look at potential pitfalls here to elucidate what makes things work.

In my experience, one of the biggest problems is that group dynamics can create an environment wherein it is very difficult to say no. When several people are up for sex, and your options are participate or go and wait in the kitchen until they’re finished, one often finds oneself taking the path of least resistance. This has actually happened to me once; I went and sat in the kitchen, that time, and smoked a lot of fags and felt like shit, but there have been other times when I have ended up involved in sex I didn’t want–and, indeed, I cannot say for certain that everyone was as up for a shag as I was, in certain situations before I figured out how to make shit work.

This sort of thing, the nagging concern that someone is just going along with stuff goes way beyond the bedroom.

So how do we solve this sort of problem? First and foremost is, of course, communication which goes beyond saying “I’m not OK”, and into actually checking in with people. This is all useless, though, without striving to make your relationships–of any sort–a safe space. It is not enough to say the words, it is necessary to foster a feeling of trust and security, an idea that it is OK to not be OK with something.

Without this ability to make yourself a safe space, negotiation is never going to work particularly well in any situation. It makes it hard to be honest, and it makes it hard to express non-consent. It stings to hear that no, and sometimes it does feel easier to send someone down to the kitchen, but it is absolutely vital that we make this happen.

From here, it is possible to build an inventory of how the dynamics work, an identification of what makes everyone involved happy, and what doesn’t.

The interesting thing here is that while I was focusing on group dynamics, I realised how much all of this applies when there are just two people present, too. So, I suppose, let’s all buck the hell up and make sure we’re safe.

Do women not want to be friends with sluts? A review of a study.

Is there a word for studies which confirm existing prejudices so are trumpeted everywhere as there now being scientific backing for such prejudices? If not, there should be.

The latest that has come to my attention is a study which is being reported as showing that women don’t want to be friends with women who have had a lot of sexual partners, while men don’t mind as much if their male friends are getting a lot of sex. Entitled “Birds of a Feather? Not When it Comes to Sexual Permissiveness“, the study claims to provide some support for a sexual double standard and suggests these findings might have an evolutionary basis. Male and female participants were provided with a profile of a fictional person, and asked questions pertaining to friendship with them. The only difference between the profiles was how many sexual partners the fictional person had had: two, or twenty.

As with most of these prejudice-confirming studies, though, there are a few problems with how the authors reached their conclusions. As with so many studies of this ilk, there is a huge issue with sampling, and the generalisability of this study. Participants were US college students, the overwhelming majority of whom were economically privileged–only 11% rated themselves as working class or lower middle class. But most importantly of all, gay and bisexual participants were excluded from the study to ensure that none of the results reflected any sort of sexual attraction (because, apparently, queer folk are unable to just be friends with heterosexuals). The findings, therefore, can only ever be generalised to heterosexuals and be applied to heterosexual culture. This is something which has not been reported in any media discussions of the study, probably due to a combination of the fact that journalists tend to regurgitate press releases rather than read studies, and a hefty dose of good old-fashioned heterosexism.

There is also a major problem with the stats used in this study. When conducting statistical tests, we use a probability that the finding was down to chance. The conventionally-accepted figure for a statistically significant finding is that there is only a 5% possibility that this finding is due to chance, and it’s important to report the values of this probability as a p-value, where we convert the percentage into a decimal. For example, p=.04 is statistically significant, meaning the result is unlikely to be due to chance. Meanwhile, p=.09 is not significant as it’s more likely that the findings were just chance. In this study, several findings were reported as being “marginally significant”. The threshold for this was p<.08. “Marginal significance” is a phrase which pisses me the fuck off, as it means it actually isn’t significant by any conventions which are used, it’s just kind of close and the authors wanted something else to talk about.

Then we run into another problem. When multiple tests are run, the possibility of a false positive increases. At a significance threshold of p=.05, if a researcher were to run 100 statistical tests, five would come up as significant just by chance. So it’s important, when you’re doing a lot of statistical tests, to adjust for this. The authors of this paper didn’t. The good news is, there’s enough data there for me to undertake a quick and dirty* adjustment called a Bonferroni Correction. As I said above, the generally-accepted significance threshold if p<.05. A Bonferroni Correction takes this significance threshold and divides it by the number tests run. Charitably discounting the 64 descriptive stats tests run, I count 160 tests undertaken (though I may have missed a few). p<.05 divided by 160 gives us the significance threshold of p<.0003, and from the data tables, it looks like there isn’t much that’s significant by this measure. Some findings are reported as p=<.001, although we cannot conclude from the information available whether they manage to reach the revised threshold.

For those of you whose eyes glazed over during that dry statistical excursion, take the findings of this study with a hefty pinch of salt.

If you did read the stats paragraph, you’ll notice I’m feeling charitable today, so now it’s time to talk about something I found really interesting in this paper, and I’m a little sad the authors didn’t examine more. Along with filling in questionnaires which largely formed the basis of the analysis, participants were also invited to write down things they liked and disliked about the fictional person. Almost everyone, men and women, had something negative to say about sexuality, even when it was the fictional person who had only had two sexual partners. These negative things included negative statements about extramarital sex and stigmatising phrases like “whore-like tendencies”.


We cannot draw the conclusions the authors and overexcited journalists have drawn–that women don’t want to be friends with slutty women. What we can see, though, is that among heterosexual US college students, there is still a pretty dodgy attitude towards sexuality, with people holding views which are generally quite negative even when a fictional person has had relatively few sexual partners. This is something we need to work on as a society: sex is a thing a lot of people do, and it’s much nicer to do it without judgment from peers. We need to support others in having safe sex rather than think unpleasant things about them, accepting people. We’ve all internalised a lot of shit, living as we do in a society with a decidedly wack view of sexuality. And that needs to change.


*Why do I find Bonferroni Corrections quick and dirty? Because I’m a Monte Carlo Simulation gal. Far more fun, you just get to leave a computer running while you go out for lunch and it feels like you’re working. Also, it’s more robust, or something, but mostly it’s the fact you get to pop out for lunch.

Please, media, separate kink (and its problems) from 50 Shades of Grey

I wrote a while back about how the media have got all excited over 50 Shades Of Grey because it portrays a view of sexuality which is not too far removed from the patriarchal norm, yet is a little bit titillatingly different. With the book having sold approximately 19 billion copies, and it having been read by everyone who has ever lived or died, from the smallest amoebae to sentient gas nebulae, this media dribbling is showing no sign of abating.

This week, I have seen two stories about legal cases, where the words 50 SHADES OF GREY have been breathily splashed in a headline-grabbing bonanza.

First, there is the case of Steven Lock, who was cleared in court of actual bodily harm for whipping a sex partner. From what information is available about his defence, it seems that he and his partner read the book, and decided to play in a Master/slave relationship. In the incident brought to court, he beat the woman with a rope, and she did not safeword, saying:

“I knew there would be pain involved and I knew I wasn’t going to like it but I’d agreed to it and had to follow it through.”

Two problems spring to mind here, neither of which is being discussed at all by the mainstream press as they’re a little too excited by throwing in pop cultural references wherever they can. First and foremost is a possible issue surrounding safewords: sometimes people don’t feel able to use them. Of course, sometimes people don’t want to use them, and playing without a safeword can be very fun with a trusted partner. However, it’s also very important to build an environment where the bottom can choose to end the encounter if they want to, when they want to. That consent can be withdrawn whenever a person wants to withdraw consent. Anything other than this is abusive.

The second issue here is that it has not been reported who brought the complaint. Unfortunately, apart from that one quote, it’s not been possible to discern the woman’s side, with much of the information being provided coming from Lock and his legal team. As I understand it, the charges don’t have to be brought by the survivor of actual bodily harm, but by someone else. The implications of whether the woman or someone else brought the charges are stark: were it the woman, it’s a fucking travesty that this guy got off. Were it someone else, it’s entirely possible that this is a problem faced by the kink community: criminalisation of consensual sexual behaviour. Even consensual bruises can be criminal if someone chooses to police it. [EDIT: comment from jemima101 provides more information, which suggests that this is a plain old abuse case, and not the latter. So it’s a fucking travesty of justice that the state thing someone asked for due to not understanding the issues at hand.]

It would be far easier to formulate an opinion on this case were the media bothering to ask these questions and address these issues rather than focus on a popular book.

Still, at least that case was actually tangentially related to 50 Shades of Grey, unlike this horrible thing which happened in Sweden, where a woman died during an SM session. From her diary, it appears that the play that she and the man accused participated in was not consensual on her part. At no point in the story is that popular book mentioned, yet this is inexplicably the headline, the first line and the picture of the report on the story in the Independent.

Abuse in kink is an issue which needs to be addressed, just as abuse in any community needs to be addressed. By the looks of it, this woman’s death was an instance of abuse which had nothing to do with 50 Shades of Grey and everything to do with plain old abuse that doesn’t sell newspapers.

Unfortunately, to the media, kink and that fucking book are inextricably linked which means that an opportunity for honest discussion of issues within a community in the mainstream is sacrificed at the expense of a desperate attempt to be relevant. They ignore the diversity of sexual experiences–both positive and negative–at the expense of something which they know will grab attention.

It’s only on the fringes that the discussion of experience, unclouded by sensationalism can take place. This is hardly just true of kink, it’s an entrenched problem as the traditional media becomes increasingly irrelevant to many. To save itself, the media must catch up and try to listen to the voices of those who have greater knowledge of the issues at hand.

Nice guys, the friendzone and sexual entitlement

In the wake of the NiceGuysOfOKC tumblr (currently down), the discussion about Nice Guys has flared up again. The Nice Guy is a category of human which can be–and often is–entirely mutually exclusive from “guy who is nice”: Nice Guys are men who consider their lack of dating success to be down to the fact that they’re “too nice”, often bemoaning the fact that they end up in the dreaded “friendzone”, wherein women want to be their friend but nothing more.

Every so often, the world will get together and argue about Nice Guys, with one side seeing Nice Guys as figures of pity, victims of shyness, while the other finds Nice Guys creepy as hell. The lovely @RopesToInfinity–an actual guy who is nice–wrote an excellent piece on the matter, addressing Nice Guys, and there’s a few points of his I’d like to expand upon some more, though you should really read the whole thing:

5) The Friendzone Is Not Really An Actual Thing
If a woman is just your friend and not someone you’re having sex with, that is what we in certain circles call a ‘friend’. Yes, what you have there is a friendship, one between you, a man, and a second person, a woman. This can sometimes happen. The chances are she’s not ‘put’ you there because women get off on torturing men, but because she simply wants to just be friends with you, like you might be with a dude. Sex is not the default interaction between men and women. Sex is a thing that happens between two (or more!) people that express a sexual interest in one another and then gratify it by mutual consent. It’s not something you’re supposed to expect, but which women then cruelly decide to deny you from their lofty position as the gatekeepers of the sexual realm. Friendships with women that feature no sex can be rewarding. Try viewing said woman as a person rather than a target for your dick, and see what happens.

6) You May Not Actually Be That Nice After All
Look, are you REALLY that nice? You’re complaining about women refusing to sleep with you, but you haven’t told them how you feel. Is that nice? You’re friends with a woman, but whenever you do something for her you note it down mentally as yet another thing you’ve done which inexplicably went unrewarded with blowjobs, as if it should have been. Is that nice? Think long and hard about your expectations of women, and whether they’re reasonable. And consider whether you’re maybe acting with an unearned sense of entitlement. Be aware that what you think of as ‘nice’ (reluctantly listening to a woman’s problems while wishing she’d shut the fuck up already and touch your penis), may not be what she defines ‘nice’ to mean. Perhaps she thinks of a ‘nice guy’ as someone who likes her with no ulterior motive and who isn’t concealing his true feelings for whatever reason.

These two points get to the crux of precisely what is creepy about the Nice Guy: male sexual entitlement. The complaints, bitterness, resentment about the friendzone all boil down to the fact that the Nice Guy believes that, having completed all of the appropriate rituals, he is owed sex and didn’t get it.

We’ve got to the point now where most of us have no sympathy for the man who believes he is entitled to sex because a woman wore a short skirt, yet seem to be lagging behind on men who believe they are entitled to sex because they’ve been really, really fucking nice. There might be a difference in consequences on the latter: rather than raping, he’s more likely to just write long screeds about how females want douchebags and he’s sick of those bitches wasting his time. However, there is the same root cause here, and it’s not something we should be tolerating or indulging.

Being nice isn’t the cheat code to a woman’s knickers, and it’s not OK to be resentful about this fact. Nobody is entitled to sex. Absolutely nobody. If you are a genuinely decent human being, you need to be prepared to hear the word “no”. And you need to be prepared to deal with that “no”, and accept that. If hearing a “no” is soul-crushing, or enraging, or likely to cause resentment, then you really need to work on your own issues before attempting to connect with other human beings in a non-coercive capacity. Rejections happen, and they’re a product of the other person expressing their autonomy. It’s nice not to resent another human’s articulation of non-consent.

However, there is more than just individual responsibility to these Nice Guys: society shares its fair bit of blame. The straight dating scene is mired in icky gender politics and is so patriarchal it hurts. With these patriarchal expectations in place, male sexual entitlement is ever-present, and so of course the Nice Guys have internalised this, too.

Furthermore, the straight dating scene denigrates the importance of friendship, demoting it to “just friends”. In fact, friendship is awesome: you get to hang out with cool people who you like and do interesting and amazing things even if you’re not having sex. Friendship is a deep, emotional connection, and it is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

Once upon a time, when I was a dorky 17-year-old with all sorts of queer thoughts which I didn’t yet understand, I developed a galloping crush on my BFF. She was hetero. I went all Nice Guy on her arse, having been socialised among straights and believing queer sexuality worked pretty much the same way as it does for straights. I was creepy as hell at the time, and I’m kind of ashamed at how I behaved at that time.

Now I’m a dorky 27-year-old, and I got over it. I am still very good friends with the lady in question, which I’m relieved about due to the aforementioned being creepy as hell. And you know what? Being friends is really, really awesome, because I get to hang out with that cool person and do interesting and amazing things, even though we’re not having sex.

Someone wanting to be your friend is not an insult, unless you feel entitled to sex. It should be a fucking honour.

How do we solve a problem like the Nice Guy? We must acknowledge context, but also that this behaviour is not OK. And if you are a Nice Guy, why not do the nice thing, and try to be better?

What conclusions can we draw from the “porn performers feel good about themselves” study?

It’s been a while since I’ve got my teeth into a close reading of a paper, and this week has gifted me with a doozy: Pornography actresses: An assessment of the damaged goods hypothesis. The study was authored by psychology academics and former porn performer turned founder of a healthcare programme for porn performers.

The paper aimed to test the veracity of a set of beliefs surrounding women in porn. These attitudes were gleaned from a studies into attitudes towards porngraphy, finding that those with a negative attitude towards porn tended to believe that porn performers had low self-esteem, were drug addicts and had experienced sexual abuse in childhood. These attitudes, the authors point out, are also apparent in anti-porn feminist writing, which is backed up with little evidence. The authors also point out the distinct lack of quantitative research into the women in porn themselves, drawing attention to the fact that while there’s a couple of qualitative studies about why women get into acting in porn, there’s nothing quantitative.

So they decided to examine quality of life, self-esteem, attitudes towards sex, sexual behaviour and drug use in a sample of porn actresses. The headline findings were rather interesting: it turns out that the stereotypes aren’t true. Comparing porn actresses to a sample of women matched by age, marital status and ethnicity, they found that the porn actresses actually had higher self-esteem than comparable women, were more likely to feel positive, felt they had better social support and were more spiritual. There was no difference in current drug use, apart from marijuana (porn actresses were more likely to get high), although the porn actresses reported more drug use in the past. There was also no difference in incidence of sexual abuse in childhood. And finally, the porn actresses reported greater levels of sexual satisfaction, were more likely to identify as bisexual, enjoyed sex more, were having more sex than the women who weren’t in porn (sex as part of their work was not counted: this was entirely extracurricular sex), were more likely to be concerned about catching an STI, and had started having sex a little earlier.

Does this mean that the stereotypes about women in porn coming from some feminists and the general population can finally be put to bed? I’ll get back to that after we’ve had a little look through a few criticisms of the paper.

The sample

The study used a clever sampling method for accessing porn actresses–a task which is usually rather difficult and goes some way to explaining why there is little, if any, quantitative examination of porn performers’ lives. The porn industry requires that performers have regular STI tests, particularly for HIV, so participants were recruited from a clinic where they were tested. The comparison group were recruited from a college and an airport (annoyingly, it’s not specified whether this airport and university were also in California). While it is not ideal that the porn actresses were all recruited from Los Angeles, which might not be representative and generalisable to the entire population of porn performers, it is not as bad as one might think: the authors were testing whether stereotypes about women in porn were true. The majority of porn distributed in the west comes from southern California, which shapes discussion and thought about porn by western people as about this group of porn actresses. They’re not entirely representative of everyone in porn, but they’re certainly the people about whom the stereotypes are formed, and therefore this is a reasonable sample to draw from.

Since the authors were also concerned about stereotypes about women in porn, it’s also not a problem that men were not included in the study. The “damaged goods” stereotype that was being examined exists only about women!

One commenter on Jezebel (yes, I looked at a Jez discussion thread. Yes, I’m traumatised. No, I don’t ever want to go back to Jez ever again) points out that the sample of porn actresses may differ from average in being slightly older and having worked in the industry for longer. However, this isn’t actually backed up by a link to where she got this information from, and her comment is preceded by “I believe”. This might be true, but I haven’t been able to find this information anywhere, so can’t comment on whether this is a problem for sampling. However, it is important to note that the women included in this study were those who were participating in above-board porn which was compliant with the regulations, and there might be differences in women who are working in grey or black market porn. Unfortunately, these women are even harder to access and study.

Ultimately, this was an impressively large sample for such a difficult-to-access group: data from 177 porn actresses were collected (and, of course, 177 women in the comparison group). Of course, in any quantitative study, no sample is going to be completely representative, but as far as things go, this was reasonably strong.

The design

This study used a matched pair design: data collected from each porn actress was matched with data collected from a woman the same age, ethnicity and marital status. This is a fairly robust design when comparing groups, and means that differences cannot be attributed to these variables. I am even more impressed at the sample size with the researchers using this type of design, as it’s notoriously difficult to collect data for these designs, being massively time- and resource-intensive.

I have beef with the matching criteria, though. While the authors were right in selecting these, particularly as their sample of porn actresses were far more likely to be single than the general population, there’s an important thing missing that wasn’t measured at all and probably should have been controlled for. Socioeconomic status–class–was never measured, so we don’t know at all whether the porn actresses were better-off or worse-off than the comparison group, and if so, whether it was this that was the cause of their general feeling a bit better about life. Perhaps a way of establishing a better comparison group would be to compare porn actresses with TV or film actresses of the same age, ethnicity and marital status. This would likely control for a lot of the noise, although it would be an absolute arse to research.

Rather irritatingly, the authors never mentioned if they asked the women in the comparison group if they had ever worked in porn (or, indeed, if they were currently porn actresses who happened to be at college or at an airport that day). Since the likelihood of them being porn actresses is fairly low, this probably doesn’t pose much of a problem, I’m just a pedant.

The statistics 

Feel free to skip this bit, as it will get a little technical, and is mostly minor statistical nitpicking. The biggest statistical elephant in the room is that this study ran a lot of statistical tests. A metric fuckton, to use the accepted statistical term. The researchers conducted an awful lot of T-tests, which is a statistical test used to check if one thing significantly differs from another: in this case, whether porn actresses differed significantly from women who weren’t porn actresses on number of sexual partners, or alcohol use, or any of the other eleventy bazillion variables which were being measured.

When one conducts a metric fuckton of statistical tests, one increases the likelihood of encountering a Type I error: a “false positive”. Purely by chance, one of the tests came up as significant, when in fact there isn’t really a difference there. This can be controlled for, although the authors didn’t. Luckily, there was enough data present for me to do this task for them. I did a Bonferroni correction, where the threshold for significance is revised based on how many tests are being performed. It’s pretty easy to do. You take the generally-accepted significance threshold, which is p=0.05 (or, a 5% probability that the results are entirely down to chance and you’re seeing an effect that isn’t really there), and divide it by the number of tests performed (in this study, 19 t-tests were performed). So, the significance threshold for the tests should actually be p=0.0026.

All of the p-values reported came up as less than 0.001, which means they’re still significant even with the Bonferroni correction, with the exception of sexual satisfaction, positive feelings and social support. However, enjoyment of sex was still significant, so it looks like our porn actress sample were enjoying sex significantly more than the non-porn actress sample anyway.

What wasn’t examined (and I wish it had been)

I’ve already mentioned how I wished the authors had controlled for class, but there’s a few more things I’d love to have seen addressed in this paper. Firstly, how the variables related to each other. Given that the porn actresses had had a lot more sex than those who weren’t in porn, could this be the reason they seem generally happier and with higher self-esteem? I have no idea, because the authors didn’t check this, and it would certainly be interesting to find out if this was the driving factor, or even just mediated the relationship.

The other thing missing, I feel, was the type of porn the women were performing in, and how that related to the variables. Were the participants who identified as bisexual more likely to be appearing in lesbian or bisexual porn? Do certain types of porn affect the self-esteem of the performers? Again, no fucking idea, I wish it had been measured, and I seriously hope future research addresses such questions.

Feel free to add more interesting questions you’d like to see addressed in the comments!

So what does it all mean?

Ultimately, from a single study, we can never conclude anything concrete, but it is a good thing to see these questions being addressed systematically, and I hope that it leads to future research. Too often, the experiences of those involved in porn or sex work are ignored, and it is genuinely refreshing to see research attempting to examine their experiences and feelings.  This study provides a foundation for further examination and to build upon its flaws so we can better understand what it’s like for women in porn and replace the stereotypes with solid evidence.

In which I gush about Christina Aguilera

I will confess here to a not-even-guilty enjoyment of Christina Aguilera, and her latest video is a thing of brilliance. In short, it features her looking amazing in a variety of costumes and killing men. Watch it:

See? Isn’t it EVEN BETTER than I described?

Xtina plays around with costumes which represent various facets of “slut”: sometimes she goes for the Beverley Hills look, other times, a tight black dress and sometimes even a dreadlocked grungy girl. These are the women who will, under patriarchy, often end up as victims and blamed for what happened to them. Not so in this video: they are granted strength.

Each of these characters picks up a man and then murders him. Delightfully, the killings feature an aspect of traditional femininity: a car is blown up in a cloud of pink fire; a man’s head is smashed into a shower of glitter, and, my personal favourite, a man is murdered in the loo with arcs of blue blood, reminiscent of the blue liquid used in sanitary towel adverts.

Even the song is far better than what pop culture generally shits out: it’s about a woman who just wants to fuck a guy, and nothing more. The juxtaposition of this with the violence of the video literalises a word that doesn’t actually exist: “mankiller”, the heterosexual female version of the heterosexual male “ladykiller”, a man who seduces a lot of women. There’s a reason there isn’t an equivalent for women: we’re not supposed to have any sexual agency.

Ultimately, it’s a provocative video and will probably create a bit of a temper tantrum from those who didn’t understand the point of the SCUM Manifesto: that we live in a society where violence against women is endemic, to the point where the very notion of the roles being reversed and women suddenly having the same level of power over men is unthinkable and causes everyone to freak the fuck out. At the same time as Xtina wields a baseball bat in very stylised violence, Chris Brown is topping the charts despite having put his girlfriend in hospital and proudly displaying a tattoo of a woman with very similar injuries. Xtina’s video, like SCUM before it, puts men on the back foot for once, allowing them a taste of the fear that we live in.

It’s fun, it’s provocative, it’s sexy, and it’s bound to make the MRAs whinge about reverse sexism. Sterling stuff from Ms Aguilera all round.

The age of consent: a woefully inadequate concept (and why Peter Tatchell is wrong)

The case of the missing schoolgirl, Megan Stammers, who disappeared with her teacher, has been resolved, with the young woman having been found safely. Unfortunately, some people have used this story to promote their own causes. Last night, Peter Tatchell tweeted this, deciding apropos of nothing that the whole thing must have been consensual on Ms Stammers’s part:

Now, one of Tatchell’s pet causes is to lower the age of consent to 14. He has written volumes on the matter. While he might disclaim the living fuck out of everything he has said, there is still something that sits awkwardly with me with his vocal advocation of this. A man Peter Tatchell’s age should have no interest whatsoever in what 14 year olds are doing (or not doing) in their bedrooms.

The thing is, while he claims the people he wants to see protected are the young people- a 16 year old should not be prosecuted for having sex with a 15 year old- he conveniently forgets to mention that this very seldom happens, and usually only when other abusive shit is going on. Put simply, the law is there to protect young people (usually girls) from older men. When two underage people have consensual sex, there might be a few checks on their welfare, but it’s phenomenally unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted. The prosecutions come when one person is significantly older than the other.

The age of consent is a complicated business, and I find it woefully nonsensical that there’s a magic number of years that happen and then suddenly you’re capable of consenting to sex with anyone of any age older than this figure. Whether it’s 14, 16 or 25, there’s always going to be some people who are more vulnerable to abuse than others. People mature at different rates.

What’s more helpful to examine is the interplay of power differences. Where there is a significant age gap–where one partner is 40 and the other 15 or 16–the extra arbitrary year probably isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference. The problem here is that one person is more than twice the age of the other, with far greater social and legal power. When the older partner is a man, further kyriarchal power differences creep in. If the older partner has a social role which puts them in a greater position of power–such as a teacher–then it becomes even more problematic.

It is these power differences that lead to abuse, not the age. Relationships of this sort will not always be abusive, but there’s so much of a problem with power here that they’re definitely causes for concern.

In fact, the notion of an arbitrary age of consent can lead to problems in and of itself. When girls hit whatever the age of consent is, there’s a certain patriarchal assumption that they’re now “fair game” (TV Tropes calls this the “Jail Bait Wait“; click at your peril): here, there is very real protection for young women, as it seems the only thing protecting them from the creeps banging down their door is the fact the creeps don’t want to be labelled paedophiles. Youth and innocence are fetishised under patriarchy, and therefore the legal boundaries currently do serve as a form of protection, albeit fairly inadequate. Shifting the age of consent down would serve to open up more young women to these predatory creeps who subscribe to patriarchal beliefs.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita provides an excellent exposition of some of the attitudes which allow abuse to happen. We find ourselves liking Humbert Humbert, and rooting for him. At times, we might find ourselves tutting at how difficult and unpleasant Lolita is being, before catching ourselves and remembering that SHE’S A YOUNG GIRL BEING ABUSED BY HER STEPFATHER. It’s a book everyone should read and experience, because it shows you just how easily you can fall into rape culture thinking (also, it is absolutely beautifully written).

Legal protections on the whole are not very good, and what we really need is a vast shift in culture away from retributive justice and towards community accountability. This allows us to respect the agency of young people while still keeping an eye out for causes for concern. And of course, the set of attitudes that allow abuse to happen must disappear.

And that’s a long way off, so what we’re currently lumbered with is an arbitrary number. Maybe it should change; maybe it shouldn’t. The people who should decide this are the ones who are affected by this legal situation: those under the age of consent, and those close to it. At the moment, all I’m hearing is rumblings from Tatchell, when it’s none of his fucking business. He is completely unaffected by this law, unless he intends on having sex with some 14 year olds, in which case he’s completely on the wrong end of the power difference to get a lick of support from anyone. And for him to use a high-profile case to promote his cause is unpleasant. Maybe Megan Stammers went freely. Maybe she was abducted. It is not for us, or Peter Tatchell to decide.


GOLD! Somehow it tightens your hole

This is an actual product that actually exists.

A cream being marketed in India promises to make women feel “like a virgin” again. Apparently its mechanism of action is not by restoring sex to awkward fumbling, but, rather, by tightening the vagina.

Its ingredients are all-natural and include gold dust and pomegranates. I have no idea how gold is supposed to firm up one’s cunt, but pomegranate might have an indirect effect as it has historically been used as a contraceptive (admittedly a pretty pisspoor one) so I suppose theoretically it could stop things getting looser by preventing childbirth. But, basically, it sounds like snake oil, unless it provokes a horrid allergic reaction which makes everything swell up a little. Cynically, one would guess that the presence of the gold is merely to bump up the price a bit.

The more crucial issue with this product is not how silly it is, but its intended purpose. Beyond tightening the vagina, it is touted as making women feel “like virgins”. While its marketing department argues that this is purely metaphorical, we live in a world where this is unmistakable for truth. After all, hymen reconstruction surgery is on the rise in India, virginity is prized, and it is still linked to marriageability.

This set of attitudes is not limited to India, though. It’s everywhere, it’s a pervasive part of patriarchy. Hymen reconstruction surgery originated in the West, and virginity is just as fetishised. All over the world, a woman’s sexual behaviour is still seen to be a Big Thing, and factors into relationships, response if she is raped and so on. While virginity might not be the focus, not being a big slutty slut is. There’s still an emphasis on purity.

It’s nonsensical, this archaic patriarchal belief, but sits there humming in the background and we don’t even notice it until we see something as preposterous as a gold-tinged fanny-tightening cream. Yet it’s there, quietly shaking its head at women who enjoy sex.

The publicity material for the gold-tinged fanny-cream says it will empower women, basically allowing them to fuck before marriage and without societal effects. This is a hollow form of empowerment, though; it does not overturn the belief system which prevents women from doing this in the first place. Rather, it continues to perpetuate this cultural fetishisation of virginity and regulation of women’s behaviour, all the while financially fleecing women.

I doubt anybody thought a cream could solve these problems; there is no salve to soothe the problems of patriarchy. The only solution is a revolution.


Big, big tip of the hat to @MatofKilburnia for thinking of that headline

People I will never have sex with ever: those who don’t “get” enthusiastic consent

There’s a bit of a backlash going on against enthusiastic consent. I noted it a while back, and it’s become more and more abundantly clear as the rape apologists crawl out of their lairs to rally around Julian Assange.

Enthusiastic consent is vitally important for two reasons. The major one, obviously, is that it’s a far better way of establishing sexual consent and therefore not raping anyone. The other, though, is that sex with people who don’t do enthusiastic consent is just rubbish. Even when it’s not rape, it’s shit sex. 

The thing with enthusiastic consent is that it’s not difficult. There is absolutely nothing hard about asking “Wanna fuck?” or “What do you want?” or “Would it be hot if we did this?” During good sex, it’s generally pretty easy to ask “Oh god, come on my tits,” or “Would you like it if I bit you?” or “Hey, why don’t you two fuck while I watch?” This level of good communication between everyone involved in a fuck is a prerequisite for good sex, and it’s basically all there is to enthusiastic consent. Of course, not everybody’s going to be up for everything suggested, but if you’re not a dickhead, you’ll be cool with that, and with good communication, you can often devise a different fun activity together.

You can plot and plan things to try in future: sharing fantasies can often turn into making realities. With this model, you can then work out how to safely play, negotiating boundaries for temporarily suspending consent: consciously choosing that in *this* particular scenario “no” wouldn’t mean “no” (and the safe-word is “Thatcher”). And then talk about how it went afterwards, because talking is good and hot and makes your sex life so much better. And yes, enthusiastic consent can even apply to the sleeping scenario. “Hey, darling, would it be hot if you woke up and I was fucking you?” “Fuck yeah.” *next morning* “Hey sleepyhead, how’s this feeling?” “Very nice thank you.” See? It’s that simplebut the importance of that first conversation is often neglected.

There seem to be so many people who think this essential level of communication to make a fuck truly mindblowing will somehow ruin sex. They think it’s a chore, that it’ll ruin the flow of sex to check with a partner that everyone is on the same page. They think they can magically read a situation.

They’re wrong. At worst, they might be rapists–the “Reddit rape thread” is riddled with stories in the vein of “I saw her face and realised she was crying so I stopped”: all of these could have been averted by a bit of simple communication beforehand, a “hell yes, let’s fuck” from everyone. At best, though, those who can’t be bothered to communicate are crap in bed.

They’ll try one-size-fits-all sex moves, which really don’t work for everyone, due to each person being unique in their set of turn-ons and turn-offs and quirky little sweet spots. They’ll gruntingly hump away until they think they’re done, without ever bothering to check if you’ve had fun. Some of them even freak out over a little “dirty talk”, my frantic attempt to turn a dreary shag into something more fun.

They might think they’re the best fuck in the world, but if they don’t get how to do enthusiastic consent I can guarantee that they are not.