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Can We Talk?

This post comes to us from the folks at Minna Life

SEX. SEX. SEX.

There we’ve said it. You were probably already thinking about sex before we even mentioned it, weren’t you? Let’s face it, it’s natural and, of course, we all do. It’s part of being a healthy human being, but the important question is not if we think about sex, it’s how we think about sex and how we learn to navigate intimate relationships. As many people take their cues about sexuality from media images or online pornography, it leads to inadequate information on basic anatomy, natural sexual responses and relationship expectations. Even most academic health classes seem to offer less than the whole picture or as campus sex-crusader, Dan Savage, notes, “Too often reproduction is simplified into basic biology terms. In classes they’ll just say, there’s an egg, there’s some sperm that gets ejaculated and maybe you’ll create a baby, and there that’s sex. Sexual education needs to be more about how you have sex, how to talk to women to have sex, how to be responsible, how to know what consensual sex is. If we taught drivers ed the way we taught sex ed, no one would survive! We would teach them about the car engine, but nothing about how to drive.”

So what’s the answer to this conundrum? Simple. Let’s talk about it. Talk about the mechanics of sex. Talk about safer sex. Talk about how to respectfully discuss your desires with your partner. Open, frank, non-innuendo’d dialogue is the only way to dispel misconceptions, educate, enlighten, and allow individuals and couples to explore their own unique path to healthy sexual experiences.

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Some Thoughts on Sex Ed at Harvard

By a male first-year student

As part of the dichotomy between its exceptionalism and its commonalities with the concepts of higher education, Harvard both flees from and embraces what it shares with other colleges. We distinguish ourselves in academics, the University says, but we share the common nature of life and our students are as happy and as equipped with opportunities as any other campus in the nation. To a large degree, this assertion is quite correct. Harvard is not like any other United States institution—will any other college that is 375 years old please stand up?—in terms of its pedagogical history and the staff is littered with Nobel Prize winners and experts in their relative fields. The academics are noteworthy and the college is ranked no.1 on the all-important scale to mothers of high school seniors everywhere—U.S. News and Report. The school’s newspaper, The Crimson, is a million dollar enterprise; for every dorm there is a name every student knows who has lived in it. Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, Al Gore, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, the list goes on and on.

Yet in many ways, Harvard is no different from many other institutions. As part of the American college system, Harvard is not immune to the symptoms of the American college dating scene. The ideas of rape and alcohol-induced illicit and possibly nonconsensual sexual activity are not gone at Harvard. This summer alone, there were two rapes in the Harvard yard. With the frequent consumption of alcoholic beverages, a staple on every campus no matter the history, bad decisions can easily be made. Harvard makes a concerted effort to teach students about this in opening week with seminars and the humorous and slightly tasteless Sex Signals production.

However, it is important for the college to acknowledge that sexual education in our country is horrendous and it is very possible that most Harvard students have not received the same sexual education. Some may be sexually experienced; some may not. Some may be sexually knowledgeable; some may not. Education should be more comprehensible on this front and the emphasis should be on voluntary seminars that encourage students to pursue knowledge that they don’t already know. Instead of passive e-mails that most students skim over, it is important to make proctors announce these to their entryways and make students aware of what is being offered to them.

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Enough is enough

By Kate Sim ’14

Texas turned down $35 million in federal funds for Medicaid Women’s Health Program. This means that at least 300,000 low-income and uninsured women in Texas will have no or greatly-reduced access to basic reproductive health care. A proposed bill in Arizona requires women to prove to their employers that they need birth control in order to treat a medical condition if they want their prescription to be covered by their insurer. Today, women pay 50% more than men for the very same health coverage. Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition.

These proposed bills have real-life effects. Last week, an article written by Soraya Chemaly from The Huffington Post recounts many unbelievable ways women’s lives are affected by the “personhood movement”:

“Ms. Rowland was charged with murder after one of her twins was stillborn, allegedly as a result of her decision not to have cesarean surgery two weeks earlier. Yes, you can be imprisoned like Bei Bei Shuai, a woman living in Indiana who attempted suicide while pregnant (committing suicide is not a crime, by the way). Friends managed to save her, and although Ms. Shuai did everything she could, including undergoing cesarean surgery, her newborn died shortly after birth. She was arrested and charged with murder and attempted feticide and locked up without bail. (A Free Bei Bei petition was recently launched on Change.org.) Your 11-year old daughter, if raped and pregnant as a result, would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term or face criminal charges. I don’t have the time or space here to go into what happens to a pregnant woman who is already incarcerated. Consider Amanda Kimbrough, a woman struggling with meth addiction, convicted of chemical endangerment under a statute making it illegal to bring a child into a meth lab. She is only one of more than 40 women in that state alone imprisoned for substance abuse while pregnant. The salient aspect of their persecution is not their drug use, it is their pregnancies.”

Personhood USA defines “personhood” as “the cultural and legal recognition of the equal and unalienable rights of human beings.” But, as stories of Melissa Ann Rowland, Bei Bei Shuai, and Amanda Kimbrough show, the equal and unalienable rights of mothers, daughters, and sisters are in jeopardy. From unwanted cesarean sections and murder charges to transvaginal ultrasound probing and employer permission to use birth control. Enough is enough. This has got to end. 

When women are likened to farm animals and caterpillars, we cannot wait for lawmakers to come to their senses. We have to act now. On April 28th, women and men across the country will unite for reproductive justice. Unite Against the War on Women is a national grassroots movement happening in the capitals of all 50 states across the country on the same day. The goal is to show the legislators that we will not stand by and let them pass laws that limit and restrict the lives of women in this country. We have a voice and we are going to use it to put an end to body policing. Here in Massachusetts, the demonstration will take place at Boston City Hall at 10am on April 28–I hope to see you there. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can do:  

  1. Call your state legislators 
  2. Publicize the rally: distribute posters and fact sheets in your community. 
  3. Educate: organize a forum on women’s health 
  4. Donate to organizations that support women’s reproductive freedom, such as Unite Women and Planned Parenthood.
  5. Join the movement: bring at least 10 people to the rally. Here is the official MA demonstration event page

We need to act now. See you on April 28.

Note: Thanks to all our guest bloggers! If you would like to submit a guest blog entry, email sexweek@hcs.harvard.edu.

Let’s Talk About Sex

By Jose DelReal ’13

A lot of fuss is being made this week about the importance of talking about sex. One guy walked around dressed in a giant vagina costume yesterday to prove that sex does not necessarily need to be relegated to the realm of the taboo or cast into the social periphery. The work that the organizers of Sex Week are doing is incredibly important, and I think we all owe them a great deal of thanks for encouraging an open and honest conversation.

But there’s something else I want to say:

Oftentimes when the topic of sex enters conversations, it does so with an urgency that is framed largely as it relates to sexual health practices and general medical dialogue. This is done for a number of reasons, but I suspect that it is primarily because this depoliticizes sex in such a way that avoids the hard work of grappling with the deeply political nature of the body.

I tend to see the importance of frank conversations about sex, gender, and sexuality in a more political way, in a light that stresses the urgency with which these topics must be addressed as they relate to concealed forms of domination and structural oppression. It’s my view that we too often avoid hard conversations that come close to revealing the deeply political way in which the body is policed in society, the way in which stigma and taboo place constraints on acceptable ways of discussing our bodies and, ultimately, acceptable ways of being.

Why is it, for example, that women who enjoy having sex are still called sluts in 2012? Why is it that men who don’t fall under a certain model of masculinity are so often called faggots? Why is being gay a bad thing, or at least a less desirable thing than being straight?

Why does Rihanna bother us? Why does Lady Gaga bother us? Why are there so many fewer female faculty members than male faculty members? What is the experience of transgender faculty members and students on campus?  (“Are there any?”)

Here’s one example specific to Harvard: Why is it ok that the primary social organizations on campus (read: alcohol and parties) are only open to men?—Except of course on the weekends, when women who are dressed to the men’s liking are allowed to enter the social scene as guests? Why is this ritualized weekend after weekend if everyone has a snide thing or two to say about it during the week?

These things are all related, and I don’t believe it is an accident that instances of structural oppression often occur along the same fault lines as concealed discourses regarding sex, sexuality, and gender. The more comfortable we are talking about ourselves, the more readily we can begin to engage in the hard conversations that continue to elude us as a society.

This is all to say that conversation is important, and while words can be incredibly destructive, they also carry with them the possible function of liberating us. The conversation Sex Week has the potential to spark on campus is incredibly significant; we must all take it upon ourselves to really consider what is being said, rather than ignoring it while we pick up our free condoms.

I guess what I mean to say is this: Onward! Let the giant vagina dance!

Worker’s Rights in the Porn Industry

By Sex Week Panelist Ned Mayhem

Our society’s hostility toward sex work is the primary cause of the exploitation and misogyny in the mainstream porn industry. Banning porn would only exacerbate the problem, and at the same time add a large group of marginalized sex workers to the ranks of our nation’s unemployed. Standing up for porn performer’s rights is the most effective way to address the problems with the adult entertainment industry.

Criticisms of the porn industry tend to focus on the perceived harm that porn inflicts on consumers, and by extension on society as a whole[1][2][3] [4]. We are encouraged to view porn as an inherently corrupt, tolerated evil. Capturing sex on camera in order to arouse people for profit is supposedly by its very nature synonymous with peddling misogyny. There is therefore no popular expectation that those who choose to profit from this industry could possibly adhere to any reasonable standard of ethics.

This attitude is reinforced by the staggering volume of misogynist, exploitative, transphobic, and racist porn saturating our sex shop shelves and search keywords. Instead of addressing these discrimination issues to create a just work environment and less offensive content, legislation of the porn industry focuses on limiting the damage porn can cause by censoring sex acts or restricting distribution. The loudest voices criticizing the mainstream adult industry are the ones condemning the very nature of porn and calling for the elimination of the entire industry.
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My First Porn Orgy, Part 2

By Ned Mayhem, Class of ’07

When we arrived, I found that this orgy was not hosted in any apartment, or even in a studio, warehouse, or townhouse. It was hosted in a goddamn castle. The building took up an entire city block, and half of the windows looks to be designed to shoot arrows out of. As the doorman let us in, I couldn’t help but think that at least we’d be safe here in the zombie apocalypse. We climbed four stories of steep stone stairs, passing by fourteen foot tall portraits of debauchery beyond description, and finally entered a large hall on the top floor. The room was ornately decorated throughout with fine antique furniture, deep red tapestries, and dirty, dirty art in fancy thick frames on the walls. Maggie gave me a peck on the cheek, removed her top, and headed off to do a shift behind the bar where she seemed to know everyone. I took stock of the situation.

There were a few groups of relatively well dressed folks milling about and talking, but they all seemed to know one another and I found myself at a loss to try to make conversation. I may have mentioned that I can be a tad…awkward. It didn’t help that whenever someone asked me what I did, I started to talk about esoteric physics. The nudity levels were rising rapidly, and it’s tough to grasp low temperature semiconductor physics when you have to dodge tall thin beauties being led through your conversation by chains attached to their nipple clamps. As the party got a bit more debaucherous, a beautiful redheaded trans woman started pleasuring this muscle stud who was bound and suspended in the middle of the room, and even I couldn’t keep the physics straight. More and more couple and groups started getting busy, and it got tougher to concentrate on social graces.

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This post comes from HEB professor and Quincy Resident Dean Judith Chapman

I am a Resident Dean and I teach a course on sexuality and another course on stress.  I never expected to learn something I didn’t know about both topics from my membership on the Administrative Board, but I have.This past fall, members of the Administrative Board were invited to a lecture by UMass Amherst Professor of Psychology, David Lisak, where he discussed his research on college male sexual predators.  We learned that a very small percentage of men (6%) commit about 90% of the [sexual assaults and] rapes on college campuses.  Most of these men don’t see their actions as “rape,” yet when asked if they have ever used force and or intimidation they admit that they have. Some even brag about it.  Lisak showed us a chilling video in which an actor portrayed a non-stranger rapist named “Frank” who represented a composite of men Lisak had interviewed.  Frank’s typical mode of operation on his campus was to  invite a freshman to his fraternity for a party, get her drinking, invite her to an isolated room, start hooking up and then use a little force if she resisted when he wanted sex.Lisak argued that sexual predators like Frank look for vulnerable women. They use alcohol, isolation and then intimidation. He suggested that they might have an eye for women who will be especially easy targets.  Then he used a term that I had only heard in the context of extreme animal stress — tonic immobility — a state when prey animals play dead when being attacked by a predator.  He recounted that many women in rape situations describe being frozen, unable to defend themselves.  This frozen, catatonic-like state is thought to be invoked by activation of the dorsal vagal nerve and to be a very ancient stress response to extreme fear.  Tiffany Fuse and colleagues at the SUNY Albany have interviewed rape survivors and found that over 40% report being unable to move, call out or defend themselves.  We often hear “no means no” but in some situations some women may have a fear response that makes it impossible to say no.  That is why it is so important to “get consent” like the buttons OSAPR hands out encourage.  No means no, however some women find themselves in situations where they are too afraid and physiologically unable to even say no inflatable pool slides.

It’s also important to note that research by Dan Ariely of Duke University and George Lowenstein of Carnegie Mellon  found that men are greatly influenced by sexual arousal and that when sexually aroused men reported a greater likelihood of taking morally questionable actions to get sex. For example, the subjects in their study were twice as likely to express willingness to “keep trying to have sex after your date says no” when they were queried during an aroused state induced by masturbation and exposure to sexual imagery as compared to responses in a non aroused state.  They were also significantly more likely to report that they would encourage their date to drink to increase the chance that they would get sex. The differences in decision-making in an aroused or “hot” state suggest that that there is a gap between what men will do when “hot” compared to “cold.” This “cold-to-hot empathy gap” may also contribute to non-stranger rape in college settings.  Both men and women would be served well by understanding how sexual arousal affects decision-making. Though it hasn’t been explicitly studied, I imagine that women in a “hot” state are much more likely to consent to sex than in a “cold” state.

Creating a campus culture where sex is supposed to be an opt in experience rather than an opt out can only lead to a reduction in non consensual sex.  I believe that educating students about tonic immobility and hot versus cold decision-making can only lead to more hot, consensual sex.

My First Porn Orgy, Part 1

My name is Ned Mayhem, Harvard class of ‘07, and I’m a physicist and a porn performer. Performing in porn is a very important part of my life, and having sex on camera has changed my perspective on sexuality, gender, and politics. Many people have trouble with the idea that porn performers are real people. I hope that by sharing my story with you, I can help you understand at least one perspective on how and why someone would end up in this business.

I’ve always been a huge geek. I played a lot of video games as a child, I was socially awkward, and I had weird habits like “reading”. I never made friends that easily, and sure enough, I grew up to be a science grad student. I work in an underground physics laboratory, measuring the quantum mechanical properties of really small, really cold silicon and aluminum.

I’ve also always been a very sexually charged geek. I’ve masturbated more than once a day on average since puberty. And I’m not alone. There is a huge overlap between geeks and perverts. The Venn diagram of folks who try experimental sex acts and folks who do statistical analyses of their long term masturbatory habits has a large region of intersection. Geeks are pervy and pervs are geeky. This makes sense to me. Both groups are told by society that certain kinds of enjoyment are abnormal or unacceptable, and at some point every geek and pervert has said to to society, “screw you, I’m gonna take my sixteen sided die and my enormous stainless steel butt-plug, and go enjoy whatever I damn well please.”

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