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Photo on 20-04-13 at 1.47 PM

The Wake-up Vibe is an alarm clock for your vagina. I’m not even being metaphorical. It’s an alarm clock you literally put on your vagina. Set the time, go to sleep, and wake up in the morning to vibrations in your underthings. It’s maybe the next best thing to waking up to someone actually (consensually) eating you out.

As a tragically ill-disciplined sleeper and insatiable vibrator enthusiast, I obviously bought the Wake-up Vibe. It was 10:57 in the morning when I first held it in my hands, and knew I must try it immediately. I set it for 11:00, positioned it (on my vagina), and waited. LO AND BEHOLD, three minutes later there was a stirring. Subtle at first, the vibrations became increasingly strong and desperate. True to its word, there it was: whirring away.

The Wake-up Vibe is quite exactly what the name suggests. AND MORE. It sits comfortably against you all through the night (and won’t slip off, I promise). Then it wakes you up at whatever hideous hour you set it to. It can also be used as a regular vibrator, with several speeds and rhythms and (almost) whatever else your heart or clitoris may desire. It also looks a bit like an iPod, but if it plays Lana Del Rey, I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet.

It’s so great, and I want to love it so much and be best friends forever and spoon with it every night. But as great as it is, the Wake-Up Vibe is just ever-so-slightly feeble. Every-so-slightly. Maybe I’m too seriously involved with my hitachi or something, but I just feel like even though the vibrations are awesome, they’re also a tiny bit unsatisfying. My clitoris isn’t even being uncooperative; its heart is SO in it. I just think this toy might genuinely only be orgasmic for the most sensitive of clitorises (clitori?). For shame.

My advice is therefore to totally purchase the Wake-up Vibe, but to also put a hitachi under your pillow. The Wake-up Vibe will wake you up, 100% – but it sure will leave you frustrated over your porridge if you don’t complement it with something else vibrator-shaped or vibrate-y (a vibrator).

Other ingenious uses of the Wake-up Vibe I found on the internet include using it as a “sexual time bomb” (direct quote). This involves having a lover set the alarm for when they want to ravish you, leaving it against your clitoris, and waiting for the timer to go off. Hours, minutes, whatever. All at the discretion of your sadistic lover. Just a simple vagina alarm clock? THINK AGAIN.

If you’d like to wake up making soft pleasurable moans, go for it. If you often have violent sex dreams and you’d like them to (maybe) end with actual real life orgasms, this is the toy for you. If you’ve ever wanted a sexual time bomb in your panties, now’s the time.

But I just think we should all maybe wait for the hitachi edition. Can you even fucking imagine.

The popular feminist discourse around BDSM is all about choice. Sexual submission and associated acts of degradation all get the feminist stamp of approval because they are quite decidedly “a choice”, and who is patriarchy to tell us we can’t have them. Who indeed? We can dismantle patriarchy, be slapped in the face by our lovers, have our delicious cake and eat it too. Any discrepancies between our great loves of feminism and power exchange are explained away by the all-mighty magic of “choice”. Quite marvellous, really.

But I can’t help but wonder what it would mean if we don’t actually get to choose our desires at all. Because I don’t think I chose mine. A certain feminist fantasy of BDSM seeks to remove us from the influence of patriarchy altogether, but I don’t think dear patriarchy is so easily rid of. Our desires don’t develop in a vacuum. Patriarchy weaves its way into most places, so it’s kind of fantastical to imagine that we’d elude all our classic assumptions about sex and gender in the bedroom of all places (…kitchen, laundry, dungeon, library, whatever). “My thoughts, desires, insecurities, and behaviours are not suddenly cordoned off from a larger culture once I close the bedroom door.

To quote liberally from this article:

To me, I just can’t see the point of being a feminist if I’m not going to ask ‘why?’ about most everything. I ask why I keep shaving my legs, why I’m unable to eat food for the entire day before a first date (I get nervous, you guys!), why I think buying shoes will make my life better, and I ask why I feel or think or do the things I do in bed with a man. Sometimes I even think about why I go to bed with men in the first place. Is this biological or social? Would I be a lesbian if I hadn’t been conditioned towards heterosexuality? Some of these questions I have answers to, others I’m not quite sure about. But I know this: much of my sexual history and behaviour has been determined by factors including my growing up a girl in a man’s world.

So it is that lately I’ve been asking myself why my sexual desires are what they are. Is it just a coincidence that they’re so complicit with patriarchy? Basic submission can perhaps be explained away, but it’s harder to convince yourself that you legitimately chose to lust quite specifically after a sick “know your place” sort of patriarchal power exchange. As a feminist, it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that your vagina is really into reenacting your own gendered oppression: worshipping hegemonic masculinity, being humiliated for your womanhood, the “eroticisation of a vastly horrific social order“. Excellent, just what I wanted. I endured patriarchy, and all I got was this stupid orgasm.

I can’t pretend like my desire to be demeaned and humiliated in a specifically gendered way has developed entirely independent of patriarchy. Perhaps reenactment is a way of dealing with trauma? Perhaps it’s all in the taboo? Whatever it is, it wouldn’t exist without patriarchy. Even when I’m fucking I can’t escape the blasted thing. When I think about it enough, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all.

Thankfully, even if it’s not entirely a choice, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong – and oh my Germaine, I don’t think it makes me “a bad feminist” after all. To quote liberally from here once again:

 “We can recognize our influences while still liking what we like.” We don’t have to have sex in any prescribed way simply because we are feminists. But to say that “sexism doesn’t get to dictate what I can and can’t enjoy” isn’t entirely true. Because in many ways it does and it has. All the fucked up ways I behave in my life were, as far as I can tell and in one way or another, determined by my experience being socialized in a patriarchal society. That doesn’t mean I need to hate myself for it. It doesn’t even mean I need to stop behaving in those ways or thinking those weird, unhealthy things about my face/life/body/boyfriends. But it sure doesn’t hurt to recognize how sexism factors into the equation. In fact, I think that understanding the way that sexism has messed with my head is the only way to overcome it (eventually).

So I shouldn’t feel guilty about my sexuality, and I shouldn’t stop spending my Friday nights over men’s knees, but I should definitely acknowledge what has influenced my desires. Identifying where patriarchy has tampered with us is part of the struggle to dismantle it.

I think it’s ok that patriarchy totally makes me wet. Different people’s desires have obviously evolved differently under the watchful eye of patriarchy, but mine are what they are as a (mostly) hetero cis-gendered female/femme who has lived with sexism as her constant companion, and they’re not dangerous. I’m thankful for sex-positive feminism, because it tells me not to be ashamed. I’m mindful too of the privilege that makes it possible for me to at least have the illusion of choice at all. But I’m starting to think that feminism and submission are not best reconciled by choice in the end. Alas!

As this lovely feminist writes, “You aren’t fucking in a bubble and yet you also can have your desire. Have it without shame.” That’s how I’m trying to have mine.

“You see me first as a whore, and then as a person … but I’m a lot of other things too. I’m good, I’m bad – but I’m not black and white.”

Finally, a film about sex workers that actually treats “whores” as people, and puts up its middle finger to a culture of sexphobia and slut-shaming. Rather than recycling that familiar narrative of the desperate sex-worker, riddled with drugs and STIs, Black & White & Sex actually develops a powerful character, and challenges the belief that adult sexuality is somehow morally dangerous or wrong.

The narrative in Black & White & Sex unfolds over the course of an interview conducted by a “director” who questions and is questioned by a female sex worker named “Angie”, played by eight different actresses. Although the “director” displays very ill-informed ideas about sex and sex work over the course of the film, it’s actually very helpful, and I daresay engineered that way, as it’s in Angie’s fiery responses to his probing questions that we learn the most. In the film, he seems to represent the everyman’s view of sex work, which opens up the way for Angie to provide a useful critique. She calls him out on his problematic views, identifies the various types of discrimination she and other sex workers must endure, and implores him to recognise her humanity over the stigma of her profession.

The director’s decision to have eight actresses take on the role of Angie is wonderfully inventive, and as I see it, an act of resistance. The film’s refusal to put forward a single, uniform image of Angie curbs the viewer’s desire to stereotype, or homogenise sex workers – such a representation could have been alienating. Rather, we’re introduced to a diverse group of women who have explicitly chosen sex work.

The multiplicity of Angie also seem to be a nod to the description of Angie as a “chameleon”, with no fixed identity, at least in the context of her job – not even a fixed name. I think this says something important about the multiplicity of desire as well; if Angie must be a “chameleon” in order to accommodate the sexual preferences of her clients, then sexual preferences clearly cannot all be satisfied by one simple routine. Clearly, people like different types of sex: submissive, dominant, etc etc – and none of this is gender-specific. Such a notion may seem obvious, but I think it’s actually sort of radical. As a society, we tend to package desire into one sexy little marketable box, but people are freakier than that.

Black & White & Sex actually does a really good job of representing fringe or contentious sex practices, like fetish and BDSM, making them an important part of the narrative towards the end of the film. It’s nice to see a representation of kink that doesn’t sensationalise its freakiness, or tut-tut those practising it for their “risky” behaviour.

I also like how Black & White & Sex discredits the taboo that suggests sex worker’s can’t like their work.  This taboo, undoubtedly stemming from society’s sex-shaming culture that sees women enjoying sex as somehow unladylike or crass (see: slut-shaming), is challenged by Angie’s declaration that “I liked sex before I was a sex worker – and most of the time, I liked sex AS a sex worker.” The line is pleasantly emphatic, leaving no room for the director to rationalise Angie out of her feelings.

The film asks us to see sex workers as more than victims, complicit to some malicious scheme, but rather as people with agency, and importantly, feelings. The film asks us not to other sex workers, or consider them moral vacuums. When the “director” asks Angie if she approves of sex trafficking, and she responds incredulously, “do YOU?” , it’s a jarring moment – we’ve actually ceased seeing sex workers as people. We consider them aliens. And that’s not reeeally ok.

There’s much more I could say about the film, but basically, I just want to high five the people who made the film for debunking all the shaming myths arounds sex workers, and just being generally progressive and great about topics like sex and kink. This isn’t to forget that the film was also very enjoyable and humorous, with a (generous) dash of eroticism, and spectacular performances all ’round.

I had the privilege of speaking to John Winter, the writer/director/producer of the film, after the screening. He told me that he didn’t want to tell a story about all sex workers, but rather, about one particular sex worker. It seems peculiar, given Angie has eight reincarnations in the film, but it’s also rather apt. Winter makes no claim of universality for his representation of sex workers, and in doing so, doesn’t disrespect the possibly divergent experiences other sex workers. I think it’s very sensitive, and very progressive.

If you’re planning on seeing the film (which you should), I understand it has a couple of sessions left in Sydney – tickets can be purchased here. You can also follow @blackwhitesex on twitter for updates on new screenings around Australia. In the meantime, check out out the trailer:

Michelle

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