Last Day/Opening night

Last weekend, I went to 2 sex positive feminist art shows (a successful Saturday to day the least). Both shows concentrated on the reclamation of the female body, and also unapologetically focused on sex and all the different things that can mean, including styles of kink. What was most fascinating though was that despite all this they could not have been more different.

The first was actually a remounting of a show originally held at David Zwirner gallery in 1993, COMING TO POWER: 25 Years Of Sexually X-Plicit Art By Women at Maccarone gallery in the West Village. Maccarone gallery is tucked inside the first floor of an unassuming building on Greenwich St and looks like s typical gallery: large empty space with monochrome walls. The art was fantastic. Incredible pieces by vitally important artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Annie Sprinkle and Hannah Wilke (among other) who radically changed the landscape of visual art, not to mention fighting for a space for women within art. It was moving and informative.

The second was Fatter IRL: A Fat Art show, held (along with several other shows) in an actual former Pfizer factory in East Williamsburg. But for the helpful signs posted out front, you’d never guess the building would contain an art show. The art was displayed in side rooms beside genuine industrial machinery. All the artists were lesser known but still incredibly gifted. Here is the new face of both feminism and art in the age of social media.

The first difference I noticed is that, with few exception, nearly all of the artists in the Maccarone show were white and cisgendered and many were also straight while nearly all the artists at Pfizer were queer and/or POC. While it’s always been important to open up the art world for women, (something that’s still a struggle) it is also necessary to create an equal amount of space for folks who fall somewhere else on the gender spectrum. Not to mention the obvious need for LGBTQ and non-white voices. This show definitely had that.

Secondly, I stopped to consider how I came across these shows. While at the Air BnB where some friends of my parter had been staying while in the city from Europe, I happened across the most recent edition of TimeOut NY. I only saw the review of Coming to Power because I was flipping through the magazine. Meanwhile, I saw event notifications for Fatter IRL all over my Facebook wall and was intrigued enough to go.

It was symbolic, almost, that today was the last day for Coming to Power and simultaneously the opening night for Fatter IRL. It felt as if the door was closing on second wave feminism, while still celebrating those women for the great strides they’d made both in feminism as a whole and in the art world, and opening the door for this next generation of women and non-binary artists. I’m genuinely thrilled to have been able to see both in one day and experience the metaphorical passing of the torch. I hope to one day see a 25th anniversary retrospective of Fatter IRL, only to then attend the opening night party for whatever the next phase will be.

SEX ADVICE FOR COLLEGE FRESHMAN — OR, THE UNIVERSITY SEX TALK WE WISH WE HAD

This piece originally appeared at slutist.com

Summer is winding down and colleges and universities are swelling with the nubile young flesh of their student populations. If you’re among the privileged who have been accepted into an institution of higher learning, congratulations. If this is your freshman year (or “first year” as my tiny liberal arts college put it) I can pretty much guarantee part of your orientation week will involve a kind of truncated sex ed/how not to get raped session. I giggled through mine mostly because it was fucking ridiculous, victim-blaming and not helpful.

College is nothing like high school (or adulthood). You’ll be given a ton of freedom and you’ll be surrounded by people your own age almost exclusively, 24 hours a day. You’ll go to class, join a club, go to parties and have sex. Probably a lot of sex. You’ll hook up and have casual sex. There will be one night stands and friends with benefits and fuck buddies and relationships. You’ll try to navigate this strange new social structure (often awkwardly). People are going to try to have sex with you and you’re going to try to have sex with other people. Sometimes you’ll be successful (and sometimes you won’t).

I’m here to tell you how to have safe sex on campus in a sex positive, non-shaming kind of way:

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DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: WHY “FEMALE VIAGRA” ISN’T ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE

This piece originally appeared at The Radical Notion (Aug 25, 2015). I am a semi-regular contributor to TRN, check it out on Facebook and Twitter for the latest. 

Congratulations ladies (and anyone who likes to have sex involving a vagina)! The FDA has approved a “female viagra” to enable you to get it on! Hooray!


Except, not quite. First let’s remove the misnomer from the drug, Flibanserin, dubbed Addyi by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, its manufacturer,  is absolutely not the same as Viagra, Cialis or any other ED drug out there. Those drugs are designed to aid men who are aroused and want to have sex but face physical limitations. Those drugs basically increase blood flow to the genitals, allowing the penis to get erect, enabling penetrative intercourse. The analogous to this for women, actually, is probably lube which has been around in some form or another for millennia. But Addyi does not increase lubrication in the vagina. It doesn’t focus on the physiological aspects at all. Instead it takes a woman who has little to no desire for sex and, essentially, gives her some.

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Body Image and Fat Shaming in Relationships

This piece originally appeared in the No Experience Newsletter Issue #282 (Aug 19, 2015) Starting this month I am the sex columnist for No Experience with a new column out every week To subscribe and get it in your inbox 3 times a week send your email address to noexperiencenewsletter [at] gmail [dot] com. If you have a sex question you want answered in an upcoming issue, email me at rachels1088 [at] gmail [dot] com.  

Dear Rachel,

I guess its not really a sex thing so much as a lack of sex thing…

I’ve been going through the steps of having weight loss surgery (gastric sleeve) and at first my boyfriend (I’m female), Fred*, was super supportive and came to all my doctors appointments and was super excited.

Originally, we were tentatively scheduled for a July surgery, but my insurance requirements changed and I have to wait until November or December.

About a week after we found out I’d be delayed, Fred said that he’s no longer attracted to me and doesn’t want to have sex anymore, but he wanted to stay together. He said he was ok with everything before, but that I should have tried harder to lose weight in the 10 months we’ve been together and it’s not fair to him and he’s lost his patience.

He said it on July 12th and we’ve only had sex once since then, and the whole time I felt so uncomfortable. He can’t finish and says it’s because I’m a turn off and it’s just become such a negative thing in my life.  I feel horrible, like I ruined everything.

He said it’s just sex, but now even when he wants to cuddle, I feel awful about myself. Or when I’m changing clothes or something and he walks in, I try to like cover up real fast, but he says he doesn’t care or like going to the beach… he doesn’t understand why I dont want to wear a bathing suit around him.

We ended up with we should probably take a step back, that maybe I should open myself up to meeting other people but he still really cares about me and wants to spend time together, just not as much, and he’s fine with not having sex.

I feel like a lot of my reaction is my shit and my depression and anxiety and I have no one else to blame for how I feel but my stupid brain.

We don’t talk or hang out as much anymore and I have zero interest in trying to date or sleep with anyone now until after I have the surgery…if it still happens…but now I’m just scared to be alone and don’t think anyone would want me anyway I mean, if he says he loves me and doesn’t want to sleep with me, why would anyone else?  

Sexless

Dear Sexless,

There are a lot of things at play here. First of all, if you want the surgery then it’s great that you’re getting it, but you should only do it for your health and your happiness, not anyone else’s including your boyfriend’s. You do not owe to him or the relationship to lose weight. You don’t owe it to anybody. The good news is, if you do decide to have it, most people report returning to sexual activity rather quickly, like only a few weeks. AND women’s sex lives often improve post surgery thanks not only to improved body image but also hormonal changes. So, if you do decide to get it, sex is still an option, perhaps an even better option than it was before.

Secondly, there must be some sort of a disconnect on Fred’s part if he doesn’t understand how his words are affecting you. It’s incredibly insensitive for your partner to call you a turn off and he should be able to understand why it’s hurtful and why it would make you uncomfortable around him. If he’s unable to come now, when your body hasn’t changed, but was before, then that’s an issue with his mind and body, not yours.

Thirdly, and this is the harshest bit, the above doesn’t really matter because it sounds like you’ve basically already broken up. If he’s not sleeping with you,  doesn’t want to hang out with you and is encouraging you to see other people then it sounds like he’s not your boyfriend anymore. And frankly, good riddance. He was cruel and hurtful to you and doesn’t seem to possess the basic interpersonal skills to comprehend why it upset you.

I understand how this experience can be scarring and can make it harder for you to date. So take some time to date yourself. You need some personal self care, because your sense of self has been completely fucked up by this guy.

Larger women are shamed everyday about their bodies (in fact virtually all western women are shamed everyday about their bodies)  and are told they’re too big to be loved or desired and that they cannot, or should not, be sexual beings. This is simply not true. Many women find men who love and want to fuck them because of, or, more often, regardless of their size.

I say, so long and good riddance to this guy. He’s another cog in the American body shaming machine. If he loved and wanted to fuck you before, he shouldn’t stop loving and fucking you now.

In the meantime, learn to love yourself. Don’t let his or anybody else’s words affect how you value yourself. Date yourself, do what you love to do.

Rachel Love

Fisting!

This piece originally appeared in the No Experience Newsletter Issue #280 (Aug 12, 2015) Starting this month I am the sex columnist for No Experience with a new column out every week To subscribe and get it in your inbox 3 times a week send your email address to noexperiencenewsletter [at] gmail [dot] com. If you have a sex question you want answered in an upcoming issue, email me at rachels1088 [at] gmail [dot] com.  

Fisting is one of the few sexual acts that can be performed by virtually any two consenting parties, regardless of their genders, gender expression or sexuality. It’s most often practiced in the gay and lesbian communities but it can happen in a heterosexual partnership as well. Fisting has a reputation of being extreme and kinky and not suitable for most couples however It involves a good deal of trust and can be incredibly loving and intimate. It’s not inherently violent and if it feels painful you’re probably doing it wrong. It’s also not primarily about dominance although it can be used in sub/dom play. When done safely and correctly, it can be a fun and pleasurable experience for any couple.

So what is exactly is fisting? First, it’s not like how it’s depicted in most mainstream porn, which often uses fisting as a violent form of domination. In fact the UK has actually banned fisting in pornography because it is “potentially life threatening.”  If you’re fisting the right way, however, it should be neither violent nor dangerous. As Courtney Trouble writes,in general, fisting is all about a hand and a hole listening to each other very closely.” Fisting is the term used to describe the insertion of four fingers and thumb of the fister into the vagina (or asshole) of the fistee. The fister’s hand should not be in the shape of an actual fist. That’s punching. Think of it more like a beak or a cone shape. Once inside, the fister can try to form a fist if that feels right for both partners.  For beginners, the best course of action is to introduce the fingers one at a time and slowly build up to the whole hand.

   The vaginal muscles will actually “accept” the hand into the body, drawing it in. The fistee experiences a feeling of fullness and what many consider a pleasurable sense of pressure. The fister can often feel the pulsating muscles and heartbeat of the fistee. Often the hand stays still but occasionally there is some pulsing or light thrusting involved.

  Both parties should be relaxed and comfortable before beginning. This goes for any and all sexual acts and I cannot stress this enough. If you want to do something with another person, whether it’s kind of vanilla or a bit more risque you both need to be comfortable and ready for it, and you both have the right to change your mind at any point. Fisting is no different. In addition to trust, fisting requires plenty of patience and time. It might not work the first time, and shoving a hand inside someone’s bodily cavity is a terrible idea.

  As far as safety is concerned, fisting is relatively low risk in terms of STIs but if you’re not fluid bonded with your partner or if you’re at all concerned about cuts or sores then you can use a latex (or other material, such as nitrile) glove. Gloves won’t absorb lube the way skin does so it may be easier to use a glove. Whether or not gloves are involved, the fister should trim and file their nails to a smooth, comfortable length.

  Like with many sexual acts, this should not be an overtly painful experience but a small amount of pleasurable pain might be involved. Often the feeling is one of fullness, or a sense of pressure. Since muscles are being stretched this might include a small amount of pain. Every person has a line between pain that feels good and pain that doesn’t. The fistee should pay attention to the way their body feels and both parties should be ready to pull back or stop entirely if it ever becomes too much.

  Use a water or silicone-based lube. Then add more lube. And then some more. Reapply often and spread it around. Basically you should be using a lot of lube (especially if you’re going the anal route).  As with many sex acts that involve the insertion of anything anywhere, lube is important, often mandatory. It won’t feel good if it’s too difficult to get the thing, in this case one partner’s hand, inside of the other partner.

  The body will react differently every time, and it’s important to not go into the act of fisting with a clear cut goal, but to simply enjoy the experience and find pleasure in that. A lot of the way we think about sex is framed around an end goal, usually an orgasm, when we should be thinking of the whole thing as an enjoyable pleasurable event taking place.

A special note about vaginal stretching. Yes, the vagina will stretch, but that’s OK. The biological vagina is designed to pass a baby and it’s meant to stretch. It will go back to its original dimensions (a bit faster if kegels are involved) post fisting but please don’t stress over vaginal tightness as a standard of female sexual attractiveness because that is some messed up misogynistic garbage talk.  

 Fisting can establish a deep connection between partners and requires a lot of trust. It’s often not done as a casual kind of thing because of the level of intimacy it involves. So if you’re interested in fisting talk to your partner and go about it carefully and conscientiously. When done right it can a beautiful and erotic experience that can enrich your partnership and your sex life. Happy Fisting!

BILL COSBY, CONSENT, AND THE BODY

This piece originally appeared at The Radical Notion (Aug 6, 2015) Starting this month, I am a regular contributor to TRN, check it out on Facebook and Twitter for the latest. 

Recently, The New York Times ran a story covering Bill Cosby and the deposition he gave in 2005. The deposition was part of his defense against a young woman, Andrea Constand, who was suing him on grounds he had drugged and molested her. Cosby’s language in the deposition (or at least the parts The Times chose to publish) makes him sound like a man who has thoroughly “othered” women. Based on his statements, it becomes clear that he views women not as fully developed people but as simplistic children (“Mr. Cosby said he tended to refrain from intercourse because he did not want women to fall in love with him.”) unsure of what they want, and it was his job to guide them in their lives and into his bed. The Times described him as a “cavalier playboy.”

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History of the Sex Positive Movement

This piece originally appeared in the No Experience Newsletter Issue #277 (Aug 3, 2015) Starting this month I am the sex columnist for No Experience with a new column out every Monday. To subscribe and get it in your inbox 3 times a week send your email address to noexperiencenewsletter [at] gmail [dot] com. If you have a sex question you want answered in an upcoming issue, email me at rachels1088 [at] gmail [dot] com.  

As we move towards a greater understanding of the fluidity and spectra of sex, sexuality and gender, the term “sex-positive” can be heard in nearly all conversations about these topics. But sex-positivity and sex-positive feminism are not new concepts, and they didn’t emerge without difficulty.

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