Dating as a woman: Balancing a desire for intimacy with the threat of violence

mental health, Relationships, Sexuality

“Why don’t you date?”

My therapist’s comment took me aback. After a difficult relationship, why didn’t I put myself back out there? After all, meeting new people would be a healthy distraction, enrich my social life, and build up my confidence by reminding me how ridiculously charming and attractive I am.

Okay, maybe I don’t have a problem with confidence.

I have never been shy or reluctant to meet new people. But the idea of dating left me exhausted. More sexist men, more risk of sexual violence, more worrying that — Cat Person-style — a seemingly innocuous date would reveal a shock of coercion under his charm.

The Many Complications of Dating as a Woman

I’d experienced it all before — and I’m not alone. As the #MeToo movement has shown, dating can be a complicated, even traumatic experience for women. It’s not just the risk of severe forms of violence, though Margaret Atwood’s classic quote “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them,” remains an omnipresent fear.

It’s also the fear of daily tensions, the sexist comments, the fear that our date won’t listen to our “no,” or will slut shame us if we say yes. Not to mention the double standards: The pressure to be likeable, to open up, and embrace intimacy on one hand; and the message that women should always be on the lookout for our own safety, on the other.

While the intimacy we gain from dating is an important force keeping us happy and healthy, constantly having to look out for our safety takes a real toll on our mental health. Faced with so many different kinds of pressure, what’s a girl to do?

We deserve to live in a world where all we have to worry about on a date is choosing a restaurant, not preventing sexual assault. Until we get there, here are some strategies to keep ourselves healthy while we navigate the sometimes-tricky terrain of intimacy.

Read the full article at Talkspace.


Interviewed for Playboy article on “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Culture, Relationships, Sexuality

Check out Adam Howard’s great piece on the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise over at Playboy It’s a great examination of the contradictory appeal of this very contradictory franchise—featuring some commentary from yours truly:

I do think it’s an interesting franchise because it’s premised on this whole idea of the forbidden,” Reina Gattuso, a columnist for Feministing who writes about gender, sexuality, violence and consent, tells Playboy. “If I wanted to see people having sex, I would just watch porn.”

But Gattuso concedes that for some women who may be more inhibited or may be constrained by a conservative atmosphere, material like Fifty Shades of Grey may provide a necessary outlet for sexual expression. “I don’t want to trash something that helps someone figure out their sexuality,” she says. “I would hope that if someone finds Fifty Shades of Grey to be really arousing, and [it] helped open up a space that they really couldn’t explore before, that could serve as a launching point for further engagement with these issues of sexuality and consent.”[…]

Now, the question remains whether the focus can shift to weightier issues like power: Who has it, how is it wielded and how can it be used in a positive way? “Being sex-positive means that sex is not the moral issue,” says Gattuso. “The way we treat one another is the moral issue.”

The Psychology of the Orgasm Gap

Relationships, Sexuality

We know that women face a number of challenges to achieving equality. In the boardroom, we face the wage gap. And in the bedroom: The orgasm gap.

Researchers (and everyday people!) have found that a gap exists between the frequency with which men and women experience orgasm, especially during heterosexual sex. Specifically, women consistently have fewer orgasms than their male partners.

While the orgasm gap may appear to be a product of biology, researchers are increasingly suggesting that the orgasm gap is actually caused by what’s in our heads, not what’s between our legs.

Cultural attitudes which discourage female sexual pleasure, as well as a lack of comprehensive sexual education, affect many of our relationships on the most intimate of levels. The result? Less communication and less pleasure — especially for women.

But never fear. By getting to the root of the orgasm gap, we are not only making sure women experience more orgasms (always a worthy goal!) — but we are also building healthier relationships with our partners and ourselves.

Check out the full article at Talkspace.

How Psychology Stigmatized Female Orgasm (and How We Got It Back)

Culture, mental health, Sexuality

Read the full article at Talkspace.

For most of us, orgasms are, simply, awesome. Yet from the origins of modern psychology in the late nineteenth century, a combination of cultural stereotypes, pseudoscience, and plain old misogyny created an enduring notion that women’s orgasms were a problem to be solved, rather than a normal part of sexual pleasure and mental wellbeing.

From the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, many psychologists, inspired by Freudian psychoanalysis, argued that women should only achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration by a man. Any other kind of female sexual pleasure — including masturbation, queer sexuality, and any stimulation of the clitoris — was considered a sign of “masculinity,” imbalance, or even insanity.

While historical stigma against women’s sexual pleasure contributes to an orgasm gap that persists today, contemporary psychologists are drawing on the work of pioneering feminists and sexuality researchers to correct misinformation and celebrate the diversity of healthy female sexuality.

Here’s how contemporary women came to take our sexual pleasure (and our clitoral orgasms!) back.

Read the full article at Talkspace.

Sexual Harassment Starts in School, and Boy Do We Know it

Sexual violence, Sexuality

You can read the original piece at Feministing

I was horny in high school. Like many adolescent humans, sex ricocheted through my body like a summer storm.

If you’ve read any of my writing, however, you will not be even remotely surprised to know that my outspoken feminism and ability to scan Shakespearean meter did not bring the boys to the yard. And if you existed in Republican America in the aughts you will also not be surprised to hear that there were very few out queers. No date invitations, no making out behind the bleachers: at sixteen, not being considered sexually attractive was its own form of Hades.

I was also cast as the seductress in about six high school plays.

I was the sexy one — the woman who slunk and commanded, who sang and smoldered, who whispered dirty nothings. I had gotten tall and my breasts had come in early, and there was something about my walk and my posture that seemed destined to scandalize my friends’ fathers. 

Now imagine how this shit can interact with a sex-starved sixteen-year-old’s brain: a nonentity in the preteen pecking order, on stage I was the sex pot of the scene. I learned to pose with one hip jutted out in doorways, to cast come-hither glances, and made out far more onstage than I ever did off it. 

While the slinky walk came more or less naturally (those hips were just waiting to swing), my high school drama teachers also offered some tutoring. Mostly men in their late twenties, they  coached me on how to walk and sit and deliver my lines with a seductive simper, drilling me as I donned blistery high heels to walk up and down the high school hallways.

I still feel this instruction in my body language when I flirt. 

There came a threshold when male teachers’ comments left the realm of theater and entered the classroom. Comments that both rewarded and critiqued my sexuality. That filled me with the mixture of queasy flattery and violation I, like many women, have felt about a million times. 

I was told that I seemed like a grown woman, too mature for the high school halls — and also asked, with eyes incredulously narrowed, if I had really never had a boyfriend. I was told I looked like a hussy. When I shared a strong opinion (and looking back on this one now I’m like what the actual fuck was this guy thinking?) I was told that men had better watch out or I would gobble them up with my…

I think he stopped short of saying vagina, but it wasn’t too hard to fill in the blanks.

After rehearsing a particularly saucy scene alone with a male teacher in the band room — feeling embarrassed as I performed for him, slinking and pawing, unsure of where to look—he looked me in the face. “Do it again,” he said. “But this time, look at me like you’d look at a man you were playing with under a table.”

A high school administrator caught wind of my new role, and typical of our Family Values community, expressed shamey concern for my immortal soul and reputation: “She’s started walking down the halls swinging her hips like she is having sex,” she reportedly commented, as though sexual activity could be read by the gait. At the time, firmly inculcated with the pretty standard message that my sexual attractiveness determined my worth, the comments prompted a strange and intoxicating mix of excitement (older men!) and terror (talking about my vagina!).

In retrospect, asking a teenager you have a supervisory capacity over to imagine giving you a hand job (or maybe a foot job, I don’t known the dimensions of the imaginary table) is pretty obvious sexual harassment.

As the cultural reckoning about sexual harassment in workplaces, educational institutions, Hollywood, and oh yeah, literally everywhere, has unfolded over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the weird, uncomfortable mix of gratification and humiliation that we are taught to associate with our sexualities. The double standard that says sexual harassment complaints make too big a deal about something that is “just a compliment,” but that labels us sluts when we accept wanted sexual overtures. How unwanted sexual attention wears us down. But how often, we’re taught to judge our worth by our sex appeal to such an extent we lose our connection to our own sense of what is and isn’t wanted.

Recently, I looked back at those photos of me in high school, silhouetted in the haloes of the low-budget stage lights.

And you know what? At seventeen, I was sexy. It wasn’t just my pouty lips and my hopeful, long-limbed body. It was a kind of ribald confidence, a shamelessness that bordered on exhibitionism. Seeing those pictures, I thought of that comment — men better be careful or you’ll gobble them up with your...

In a young woman, appetite is threatening. Agency is threatening. It’s threatening to men to see a sexuality which they cannot consume. The misogynist justification for sexual harassment is often just this repetition of a male inability to imagine women being beautiful, or interesting, or talented in a way that is not at all directed toward them.

High school girls are told to dress modestly because their bodies are “distracting.” They are frequently harassed or assaulted by peers and teachers. In college and graduate school, women are often at the mercy of harassment from the gatekeepers to our academic and professional success: professors, advisers, administrators, dudes who have written famous postcolonial studies manuscripts. If we speak up we are threatened with the diminishment of our educational and professional opportunities. This is a way to control not only our bodies, but our potential.

And they get us young.

Feministing writers past and present keep coming back to a question that’s often on my mind, too. Which is: Who would we be if we lived in a world without pervasive sexual violence?

Imagine the kind of effortless ownership we could feel if we grew up with the right to enjoy our sexualities, in environments that didn’t reduce us to them. If we were able to stride and sing down the high school hallways swinging our hips like we knew all the secrets worth knowing.

As sexually frustrated as I was in high school, I also had an impetuous energy that I envy in retrospect, a kind of raw and reckless desire dulled now by intervening years of misogynistic crap. The fight against sexual violence is not just about political and economic equality, professional advancement, and access to public space. It’s also about that. That feeling of being at home in our bodies, that bold and impetuous pleasure in our own flesh, which systemic sexism robs from us. 

Because despite all the sexist bullshit, I remember how good it felt to be seventeen and sexual. Waving my arms onstage, something burning inside of me. Like I was a bird straining against gravity. Like my legs were wings and if I could just spread them, I’d take off flying.

Cover photo: High school—it’s like High School Musical, but with sexual harassment. 

Why are There so Many LGBT Youth in Prison?

Sexuality, social justice

Read the full original article at attn:


For the thousands of LGBT youth in the American juvenile justice system, bullying is just the beginning. That’s because, while lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming (GNC) youth makeup five to seven percent of young people in America, they are 15 percent of young people in the juvenile justice system.

Low-income youth and youth of color are also particularly affected: a shocking 60 percent of the LGBT youth arrested and/or detained each year are Black or Latino. Factors ranging from family rejection to school discipline to homelessness—each exacerbating the other—increase LGBT and gender nonconforming youth’s risk of being funneled into the juvenile justice system.

Once there, bullying and harassment, discrimination, and harsh punishment conspire to keep kids in a vicious cycle, as harassment and excessive discipline leads to trauma, missed school, and potentially higher rates of recidivism.

“All of what we would consider feeders into the juvenile justice system, queer and trans youth are disproportionately represented in,”Wesley C. Ware, Co-Director of BreakOUT! told ATTN. The New Orleans-based organization is dedicated to fighting the criminalization of LGBT youth at a grassroots level.

Too often, LGBT kids are criminalized for being victimized, for expressing themselves, or for just being teens.

“In general, the juvenile justice system criminalizes normal adolescent behavior, period, and I think that amplifies for LGBT [teens],” said Christina Gilbert, Director of the Equity Project, an initiative examining issues affecting LGBT youth in delinquency court.

Keeping LGBT kids out of the juvenile justice system requires considering their lives in context and supporting, rather than stigmatizing, their identities.

Read the full original article at attn:

Prison Justice is an LGBT Rights Issue

Sexuality, social justice

Read the full article at attn:

CrimJustSystem-graphicFor the millions of LGBT people incarcerated each year, the sentence is only the beginning. Oftentimes, what happens behind bars is worse than what the state mandates.

Five percent of LGBT people in America have been incarcerated in the past five years. That rate is almost double the 2.7 percent incarceration rate for the general public and points to a major crisis in justice for LGBT people in the U.S. And within the LGBT community, certain groups remain particularly vulnerable.

A survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian task force revealed that a whopping 16 percent of transgender people – and 47 percent of Black transgender people – have been incarcerated.

Lack of family support, homelessness, and social and economic discrimination – all issues that disproportionately oppress LGBT people – conspire to put LGBT people in conditions that often include physical and verbal aggression, and sexual abuse.

The effects of incarceration on this already-vulnerable population are devastating.

“From every angle, the justice system is broken for transgender and gender nonconforming people,” the authors of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey wrote in a 2011 report. “Instead of administering justice, it perpetrates injustice.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2009 Handbook on Prisoners With Special Needs puts it more bluntly: “Transgender and intersex (TGI) people experience extreme physical, sexual and emotional abuse and brutality while imprisoned,” the report says.

Read the full article at attn:

Fucking with Feministing: Squirt-O-Rama, Redux

Health, Relationships, Sexuality

Check out the original article on Feministing.

Welcome to Fucking with Feministing, Feministing’s column about all things fucking and fucking-adjacent. Got a question about dildos? We’re on it. Want to explore fun, sexy sex outside of the realm of p-and-v intercourse? All over it, baby. Or maybe you’ve got a totally different question, which you can send in to to see answered on national television. Just kidding, it’ll be answered here, on the blog. 

I’m your host, Reina Gattuso, and if I’ve never done the thing you’re asking about, then I’ve at least spent hours looking at Google images of it for research purposes. Plus, our super rad partners (not, like, the physical sexual kind) at theCenter for Sex and Culture definitely have the answers you’re looking for. So send me your sexy q’s

Welcome to today’s topic: SQUIRT-O-RAMA, REDUX!

We’ve actually run a satisfying column on squirting already from the lovely and every-sexy Sesali, but the questions about this alluring practice continue to gush forth. The people want to know about squirting — and we’re here for the people.

So let’s revisit the debate and have a handy how-to on how to bring forth your inner fountain!

Today our fabulous reader asks:

What’s the trick with squirting? Does it feel good? Should I aim to learn how to do it because it benefits my sex life or is it something people see in porn and therefore think it’s sexy? Maybe I could learn it, but not if it doesn’t improve the already good sex I’m having.

Squirting probably comes up so much as a topic because in recent years it’s been featured in magazines and the like as one of the great mysteries of human sexuality, alongside the classics: “Can anyone actually suck their own dick?” and “Why am I attracted to Nicolas Cage??”

Is squirting real? Is squirting fake? Is squirting a myth invented to oppress women?

Nah, lots of people say they’ve squirted so it’s definitely real. But sexologists continue to debate the issue. Stirring questions in the realm of squirting include such age-old dilemmas as: Is squirting triggered by stimulating the G spot or is the G spot actually just part of a whole clitoral compound? Is the fluid that comes out of people when they squirt some special squirty-cum or is it just pee? 

Never fear, dear reader, for you are not alone on your journey for answers. For the purposes of writing this column, I am a fellow traveler with you on the squirty path of life. Luckily, our dear friends at the Centre for Sex and Culture are experts on squirting, so we’re in good hands.

So let’s get down to business and, like the rigorous sexy voyagers we are, examine several aspects of the issue. Namely: What exactly is squirting? How do you squirt? And, if I’m not squirting already, am I now obligated to learn the art of the squirt or else I’m a sexual nobody? (Nah.)

A Squirty Controversy

The debate on squirting has divided sexologists, people who work at feminist sex toy shops, and people who wear white coats in pharmaceutical adds for centuries — or at least a few decades.

First, the basics: Squirting, also called “female ejaculation,” is when someone without a penis ejaculates a fluid from their urethra, generally following a lot of G spot stimulation. Of course, because we’re feminists we know that the “female” in “female ejaculation” is misleading, since just ‘cause you don’t have a dick doesn’t mean you’re female.

Researchers have different opinions on squirting, a result of the relative lack of research on female pleasure in general and squirting more specifically. A controversy recently erupted, for example, when a very small study concluded that the fluid ejaculated during squirting is actually urine, a conclusion which the squirting humans of Twitter have vociferously protested.

As far as we know, however, squirting totally exists, results from G spot stimulation, and the ejaculate that results comes from the Skene’s gland. This is a gland located on the upper wall of the vagina, part of the complex known as the “prostata femina,” or “female prostate” (which again, misleading, ‘cause not all people with vaginas are female!). When you get this complex really, really happy, it erupts.

Some of the controversy about this happy organ and its ejaculatory fun, our friend Carol at the Center for Sex and Culture has noted, is because it’s quite possible not all women actually have Skene’s glands. And it’s also possible that some women pee a little during sex. The body is strange and this is all normal and acceptable, so don’t panic!

The Squirty Journey

So, how do you squirt? It’s all about the g spot.

First off, if you’re embarking on a journey to squirt city, remind yourself that sex is not a goal-oriented endeavor and that even if you don’t squirt, you get to touch yourself/have a partner touch you for a long time, which is great in and of itself.

If you care about not getting your sheets wet and you’re feeling optimistic, put down a towel. Also, so that you’re not paranoid about peeing on said towel, pee before you begin.

Now turn yourself on, friend (or recruit an enthusiastic lover to help you). Whatever gets you going. Book, porn, National Treasure parts 1 and 2. Stroke where you want to be stroked. Light a candle like Our Body, Ourselves used to suggest, if you get off on scented candles. Go to town on yourself (clit’s a good idea!).

When you’re super turned on, try meeting the G spot, if you’re not already friends. The G spot is located a couple inches into the vagina, and feels like a ribbed or spongy place on the upper wall. If you can feel it, give it a good press.

Also, remember that everything is chill and that even if you don’t have a moment of G spot revelation where you’re like “IT HATH BEEN FOUND!”, you’re totally normal. For years I thought I had found my G spot until a girlfriend actually stimulated my G spot for the first time. It really can feel like you’ve got to pee, but in a sexy way.

Now is where we get into the sticky part: G spot pressure. Lots of pressure. Use your fingers or use a sex toy; most of all, use your imagination! 

I personally get this far in my squirting journey, feel super pee-tastic, and then get really tense about the pee thing, which totally prevents the squirt thing. So don’t be like me: embrace the pee, listen to Sesali and enjoy the ride!

Pro tip: If you actually do pee at any point in the squirting journey, that’s okay. This is why we have detergent and water to wash sheets. No one will perish tragically from exposure to squirting-adjacent urine and you will get a great sex story out of it.

Go you!

If I’m not already squirting do I have to go and learn squirting or else I’ll be a sexual nobody???


If you are already a squirtin’ diva, that is awesome for you and I hope you are having lots of fun! Go you, human!

If you’re not already squirting like a water gun, but you feel that getting your ejaculation on would be a super fun experience that would up your general sexual hilarity, go for it! Try following the above advice, and hey — let me know if it works.

If you’re not a squirter and you feel that this particular piece of sexual trivia sounds meh/too complicated/or it is just not high on your priority list, you totally never have to read, think, or even utter the word “squirt” again. While we 100% respect the experiences of people who find that squirting is a great part of their sexual existence, we don’t all have to squirt ourselves. To each their very own, baby.

And as to whether porn has misled us as to the reality or desirability of squirting: People sometimes see things performed dramatically for a camera, are turned on by those things, and then want to replicate these things in the home bedroom and maybe even stake their sense of personal satisfaction on whether they can replicate said things. These attempts range from “borderline unrealistic” to “only safe for trained professionals,” depending on the activity. And also, of course, what mainstream pornography often does not adequately display is the wonderful variety of human sexuality.

So if you’re into squirty porn, that’s great, but don’t let it lead you to believe that you’re inadequate if you can’t squirt or can’t release, like, an entire bottle of whipped cream from your genitals. Also, if you find mainstream porn is giving you performance anxiety, might be a good moment to try out queer and feminist alternatives! At the end of the day, just remember that each human body is unique and does different things and that is why being a human is awesome.

Now, dear reader, we have come to the end. I wish you luck on your squirty journey, whatever form it takes. Enjoy, and remember — the journey, not the quantity of fluid ejaculated by your nether regions, is the real succor of life.

Fucking with Feministing: No Hard-On? No Problem!

Health, Relationships, Sexuality

Originally published at Feministing.

My question is: What are some ways to have great male to female sex without penetration/ with a male who suffers from erectile dysfunction (ED)?

My boyfriend was recently diagnosed with ED and its been really tough – that fucking patriarchal pressure for men to be ridiculous ultra-virile sex machines is hitting him very hard and, while there is some info out about ED there, it’s quite limited and we’ve been struggling to find new ideas about how to actually have fun and play without him being erect. I’m so excited to be making our sex less p-in-v centric regardless of the reason as I think its a really important move to make generally!

Oh, the tyranny of the hard cock.

The struggle is real and relevent to so many of us whose sexualities, gender identities, and genitals just don’t line up with the “cis dude jackhammering cis lady with SUPER HARD COCK” thing. I mean, hammering or being hammered with a SUPER HARD COCK can be fun! But it’s not the only fun or necessarily the most fun, and the idea that it is has been ruining sex lives probably since humankind has idealized hard cocks.

hard cock cave painting

Yes, that caveman has a hard-on.

This is a super relevent question not only for cis dudes who can’t get or maintain hard-ons for whatever reason. It’s also relevent for a lot of trans people, queer people, intersex people, and people with a diversity of penises which may or may not get hard. And honestly, as our friends at the Center for Sex and Culture reminded us, the messed-up sexual politics of our obsession with hard penises are already implied in the name “erectile dysfunction,” “dysfunction” implying that the whole point of dicks is hard-ons, and that not getting an erection is a failure. Sexologists, meanwhile, prefer to simply call this “not getting an erection when you want one.”

The paucity of info is real: Most of the articles online about having sex with ED are like, geared toward straight cis people from doctors who all seem to be operating on the assumption that p-in-v penetration is the only real deal. But we’re feminists and we know that just ain’t so.

So honestly, it sounds like you and your boyfriend are about to have a wild wonderful ride of pleasure in ways that maybe patriarchy has not previously allowed you to imagine!

And it sounds like you’ve taken just the right first steps in learning about ED (even though the farts on the ED websites seem to have very limited erotic vision), thinking critically about what sex even means for you guys in the first place, and opening up communication with your partner about what you’re both feeling and experiencing. A great first step for your boyfriend (if he hasn’t done this already) would be to make sure he’s communicating with his doc about what’s going on, since not being able to get an erection when he wants to can be a sign of another underlying medical problem.

Of course, as much as you can tell him that p-in-v is not the be all and end all of satisfying nookie, and as much as he might understand this mentally, the connection between masculinity and virility is a friggin’ scam and it’s probably gonna take some time for him to really internalize that he doesn’t need an erection to please you — or to experience a great sex life for himself.

So according to my research and *extensive personal experience having très fun sex that does not involve being hammered by a cis dude’s SUPER HARD COCK,* here are some myths and facts about society’s favorite topic, erect phalluses.

Myth: If the cock is not hard, the person with the cock is not turned on.

Fact: Nah. Listen, bodies are diverse and complicated, and penises are like Punxutawney Phil. Sometimes they peek their heads up, sometimes they don’t; some just never feel like it. People can have hard-ons when they’re not turned on, and they can be turned on without hard-ons.

Myth: If the cock is not hard, the person with the cock cannot experience pleasure or orgasm.

Fact: Nah. Orgasm is not actually the same thing as ejaculation, and a penis doesn’t actually need to be hard to ejaculate or for the penis-owner to experience orgasm. Just ‘cause someone’s penis is erect doesn’t mean they’ll ejaculate; just cause a penis is spasming and releasing fluid doesn’t mean the penis-owner is experiencing an orgasm. And someone can have an orgasm without being hard, or ejaculating at all. Wow!

Myth: If the cock is not hard, it can’t do fun things that please partners or the person with the cock.

Fact: Nah. A penis is basically a vaguely-cylindrical organ, often but not always with some tubes and some nerve endings. A lot of people with penises use them to have sex, but not everyone! A lot of the pleasure of penises comes from said nerve endings, and a lot comes from whatever mental and emotional associations we have about the penis and what it means to interact with said penis, which plays into identity in a variety of ways. So there’s a lot more to enjoying a penis than being able to make it hard or put it in a vagina.

Myth: If the person with the cock identifies as a dude, and the cock is not erect, the person with said cock is less of a dude

Fact: Nah. C’mon guys, you don’t have to have a penis to be a dude, and you can have a penis/cock/dick/phallus/honestly whatever you call yours and not be a dude. Soft, hard, medium-hard with no back support like my mattress, whatever. Being a dude is about what you feel, not whether you have a penis and what said penis does.

Myth: All people with vaginas are exclusively sexually pleasured and impressed by SUPER HARD COCK.

Fact: Nah.

Alrighty, now that we’ve worked through some myths and facts about penis machinery and identity, let’s take a fun walk through all the magical things we can do with ‘em, whatever their size or firmness!

Take a moment to check in about your contraception and STI scene. A penis that can’t get hard can still ejaculate and any kind of genital-genital or genital-oral contact can transmit STIs. If you use condoms, you get to have a fun time putting and keeping those babies on. Our friends at the Center for Sex and Culture advise using your hands to put the condom on or — fun added bonus — slipping it on during oral (suction helps). Since it’ll probably be loose, you’ll want to keep constant hand contact or perhaps elicit the help of a handy dandy cock ring (either of which, by the way, may be a fun extra for him).

Now let’s talk get into the nitty gritty of getting down, here. All the fuddy duddy doctors talking about Erectile Dysfunction are like, “your partner not being able to have an erection is a great opportunity for you to have lots of sweet intimate snuggle time!” This can certainly be the case, but this idea suffers from the strange misconception — which queer women and folks whose sex lives don’t involve penises deal with all the time — that sex without a SUPER HARD COCK is necessarily a super emotional snuggly spoonfest.

Of course there is nothing tastier than a well-timed spoon sesh, but you should also know that just ‘cause there’s not a SUPER HARD COCK involved doesn’t mean you can’t fuck. If you want to stroke each others’ bods with soft feathers til dawn breaks, do that. If you want to be pounded until you’re screaming the name of a relevent deity, that can also happen. Basically these doctors seems like misinformed bummers to have sex with.

Now lean in close, ‘cause I’m about to whisper the big secret about p-in-v intercourse. And here it is: P-in-v is not one, magical, un-reproducible experience that no other pleasure can equal.

P-in-v intercourse is a combination of different physical and emotional sensations. The mystique around it isn’t because nothing else feels like it (I mean, I can stick a cucumber in my pussy while hugging a teddy bear, you get the point). It’s largely a cultural and interpersonal mystique. So it’s helpful to think about the physical and emotional feelings you like to have with each other and in bed, and then fuck around until you find things that give you those feelings.

What are the feelings that he//his penis enjoy? Pressure? Wetness? The emotional rush of penetrating you? Those feels can all totes be experienced without p-in-v action. Here are some ideas, and I’m literally just getting started…

Oral: So I know some people dig it and power to them, but when someone is like “I’m going to shove my SUPER HARD COCK down your throat,” I generally feel like, well that’s nice but realistically I gag sometimes while brushing my teeth. So. If you and your partner like oral there is a whole universe to explore here. I think blowing smaller dicks/soft dicks is fun, ‘cause suddenly you feel like the deep throat champion. Play with all the magical things your mouths can do.

I, by the way, am a huge proponent of 69 and generally don’t understand why the internet hates it so much, though sometimes it can be logistically overwhelming if you’re doing it with someone who has a bigger/harder penis — so if you weren’t team 69 before, who knows, maybe this is your chance.

Penetration: If you are both like, wow I wish some penetration could happen here, good news: It can! Fingers are beautiful instruments. Dildos are heaven. Did you know that people have been penetrating themselves and others with root vegetables for literally thousands of years? (Wash it first/use a condom.) Anal beads if you and/or him are itching for some anal fun and want to check out Sesali’s fun guide to butt sex. Does your partner like being penetrated? Maybe this is his chance to find out.

L0033079 A woman using a dildo in the form of a root vegetable Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images A woman using a dildo in the form of a root vegetable suspended from the branch of a tree. Gouache 19th century Published: [18--?] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Yum, root vegetables.

Do you like riding him? Get on top, he can penetrate you with a dildo and you can simultaneously touch his penis if you’ve got that amount of focus and determination (bless you). Fingers work too but the wrist angle may get tiring.

Do you guys like for him to be on top while he feels pressure on his penis and penetrates you (guess what, this is all that missionary position is)? Cool! Grab a nice dildo or break out those handy dandy fingers and he can get on top of you and penetrate you while you touch his penis.

Frottage: Frottage is both a visual arts technique in making charcoal rubbings and a word early-twentieth-century French people started using to describe people rubbing their genitals all up on each other, which is why I giggled compulsively through a recent art history lecture.

frottage art process


sex frottage

Also frottage

You’ve got a body, he’s got a body. Rub ‘em together. Use your boobs if you feel like it! Does he miss feeling his penis all up in your junk? That’s fun, rub it around; he doesn’t have to go inside to get that signature pussy feeling. (If you use barrier methods, the wise humans from Center for Sex and Culture advise using saran wrap, with a little lube, to keep things safer here. Wow, kitchen tools are so multi-purpose!) Or go straight-up lesbian stereotype and try scissoring. Why not? You have the world to win. Oh, I’m jealous of your journey.

Toys toys toys: Get some stuff and fuck around. Does he like a vibrator on his penis? Only one way to find out!

Sweet Talk: Finally, ya know, words can hurt and they can also heal. Societal definitions of masculinity can squeeze the life out of us with a vice grip. If your boyfriend is a nice person he is probably concerned about your happiness, and if he’s like many of us he’s probably also concerned about his sexual pleasure.

Reassurance is important. Feeling comfortable and respected and appreciated is important. Remind him how hot and sexually talented you think he is and how good he makes you feel. Fantasy can be important — does he get off on imagining his penis is super hard or would he feel more comfortable thinking about the hot hot hot sex you’re having without his penis being super hard?

Well, that’s all for now, folks.

Wow, okay, deep breath, I apparently have a lot to say about penises and their hardness. But I think this is a super important question for everyone, whether we have penises or not, and whatever the firmness of said penises, in helping us question our own hetero, cis-centric idea of sex and of genitals more generally.

Basically my dear reader, it sounds to me that this crisis of society’s definition of masculinity presents you with an exciting opportunity to catapult yourself into the sexual stars. Go forth and frottage!

Pleasure in the Time of Nationalism

movements, Sexuality

A talk on pleasure, consent, and nationalism given at St. Stephen’s College and published at Feministing.

There are some scary things happening in the world. In the United States, Donald Trump continues to spew fascist garbage, while simultaneously snatching up states like kids getting candy at an Easter egg hunt. Here in India, where I’m living, the right-wing government has recently escalated state action against activists and dissenters of all types, imprisoning student activists for supposed “anti-national” activities.

What is our role as feminists in all this? And as a theorist of consent, I’ve got to ask: What is the role of sex?

I’m starting with these political issues not only because these are deeply, deeply important in and of themselves, but because as people who study gender, as feminists, as people who care about gender justice and not only gender justice but the way gender justice intersects with everything — with class injustice, with caste injustice, with justice for queer people, with imperialism, with militarism — we ask a lot of questions that challenge the established order of things, that challenge power, that should challenge power — questions that those in power do not always want us to ask.

And we should be asking these questions and we need to be asking these questions of political, social, and moral regimes that are based on hierarchy and on oppression.

There are a lot of people who don’t want us to talk about this topic: Sexual consent and sexual pleasure. Not only consent and pleasure, but sexual consent and sexual pleasure and their relationship to social justice.

Because we are, as intellectuals, as feminists, as activists and thinkers, and yeah, as young people who think critically about sex, as women who think critically about sex, as women who maybe even have sex and like sex, as women who want to decide when and with whom we have sex — we are up against people who find us threatening.

Our assertion of our right to consent — or not consent — to sex, our assertion of our right to enjoy sex — our assertion of our right to a life not only free of egregious violence like rape, but a life of profound equity — this goes exactly against the right-wing ideologies whose conception of nation depends on specific, oppressive conceptualizations of gender.

That depend on the idea of Woman, capital-W Woman, and not women — the real, breathing, glorious, questioning, protesting, farting people sitting reading this piece.

So I want to build toward the idea of female sexual agency and pleasure as ends in and of themselves, but also as tools in broad-based movements against oppression.

We can start by walking through some critiques of the limits of consent-based frameworks a number ofFeministing writers have undertaken recently, and then we can expand to the question of how pleasure contributes to movements.

Expanding Consent in the Contemporary American Anti-Sexual Assault Movement

Me looking cute at the Stephen’s Gender Cell meeting

The American anti-sexual assault student movement has included not only pushing for more campus and legal remedies for sexual assault survivors, and for cultural change and education, but also for a reconceptualization of how we think about consent.

This comes in the form of affirmative consent, or the “yes-means-yes” framework, which has been around for a long time but has really been promoted in the recent string of activism.

So, first let’s talk, for the zillionth time, about sexual consent. Consent is the radical idea that sex ought to be chosen. Not prescribed, not forced, not coerced, not persuaded, not mandated because of someone’s social position, but chosen.

Consent also comes with a whole set of propositions about power and sex, and the ethics of sex. Most radical among these is the idea that sex is not something that one must simply accept or decline based on who one is — just because one is a woman doesn’t mean that one must be sexually available to men, or just because one is a woman does not mean that one must not be sexually available to men.

This is really important, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

Because first, we need to think about consent as something that is structural. We need to understand sexual consent not as a simple yes/no answer — even an enthusiastic yes — but as a power relation structured by other power relations in society.

We need to understand that power is complicated; that one must look at an entire social system to understand coercion; that women often have limited choices within diverse patriarchies and that we also need to look at social pressures that coerce.

At the same time, we can’t deny people dignity. So we can understand, for example, a married woman having sex even if she doesn’t want to with a husband she financially depends on not as “oh that poor woman it must necessarily be rape” and not as “well it’s okay because she said yes to it” but as a complex and above all else structural power relation that is produced by a fundamental unfreedom that permeates society on a number of different levels.

We also need to wonder if it’s enough for the goals of our sexual politics to be that we are not-raped.

Because the goal of social justice struggles shouldn’t just be that people don’t live lives of violence. The goal should be that people live lives of dignity, that people have access to the resources, cultural, material, political, to live rich lives.

As Maya said, “I don’t want us to ever lose sight of the fact that consent is not the goal. Seriously, God help us if the best we can say about the sex we have is that it was consensual.”

We can’t just talk about sexual consent, we also need to also talk about pleasure.

People often ignore the question of pleasure. On one hand, the right finds the question of pleasure threatening. On the other hand, the left often finds the question of pleasure frivolous. People are dying in the streets, they say, and you’re worried about getting off?

But we need to seriously consider the role of pleasure, not only because we need to have a sexual politics more ambitious than simply not being raped, not only because we want to be having sex that is free of small violences, unfulfillments boredoms and inadequacies —but also because I think pleasure can lead us to questions of relationality, questions of love, questions of solidarity and comradeship and in general what it means to be in struggle together, what it means to devote oneself to other human beings.

Why are pleasure and consent threatening to power?

A number of right-wing ideologies the world over — in different but conceptually related ways in contemporary India and the United States as well–depend on the idea of this nonexistent capital-W Woman as docile, as “pure” (according to whose standard of purity I don’t know) as receptacle and figurehead, whose sexuality can be controlled, regulated by marriage and by males.

This is true in India, in a country where, for example, once you get married you apparently give up your right to consent. Or in the United states, where right-wing legislators have made it virtually impossible for women, and particularly poor women, and particularly poor women in rural areas, to access abortion.

The notion of consent is dangerous to these regimes.

Consent is threatening to these social orders because when we demand our right to consent or not consent to sex, we threaten to disrupt a social order that depends on our complicity, our docility, as mothers, daughters, wives, and servants of the state.

We could choose to not have babies, and then what would happen to the future of our nations? Or we could have intercaste, interclass, interreligious, interracial babies that would challenge racist notions of purity.

For the same reason, pleasure is threatening.

Female pleasure is threatening to conservative regimes because it is non-reproductive, because it is not fundamental to reproducing the nation or the race or whatever category of purity thrust upon us.

Female pleasure also threatens with its uniqueness, its individuality, its unpredictability and lack of regimentation — all expressions of human joy that fascisms of various kinds, fundamentalisms of various kinds, find threatening.

So what we’re up against are right-wings that find the idea of women refusing sex, women choosing sex with the “wrong” people, or women enjoying sex as dangerous.

A friend of mine, Kamayani Sharma, an art writer and researcher, summed up this threat pretty well in a Facebook post following the 2014 Kiss of Love protests, in which young people kissed in the city streets to protest against right-wing gender strictures:

“Love’s dangerous, mysterious force lies in its quiet redistribution of power,” she wrote. “Our appetitive lust for freedom and friendship threatens to swallow the State whole.”

The co-optation of sexual pleasure and consent by neoliberalism

But it’s not enough to merely say that expressing of our sexual agency is radical and threatening to power. We need to understand exactly how female sexual pleasure is considered threatening in specific contexts.

And we need to be very, very critical in understanding how feminist discourses to reclaim female sexual pleasure can actually be co-opted by neoliberal regimes. How, if we’re not careful, the forces of capitalism will commodify our pleasure, turning pleasure into another object of the elite and disrupting the radical potential of pleasure — if conceptualized and implemented inclusively — to, as my friend Kamayani said, “redistribute power.”

How can we can prevent the cooptation of our pleasure in capitalism, and how can we weaponize our pleasure as a tool for social justice not just for ourselves, but for all of the struggles to which we must be connected?

I’ve told you about some of the ways in which the American right wing finds female sexual agency threatening. But since the second wave feminist movement in the United States, we’ve also seen a cooptation of feminist discourse by capitalist forces to commodify sexual pleasure, thereby diverting its radical potential into the neoliberal market economy — and diverting us from connecting sexual pleasure to broader struggles against racism, gender and sexual oppression, and capitalism.

We’ve seen, for example, in the past thirty or so years in the United States, with the rise of third wave sex-positive feminism, the commodification of female sexual liberation in ways that reiterate female oppression and male dominance, and in ways that reiterate racial and socioeconomic injustice.

To understand how this might work, we can take the very simplistic example of the production of sex toys — which is a literal commodification of the means of sexual pleasure.

There are a lot of radical producers of sex toys who are committed to economic justice, but there are also a lot of producers who don’t give a shit. If you’re a person with some disposable income, you can go to the store and buy a fancy vibrator and give yourself orgasms all the livelong day and feel sexually liberated.

And meanwhile, you’re
not necessarily thinking: Who made this vibrator? Who sold me this vibrator? What are the markets through which this is all operating? Who is my desire for orgasms potentially hurting?

We can see this mobilization of female sexual pleasure in the marketing of everything from magazines to mascara. We can also see it mobilized in an excuse to ignore female consent and agency — by men who pressure women to have sex, for example, by saying, come on, aren’t you so hip and chill?

We can see this in the contemporary American queer movement as well, which in the past fifteen or so years has become startlingly corporate.

If you walk down the street at New York City Pride, you know what signs are among the biggest? Home decorating stores. Home decorating stores have a field day during Pride. They are all about the homosexuals. They are just shouting their love for queers as loud as they possibly can.

Because, to be crass about it: Rich gays tend to like interior decorating.

Is that liberation for queers? I don’t know. It’s normalization, it’s mainstream-i-zation.

But for the underpaid queer kid working unforgiving hours for minimum wage in that very same furniture store? That pride sign is not necessarily liberating.

The Indian context is complicated and much different from the American context, because here you do still have Section 377, you do still have sexual cultures that penalize women for sexual self-expression in a form and to an extent we don’t see in the contemporary United States.

But I want to make one suggestion. Did anyone see that ad that came out on the Indian Internet this past summer, the long pretty video of the two pretty femme lesbians about to meet the one’s parents? Everyone was really excited about it.

It was exciting. It was a lovely ad. Representation is really exciting, and it was a sensitive and realistic representation of a kind of experience that is so often misrepresented, so often marginalized.

But also, clothing companies don’t exist to liberate queer people- they exist to sell clothes. The ad was trying to sell us clothes. Who made those clothes? Who profits from them?

Toward a radical politics of pleasure

Okay — so how do we fight this? How do we not surrender pleasure to either the right wing or to the market forces? How do we maintain that the richness of human experience is in and of itself significant? How do we insist upon the validity of feeling in the face of patriarchal logic that would dismiss female pleasure as unimportant?

We have been hearing gender and sexuality, gender and sex, sex and pleasure thrown around a lot lately in the debates on JNU. We’ve heard that JNU students dance naked in the evenings. If this is happening, I am miffed that I am not being invited.

We have heard from conservative political leaders that, supposedly in a day, JNU students go through 3,000 condoms. If people are using this many condoms, I wonder why I am not getting any action.

Why these allegations? Why does it seem, to this conservative logic, that anti-nationalism and sexual liberation, sexual “excess” go together? Why the equivalency between dissent and sexual liberation?

I think we can look to the rhetorics of love, the rhetorics of desire and pleasure, that we’ve seen surface around nationalism: The idea, for example, that the country can be personified as someone you should love.

The real danger that sexual pleasure can pose to conservative regimes is that if we are busy loving each other — if we are busy directing our passion and our energy and our pleasure toward our comrades, toward those we are in political solidarity with, toward people we don’t even know — if we are busy loving the basic human dignity of those we are supposed to be oppressing — then we can’t direct our energy toward loving abstract value systems, like nationalism, or racial supremacy, or class supremacy.

The JNU protests have been amazing not only in their fight for the freedom to dissent and their broader reclamation of student activism for the marginalized against the fascism of the elite — but they’ve also revealed to me the power of radical togetherness.

Stepping onto JNU’s campus for the first time two years ago felt like falling in love. In late August all the flowers are blooming and the light bends through the jungle at four, five in the afternoon. The feeling of being in comradeship with other people, in solidarity with other people, swells like the heat: Talking about cinema all afternoon, sipping chai and talking about politics all afternoon, making dinner, making love.

What I felt then and what I feel now, increasingly over the past few weeks of protest, is a feeling of friendship, a feeling of solidarity, a feeling of pleasure that transcends national boundaries.

As Umar Khalid, one of the sedition-accused JNU student activists, said in a speech last week: “Anti-nationals
of the world unite. Our love for the people knows no boundaries, knows no borders.”

Consent and pleasure are about sex, and sex is important in and of itself. But consent and pleasure are also about friendship. They are also more broadly about how women asserting our right to love and queer people asserting our right to love can rearrange our political commitments.

This is why people opposed to religious, racial, caste, socioeconomic equality get so nervous when people from different backgrounds love each other — because once you love someone who you are in a power relationship of oppression or privilege with due to some social structure, you begin to throw your own lot in with people besides yourself. That’s threatening to power structures that like to divide-and-conquer people into little groups.

Relationships are hard, friendship is hard, solidarity is hard, and the project of loving across power positions is very fraught.

But we need to retain our hope that our pleasure in each other’s sex, our pleasure in each other’s love, our pleasure in each others’ company, can be chosen.

And it can be chosen in ways that are not dictated by our social positions or by the logics of capitalism.

When I think of the radical potential of pleasure I think most of all of sipping tea in the afternoon with friends, and how that pleasure in each other’s company, each other’s conversation, each other’s love, is itself an act of identification that perhaps has the power to re-align our governments.


The cover photo is a movie poster from Mother India, a 1957 film about a woman whose virtuous struggle against poverty is often equated with the ideal Indian women. “Mother India” itself is a rhetorical image of the nation as a woman. It’s an image and a kind of rhetoric that those in the student movement have been using a lot to protest, among other things, the equation of national identity and “correct” female behavior.