Dr. Carol Queen’s “Sexy Sex Newsy News”

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For the Good Vibes’s Blog: Week of November 22-28, 2013

Now the Government Appears to be Tracking Porn Viewing
But not yours, citizen! Well, maybe yours. Apparently the porn-viewing being spied upon by the National Security Agency, New York Daily News tells us, is that of Muslim radicals and/or inspirational troublemakers whose porn-viewing habits would be at odds with their public image. Announcing what dirty birds they are would — somebody over at the NSA figures — shame them in the eyes of their followers. See, we’ve been saying all along that porn has positive cultural uses!* Though it’s sort of ironic that the government is anti-porn except when it needs to use porn to spy on people. That is deep. But listen, don’t worry about civil liberties! Freedom is good, and all you good people are using it for good things! Just remember that if you start using it for bad purposes, we know what’s on your queue.

*Joke.

One wonders how they sift all the bits and bytes to end up with nothing but a little pile of porn and Islamic radicalism. Some teenage hacker wrote this program so they wouldn’t send him to jail, I bet. And of course I believe them when they say they’re not spying on you and me — gee, why would they need to do that? Damn, but I was so hoping to learn a little more about Angela Merkel’s smut-viewing preferences. Feminist Euro-porn, I bet. But you never know.

Toxic Toys
Bitch Magazine has caught up with the toxic sex toy debate in a post dated November 20–sorry I missed it last week. This is a topic very close to our hearts around here at Good Vibrations, though the magazine didn’t touch base with us in writing the article. They do mention our pal The Redhead Bedhead’s list of “superhero shops:” honored to be among that august company! (Note: She’s part of our affiliate program, and we think SHE’S a superhero too!)

A little backstory on this subject: In the late 1990s I hosted a couple of German journalists at Good Vibes — then, as now, a principal part of my job. These Die Stern authors had traveled the world on a photojournalist tour, taking picture of sex toys being made and sold all over the place. The photographer was a slumming medical doctor, and walking into an Asian dildo factory he sniffed the air and basically said, “Hey, that’s not good.”

This was our distant early warning about phthalates, which European researchers subsequently have called out as especially problematic ingredients in sex toys (and other consumer goods). Little real information about them, or other possibly-toxic ingredients in toys, is conclusive, but alarms have sounded and the sex toy industry — after years of telling us there was no issue (yes, of course we asked, right away), or they couldn’t possibly do the research — has begun in earnest to look for alternate materials and take phthalates out of the mix. We’ve always known silicone was a better choice, since it’s easier to clean, and so it wasn’t terribly difficult for Good Vibes to move in the direction of healthier and, as we call it, more ecorotic® purchasing decisions. Other “superhero shops” have done the same, and it didn’t take long for the new vibrator companies to begin choosing silicone and other safer materials as a matter of course. The story doesn’t end there; plenty of toys are still made of questionable materials. But I have been doing interviews about these issues for well over a decade now — it’s a shame we weren’t given the opportunity to chat with Bitch — and the bottom line is, it’s good that safety is on the radar of customers, shops, manufacturers (some of them, anyway) and journalists/bloggers alike.

One other thing to note about this toxics question, which has been getting robust discussion at places like CatalystCon and many mentions in sex blogs: A lot of the people who are outraged that little is known about material safety (count me among them) also seem to feel that part of the problem is a lack of government oversight. I’d just like to remind everyone that we have a government that’s been nosing around in people’s porno-watching habits and that seems unmoved about the several states that still make buying pretty much ANY sex toy against the law. While you can still buy a nice zucchini in most of those places, the US is hardly a sex-positive locale on an official level when it comes to sex-related regulations and government procedures. And, um, choice?

Do you really, truly trust these guys with your dildos?

Regrets… I’ve Had a Few…
“Men and women have different regrets when it comes to sex,” announces Science World Report. I’ll say we do! In the first place, women regret that the people who did this research set it up the way they did. Yes, UCLA and University of Texas/Austin, I’m lookin’ at you.

“Researchers conducted three studies that involved over 24,000 people. [People in the aggregate? Or people=sophomores? -CQ] The first study involved participants who were told a hypothetical story in which the main character either took advantage of them or failed to take advantage of an opportunity to engage in intercourse. Participants were then asked to rank the main character’s level of remorse based on a five-point scale,” explains the SWR website, writing up the research that first appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. “The three studies suggest that men tended to regret missing an opportunity more, yet women tended to regret engaging in sex at all.”

Golly, yes! And may I just point out that when research includes an either/or like “the main character either took advantage of them [italics mine] or failed to take advantage of an opportunity to engage in intercourse,” even if the main character wasn’t gendered, in a culture that already shapes gendered expectation and experience the way it does, what are the odds that a gender-neutral outcome might have been had? Granted, a gender-neutral outcome may not have been what these academics wanted in the first place; then, you see, a headline like Men and Women have Different Regrets when it Comes to Sex just wouldn’t have made any sense at all.

In other sex, health, and research news: You’d better watch out for sugary drinks: new research has linked them to endometrial cancer — WWLP.com brings us that worrying tidbit.

And could it be true, as Medical News Today asks, that “oxytocin drugs men into monogamy”? (If that’s the case, I predict it will get hot on the black market.)

And of course the VERY big news from Surveylandia is the longitudinal UK sex survey that has just released the latest in its every-five-years research about attitudes and practices; the biggest headlines this time had to do with female sexual fluidity (which I personally discovered  in, like, 1973, so I’m not sure what took them so long) and the fact that many people whose experiences fit definitions of non-consensual sex and coercion didn’t identify as having had those experiences.

The UK research reports come via news-medical.net, Herald Scotland, the BBC, theconversation.com, the Guardian, and other sources. “Victims of sexual coercion are often blind to the crime,” headlined the Guardian. “New statistics show assault is often explained away as misunderstanding or a script of male initiative and female passivity.” According to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, “[i]n Britain one woman in 10 and one man in 70 have experienced sex against their will since they turned 13. More than half of them have never told a soul.” This reflects interestingly on the research that came out a couple of months ago on non-consensual sex in Asia; it’s bound to give a boost to discussions, over there anyhow, of rape culture and consent issues.

World AIDS Day
Since the Thanksgiving holiday slowed down my posting schedule, I will wish you all a safe and information-filled World AIDS Day; this afternoon we gathered at the Center for Sex & Culture to “celebrate” it, and there are plenty of articles this week to highlight various elements of the epidemic and its effects. The Voice of Africa News (voanews.com) explores the experiences of some longtime South African AIDS activists, from one of the world’s “belly of the beast” countries and one with a truly gripping history of culture and politics when it comes to dealing with the HIV pandemic. And Medical News Today brings up the unwelcome news that HIV deaths are up worldwide among the teenage population: “[T]he report revealed that among adolescents aged between 10 and 19, AIDS-related deaths increased by 50% from 71,000 in 2005 to 110,000 in 2012. The authors of the report state that this statistic suggests there needs to be additional funding and focus on ‘high-impact interventions’ to reduce AIDS-related death among teenagers. [These include] condoms, antiretroviral treatment, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical circumcision, communications for behavior change, and approaches targeted for marginalized and at-risk populations. Investments in education, social protection and welfare, and strengthening health systems are also deemed as high-impact mediations.”

Circumcision is a rant for another day — I have never liked the science that purports to support it — and what I really want to say about this is, if we continued to educate about prevention the way we did when there were no other alternatives to slow transmission, transmission would be slowed.

Catching Up with Previous Stories
Even More Body Image in the News!
Salon tells us that we really might be re-entering the Pubic Hair Zone! A small-ish survey in the UK written up by the always-fab Mary Elizabeth Williams not only showed that 51% of women are leaving their crotchular regions alone, razor-and-Brazilian-wax-wise, but that 62% of those women cited partners who preferred mons au naturel as their reason for leaving the hair there — interesting, given that you have to really take some time on an Internet search to find porn that incorporates much pubic fur. The article includes the welcome news that both Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga have spoken up for bush, and I don’t mean the retired presidents, of late — I can just hear the fuzz growing on the Little Monsters now. Williams does make sure to note — and I will ditto — that there’s nothing very scientific about this survey. But it was enough to freak people out who have watched tons of baldy-cooch porno. Or maybe there are affiliate programs for Glamour journos down at the corner spa, and they’re earning part of their living rah-rahing Brazilians.

Finally…
You already know that I count on Salon for a constant source of sex stories. I could barely do this column without them! Well, I could, but I’d have less fun doing it, and it’s smarter for having them out there. This week, following Salon sex links, I stumbled upon my old friend Lily Burana, via whose seminal (ovular! Gonadal!!) sexzine Taste of Latex I began my writing career, twenty-mumble years back. She was writing about body image too, actually — though I was older than all my old pals at the Lusty Lady, where I met her in 1990, she has finally also entered the moment in life when weight, not to mention gravitas, begins to accrue. Her way of dealing with this altered body? A hot dress! Her essay “Sexy Dresses that Barely Fit” is moving, charming, and lauds something I wrote about in Exhibitionism for the Shy: tight clothing. Za za! Oh, I know it isn’t always super-comfy. But you have a Snuggie at home for that.

Plus I will add just two words: hot shoes.

To all you butches, manly men, and other types to whom “hot dress and shoes” does not an erotic or comfortable self-image make, one word: tuxedo! Dudes, if it worked for Marlena Dietrich, I know it will work for you.

Finally finally, the New York Times brings us a terrifically interesting look at changing sexual mores in China. It does so through the lens of a Chinese sex expo, complete with porn performers, love dolls, and the kind of gizmos you know we love at Good Vibrations. The article includes the news that some of the sex toys and other gear being made in China are now actually being sold to people in China… something that was much less true when Robert and I visited Beijing 18 years ago, when dildos, such as they were, were sold as “condom dryers” in the sex shop, Adam Eve Health Center, we visited. The way the article illustrates the New China, including gender, sex, and commerce, is fascinating. Dig around at the NYT website and you’ll find an accompanying slideshow, too.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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