On consentual nonmonogamy

On sexuality

Consensual nonmonogamy is the practice or desire of having multiple partners with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. Recently there has been a push for nonmonogamy to be recognized as a sexual identity, so let’s talk about what exactly it means.

To start, some definitions of common terms:

  • Closed relationship: This is the ‘traditional’ relationship made up of two people with the expectation that neither has an additional partner.
  • Open relationship: An open relationship is typically made up of two people. There is an agreement that either partner can have sexual relations outside of the main relationship.
  • Polyfidelity: Multiple partners are involved in the relationship, as in a triad, but no one is allowed to take on outside partners.
  • Polyamory: This is a blanket term for multiple partner relationships.
  • Swinging: Focusing on recreational sex and not relationships.
  • Primary relationship: This is an individual’s closest relationship. The majority of their time, energy, and emotional connection is invested in this relationship.
  • Secondary: This is a less intimate relationship. Less energy and time are invested in this relationship.
  • Triad: This is a relationship involving three people. Each person is equally involved with the other two members.
  • Vee: This is similar to a triad. Instead of everyone having equal involvement, two people (the arms) have equal involvement with one person (the hinge) and less involvement with each other.
  • Compersion: Positive feelings that are felt when a partner finds joy or love in a partner other than oneself.

These aren’t all of the possible combinations of multiple partner relationships. There are countless different arrangements and styles of relationships.

Multiple partner relationships are often misunderstood as cheating. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The key to a successful relationship (monogamous or not) is communication and consent. This is even more important in multiple partner relationships. When the rules of a relationship are broken, then it is considered cheating. In monogamous relationship these rules sometimes aren’t openly discussed, but are more of a social expectation. In multiple partner relationships it’s vital to discuss the rules and expectations of each party involved. This can be anything from who can have sex with who, to emotional ties, to the approval of outside partners. If any of the rules are broken, it is considered cheating, just like it would be to a monogamous couple. Full consent to engage in a multiple partner relationship ensures that all feelings are out in the open. Each person involved must be happy with the arrangement in order for it to be as successful as possible. This communication and consent of all parties is the most important aspect of a nonmonogamous relationship.

The want or need for multiple partners is often labelled as greed or unhappiness with a current relationship. Again, this assumption is far from the truth. The increased communication that comes with multiple partner relationships often leads to stronger, happier relationships.  The concept of compersion comes into play here. This the excitement and happiness one partner feels when the other finds joy or love in a different partner. The feeling is often compared to the excitement you feel for a friend when they get a new job, or a promotion or something else positive in their life. With compersion also comes the threat of jealousy. This is where communication comes in again. People in multiple partner relationships tend to be more open with their emotions and better at communicating with others.

Another argument against nonmonogamy is the threat of STIs and pregnancy. In most cases of cheating safe sex isn’t practiced increasing the threat of contracting a STI or becoming pregnant. The opposite is true in multiple partner relationships. There is a noticeable increase in condom usage, sanitation, and STI testing. Most multiple partner relationships have what is called a “safe sex circle” or a “condom contract”, which is an agreement that dictates condom usage and testing rules for everyone.

Multiple partner relationships are not for everyone. They require strong relationships and lots of communication. Conflicting emotions and complicated situations can arise, so an open mind is vital. Even if you are a serial monogamous, it’s important to know what different issues are facing the world. As always, spread the good word, smash stereotypes, and keep informed.

Learn more here, here, or here!

Every best wish,

Julia

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On baseball and sex

On sex ed

It might be a problem that its hard to tell if someone is talking about baseball or their sex life when you’re eavesdropping on conversations. Another great TED talk I’m going to refer you to is by Al Vernacchio. He tackles the issue beautifully.

Baseball is the most popular metaphor America uses to talk about sex. The metaphor is toxic, but because its so ingrained into our culture, we fail to realize it.

First off there’s the bases. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and home run. Its a cycle. To get to second base you have to get to 1st. To hit a home run you have to pass through all three bases. Once you hit a home run, you have to start all over. Its expected that certain actions are done in a certain order and that’s how it has to go every time. If you go out of order, you’re breaking the rules.

The baseball metaphor assigns roles. Pitcher performs the act (usually expected of the more masculine counterpart) and the catcher receives (usually expected of the more feminine counterpart). You can be either one or the other. Lesbian or gay people play for the other team, creating a further divide and negative connotations.

Without thinking about it, talking about sex in terms of baseball seems fine. Once the metaphor broken down, it becomes obvious how harmful it can be.

To start, its competitive. Baseball is a game. Games have a winner, but that means there has to be a loser, too. Instead of the people involved working together, they are competing.

There’s an overload of expectation and goal setting. When its game time, you play. If it’s Valentine’s Day, or prom night, or an anniversary, or your parents aren’t home, you’re expected to play. Just like with baseball, players can’t tell the coach they just aren’t up for playing today. There’s also the expectation of finishing the game. ‘Hitting a home run’ usually refers to penetrative sex ending in an orgasm. If there isn’t a home run, then the game wasn’t successful. This isn’t the case with sex. Orgasm is not always the goal, and shouldn’t always be the goal. If you get to second base and really like it there, you shouldn’t have to move until you want to. Adding the goal of orgasm adds undue pressure to everyone involved. This is especially harmful to people who are just starting to have sex and beginning to explore their sexuality. It can be very high stress and adding extra pressure is unhealthy. In a game you are always expected to follow the rules. Now don’t get me wrong. Sex has rules (consent and safety!) no matter how you look at it. With the baseball metaphor, those rules are rigid. If you break them, you get thrown out of the game. There is no room to go outside the box or experiment. With sex, those opportunities need to be there and be had safely. Relationships and sexuality are more fluid than the baseball metaphor makes them out to be.

The metaphor is also heteronormative and limiting. Baseball with all its bases and bats and dugouts talks only about penetrative sex involving a penis and a vagina. This only further emphasizes the misunderstanding that penetrative sex is the only way to go. This isn’t the case.

Vernacchio talks about all of the above mentioned problems with the baseball metaphor and proposes an new way to talk about sex. Pizza. You see with pizza, there’s no expectation or competition or right way.

With the baseball metaphor, you play the game whenever you are expected to. With pizza, you only eat when you’re hungry. If you don’t want pizza, you don’t have to have any. You only eat pizza with somebody else when both of you want pizza. When it’s thought of as a want and not a need or an expectation, sex tends to be safer and the associated thoughts tend to be more positive.

Pizza is never a competition. It’s an experience. That’s what sex should be. Instead of a high stress environment, riddled with rules and expectations, its a nice experience you share with other people.

The most valuable part of the pizza metaphor is the inherent communication. Before you order pizza, you talk about what you want. What toppings, what size, what you like and what you don’t like. There is compromise, but in the end, everyone gets what they want. You can get the usual, or you can try something new. Afterwards, you talk about the pizza. You ask yourself if you liked it, if you want to try a different kind, or if you want to order from someplace else. Communication is carried through the whole experience to ensure that everyone is satisfied.

There is no right or wrong way to eat pizza. You can eat it with someone else or with a group of people or all by yourself. You can have whatever toppings you want and you can eat as much or as little as you want.

The pizza metaphor isn’t perfect, but its much healthier than the current one we’re using. In order for sex ed to be as good as it can be, we need teach ourselves to communicate. We need to ask questions and come up with answers so everyone is safe and satisfied. America is losing interest in baseball anyway. Let’s adapt.

Every good wish,

Julia

On intersectionality

On feminism

Intersectional feminism is a phrase that has been thrown around a lot recently. It can be a confusing concept, but it’s important to understand.

Intersectionality is a theory or study of intersecting social identities and how they relate to systems of oppression or discrimination. Translation: things like race, orientation, identity, etc create a bunch of different layers of discrimination. The term was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 when she was the professor of law at UCLA in a paper titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimintion Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antirasict Politics”. She started to use the term after she heard the story of Emma DeGraffenreid and a few other black women who sued General Motors for discrimination. The company hired black people and the company hired women, so the claim was dismissed. The court wasn’t seeing a vital part of the picture. The only black people hired were men and the only women hired were white. DeGraffenreid and the other women were caught in the intersection of the two factors of gender and race. This experience she called intersectionality.

According to Crenshaw in her powerful TED Talk, the problem was one of frame. The courts didn’t have a frame through which they could see DeGraffenreid’s problem, and no word to use when talking about it. When there is no way to discuss an issue, those affected fall through the cracks and are forgotten. It can be assumed that if an issue effects black people and women, then black people who are women and women who are black people will be protected by the solution. She refers to this as a “trickle down approach to social justice”.  This one size fits all approach to feminism is harmful and ineffective. If the problem isn’t viewed with concern for ALL members of the targeted group, then the problem won’t go away. The attempt at inclusivity erases the specific group of issues that face different subgroups of the movement. It is the #AllLivesMatter of feminism.

Here’s a quick example of how this would work. A company sets a goal of hiring more women. 70% of the applicant pool are women of color. The company reaches their goal of hiring more women, but only 10% of the new workforce is made up of women of color. The male portion of the workforce has equal employment for different races. The company doesn’t discriminate in terms of gender or race, but when you combine race and gender there is discrimination. That is where intersectional injustice can be seen and fought against.

This problem of intersectionality has grown from a race issue to an issue that effecting every woman who experiences multiple levels of social injustice. Crenshaw brings up issues of homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, and xenophobia. There are countless others she doesn’t list.

Some people don’t experience intersectional social injustice in their lives. That doesn’t mean that it is not an issue. For feminism to be effective and inclusive, it has to be intersectional. Women of color, trans women, women of a low socioeconomic status, gay women, disabled women, older women, women with mental disabilities, and others experience discrimination for things other than gender. Ignoring their struggles only sets everyone back.

Intersectionality isn’t the thing that will magically make discrimination and oppression disappear. Intersectionality will bring those who are forgotten back into the eye of the public so they can finally be helped. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be an easy change. With work and effort the concept of intersectionality won’t be foreign and policies will finally reflect and work in favor of everyone.

Every good wish,

Julia

On inclusive sex ed

On sex ed

Part of my goal is to get some comprehensive, inclusive sex ed out there. Based off my experience in a high school health class, I can assume that most teens, at least in Alaska, aren’t getting the information they need. I  was taught a week long lesson of abstinence only sex ed and was a list of contraceptives and their pregnancy prevention rates. I learned more about sex and my body from the period tracker app on my phone than I did from a course that is supposed to prepare me for the rest of my life. That’s a huge problem. Teens aren’t being informed, and so many end up being misinformed. Late night google searches often lead to misinformation. Most teenagers don’t know how or where to get medically accurate, comprehensive sex education and it is vital that they do. I’m not blaming anyone, but sex ed in high school is due for an update.

First off, I’m going to define ‘abstinence only’ sex ed.  It teaches high school students not to have sex outside of marriage. It sometimes teaches safe sex (male condom usage), birth control (the pill), but not always. There’s a few problems here. First off, male condoms aren’t the only option. Neither is the pill. The problem isn’t abstinence. The problem is students are only being taught abstinence. Abstinence is great if that’s what’s right for you.  According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which is done by the CDC, and last administered in 2015, on average 11 out of every 30 Alaskan high school students have had sex. That means that under the current curriculum about 1/3 of adolescent Alaskans aren’t getting the information they need to be having safe sex.

No matter how you feel about sex, it should be taught safely. Teenagers should be getting the information that they need to have sex safely. The consequences are awful and are already being seen. According to the CDC, Alaska consistently ranks within the top 10 of states when it comes to chlamydia and gonorrhea cases. By the way, I wasn’t taught what either of these STIs were. Alaska also ranks in the top 15 for teenage pregnancy.

I understand many people, especially in Alaska, aren’t open about sex. They don’t have to be, but I’d like to ask the schools to teach teenagers how to put on a condom, or at least where to get one. Also, I never heard the word clitoris in any sort of health class. If the curriculum doesn’t teach sex as pleasure, that’s acceptable, but everyone should know their own anatomy. In the long run, it will benefit everyone.

Another issue is the heteronormativity of sex ed.  One of the arguments against LGBTQ+ sex ed is that not all teenagers identify as such. Well, not all teenagers are straight either. Teaching inclusive sex ed will not “turn your children gay”, it will just allow those who aren’t straight to have sex safely, just as their straight peers.

The only protection that is taught is a condom and those are only the condoms that go on penises. For those who aren’t so keen on penises, how do they have safe sex? It’s not taught in school. I didn’t know what a dental dam was until I saw the term in a Buzzfeed article. No one should have to depend on information from Buzzfeed to be safe. Many people don’t know how sex between two women even works. The same can be said for men. Anal sex is one of the less common ways same sex male couple have sex. Still, that’s what is talked about the most. It is not taught safely, either. As society becomes more inclusive, so should education. What I’m getting at is that not all sex is male to female or involves any sort of penetration. There are options and all should be taught safely.

Lastly, sex ed is not taught universally. In Alaska sex ed is not in good shape. The information I got was seriously lacking, but I was one of the luckier ones. In rural communities of Alaska, some don’t have any sex ed at all due to funding issues. This only adds to the problems that are already present. There is so much work to be done here, and this post is just the beginning of a very long series.

Every good wish,

Julia

YRBS 2015

YRBS Website

CDC STI Statistics