Tag Archives: sex

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Ellen Burstyn’s Lessons on Survival

On the Death, Sex, & Money podcast:

When Burstyn was 18, she got on a Greyhound bus going from Detroit to Dallas. She had 50 cents in her pocket and a hunch that she could find work as a model. The actress and director, known for her roles in Alice Doesn’t Live Here AnymoreThe Exorcist, and Requiem For a Dream, says she’d never do that now. But back then, she didn’t doubt herself.

It wasn’t the only risk she took as a young woman. At 18, she’d already gotten pregnant and had an illegal abortion. By her mid-20s, determined not to just get by on her looks, she left Hollywood to study acting with Lee Strasberg. In her mid-40s, after leaving an abusive marriage, she starred as a newly single mom in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The role was based in part on her own life, and it won her an Oscar.

Now, at 81, she told me she is most proud of her relationship with her son, whom she adopted at birth. “I really think of myself as a work in progress,” Burstyn told me as we sat in wicker furniture in her Manhattan bedroom. “I know I’m a successful actress, but I don’t feel I’m necessarily a successful person.”

Dan Savage says infidelity isn’t a problem in his marriage, but money is

Dan Savage Says Cheating Happens. And That’s OK. – Death, Sex & Money podcast.

Good podcast, but not a great headline. Savage doesn’t say cheating is ok. He says you should decide with your partner what your commitment will be regarding other sexual partners, and then honor that commitment.

He also says that most monogamous marriages experience cheating at least once, and that’s not OK. It’s WRONG WRONG WRONG. But if you love each other, the marriage can survive it and do OK afterward.

Savage describes his own marriage as “monogamish.”

The cats held a meeting last night on my bed

Whatever the meeting was about, it must have been important, because they were quite worked up about it. I participated by waking up, sitting bolt upright and shouting swear words. Which startled Julie, who was still awake and reading in bed.

Not long afterward, Sammy, our male cat, decided to have carnal knowledge of my feet. He got so excited he bit down on my toe, which was protected only by a thin blanket. I shot bolt upright again and swore at Sammy. He scrammed. I guess he doesn’t like dirty talk during sex.

So if I seem to be tired and cranky today, that’s why.

Peter Thiel makes the case for his bankrolling the Gawker lawsuit

Peter Thiel, The New York Times:

Last month, I spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland because I believe our country is on the wrong track, and we need to solve real problems instead of fighting fake culture wars. I’m glad that an arena full of Republicans stood up to applaud when I said I was proud to be gay, because gay pride shouldn’t be a partisan issue. All people deserve respect, and nobody’s sexuality should be made a public fixation.

Unfortunately, lurid interest in gay life isn’t a thing of the past. Last week, The Daily Beast published an article that effectively outed gay Olympic athletes, treating their sexuality as a curiosity for the sake of internet clicks. The article endangered the lives of gay men from less tolerant countries, and a public outcry led to its swift retraction. While the article never should have been published, the editors’ prompt response shows how journalistic norms can improve, if the public demands it.

Not mentioned here: The vast databases of private information compiled by business and government in the name of marketing and national security. That kind of information is potentially far more damaging to far more people than sex tapes.

Also, while Thiel is right that even public figures have a right to privacy,I don’t want to live in a world where billionaires decide the boundaries of legitimate journalism. (See also.)

Teaching kids about how life is hard sometimes

Birds & Bees [This American Life/podcast]:

Some information is so big and so complicated that it seems impossible to talk to kids about. This week, stories about the vague and not-so-vague ways to teach children about race, death and sex – including a story about colleges responding to sexual assault by trying to teach students how to ask for consent. Also, a story about how and when to teach kids about the horrors of slavery and oppression in America.

No kidding, I had my heart in my mouth listening to the final segment. I was walking the dog in the park in the afternoon around people and I nearly had tears in my eyes for this:

About that Farm Upstate
While it’s hard to explain to kids how babies come into the world, it might be harder to explain that people leave the world too — especially to a kid whose mom or dad or brother or sister has died. There are grief counseling centers all over the U.S. that cater specifically to children. Reporter Jonathan Goldstein visited one in Salt Lake City.

Particularly beautiful and sad: Kids who learn, and learn to accept, that their father or a sibling committed suicide.

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Today, we refer to a man inviting a woman to dinner as “traditional.” At first it was scandalous: A woman who arranged to meet a man at a bar or restaurant could find herself interrogated by a vice commission. In the 1920s and ‘30s, as more and more middle-class women started going to college, parents and faculty panicked over the “rating and dating” culture, which led kids to participate in “petting parties” and take “joy rides” with members of the opposite sex.

By the 1950s, a new kind of dating took over: “going steady.” Popular advice columnist Dorothy Dix warned in 1939 that going steady was an “insane folly.” But by the post-war era of full employment, this form of courtship made perfect sense. The booming economy, which was targeting the newly flush “teen” demographic, dictated that in order for everyone to partake in new consumer pleasures — for everyone to go out for a burger and root beer float on the weekends — young people had to pair off. Today, the economy is transforming courtship yet again. But the changes aren’t only practical. The economy shapes our feelings and values as well as our behaviors.

The generation of Americans that came of age around the time of the 2008 financial crisis has been told constantly that we must be “flexible” and “adaptable.” Is it so surprising that we have turned into sexual freelancers? Many of us treat relationships like unpaid internships: We cannot expect them to lead to anything long-term, so we use them to get experience. If we look sharp, we might get a free lunch.

But for all the hand-wringing, this kind of dating isn’t any more transactional than it was back when suitors paid women family-supervised visits or parents sought out a yenta to introduce their children at a synagogue mixer. Courtship has always been dictated by changes in the market. The good news is that dating is not the same thing as love. And as anyone who has ever been in love can attest, the laws of supply and demand do not control our feelings.

Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy – Moira Weigel, The New York Times

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Emily Bazelon examines the question in an in-depth New York Times report incorporating many interviews with prostitutes – they call themselves “sex workers” – and former prostitutes who advocate legalization. The article also interviews opponents of legalization, many of them also former prostitutes, who are fighting to stamp out the practice around the world:

“Like many feminists, I’m conflicted about sex work,” says Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, which took a stand in favor of decriminalization four years ago. “You’re often talking about women who have extremely limited choices. Would I like to live in a world where no one has to do sex work? Absolutely. But that’s not the case. So I want to live in a world where women do it largely voluntarily, in a way that is safe. If they’re raped by a police officer or a client, they can lay a charge and know it will be investigated. Their kid won’t be expelled from school, and their landlord won’t kick them out.”

Prostitution’s opponents point to the bad effects: Violence, drug addiction, disease, psychological harm. Advocates of legalization say those ill effects could be mitigated or eliminated when sex workers have access to legal protections. Prostitution’s opponents say the practice inherently contributes to objectifying women.

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Listen with headphones on

On the Love + Radio podcast: A woman calls a dating phone line only to find it’s more of a phone sex line.

I listened to this while walking in the park, as I usually do with podcasts. The first part I was self-conscious because I was essentially listening to phone sex in public, even though I had my earbuds in and no one could hear it. Then I was self-conscious because I was laughing so hard.

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“I’m thoroughly disgusted that I alone must bear the burden of my observations.”

“The Voyeur’s Motel” is a brilliant and disturbing “New Yorker” article from 84-year-old journalist Gay Talese:

I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.

The voyeur, Gerald Foos, says in his 30 years as a peeping Tom, he witnessed a murder that he unwittingly instigated. He never reported it to police.

30 years of voyeurism made Foos a cynic.

… basically you can’t trust people. Most of them lie and cheat and are deceptive. What they reveal about themselves in private they try to hide in public. What they try to show you in public is not what they really are.”

Foos considers himself a scientist.

“I hope I’m not described as just some pervert or Peeping Tom,” he said. “I think of myself as a pioneering sex researcher.”

Talese also did a little peeping while visiting Foos to verify the story, although he does not describe himself as being aroused by it. Like Foos, Talese no doubt considers himself a dispassionate observer working for a greater cause. The difference between the two is that Foos worked in secret, while Talese has as worldwide audience, respect, and acclaim.

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Porn is a public health crisis

The scientific evidence is decisive – porn causes a broad swathe of harm across multiple segments of society.

There’s a significant positive association between porn use and attitudes supporting violence to women.

Gail Dines, professor of sociology at Wheelock College in Boston and author of “Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality,” at the Washington Post:

Because so much porn is free and unfiltered on most digital devices, theaverage age of first viewing porn is estimated by some researchers to be 11. In the absence of a comprehensive sex-education curriculum in many schools, pornography has become de facto sex education for youth. And what are these children looking at? If you have in your mind’s eye a Playboy centerfold with a naked woman smiling in a cornfield, then think again. While “classy” lad mags like Playboy are dispensing with the soft-core nudesof yesteryear, free and widely available pornography is often violent, degrading and extreme.

In a content analysis of best-selling and most-rented porn films, researchers found that 88 percent of analyzed scenes contained physical aggression: generally spanking, gagging, choking or slapping. Verbal aggression occurred in 49 percent of the scenes, most often in the form of calling a woman “bitch” and “slut.” Men perpetrated 70 percent of the aggressive acts, while women were the targets 94 percent of the time. It is difficult to account for all of the “gonzo” and amateur porn available online, but there is reason to believe that the rented and purchased porn in the analysis largely reflects the content of free porn sites. As researcher Shira Tarrant points out, “The tube sites are aggregators of a bunch of different links and clips, and they are very often pirated or stolen.” So porn that was produced for sale is proffered for free.

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“Talese had an obligation as a citizen to reveal Foos’ creepy, dangerous, illegal behavior, and did not do so.” [Isaac Chotiner – Slate]

Gerald Foos owned a motel with an intricate series of peepholes through which he spied on his customers’ sexual liaisons for 30 years. Journalist Gay Talese kept Gerald Foos’s secret for years. Talese even participated in the voyeurism at least once. Talese did not intend to write about Foos, though eventually Talese did.

What public interest is served here?

Motel owner spent 30 years spying on his guests’ sex lives, considered himself a “researcher”

In a handwritten note to writer Gay Talese in 1980, Colorado motel owner Gerald Foos described how he had been spying on customers’ sex lives through a network of peepholes in the rooms’ ceilings. Foos said he’d been taking notes, which he offered to share for Talese’s upcoming book, “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” in exchange for a confidentiality agreement.

True to his word, Foos had taken meticulous notes, filling reams of paper with his observations of cheaters; closeted gay people; swingers; forbidden interracial couples; gigolos; feuding holiday makers; fetishists, and more, across a wide swathe of human sexuality. Foos’s notebooks — which he began to send to Talese — were full of self-serving and increasingly cynical and detached observations in a mock-clinical style that chronicled Foos’s slide into a kind of obsessive misanthropy that left him hating the people he couldn’t look away from….

Foos is a bizarre and fascinating character. He considers his own spying to be harmless, but rails at state surveillance, lauding Snowden as a heroic whistleblower and deploring the NSA’s mass surveillance. He eventually released Talese from his confidentiality agreement, believing that the statute of limitations had run out on his last act of spying (he was forced to quit in 1995, when arthritis made it too difficult for him to ascend to his surveillance attic).

Should a journalist’s confidentiality agreement extend to knowledge of criminal acts?

Motel owner spent 30 years spying on his guests’ sex lives, considered himself a “researcher” [Cory Doctorow – Boing Boing]

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[D]espite the flames egding closer to him and smoke inhalation causing him to cough, he was adamant he wanted to stay until the end of the film.

This forced firefighters to race into the shop called SexyAngel, located on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, known as the ‘square mile of sin.’

The man was found by what authorities described as a ‘state of high sexual arousal’ and dragged from the burning shop.

[Customer at German sex shop which was burning to the ground around him had to be rescued by firefighters because he refused to leave until he reached the climax of Throbbin Hood / Alan Hall / DailyMail.com]