Women in Lust – The Sex Goddess Project

In April of this year, I attended the Toronto International Porn Festival.  I spent a few hours watching films – and clips of films – curated from the last ten years of feminist pornography.  I am not a consumer, but I figured any sex educator worth her salt should dip in every now and again.  I’m glad I did: There was fun; there was joy; and consent was the order of the day.

My views of pornography had evolved over the years.  Consumer prevalence remains high.  An article in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality reports that, when asked about their recent online solitary arousal experiences, 91.7% of the men interviewed said they had watched sexually explicit videos involving men and women; and 47.4% of the women.  The sample: 239 young adults at a Canadian university.  Current mainstream heterosexual pornography, where the scenes are rough and misogynistic, appeals particularly to young adult males.  While they work for self-pleasuring, they are not so good at helping men figure out how to be good lovers.

There is quite a difference between what one considers to be great sex and popular depictions of sex aside from pornography.  On TV doc-and-police shows, the scene goes straight from the mutual recognition that two people want to get it on, to ripping off each other’s clothes at the nearest opportunity.  No slow build and little context.  And standard, gorgeous bodies.

In the new TV series, The Good Fight, so far, there is only one loving, ongoing intimate relationship – Maia and her wife – and sadly, their sexual intimacy gets splashed all over the Internet in retaliation for her father’s Ponzi scheme.  Maia’s mother has a long-term adulterous relationship with her brother-in-law.  Lucca the lawyer, (remember her from The Good Wife?) seems to be as cold blooded as The Good Wife’s Kalinda.  Diane Lockhart sleeps with her ex-husband, which she says the next morning, was nice, but then refuses to renew their relationship beyond friendship.

Perhaps the lack of relatable intimate relationships is a metaphor for the series’ theme of whom to trust.  After all, trust is the hallmark of a positive relationship.  And from vanilla to kink, consent needs to be the order of the day.

Enter Ricardo Scipio

Ricardo contacted me about his newest book, “The Sex Goddess Project”.  Huffington Post recently interviewed him about it and  included some of his photos.  I liked what I saw and willingly posted excerpts from his press release on my professional Facebook page.

Says Scipio,

“If sexual images were food, people would be inundated with cheap junk food. I wanted to create a body of work that offers something more nutritious and satisfying for the health conscious, more discerning palette.”

He sent me a preview of photos from his latest book.  Lucky me: I had the opportunity to peruse dozens of images of women having a lusty old time doing all kinds of sexual activities in a variety of positions with a variety of partners.  These images reminded me of those I had seen at the porn festival – except they are not porn.

Scipio is not producing porn, which he doesn’t watch and whose messages he abhors.

“I’m a lover of all things authentic, and porn isn’t authentic.”

“Women have for too long, and in too many cultures, had their sexuality suppressed – only to be pseudo-released within the stiflingly unkind world of porn. I’m extremely humbled and proud to provide a vehicle for women to unapologetically express themselves with love and authenticity; something porn cannot offer. Sex is way too important to leave in the hands of pornographers.”

His photos portray real people of all body types, skin tones, genders and orientations. One of his models said,

“This was important.  It was a chance to be an activist in the sensual world. To reclaim sex for the othered bodies. The fatties, the people of color. To call bullshit on the ones who say ‘we’ don’t do this simply because they had never seen it done.”

Many of the women in his photos are looking straight at the camera with a huge smile on their face.  It is not the come-on of porn: It’s “Look at me; I am having such a good time”.  Most of the focus is on their pleasure.

To be honest, I did not get a buzz from the photos; my pleasure as a viewer was aesthetic and political.

His models understand this:

“Let’s just say that the bloom is beginning to fade. I’m a 51-year old woman who is 150 lbs overweight…  After Ricardo asked if I would be photographed for his Sex Goddess book, I realized that showing the inner me – the one who loves sex and feels that it is her special, healing gift – should be shown in full daylight. Yes, I’m fat. Yes, I’m older. However, I don’t want to be shamed into feeling badly about my body because our culture deems it ‘ugly’ or ‘gross’ to be sexual if you’re of a certain age and size…”

I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the collection.  The book is not available to the general public – just to Scipio’s supporters and those who collect his work. However, in order to showcase the “ethos” of the project, he is planning an invitation-only online gallery screening for Canadians on May 20 and 21. Anyone can request an invitation.  I recommend that you do.

 

 

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Aging and sex – what do we really want?

Recently over coffee, a friend complained that none of her friends seemed to want to talk about their sex lives any more.  Bear in mind, we are both hovering around 70.  You might be thinking: of course your peers don’t want to talk about their non-existent sex lives.

And you would be wrong.  Several of my aging women friends have healthy libidos and a strong sense of themselves as sexual people.  But they are sad that health issues get in the way.

Despite my friend’s regret that her friends did not want to open up, because I am a sexual health educator, other women have been very chatty with me.

“I miss it”, said one.  “It’s not like we aren’t loving with each other, but I miss sex, the way we used to enjoy it.

“I feel a sense of loss”, said another.  Because of my partner’s medication, his libido is completely gone.  He is happy to please me when I initiate, but it feels so one-sided”.

“We’ve worked something out,” said a woman whose husband is disabled due to a stroke.  In other words, they have figured out how to be sexual by getting around the impediments.

“My partner is like a teenager.  In his early ‘70s, he is ready – and able – at any time.”

“When my husband was in his early ‘80s, he found that he was unable to have an orgasm after his prostate surgery, so intercourse went on too long and too painfully.  We finally just gave it up.”

When I told one of my friends that I wanted to quote her in this article, she wrote:

“I would add that it isn’t just “health” issues per se that gets in the way, but our naturally aging bodies.  I don’t consider my thinning vaginal wall that makes sex painful a health issue as much as one of the unfortunate consequences of my body – at this age, biologically speaking – not needing so much estrogen anymore.”

Quite the range of responses.  And I haven’t even asked my lesbian friends.

What does the research say?

I have written before about sexuality and aging  as well as the “joys” of online dating and the sexual pleasures of aging.  I have given workshops on the issue and spoken at conferences, but I can’t seem to let this topic go.  And the personal stories are so compelling.

The studies tell their own stories.

“One such study noted that, “61% of all women in this cohort were satisfied with their overall sex life. Although older age has been described as a significant predictor of low sexual satisfaction, the percentage of…sexually satisfied women actually increased with age, with approximately half of the women over 80 years old reporting sexual satisfaction almost always or always.” This confirmed an earlier study by the National Council on Aging which concluded, “Seventy-four percent of the sexually active men and 70% of the sexually active women reported being as satisfied or even more satisfied with their sexual lives than they were in their 40s.”

And lest we forget, no matter how we define “sex”, intimacy generally trumps sensation.  Alex McKay of SIECCAN  said in a talk on mid-life sex and STIs, that there was, in his opinion, a “six-minute rule”.  Quoting a study on heterosexual use of condoms, he said 71% of women who had 6 – 10 minutes of post sex affectionate behaviour rated their last penis in vagina (PIV) intercourse as ‘very pleasurable’ as opposed to 44% of women who experienced 0 – 5 minutes.

Health Canada is encouraging us to carry on as is the Canadian Public Health Association.

“Along with better health and active aging comes sex! A nationally representative sample of 3,005 Americans between 57 and 85 years of age revealed that nearly three quarters of seniors aged 57 to 64 were sexually active; while more than half of seniors aged 65 to 74 and more than a quarter aged 75 to 85 reported being sexually active.”

However, medication can interfere with one’s sex life at any age.  For example, “currently available antidepressants may aggravate sexual dysfunction and make depression worse, a new survey of US adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) suggests.”

There are other meds that can get in the way of sexual functioning.

And people get scared to become “active” after an illness like a heart attack.

“Although most younger patients are sexually active 1 year after an acute MI [AMI], one in 15 women and one in 20 men never resume one of life’s greatest pleasures, a new report finds.”

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

Another factor in maintaining sexual relationships into our ‘70s and ‘80s may be loss of interest, especially for those in long-term relationships.  Like lesbian bed death, for heterosexuals, the statistics are just a bit less “drastic”.

Then there are those older people having great sex, by which I mean at least connection and intimacy.  Others may be having more PIV sex because of erectile dysfunction medication, which may bring its own problems, like oppressive demands.  According to a study  back in 2003, “few studies have focused on the possible detrimental effects for women of Viagra use within a heterosexual relationship”.

“We argue that while previous medically-oriented research in this area has generally assumed an unproblematic link between Viagra use and the resumption of penetrative sex within heterosexual relationships, more attention needs to be paid to partners’ perspectives and desires, and to the specific dynamics of any given relationship.”

One wonders which people would choose: great sex without intimacy or intimacy without full sexual functioning.

I guess we want it all.  Love.  Intimacy.  Good sex, however we define “sex”.

Surely when there is open communication and a willingness to please, there is pleasure to be had.  If we see ourselves as desirable, some of that can translate into – if not desire and the mechanics that go with it – at least the desire to please.  And while some of us are wistful, others may be envious of others’ good fortune, however much of it “all” we have.

I look forward to hearing your stories.

Here are some disability resources that may be useful to people who are aging.

Great sex – January 9, 2013

Do you ever watch a movie, riveted by those slow, languorous, delicious lovemaking scenes; or the rip-your-clothes-off-and-get-sweaty-in-the-heat-of-the-moment scenes that make you want to howl at the moon: “I want that!”

Sex columnist, Dan Savage, says as partners, we are to be “good, giving and game.” I don’t know about you, but I think some more specific guidelines for good sex would be really useful.

A wonderful piece of research asked the question about great sex to an eclectic group of participants. I had jotted down the list below of the common themes that emerged, tucked it away and then forgotten where I’d seen it.

  • being present
  • connection
  • deep sexual and erotic intimacy
  • communication
  • interpersonal risk-taking and exploration
  • authenticity
  • vulnerability
  • transcendence

So this is my personal take on these themes.  Feel free to compare them to the original research.

Being present: We hear more and more these days about the importance of being fully present in all of our activities. When you are with someone—here and now—and they are with you too, your presence creates the basis for physical and emotional intimacy. If you are truly there with each other, every move you make, every caress and kiss given and taken with deliberation resonates with both of you.

Connection: Presence forms the basis for connection because you are embarking on a journey together. Although our sensations are our own, being connected to another person sensually allows both to appreciate the other’s sensations.

Deep sexual and erotic intimacy: No matter how simple or complex your sexual activity, you may feel like you have never done this activity in this way with anyone else before. There is nothing but feeling and connection. Turning on a partner can be very erotic, as is stripping away layers to get to basic instincts.

Communication: Think about what turns you on. Ask yourself about the key elements of why it turns you on. Now try to express this to a partner. When your partner asks you to say or do certain things, if you find yourself wondering why and want to find out, try to ask them from the viewpoint of true curiosity rather than criticism.

Perhaps the best example of good communication happens when you are trying something different, like adding a potentially charged sexual activity to your erotic repertoire. A colleague of mine adds to this, saying that when there is a “high degree of communication due to embarrassment and pain there is also a nod to the high degree of intimacy from joint discovery, new pleasures and the communication of desires that may feel taboo.”

Interpersonal risk-taking and exploration: If your partner suggests something or starts to initiate a new position or activity, the basis of this exploration is trust. If you make it clear you are ready to go there, clear communication now plays a vital role. Do you like it? If not, perhaps there something you can do that will make it more enjoyable/comfortable. If you don’t like it and want to stop, it is important that you can count on your partner to continue to think well of you and desire you as before. The same holds true if there is something you suggest that they reject.

Authenticity: This is not a movie (even if you are recording it for future pleasure). You are being as real with this person as you know how to be. Even if you are role playing, it is with the part of you that you are willing to share with your partner. How unfortunate that people sometimes feel they need to pretend enthusiasm for something that gives them no pleasure, either personally or through their partner’s pleasure.

Vulnerability: Acknowledge that this incredibly intimate activity can end in physical or emotional distress—or joy. If you are a survivor of sexual or emotional trauma, your partner has to pay particular attention to your sensibilities. If you have a disability and must put your trust in your partner’s assistance and tender caring, you are opening yourself completely, trusting that you will come to no harm. Anyone engaged in sexual activity is wide open: with concerns about physical “imperfections” and the secrets of the most intimate parts of their bodies. Breaking down barriers and allowing your partner to see your vulnerabilities is a great gift.

Transcendence: Did the earth move? Perhaps not, but how wonderful if while being in your body and present with your partner, you are still able to go somewhere you have never been before, whether it be a spiritual experience or a letting go that is so powerful you feel lost—and found—at the same time.

Sex after baby – November 28, 2012

After my first baby (18-hour labour plus episiotomy without anesthetic) I thought I would never let anyone near me again—not even myself. The thought of peeing or having a bowel movement was inconceivable. And yet, we continue to pee, shit and have sex. How do we get back to that beautiful place?

Every woman, every delivery and every baby is different, as is a woman’s relationship status at delivery. What follows are some general remarks about sex after baby.

No matter how “easy” or difficult the delivery, every woman has to heal after childbirth. With a Caesarean section, clearly the healing period is longer: it is major surgery. Immediately, the baby’s needs are paramount. Anyone who has heard a newborn cry can attest to that. If there is a partner on the scene, hopefully they get it. You are sore. You are tired. If you are breastfeeding, your vagina (when it heals) tends to be dry. Your libido has been tamped down by all of the above.

You may not feel particularly gorgeous. Some women spend their pregnancies feeling undesirable, others highly sexual. If you are breastfeeding, you may feel closer to other mammals than any human except your baby. You probably feel “touched out” and want to get some of your body integrity back.

That said, if you have a partner and you want them to stay in your life while you go through this incredible adjustment, it means sharing tenderness. Everybody gets some.

Hopefully, you were still engaged in some way with your partner right up to the birth, whether with loving words, sweet kisses, warm embraces or other sexual activity. Some pregnant women prefer fingers or oral sex to other vaginal activity, especially close to the birth. For others, all physical contact may have come to a full stop long before.

For these women, the road back to feeling sexual may take longer. It starts with reminding yourself why you wanted to have a baby with this person in the first place (if, indeed this was a wanted pregnancy). You will need to re-establish some physical contact with your partner as a basis for future sexual intimacy.

When you first start feeling like some kind of lovemaking might be a real possibility, you have to progress very slowly. If you want to give your partner some pleasure, now is a good time to revisit your sexual repertoire. Use your hand, your breasts, your mouth—or whatever else feels good—to make your partner feel good. If the day comes when you want your genitals touched, touch yourself first. See how it feels. Take it slowly. Can you put in a finger without cringing? Is the lube handy?

If you want to let your partner touch you, show them the way you did at the beginning of the relationship and say clearly, “this feels good, this not so much—oooh, that feels wonderful.” And just like having anal sex for the first time, you need to start small if anything is going to enter your vagina.

Some people are okay having sex with the baby in the room (some even have sex with the baby in the bed); but others find it easier to concentrate on their pleasure and their partner without having to worry about the baby waking up. So even though the baby may not be on a fixed schedule, try to find the most likely time to be alone. You may need to make a date and have someone take care of the baby while you and your partner rediscover each other.

If you are fully breastfeeding, you may not ovulate for several months. If you are not breastfeeding, you can get pregnant in six to seven weeks. That means finding a way to avoid a second pregnancy too soon after the first if you have a male partner.

When sex gets boring – September 5, 2014

I guess it depends on what you call “sex,” but sexual routines, even when they work, can become repetitive.

Although you may get off with partnered sex, you may also find yourself observing your pleasure rather than mindfully enjoying it. Author Carol Shields called it, “going through the motions of love.” If the running internal commentary sounds like this: “Now they’re going to move to the other nipple; now they’re going to check to see if I’m wet…” it doesn’t sound like fun. Recognizing that it’s no fun is a good place to start.

When boredom sets in, it may affect frequency of sexual contact, resulting in a discrepancy of desire in the couple. Of course, there may already be other relationship issues requiring attention. Avoidance, or a shoulder shrugging “let’s get it over with” attitude; or worse, the possibility of a real or implied threat of coercive sex, may lead to the end of the relationship entirely.

An article in The Walrus quotes the 2011 Canadian Living Intimacy Survey regarding frequency and mismatched desire. The study found that 53 per cent of Canadians would like to have sex a few times a week, but that 39 per cent are having sex a few times a month, and even less for 23 per cent of people surveyed. Amy Muise is lead author on the paper, Keeping the Spark Alive: Being Motivated to Meet a Partner’s Sexual Needs Sustains Sexual Desire in Long-Term Romantic Relationships which discusses this decline of sexual desire over the course of a relationship. The authors suggest that when desire decreases, couples should focus more on their partner’s needs. They call this “communally oriented sex” or “communal motivation:” “Being motivated to meet a partner’s sexual needs is beneficial to the self.” This approach differs from simply being accommodating; it means actively seeking to find out more about your partner’s needs, which involves better and more specific communication.

So let’s talk–about fun. Fun often includes excitement. I’ve sometimes wondered why some people find sexual role play so alluring. Then it struck me: it’s the ultimate “let’s pretend” that we enjoyed as children. It may bring back the thrill we get with a new partner and a new situation.

So, let’s pretend that you are with someone who may be open to a new game. How do you raise it? If you have always been sexually frank, it won’t be a problem. But if shyness and embarrassment are part of the reason you have not been able to say that you are bored with your routine, you may welcome a few tricks. In a professional workshop I attended years ago, a sex therapist gave the following suggestion: use the metaphor of treats. If you just feel like having a cuddle, slip a note under your partner’s pillow that says something like “cookie.” If you are looking for the whole shebang (sorry), write “Bavarian chocolate cake” or whatever your equivalent baked desire might be. Notes these days are more likely to be texts. An erotic text like, “let’s play a game tonight…” may open the door to a new experience.

The next time you are getting ready to be intimate, start small. “Do you remember when we first met? Do you remember where we were? Let’s pretend it’s that first time.” Then you can explore memories to set the scene. Some couples who are titillated by this first scene may want to move on to others.

Another possibility is playing “don’t touch me there.” Sex therapists often forbid certain sexual activities when there is a problem with orgasm in order to allow individuals and couples to explore other parts of the body with more attention. You can tell your partner that you want to play a game. They can only do X, Y or Z but not A, B or C. You could make it more exciting by begging them when you get really excited, to pl-e-e-ease touch you there (or to do A, B, or C) with the understanding that they are not supposed to give in.

There may be a sexual activity you’ve always wanted to try but you have been unable to ask for it. Again, a note or text might work, or you can do something out of character like renting a video that demonstrates it in great and graphic detail.

But some of you are shaking your head. You just want to be able to talk openly about an aspect of your sexual relationship that–you feel–needs work. Aside from overcoming the obstacle of finding the words and getting them out, you may be worried about hurting your partner’s feelings. Perhaps the next time you set out to be intimate, start with expressing appreciation. “I love it when you/we…Let’s do that some more the next time.” Or, “I remember once you did X. I fantasized about that for days. I’d love you to do that again.” Or, “you would probably enjoy Y and I would love to give you that pleasure.”

If you like your routine, fine. If you’re bored, fix it. Or at least enjoy trying.