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.

The sexual pleasures of aging

There are plenty of articles about sex and aging.  I have written a few myself (http://www.cwhn.ca/en/networkmagazine/olderwomenandsexuality).  For women, the advice seems to boil down to “use lube”; and for men, “consider Viagra”.  But erectile dysfunction is not inevitable; neither are dryness and vaginal atrophy.

According to this article on testosterone therapy for women (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/855874_1?nlid=95444_1842), “Although sexual problems generally increase with aging, distressing sexual problems peak in midlife women (aged 45-64 y) and are lowest in women aged 65 years or older.”  Lest one might think distress is lower in this age category because we have given up on sex, some of us who are 65 and older are having regular and satisfying sexual activity with no need for aids of any kind.

Granted, older people may be ambivalent about aging and sexuality.  Slyly, or perhaps subconsciously, some of us seek compliments by making constant reference to our age.  Some struggle mightily to maintain health through diet and exercise; and sexiness through cosmetic surgery, fast cars, high heels and hip replacements.  Some (women) work really well with their aging beauty; for others, it’s a fight to the death.

Still others cultivate the sexlessness of old age.

Distaste about sex and aging are fuelled by stereotypes.  Robin Williams’ brilliant bit on Viagra (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFM11SmoxfI) is funny but also disparaging: the comic juxtaposition of sex and age.  The Cat in the Hat on Aging is not much better (https://medicalhumour.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/the-cat-in-the-hat-on-aging/).

In his book of poetry, The First Little Bastard to Call me Gramps, CBC broadcaster Bill Richardson bemoans aging in the same vein (http://www.westender.com/news-issues/vancouver-shakedown/bill-richardson-west-end-bard-1.2122654).  Mr. Richardson and his interviewer laughed heartily over “pizza dough” skin and the horror of imagining older people having sex. (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thenextchapter/farzana-doctor-on-the-dark-side-of-vacationing-and-bill-richardson-on-the-funny-side-of-aging-1.3383121/bill-richardson-on-late-middle-age-1.3383129).  I was not amused.

Because we do.  Have sex.   

Granted, everyone’s definition of “having sex” is different.  LGBTQ people do not have the monopoly on opening up the language.  As long as we have skin and nerve endings, we can delight each other with languorous kisses, caresses, genital and anal play – and call it what we like.

There may be challenges to some of our sexual activities: physical challenges like disabilities; specific conditions like diabetes, stroke or high blood pressure and changing hormones; there may be pain, limited mobility, incontinence, difficulty with erections/lubrication.  There may be societal challenges, like body image, lack of privacy, societal disapproval or expectations.

But there are also some real advantages.

  • If pregnancy was once an issue, it is no longer.
  • If you don’t conform to the societal version of beauty, neither does your partner.
  • We’ve learned to take our time.
  • By now, we have a pretty good idea of what pleases us.
  • Over time, we have developed more skills to please others.
  • We are learning to be more creative.

The newly single can put old routines aside

Many older people have lost their long-term partner to divorce or death.  With a bit of courage and a lot of luck, they can seek and find a new partner.  A new partner can really get the juices flowing no matter one’s age.  It’s exciting to explore a new body and see the delight in someone’s eyes as they explore yours.  Moreover, with a new partner, we have a chance to finally get it right, communicating about safer sex, for example; but above all – communicating about pleasure.  While the need for accommodation may require discussion, we can also talk about what’s on or off the menu.  We can try new out sexual positions, fantasies, role plays – that we may never have had the courage to mention in a previous relationship.  We can see the beauty in each other and feel free to say it out loud.  (I don’t know what their sex life will be like, but when Downton Abbey’s butler, Carson says he finds Mrs. Hughes beautiful, we see it too.)  We can savour long sessions of lovemaking in the privacy of our older adult cocoon.

What about orgasm?

Orgasm is lovely.  Multiple orgasm is lovelier.  The goal of “getting there” is controversial http://dodsonandross.com/blogs/eric-amaranth/2014/09/about-trip-or-about-orgasm.  The language itself is goal-oriented; viz., “achieving orgasm”.  I would argue that enjoying the moment – the long, lovely moment of a sexual session – is the goal rather than any particular sensation.  Watching your partner’s pleasure, or keeping your eyes closed to concentrate on those sensations, paying attention to each other’s ongoing pleasure, are in themselves a satisfying turn-on.

Like any two people making love, having sex, or whatever they choose to call it, older people seek to give and to take pleasure.  Our generation remembers Alex Comfort’s original “Joy of Sex” and we are now quietly (or not so quietly) contributing to the latest edition.