THEME: Sex, Love & Intimacy
Intimate conversations about sex and body stuff forge fast bonds between friends. I’m hard-pressed to think of a close friend with whom I have avoided either of these subjects. Hi, my name is Carrie Bradshaw and Like many women, I have an on-call investigatory committee, ready to seriously assess/ dissect abnormalities and trends, or provide a laugh when necessary. A perfect example: the prospect of bleaching one’s asshole, as illustrated by Chelsea Handler. I have, for instance, a sex educator pal, faithful in her willingness to discuss opinions on everything from kinks to bodily freak-outs. She also isn’t afraid to use the word fuck to a great extent, which I find reassuring. She’s the Shazza to my Bridget Jones. Also on speed dial: a friend from elementary school who’s gamely unstuck me from more than one dressing room lingerie garment, and another who keeps me on consultation for sex toy shopping (she thinks I know things).
I recently visited a jjimjilbang in Seoul (with LG, incidentally, talk about bonding!). This is a traditional bathhouse – not unlike an Onsen, Banya or Turkish bath, which are fantastic and deserve an in-depth travel post – in which, mostly, you are naked, segregated by sex. I love hanging out with other naked women in a non-sexualized setting. I find it to be a soothing way to normalize body acceptance. While my male friends assume that I grew up seeing naked women in locker rooms, sadly, the norm for 90s public schools was embracing the Never-Nude. Seeing even a boob was abnormal, in my experience. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Buzzfeed published a video of besties seeing each other naked for the first time. For a generation of women who send naked photos to (potential) lovers, it’s shocking how many have yet to whip out their business around their friends. For those of you waiting in anticipation: yes. I have now seen LG’s business.
So, I have a life-long fascination with “normal”. I’m not talking about what is reportedly “average,” but rather, an understanding what people do when they get down to (monkey) business. The amount of safe, consensual sex available is mind-blowing. (Despite this, research on sex is woefully underfunded and underrepresented. For now, my curiosity predominantly relies on anecdotal evidence.)
Like Meg, my first encounters with sex involved Barbie. I didn’t grow up with older siblings, so my knowledge on the subject largely relied on (mis)information dispelled through older sisters of childhood friends. My Barbie boinked because it was totally normal, duh, don’t be a loser. It never really occurred to me that Barbie didn’t boink; doll mounds be damned. I normalized Barbie’s vanilla sexual preferences: Ken was always on top, sometimes they did it in the van, and it never lasted long. Our imaginations were not well informed, thank god.
A few years later, I distinctly remember being ignorant about the significance of a friend’s sister getting fingered. She was in high school; we were in sixth grade. The gravity of such gossip caused me to display upon my face an appropriate mix of intrigue and understanding, but inside my head I was visually negotiating why on earth anyone would want someone else’s finger to go in there. Not to mention what it would be doing once it reached its destination. This was around the same time I was still not convinced of tampons, as our gym teacher’s demo seemed to indicate that the whole shebang (applicator included) should fit up there. And STIs happened (were created) during sex, rather than the, critically distinct, idea that STIs could be transferred from one partner to another during sex. Suffice it to say, I learned my vagina was full of wizardry (the only true fact).
In high school, a friend recounted her first attempt at a blowjob after class one afternoon. She was totally flummoxed as to why her male companion hated it. “I put it in my mouth and blew it – like a trumpet,” she said. We shook our heads. Consternation. Makes total sense, we all nodded in agreement, excellent technique. Seemed like what was written on the tin. Ah well, another mystery for the universe. (Now seems like a good time to remind the reader that the internet did not exist yet as a repository for this kind of information. Much of our knowledge came from rumor, conjecture and vicarious experimentation; the kind of intel gathered in hallways and at sleepovers.)
As a grown-up woman person, I love talking about sex. The more comfortable I’ve gotten with sex (and myself), the more I’ve shared with close friends and lovers. The more I’ve shared, the more information I’ve unearthed. Excavating a new tidbit of information fills me with a small dose of educational euphoria.
When I was younger and blissfully ignorant to the misogyny of Cosmo, I would dive into the magazine fully keen to know more about how to please my man (the one I didn’t have yet) by, say, covering him in a deluge of whipped cream. (Pro tip: deluges involving food can be sticky and troublesome. Proceed with caution). I’ve come a long way since those days. With a more nuanced view of sex and bodies, I now delve into the likes of Dan Savage and do my best to keep up with all the varied conversations taking place about boundaries, consent, feminism, sex positivity, etc. In some cases, this is essential to the policy research I’ve done related to sex work, and/or sexual abuse. When I can, it’s for fun.
As for bodies, I’ve said before that emphases on beauty are overrated. There is a lot of pressure to love your body. I get it: one should be nice to one’s body by feeding it good things, taking it to nice places, making sure it has what it needs and challenging stereotypes and expectations. But an all-encompassing, unconditional love is a tall order. For me, I chose to put more stock in trying to appreciate and respect my body. My body is only one aspect of me – and it will always change and get weirder or better. We tend to emphasize polarizing descriptors. Saying I don’t love (something about) my body doesn’t mean I hate it or take it for granted. (Conversely, saying something nice about myself doesn’t make me conceited.) We should be allowed to love our bodies as imperfectly as we love anything.
Embracing imperfections has always been subjective, and selectively empowering. I mean here: choosing to “embrace” an imperfection, whatever it may be, as a state of mind AS WELL AS the subjectivity of embracing a particular feature. For instance, I had a mole on my eye. I had it removed for purely cosmetic reasons. I never loathed it; but I never felt the need to embrace it. Most people never noticed it. Meh. Accepting one’s body doesn’t mean we can’t choose to change it. Whereas, Cindy Crawford famously embraced her mole. (Notably, she says she was bullied when she was younger, but opted to keep her mole. I was not bullied about mine. Thus, our experiences were divergent. Like, also I heard she became a supermodel. Well played, mole.)
Whether or not we as individuals take a stance about a particular part of our body, society often does on our behalf. Self-described plus-size fashion blogger Jessica Kane was lauded as “brave” for posting photos of herself at the beach. She responded by saying, “I’ve been told how brave I am for not having a coverup, but going without a wrap would only take bravery if I cared what others thought of me, but I don’t.” What if Cindy was never teased about her mole? What if she never gave a thought to her bullies?
At the end of the day, these attempts to embrace diversity still feel a lot like objectification under a diluted sense of empowerment.
Empowerment happens when women create their own narratives; individuals decide the language of their experience. For example, there has been uptake in participation on the conversation about periods and sex. I also loved Chrissy Teigen’s shout out to her stretch marks. Despite the ensuing predictable media attention focused on her bravery in embracing her flaws (*eye roll*), it was a simple acknowledgement. In an Instagram photo, she neither criticized nor celebrated; she’s just gave a shout out to what is normal. It’s a bit of her business participating in a larger conversation.
All I can do for the moment is speak for myself, although I strongly propose a call for more intimate conversations. Let’s get down to business and talk about our business. Information sharing breeds confidence. Confidence is sexy. Let’s all go support some confidence. It’s empowering.