70s Feminism Seems to be in Vogue

I recently received a notice that Our Bodies, Ourselves was looking for a new assistant director. The email was charming because as any young feminist who grew up with a progressive mother knows, this is THE book that many women turned to to learn about their bodies. And sure, like any document, any attempt to define, explain, and bound information, it is flawed. But as a text, it has been remarkably fluid, and I have the sense that the collective has made a concerted effort to integrate criticisms and change as the times change.

Shere Hite is another 70s icon. Her book The Hite Report was a series of quotations and discussions on different aspects of female sexuality, and it was pretty damn revolutionary. I remember reading it in high school and being a little bored (I'm not sure what I expected)...but I know that it still remains an important text, at least conceptually. Hite has an article on Alternet that's worth reading. It's kind of clunkily written, and at times hard to figure out what she's arguing for. But the gist, should you not want to read an article entitled "Female Orgasm and the Need for a New Definition of Sex," is that our understanding of sex and sexual pleasure has changed a lot in the recent past. Calling for new expectations and definitions of sex is necessary.

She challenges the idea that penetrative intercourse is the self-evident way to pleasurable sex. I took a Freud seminar a few years ago, and I remember hanging out with a couple of the men from my seminar one evening. I made some comment about Freud's weird obsession with the vaginal orgasm (as he believes that women's proper and full sexual maturity depends on the experience of male penetration, and he doesn't believe clitoral orgasms are "legitimate" expressions of sexuality), and these two men (who also were taking the seminar) were really baffled about the possibility of something other than the vaginal orgasm. Young 20-something heterosexual men were baffled. The whole conversation made me uncomfortable and also disturbed, and I didn't push the issue (though I was grateful they were not my sex partners). Hite actually suggests that vaginal orgasm is a total myth, which I would object to as her major limitation as a researcher. But most importantly, Hite concludes by trying to remove the "goal" of orgasm as the sole purpose of sex. And I think this is a useful addition. While she makes good points about needing more egalitarianism in sex between men and women (and yes, I fear I'm hopelessly heterosexist in my writing on sex), she also wants to emphasize sex as more than just the wham-bam endpoint fixation.

In the course of my 3 week sexuality institute, I pointed out that we weren't talking much about desire. I do think this is an aspect of sexuality that gets muddled, because it's awfully hard to theorize and even articulate "desire" as a concept. Usually sexuality refers to some kind of category or expression of sexual behavior, rather than conveying how desire may be something uncategorizable, unhinged/unattached in a way. This is why sexual identity always baffled me -- as it seems what drives sexual behaviors is more about desires than some clear-cut attachment to physiology. It's tricky even for those who are desiring to communicate fully what they experience. But I'm really invested in phenomenological intellectual pursuits, and I think this is a great concept to develop further. Part of me thinks the most important first step is just to write about this stuff. A lot. I'm as fascinated by absences these days as presences, and, while not a perfect solution, I think trying to undo the problem of absence, by calling repeated attention to it is a useful start.


This is What I Accomplished

The last two days, officially the beginning of the two weeks of SHIT TO DO, have not been terribly productive. Last week was the week of MAKE A LIST, which, yes, this is very sad to report, took an entire week to do. Even with capital letters and self-flagellation. I got distracted, what can I say? The ambition of starting a "phase" of the work sometimes can distract me for multiple days, as I contemplate the anticipation of the potential of starting the planning for the thing. Dear lord.

Yesterday was a major wash due to health issues that continue to plague me and lead to napping with a surrogate cat for whom I have been caring the last couple of days. He also napped, so I didn't feel so guilty. Today, it took most of the day to wade through a 9 or 10 page article. In my defense, because I had already anticipated the need for one, even before I began, the article was somewhat irritating and incoherent. Not as bad as the bitched about article a few posts ago, but still kinda sorta bad. I realized, in revisiting that incoherent monstrosity, that the authors are not native English speakers. Thereby making me evil and thoughtless. But I'm not sure I'm persuaded that English language journals should not be required to meet standards of coherency. Those natural science journals get away with murder. I get chastised by the English majors in my life about things like over-blown metaphors, and the scientists get off scot-free.

In keeping with ways by which I can not accomplish things, I have decided to take a much needed vacation at the end of the month. Prepare yourselves, as I will not be blogging about extra-marital affairs, STIs, scientific journals, or any of such things. There will be no internet action for me, and I can't wait.

It does seem odd, and here I break the 5thD wall (what the hell is the wall called on the internet, anyway -- or rather, I should ask, is there any wall at all? Doesn't the over-sharing nature of the medium suggest that there are no walls and wouldn't we all be better off if there were more walls, or at least fences?), that I have decided to vacation when clearly I have stated mere paragraphs ago that I have done nothing of late. But, the beauty of the grad student lifestyle is that one must think about the doing nothing a lot. And that is exhausting itself.


Quantifying "Slut"

Wow...so no sooner have I mentioned Carla Bruni, it turns out that her exact number of sex partners is being discussed by the UK Daily Mail (actually, in "Femail," which is tinged with lavender headers -- making me feel a bit queasy). In this article, Ironside, the author, argues that Bruni's 15 lovers prior to her current husband is just about right (though perhaps a "touch on the high side") -- given that Bruni is 40. I found this discussion so appalling. Ironside dares to suggest that "more than 15" and you've "demean[ed]" sex, which is no longer "special". Apparently, also, male partners will start to distrust your male friends, wondering if you've slept with all of them. Clearly, once you've crossed the line into the >15 sex partners, you're morally suspect. What man would trust a woman who's been with so many men? My favorite question, however, is Ironside's baffled, "But what would be the point of Carla - or anyone else - accumulating more lovers?" As though having sex with more than 15 men is simply gluttony. How many varieties can one person need?! [That was sarcasm...]

Rachel Kramer Bussel, who is known in the sex blogger world and sex writing world, attempts a rebuttal on Alternet. Rightly, Bussel debunks Ironside's argument that the number of sex partners has to do with one's "quest for experience" or that the number has to do with your own happiness.

I realize I'm seeming awfully prurient lately, but I think writing about sex is important. My work depends quite a lot on cultural ideas about sex and public understanding of medical and scientific phenomena about...sex. And I just can't believe that it's acceptable fodder to discuss how many sex partners a president's wife has had. Or rather, not that it's unacceptable, just totally irrelevant. Similarly, I'm not sure why people feel they need to know how many sex partners their current partner has had before them. Knowing about STIs, health concerns, concurrent sex partners, these are good things to talk about. The exact number (if known) seems to add nothing to one's sexual relationship. Unless you're into that...


Idiot Scientific Writing

Please to explain what: "The same genes were able to immortalized human anogenital epithelial cells (but also other cell types) upon transfection and to malignantly transform rodent cells" means?! Is "to immortalized" even grammatically possible? Ok, maybe it's a typo but it's a very perplexing typo. And even if we remove the "d" at the end of "immortalize," are we any closer to having a coherent sentence? Who are these cracked out researchers who do not use basic English?

I am in a "boring" phase of research (self-imposed), in which I commit to the archives a bit more. I am a skimmer when things are of moderate interest to me. I have resisted reading all the scientific articles that I've assiduously collected because it can be very dull. And also bloody incomprehensible. Please do write in to help me understand the above sentence. I am really really baffled.

Internets makes all things possible

I just read about this site, InSpot, to anonymously notify your sex partners of your STDs (or as I prefer, sexually transmitted infections, STIs). Baltimore has not yet made the list, though many of us who have done research there know it ought to get its own hook-up. I'm a bit ambivalent about the anonymous sending of this info -- it seems like if you're sleeping with someone (or have been), you ought to be able to tell them this. Of course, if you're no longer sleeping with them and would prefer not to speak to them, this could be quite useful. Or vaguely passive-aggressive, depending on your interpretation.

Anyway, this concludes my friendly health advisory for the day. Go forth and avoid those STIs (though really, to tell or not to tell when it comes to HPV is another story altogether). We'll discuss HPV, wtf, at some other time.