Human Sexuality (see Also Psychology

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PrEP, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Barebacking
edited by Ricky Varghese
afterword by Tim Dean
edition:Paperback
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Every Boy I Ever Kissed
Excerpt

Introduction

I COULD ALREADY SEE the morning headlines: Twenty-Year-Old Virgin Found Dead in Mysterious Field Five Minutes from Home.

It was dark, but not particularly late, on a spring evening as I followed my roommate Jess away from campus and toward unexplored avenues of urban development. If I’d been back in my hometown, this would have felt completely benign, but this was the big city and our neighbourhood had a very bad reputation.

“Just trust me,” Jess said we walked deeper into an unlit field. “What’s in the bag?” I asked, but got no reply.

At the time, the chance of us being murdered that night seemed about as likely as the chance that I would wind up an eighty-year-old virgin cat lady. Which is to say: Very Likely.

I followed Jess to where the field ended on the edge of a con- struction site. We stopped on a precipice and looked out over a deep cavernous gorge where back-hoes and dump trucks slum- bered. My friend reached into her bag and pulled out a stack of white dinner plates.

“I think you need this,” she said, handing me an orange Sharpie. “You’re going to write everything that’s bothering you on these plates and then we’re going to smash them!”

I almost cried.

I took the Sharpie and cramped my handwriting in tiny letters across the porcelain plates, worried I would run out of room. I wrote about every boy I’d ever kissed and every ridiculous, unexpected, and shocking moment that had brought me to the edge of that cliff.

***

Ethan lies crying in the gutter at three in the morning, the back of his coat wet with rainwater that hasn’t yet made its way to the sewer. His phone keeps ringing in my purse, but I know what his brother’s voice would say on the other end. “It’s okay,” I keep saying. “Just get up and we’ll go home. We’ll break up and you’ll meet a nice guy; you just have to get out of the street first.” I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to drag him up by his collar and force his feet to walk, but I can’t. I must be patient, patient, and more patient.
***
Something isn’t right. Something always goes wrong. It’s too dark to see, but I can feel the space between our naked bodies getting wider and wider until Ben is beside me instead of above. I hear his voice rise up out of the darkness and I know, both instinctively and from experience, that it will shake with the timbre of an identity crisis. “I think I have a pornography addiction.”
***
In the moonlight from the window, I can see Dave’s face above mine as I lie back in my bed and take off my clothes. His strong jaw, his mas- culine nose. His eyes full of tears. I’m not surprised this time; I know what comes next. The whispered confession of a brand-new secret, the warm, sinking feeling of taking a young man’s body deep into my arms, the gentle stroking of his hair and the assurance that, as always, “It’s okay. It will be okay.”

***

I am the girl who will take your secrets deep inside her vodka- soaked heart at two or three in the morning and in the bright light of the next day, I know I will never see you again. I will turn on the water in the shower so hot that my skin flushes red all over and I will cry where I can’t be heard. I will get back into bed and roll the blankets and pillows up against my back so it feels almost as if there is someone lying there beside me, holding me in his arms. I can almost feel his slow, quiet breath against my neck even though I can only imagine the feeling. I wonder how it’s possible to miss something I’ve never had.

Standing on the edge of that construction site, I smash every single plate. One by one.

***

It would be a cop-out to say I spent the first quarter of my life desperately chasing love because my parents divorced when I was little. And it makes me cringe to write that, for years, I wanted a boyfriend more than anything else. But, to be honest, aren’t we all looking for love?

Let’s face it: as early as I can remember, I wanted to be done with dating. Done with boys and bars and checking my messages every three minutes to see if he’d texted.

At five years old, I put on my mother’s white silk slip, long enough to touch my ankles, and hung a piece of white tulle off my short curly hair. Then I grew up and realized I’m a feminist. A girl- power enthusiast lucky enough to have been born in 1990. I’m not sure I would have known enough to use a word like “feminism” at a young age, but nothing helps you understand female empowerment quite like growing up with a single mother. By my teen years, it no longer seemed appropriate to admit, even to myself, that being someone’s girlfriend was one of my most cherished goals.

Luckily for me, it was a goal that appeared easy enough to accomplish naturally, in time, without requiring too much effort on my part.

Growing up, I took it for granted that I would get good grades, go to university, and probably break a few hearts. Those were inevitable truths, because they came from the lips of adults, and because history dictated I should follow in my mother’s footsteps.

My mother is beautiful. Right down to her core. She appears to leap out of photographs, tall and slim, with miles of raven-black hair and piercing blue eyes. In one family photo from the 1970s, my young mother sits with one leg draped casually over the other. With an unnatural confidence for a teenager, she looks like she belongs in the pages of Vogue Paris, not in the rec room of a suburban Toronto home.

I didn’t look anything like my mother growing up, but I listened to her stories about learning to drive with her high school boyfriend and singing backup for her first husband back when all he played were small nightclubs in Europe, and I believed something similar would one day happen for me. All I had to do was figure out how to be beautiful. Inside and out.

For the first twenty-one years of my life, I pursued love and beauty as aggressively as I pursued academic excellence and some kind of undefined creative career. Like many young women, I had somehow gotten the message that intelligence, independence, creativity, physical attractiveness, and a willingness to run with the boys would inevitably lead to the fun privileges of sex and, eventually, to the ultimate goal: love. Finding a boyfriend, having sex, falling in love … it was all supposed to be simple.

Until that evening, looking out over the construction site with a stack of plates in my hand, when I realized I’d been lied to. Every adult woman I knew, every magazine I’d read, even feminism itself had told me, in one way or another, that having sex was easy. Even too easy.

Everywhere I turn, I run into a baby boomer parent wringing her hands in shock and fear over hookup culture and phone apps that let you order a date like you order takeout. I remember all too well the shame of being a twenty-one-year-old virgin in a world that seems to value sexual savvy above all else.

Years later, I realized I wasn’t alone. Millennials, the alleged trailblazers of the hookup generation, are actually having way less sex than most people think. In fact, as a group, we boast over 50 percent more virgins in the twenty-to-twenty-four age bracket than our hand-wringing boomer parents did when they were that age. So, what gives?

As I watched those plates shatter on the concrete below me, I tried to figure out where exactly I’d gone wrong. I thought I had followed the social script perfectly. The trouble was that I had been prepared for a world that didn’t exist. Everything I had been taught about sex and dating was a myth. And, as a bonus, I discovered I was woefully unprepared for reality.

As I fought my way ever more aggressively toward love — and sex — I slowly discovered all the little lies our generation has been told. The good news is, when you uncover a lie, you also uncover the truth.

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Want
Excerpt

What I remember most is what happened after.

I’m sitting in my car, staring out the windshield. It’s raining, and it’s late, maybe 3 or 4 in the morning. The wipers are on but the car is not. I watch them spread the rain across the windshield (badly on the right side, that wiper has been broken for years). I listen to the rhythmic squee for a while, staring, not quite able to turn the car on and drive myself home. My thoughts don’t seem to want to take an order. I’m not physically hurt, I’m fine. I’m fine. I think I’m fine. But I left my best friend’s house at 3 or 4 in the morning in the rain because I needed to get the hell out of there. And now I’m sitting here across from his apartment, listening to a broken windshield wiper, not getting the hell out.

I don’t know how long I sat there before I finally figured out I could turn the car on and go home. Sometimes I try to remember, really get the details in order, sort out what happened, go back to the beginning and think it through til the end, but it’s difficult, like trying to get ants to walk in a straight line. It gets mixed up with other memories—the other times he’d tried to touch me when I didn’t want him to. Or when pushed me into a dark room and locked the door behind him. Or trying to leave earlier that same night, sitting on the stairs, my coat half on, him pleading with me to stay, me making him promise nothing would happen. I remember enough, anyway.

When a bad thing happens, you have to survive twice. First you have to survive the thing itself. You have to be physically alive after the thing has happened. That’s certainly key to the whole process. But then you have to survive again, to get through the consequences of the thing that didn’t kill you. You have to figure out how to be a person in a world where your trust in people or your faith in what you think the world is has been shattered. Survival is a gift, but not always the kind you want. Sometimes it’s like the worst of Grandma’s Christmas sweaters, because still existing after a terrible thing happened is confusing and painful and sometimes itchy and definitely comes back every Christmas.

So survive we must. However long it takes, we need to create a container of safety before we can start dealing with the devastation of sexual assault. We need to see that whatever we had to do to survive at the time was what we had to do, and we survived, goddammit. It doesn’t matter if we smoked ten thousand cigarettes or dated all the wrong people or pushed away everyone we cared about or drank ourselves to the bottom of the ocean. Your desire, your will to power, your creativity, your ability to love and connect and fuck and feel don’t completely die unless you completely die. Whatever happened, if you’re still alive, you can heal.

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Screwed

Screwed

How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

Chapter 2: Cougars and Nymphets: Glorifying the Younger Woman

In 2014, fifty-three-year-old George Clooney married Amal Alamuddin, a lawyer in her midthirties. The day after the news broke, I sat with my coffee, reading a column by a journalist in her fifties who considered the relationship proof of a mid-life crisis, an ugly reality that can strike indiscriminately and leaves no aging wife safe in her marriage. As I came across similar stories, I couldn’t help wondering whether the phenomenon is really as widespread as they say. I am, after all, about the same age as Amal Clooney. If the phenomenon is real, that means many women under thirty-five are dating men ten, fifteen, even twenty years their senior. So where are all the single men my age hiding?

Statistically speaking, there should be a single man out there for every single heterosexual woman — after all, the population is fairly evenly split between the genders. If men in their fifties prefer to date younger women, then it follows that there are fewer younger women available. Logically, this should create an untapped pool of single young men who are potential partners for the older women. If this is the case, then why do we often hear about the former situation (older men with younger women) but rarely the latter (older women with younger men)?

Is the older man + younger woman combination really so common? And if the answer is yes, wouldn’t it invariably lead to young men and older women coupling up?

Enter the “cougar”: if we’re talking about courtship, age gaps, and the hunt, we can’t gloss over this contemporary female archetype.

Throughout history, women have been expected to abandon their sex drive as they aged, simply because it was believed that men lost interest in them. A woman was supposed to pass without protest from spring blossom to fading bloom.

Until recently, this shift manifested with motherhood. A woman would transition from eligible maiden, to bride, to mother. And once the kids arrived, the role of mother replaced that of sexual being and object of desire. 1 Women were expected to steer their lives according to this trajectory. First, devote body and soul to securing a husband; once this has been achieved, raise their children with the same utter devotion. A mother was not expected to attract men once she had settled down: her life had taken a new direction, one that desexualized her.

In today’s world, with sexuality being trivialized and multinational corporations constantly hunting for new markets, the situation has changed. Mothers are no longer encouraged to renounce their sex appeal. On the contrary, marketing firms do everything they can to sell women products designed to keep them looking young. The imperative to appear youthful ensures that these products (hair dyes, push-up bras, makeup, anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, trendy clothing, etc.) are in constant demand.

This is partly why becoming a mother no longer stands in the way of a woman’s sexualization. And this has given rise to two new cultural phenomena: the cougar and the MILF.

The MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fuck) and the cougar are two distinct concepts. A MILF is a woman who is objectified. A man’s desire is central to the expression: the man is the subject, the “I,” who is acting on the object. The sex drive of the mother in question is not part of the equation.

But while the MILF complies with the stereotype of the passive woman, the concept of the cougar is quite revolutionary.

The cougar is a subject who desires; her sex drive is central to the expression defining her. The image of the “cougar” suggests a predatory relationship. The cougar is no prey; she is a huntress.

But even so, does the cougar undermine the cumshot principle? This question deserves a closer look.

The cougar is no longer a spring blossom, but nor is she necessarily a mother. The word simply refers to a woman who is attracted to men significantly younger than she is.

The term entered popular culture around the turn of the millennium to describe celebrities like Demi Moore or Madonna. But New Zealand researchers Zoe Lawton and Paul Callister have traced the expression’s origin to Canada, in the 1980s.2 According to their research, the Vancouver Canucks, a professional hockey team, coined the term to refer to older single women who attended games in the hopes of sleeping with attractive young players. The expression was then picked up by columnist Valerie Gibson of the Toronto Sun in 2001. The following year, Gibson published a book providing tips for older women who want to date younger men. In it, she related her own experiences with men ten to twenty years her junior.

The age difference in Gibson’s case is significant, but it isn’t always so for cougars. A woman may be called a cougar even if she is only a few years older than her partner. In fact, the unusual nature of any relationship involving an older woman and a younger man is quickly remarked on — and amplified. Once, when I was twenty-nine and dating a twenty-five-year-old, an acquaintance compared our “age difference” to that of her own relationship: she was thirty, her partner fifty.

Yet in our culture, men can easily be older than their partner without raising any eyebrows. People may call attention to a large age gap, but not systematically and with less intensity. Why is that?

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