Archive for the ‘research’ Category
I’m reading some of the blogs linked off Keyheld, “an aggregate for blogs in which male chastity and orgasm denial are the main focus.” It seems like a lot of these male bloggers are married, many with families, most with otherwise uncomplicated-by-the-risque lives. My question is, how does orgasm control get into such unexpected and otherwise normal-seeming unions?
I’m curious if these guys (and gals) filtered for “kinky” in partner selection and if not, how they managed to find a match in what I’d expect to be a niche field.
I tried to get more information by looking up volume sales of the CB-6000 just to see how popular of a kink this was and how CB-6000 sales compare to other types of toys, but the internet did not give me the numbers I wanted. I emailed the manufacture to see what they have to say…not that most people will answer the question “what were your volume sales for 2010?” but it’s worth a try.
So, can you, dear reader, shed light on the matter?
Last week I was asked, in a cultural interview, to describe my personal interests in human factors research. I was speaking to a seasoned human factors designer, we had moved beyond the virtues of human centered design already, and so I spoke about under accessed populations. You see, everyone likes getting to know their user and designing for their target audience, but one of the first questions in laying out a business plan is “is there a market for this and can we access it?” This is why people don’t invent special cell phones for the homeless or for that matter why we rarely design for the 3rd world outside of grant-funded academic settings. You can’t monetize those markets. But there is another layer to that…a lot of work happens because a market is visible. Be it social games for stay at home moms, small cars for city dwellers, or bigger cars for aspirational buyers, we have a way to access the people we’re designing for, shadow them, recruit them for focus groups, send them surveys and by and large figure out what they want. If you want to design a new Blackberry that would better meet the needs of busy working moms you can look for households with an annual income of around 100k and kids under the age of 18 in the household, call them, and explain that you’d like to invite the mother to a focus group in the evening. You might provide dinner and child care but you can do that. How do you access homeless women who may use cell phones to keep track of benefits and shelter status? You can’t call them, you can look for them on the street but they may or may not want to talk to you, and even if they did talk to you the ethical ground is shaky at best. You could go through a shelter or community clinic but then there is a selection bias, so even if you had unlimited money you’d have to be pretty darn motivated to do research in the population. There’s one other problem; working mothers are visible, homeless women less so…who do you think of then when you have time for a project on cell phones and you want to design for a big population?
This idea is interesting to me because it turns the tables on access. As much as the under served population doesn’t have access to helpful tools, designers, researchers and business people don’t have access to those populations.
Now bring this back to sex, and more specifically kinky sex. If you’re thinking of opening a kinky sex venue or hosting a party, you have a couple of ways to plan it. First you can figure out your own fetish and plan around that (I’m really into spanking so I’ll host a spanking party). Alternately, you can look around for vocal and easy to access populations and plan around them (there are already a lot of rope bondage classes, I bet lots of people would come to my rope party). What happens then when you as a planner of sex-themed events don’t have access to, or sufficient knowledge of, certain sexual subgroups? More likely than not, you don’t make space for them at your party. Or to make it more blatant; if most of the people you have access to are in a male top/female bottom pairing you may accommodate that by putting art on your walls that features predominantly female submissives, having female demo-bottoms, and showing hetero-normative porn.
So two problems emerge, or perhaps just one problem with two perspectives. First dominant women and submissive men are under served by the BDSM community, and second dominant women and submissive men become hard to access populations making it both difficult to accommodate them with any accuracy, and easy to bypass their needs all together due to lack of pressing viability. And so this to me becomes a research interest question. How do you reach out to sexually submissive men in a way that is sensitive and comfortable, and does not create a non-intentional power imbalance (a risk in any kind of human subjects research involving minority populations) in order to gain insight, articulate needs, and design BDSM experiences that are more inclusive of this population?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the skills we bring to our communities (and our activism work for those who describe themselves as activists) and what we learn from our work. Maymay got me thinking about this when he suggested that I use more links in my blog posts and then pointed me at his anti-censorship best practices talk. Of course Maymay is a technologist; it stands to reason that he wouldn’t leave one of his most valuable skill sets at the door of sex-education spaces. But moving beyond that, how do our skills in one arena influence our experience in another?
The first layer is pretty evident for me. I am a researcher, and so when I come to any space be it a tech conference or a sex space I approach it with the lessons I learn from Human Factors. That may be about the conversations I have, or where I position myself to best meet new people. It may not even express itself in the moment, but overall I walk through the world trying to observe, understand, and code human behavior. What does that bring to my work around sexuality? First it means that if you have a research or sex history question, or you want something archived I’d be happy to help. It also means that in most conversations about sex I wouldn’t know the right answer, but I can tell you who is working in the problem space, what I’ve read about it recently, and what other factors play into that. This is either appealing or way too nerdy for your tastes so keep that in mind if you’re considering flirting with me.
My standard-world skills impact how I approach BDSM and also give me a very specific path in sex activism and education, but what impact does that have on my experience of BDSM? The short answer is I don’t really know, but I’m trying to figure that out.
What primary skill set do you bring to your play and sex-related work? How does your standard-world identity impact your experience of BDSM? Do you prefer to blend or separate these areas of your life, and why?
This post can also be labeled “I have no knowledge of my history but it’s real serious leather so it must be Old Guard!”
I recently had reason to look into the idea of collaring. This is an interesting concept because like many issues of protocol it requires me to wade through a plethora of miss-information and opinion-as-fact merely to find some simple things: when did collaring become popular in BDSM circles and under what circumstances, what are some common physical considerations in choosing collars, and what are some useful emotional considerations.
One of the first articles I came across was this piece from Albany Power Exchange. This article states, in it’s naturally authoritative voice, “The first collar offered is called the ‘Collar of Consideration’. This identification comes from the Old Guard Leather community, the same source of the Safe, Sane and Consensual code.” Well this is fine and good except that Safe Sane and Consensual (SSC) is largely attributed to a mid-1980s (I’ve seen both 1983 and 1984 listed as the correct year) Gay Male SM Activists publication. The mid 1980s, I will point out, was somewhat after what is generally referred to as the Old Guard period.
So let’s review — I went looking for sexual information. I found an article that divides BDSM communities into pre-internet (good) and post-internet (bad). This article puts forth the author’s opinion as the one right way of using collars in a scene and uses tradition and authority of elders as the pillars on which the author’s opinion is to stand. This article then provides factually false information invoking those same pillars of tradition and authority (you agree with SSC, so you must agree with what I say about collaring)
So here are 5 easy things to think about when doing research (kinky or otherwise):
1) Check your sources — how do you know what you know? Is your data coming from the CIA, a research institution, or the kid who lives on your floor? Is the article you are reading peer reviewed?
2) Check multiple sources — are you getting different numbers from different sources? Do your sources have different agendas?
3) Check publication dates — there was a time when the sun went around the earth and all the best scientists of the day would have told you so. Make sure your information is up to date; this is especially vital with medical information.
4) Fact or opinion? — Fact: collaring is a known practice in BDSM communities. Opinion: Collaring ceremonies are only valid between people who play really really hard. (Oh, and I will support my fact by saying that the many articles written on the subject and posted to BDSM community boards are indicative of a shared experience or in-group behavior.)
5) Validity based on what — Does the article provide data from a well-known source, or peer reviewed study, or does it ask you to believe what it says is true because it’s Tradition?
It’s 2am and I am awake although I did not just get home. In fact I got home hours ago, crashed, and now can’t sleep anymore. Instead I’m in blog land. Today (yesterday?) I suppose this whole weekend is the first part of a 60 hour sex educator training I’m taking. It’s…well it is a lot less challenging than I was told to expect. Perhaps this will change, but for the moment the challenging part is waking up at two o’clock in the morning wanting to cry about the time I don’t have. This tendency, I am told, is common among grad students and new mothers. Guess which one I am!
On the sexual education front I have learned “this is outside my scope of practice and it would be unethical for me to answer this question.” I think this is a fancy way of saying “I’m not sure I can answer that have you tried ” which was my standard response to all those medical, legal, and ethical quandaries. Beyond that I learned that some people have a strong reaction to seeing anal fisting for the first time and I do not, and that some people are challenged by the age of consent and definition of adult being fluid and I am not. I think there were other things I should have found challenging but instead thought was a nice refresher on things I’d already done. I got a name for the part of communication that is largely listening. “Positive-neutral response” meaning when you hold a open facial expression and say things like “yes, ok, would you like to tell me more about that?, sure, ok” while someone tells you their deepest darkest fantasies. And yet it is something I had done before under the name “active listening.”
I tried really hard to find a sexual fantasy I have not told some partner at some point and really couldn’t think of one. I told a stranger about learning to masturbate, and found out why it is sometimes hard for some people to orgasm with a partner if most of their orgasms have been through masturbation for a long time and what to do about it. (Ask me if you want more details on this.) I learned “some” “many” “most” as a way to normalize. “Many men enjoy intercourse.” “Most people in the world masturbate at some point in their lives.” “Some people use mutual masturbation as foreplay.” My B.A. in sociology brain doesn’t think that some many and most is a good statistical measure but by and large the wording isn’t challenging.
I hope this will get more challenging because 52 more hours of refresher will make me cry. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend the training, it’s just, well, I think there actually is a limit on how much time I can spend thinking about sex, communication, and communication about sex.
I love candles, and I love wacky science, so I was thrilled to get the Blazin Bitch pheromone candle for Sextoy.com. The candle comes in a 4oz tin, and I got the Black Cherry scented one, which reminds me of the fruit syrups they put on icecream.
I had all sorts of ideas for testing the scientific properties of the pheromone candle…light it in a bar and tally the number of hookups, light it in my flat and see if my boyfriend notices, double blind tests with this and a different candle that would allow me to wear my lab coat and goggles. It’s hard to say no to anything involving a lab coat and an evil genius laugh, but in the end I decided to do some old fashioned research. I found that the idea of releasing human pheromones though various products became popular on the 1970s following research on monkeys. More recently the Wyart study in 2007 determined that human females become physiologically aroused after smelling certain components of human male sweat. What does this mean for a mass market candle? Probably that you should rely on the romantic effects of open flame and the pleasant smell more than the suggestion of science.
Or you can let your imagination run wild, dust off your lab coat, and play mad scientist!
Whatever your fancy this is a nice candle, and the tin means you don’t have to watch it as carefully as you would a votive. Great for those moments when you’re paying attention to other things. If you want just the scent and would rather avoid the flame all together, you can also take advantage of the tin by setting this on a candle warmer. Just remember, never use scented candles on humans — they burn hotter than regular candles and will cause the kind of pain that leads you to the ER not the dungeon!
I went to a reading on Thursday night from Best Sex Writing 2008. It’s an excellent collection of essays covering topics from circumcision to racial identity in human sexuality research. I am really impressed by the work that is being done in sexuality. We’ve come a long way since Freud. We’ve even come a long way since Foucault addressed the nature of identity thereby (in my opinion) creating the foundation for modern research in human sexuality.
As anyone who has ever written, in an academic fashion, about human sexuality can attest it is a fine balance between professional and boring; between sexy and lewd; and between mass market appeal and pop-psychology. It is a balance that I believe is very important to this field because I am not interested in writing sex for men in white lab coats. I am not interested in recording data in the annals of scientific journals. No, I want my work to be accessible and influential on an individual level. Foucault gave us the parameters in which to do our research. However, it is contemporary authors such as Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle, and Dossie Easton who gave us sexual non-fiction that penetrates our own lives. They laid the foundation for a sex-positive culture, and for the acceptance of sex work. They addressed our own desires, and challenged our established notions of morality. This is not social science research in the tradition of Freud, it is a personal narrative steeped in the methods of women’s studies courses, and second wave consciousness-raising. As such, I would not call it science. Though there is some excellent scientific research being done on topics such as the physical phenomena of orgasm, the effects of circumcision, and spread of sexual transmitted diseases, the field of human sexuality emerges from an interdisciplinary curriculum and must broach the spectrum from biology to fine art.
A couple of days ago I was slightly drunk and planning the rest of my life with a friend over drinks in the Mission. It had been a toss-up as to whether, come Fall, I would be applying to graphic design programs or human sexuality/sociology programs. My reaction to the idea of putting off a graduate program in human sexuality demonstrated to my own satisfaction that this is what I want to do with my life. I don’t actually know what I would do with a master’s in human sexuality. I suspect I would get a PhD and sell my soul to academia. My mother did it, and her father before her – it’s a family tradition. Hell, in my family you sit at the kids table until they can call you doctor. “Could you pass the potatoes, Doctor.” It’s really interesting to work with sex in a non-sexual manner. It makes perfect sense to me, but it’s hard to explain to other people. Maybe I’m over saturated, after all sex isn’t just a fun thing I do late at night, it’s my work, my writing, and my art. To do that, and still be able to interact with society at large, requires some compartmentalization, but I think that’s a post onto itself.
Pornography is one of those hot button issues that probably looks very different in person than it does in political debates. Politicians love to hate it. Religious crusaders are quick to point to Sodom and Gomorrah, which any rabbinical student will tell you were destroyed for their lack of hospitality rather than their promiscuity. And feminists from the Dworkin camp insist that it is more harmful to women than pollution, globalization, and simple carbs combined.
Contrast that with the fact that the sex industry has higher annual revenues than ABC, CBS, and NBC combined, and I have to guess that either there is a handful of very wealthy perverts or the use of pornography is a lot more common than people like to believe.
The book Sex Exposed edited by Lynne Segal is a collection of essays about the feminist porn debates primarily in the UK. There are a couple of essays that I find particularly interesting and I’d like to look at one of them now. So long as it’s not sex and violence [sic] by Harriett Gilbert compares Andrea Dworkin’s Mercy with the Marquis de Sade’s Justine. Gilbert draws this comparison for two reasons. The first is to demonstrate that Dworkin’s own work is significantly more explicit than that which she would like to see banned, and the second is that Dworkin’s Mercy can be described by her own prescribed definition of pornography as being exactly that.
The first fact I do not find surprising. Sade was writing in the 1700s – the standard of what was considered shocking was considerably different. By the 1900 Dworkin had to work significantly harder to up the ante as it were.
The second point however is one I hadn’t considered though, and I find it very interesting. Consider the following excerpt:
He holds my head still by my hair and pushes his cock to the bottom of my throat, rams it in, past my throat, under it, deeper than the bottom, I feel this fracturing pain as if my neck shattered from inside and my muscles were being torn apart ragged and fast.
I will tell you that this is a fictional account. Can you see someone being turned on by this? If they were not familiar with Dworkin and her legacy; if they knew this was a fictional account, could they be turned on by this? Of course this is an excerpt from Mercy, and Dworkin is the mother of anti-sex feminism. She is the woman behind the sentiment that all (heterosexual) sex is rape. The very fact that this passage is found in the woman’s studies aisle makes it nonpornographic, but what if you didn’t have the context?
To what degree is pornography dependant on the reader? On context?
For the most part I choose not to engage with Dworkin’s discourse. This is not to say that I would like to remove myself entirely from the pornography debate, but I have a difficult time taking Dworkin seriously as an academic except in a very narrow historical context. Don’t get me wrong, violence against women is wrong and in the 1960s and 70s we needed strong and radical leaders to bring this issue to public discourse. However, I can’t help but see Dworkin as a traumatized person who made the violence in her own life the central focus of her political stance. This is one of the ways I think Dworkin failed the feminist movement. Her anger was too personal and too raw. She was blinded by her own trauma and unwilling to accept the diversity and nuances of women’s sexual experience. Hell, Dworkin was so blinded by her political views that she went as far as to disregard her personal experiences hiding her marriage to John Stoltenberg from the press because it conflicted with her political stance and proclaimed lesbianism.
The radical activists of the 60s and 70s caused the strife and segmentation of the 80s sex wars. Dworkin and her contemporaries did women a great disservice by asserting that sexuality is solely men’s domain. In doing so they undermine women’s sexuality, and grab on to an outdated model of gender relations. The assumption that pornography hurts women assumes first and foremost that women have no interest in consuming pornography. Dworkin would agree with that assertion arguing that women who watch pornography have been duped by the patriarchy. However, I find this to be a very sophomoric analysis of women’s desires, which robs women of self-determination. Furthermore, I am outraged that anyone would presume to tell me that my sexuality is incorrect be that my local pastor or my local NOW branch.
I find Dworkins separation of men and women to be sexist in its own right. Dworkin’s work on anti-pornography legislation in Minneapolis focused on using civil rights ordinances to allow women who felt they were hurt by pornography to sue makers and distributors of pornography. I have one question for Ms. Dworkin; can men who feel they have been hurt by pornography sue the distributors? Can a man press charges blaming a porn manufacture for his divorce because watching pornography caused his wife to have unrealistic sexual expectations? Can Harry Brod sue pornography manufactures because, as he asserts, pornography turns men’s bodies into machines thereby robbing them of their basic humanity as understood through a Marxist analysis? Further more, Dworkin argues against pornography that depicts women as abused and oppressed. Am I to understand that pornography that depicts men as abused and oppressed is acceptable to the new world order? Or are men not worthy of being considered human beings. Are they so high on sex and violence that they could not possibly be hurt by unrealistic expectations?
Along time ago I heard an argument that images of sexually dominant women were as sexist as images of sexually submissive women because both are made for men’s pleasure. The underlying assumption then must me that either women do not enjoy images of sexuality or women only enjoy completely egalitarian images of sexuality. This essentially tells me that I do not exist. This tells me that my sexuality simply does not exist. Or perhaps in a more nuanced fashion it tells me that my sexuality does exist, but only vis-à-vis deeply engrained systems of oppression of which I am a victim. I would suggest that such a message coming from a feminist platform is more harmful than all the ideas on chastity and whoredom that mainstream, patriarchal culture would have me swallow.
I am reading Bodies of Inscription, which is an anthropology thesis about tattooing communities. I do not have any tattoos – eventually I will find a place on my body for that grotesque I have been thinking about for years, but that’s beside the point. The reason I am interested in the book is because the author, Margo DeMello, is a member of the tattooing community and she also did extensive academic work related to it. This is of interest to me because I want to do sociological work dealing with the BDSM community. More specifically I want to examine how participation in an established sexual community of interest affects private sexual behavior. The hard part of course is that I consider myself a member of the BDSM community.
I’m curious if any of you have found yourselves in similar positions. On the one hand this might give me greater access to interview subjects and events. On the other, I risk becoming either biased in my research or an outsider in the BDSM community. I have no political agenda in my research interest. As much as I admire the work of authors such as Califia, Queen, and Sprinkle, my academic interest lies in community sociology rather than political activism. Still, I wonder if it is possible to do academically sound work in a community you are personally attached to. I almost feel if it was more honest if I did have a political agenda.