Since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in sex. I’ve been fascinated by it, titillated by it, amused and inspired by it. I was the kid who pretended her Barbies were prostitutes. I was the kid for whom “playing house” included the Mommy and the Daddy having sex (i.e. making out with my friends under the bed). I was the kid who found the stack of Playboys in my dad’s office, and distributed them.
And as long as I’ve been interested in sex, I’ve understood that my interest was something to be ashamed of. I was the kid who got blamed when J’s brother got suspended for bringing Playboys to school. And when M’s mom caught us making out under the bed - and subsequently activated the Rural Virginia Concerned Moms phone tree - I was the kid whose friends stopped answering my calls; who got disinvited from parties; who got shunned, publicly, in gymnastics class.
Apart from the occasional public shaming, though, I didn’t catch much of the usual anti-sex propaganda. I was raised in a sort of new age Group Therapy Commune, by an atheist and an agnostic/Christian mystic Jew. Nobody ever told me outright that sex was bad, or that I was bad for being interested in it. Of course, this is how shame prefers to operate: covertly, behind-the-scenes, under the cover of night. Nobody had to feed me shame; I breathed it in and absorbed it.
Sex is hip, desire is square.
As a teenager, very little changed. I wanted to try everything, to feel everything, to make out with everyone. I remember the first time my boyfriend went down on me - I was stoned, and the room was dimly lit, and it was like I was seeing the stars for the first time. Pleasure, sweet and bright and fluid, filled my whole body.
But I also remember being called a slut, and “nasty”, and being told repeatedly to “change into something appropriate”. I remember my boyfriend telling me he didn’t want to have sex with me because “sex ruins everything”. I remember a series of drunken hookups, all of them fun at the time, all of them followed by ugly words and dark, shame-infested high school dramas.
And I remember the slow realization that, despite the cultural imperative for every woman to be a recently-shaven, fresh-smelling “down there”, Kegel-squeezing sex bomb for 100% of her life (waking or sleeping), it was not actually cool to want sex, or to enjoy it.
I’m thirty now, and my little perverted heart remains unchanged. Sex is still the central fascination of my life. It is one of my primary sources for joy, inspiration, and connection. Sexual energy, for me, is the same stuff as creative energy; my songs come to me by way of my libido.
But the shame also hasn’t changed. When I’m feeling insecure, sex is the hammer I use to bludgeon myself with. Every hot-cheeked, sweaty-palmed moment comes rushing back, from that humiliating gymnastics class to the other day, when I tried and failed to initiate sex with my husband. “Why do you have to ruin everything?” I think. “Why are you so obsessed? “ “Why can’t you just be cool, like a regular gal?”
And then, in my funk of self-loathing, I’ll turn on the TV. And that is almost always a mistake. Because there, I find an alternate universe where every man is always turned on, and pursuing sex with a goofy, dogged-but-endearing determination. And every woman is the hot and flighty babe-next-door, for whom sex is a sort of side-hustle; the game she plays to win the stuff she really wants: romance, marriage, nail polish. If she does deign to have sex with him, it’s because he said something mushy; in which case she will grab him by the head and suck face like a CPR instructor, then remove exactly one item of clothing, and be primed for penetration in four seconds flat.
Or, maybe she is “troubled”, and thus uses sex to get other stuff she wants: attention, social status, the jealousy of other women. Rarely, if ever, does she want sex because sex is fun - because it inspires her, and fills her with bright and fluid pleasure.
How to Feed Your Pleasure Goddess
So, I am making my own media. I wrote ‘Vim and Vigor’ from the perspective of my righteous, unabashed Id – the Pleasure Goddess who lives deep inside me. She is full of desire and delight, she is ferocious and unashamed.
“I know I got a dirty mind It’s in the gutter all the time I don’t believe that it’s a crime I consider it a service!”
In the video, we find her in her desire mansion, surrounded by men who turn her on, get her off, and feed her cake, according to her whims. She eats burgers by the pool. She has a pair of tap-dancing butlers, and a thousand pairs of pink shoes.
This creature lives in me, and I believe she lives in you, too. Maybe your Pleasure Goddess loves pie, or snowboarding, or women, or fennec foxes. Maybe she lives on a boat, or in a cave. But I’d wager she is down there now, making mischief and getting perma-laid. I’d wager she comes out to play sometimes, when you are truly in your party place.
And the great irony is this: the people who shame us, the so-called Good and Decent People? The gym teachers, and the pastors, and the moms who activate the phone tree? The Pleasure Goddess lives in them, too. She is in there somewhere, on her velvet throne, drinking Sake and watching Patrick Swayze (circa Dirty Dancing) shine her shoes.
But eventually, because they never let her out to play, she becomes a Goddess of Destruction, and starts to eat them up from the inside. So they lash out - they try to beat down their own desires by beating you up for yours.
And before long, these people are not good and decent, tempered by their love of God and country. These people are bullies.
And bullies do not respond to reason, nor do they back down from intimidation. You can’t fight bullies with bullying. You can only fight them by being good to your own Pleasure Goddess: by living, delightedly and ferociously, right in front of their ugly, stupid faces.
The ‘Vim & Vigor’ music video comes out next week, on my birthday: July 22nd.
Something about me is perpetually sweet. Despite the tattoos, the songs about sex and whiskey and meanness, and the ferocity bubbling just beneath the surface, I seem to strike the average stranger as some breed of twee little big-eyed mammal. Every waitress over 22 calls me “sweetie”, every Petco employee insists on carrying my dog food to my car, and everybody’s grandmother wishes I would wear a dollbaby dress with sailboats on it. People I just met tend to describe me as “sweet” or “cute” or “so nice”.
I am resigned to being sweet, and cute doesn’t rankle me like it used to (usually). But here’s the thing: I’m not nice. Niceness is not something I’m into. I try to be kind, and thoughtful; I hold doors open, I give rides to the airport, I take my friends out for waffles when they get broken up with. But to me, “being nice” involves clamming up, putting on a happy face, and forgoing one’s own convictions and desires to avoid rocking the boat.
I am no clam, people. I love to rock the boat.
Let me rephrase that, actually. Rocking the boat is incredibly uncomfortable for me - it gives me stress dreams and sweaty hands - but I was born to rock the boat. Making other people uncomfortable is one of the byproducts of my best and most satisfying work, including many of the thoughts and feelings I have every day. Anything inside me that says otherwise is usually not me, but the years of be-a-good-little-girl conditioning that I accidentally absorbed from the air around me (in spite of my parents’ best intentions), like most women, in most of the world.
If you’ve been smoking what I’ve been smoking (sugar and spice and everything nice, Disney Princesses, rom coms, etcetera), you may be asking the same question. What do we do about all the bullshit we’ve inadvertently inhaled?
I think the antidote to this variety of bullshit includes a lot of real-world, large scale, external changes (like access to education and birth control for women everywhere, equal pay for equal work, and for people to stop acting like douche bags (and for that matter, selling them)). But I also think that we have opportunities to combat bullshit with the magic of our own minds.
So ladies (and gents… but mostly ladies), I hereby invite you to make yourself comfortable in your own life. I want us all to feel that there is no need to apologize for the size or intensity of our bodies, our minds, our feelings, or our choices.
I have a few ideas about how to implement this. We all got different bullshit cocktails, growing up, and we’re all equipped with different bullshit-filtration devices, so I don’t expect that everything in this post applies to everybody. Here’s some of what I’m grappling with, and how.
1) Cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement.
Entitlement has a bad reputation, and it’s mostly well deserved. I don’t enjoy being shoulder-checked by a trustfund dudebro (stumbling down the middle of Royal street texting, like a blind yeti) any more than the next gal. But there are some things we are entitled to:
We are each entitled to our bodies, our experiences, and the choices we make about our own lives.
When I say, “I’m entitled to my life”, I mean that I hold the title: I am the captain, the President, the head honcho, and the sole stockholder. Nobody else holds even one share.
Here’s what that means: if I have a feeling, and somebody else doesn’t like that I had that feeling, that’s tough titties for them. I should no more apologize for that feeling than a weed should apologize for growing in my garden. Maybe I don’t like the weed, maybe I wish the weed would grow somewhere else; but the weed has no responsibility for any of that. It’s there because of the sun and the wind and the bird that shat it out, and the whole course of the evolution of the universe. It’s entitled to be there.
Similarly, your body takes up the amount of space it does, it’s shaped how it’s shaped, and it feels how it feels. It gurgles and sweats and aches and farts. Your body is entitled to do all these things, and you, as the Chief Executive Officer of your body, are entitled to these things as well.
Your thoughts are in there, strung about like confetti after a party, and your memories, and your feelings. You are entitled to them all. You are entitled to everything that has ever happened to you, and all of the choices you’ve made, and all of the choices in front of you. If you fuck up, it was your decision to fuck up, and nobody else’s; and now it’s your decision whether to apologize for it, or fix it, or not.
I can remember most of this, most of the time, but occasionally I still get confused. Who decides if I should get another tattoo, for instance? I forget. Is it my husband, who’s not particularly keen on tattoos? Is it my mom, who’s acutely creeped out by them? Is it the old lady sitting next to me at this café, scowling? Is it that one loudmouthed fan of mine, who insists on airing his opinion of tattoos every time I post a picture on facebook? Well, let’s see…. my body is the one being tattooed, and I am entitled to my body. Nobody else is.
I have brainfarts in this area professionally and artistically, too. For example, who am I to write this post? I’m writing about topics that the feminist movement has been dealing with for years, and I’m not very well educated on the history of feminism. I haven’t read Gloria Steinem. I don’t have a degree in women’s studies – in fact, I don’t have any degrees in anything. But on the other hand, I am me. I am a human woman, and I have thoughts and feelings about that, and a blog to post them on. I’m entitled to my thoughts and feelings, and nobody else is.
A lot of people, mostly women, pick up the habit of prefacing their sentences with “well I kind of think that, like, sometimes…” or another excruciatingly long and self-immolating prefix. To me, this says, “I have a thought, but I don’t believe that I’m entitled to it.”
I hereby invite all of us to cultivate a healthy sense of entitlement to our own bodies, experiences, and choices. For clarity’s sake, here are the things we’re not entitled to: other people’s bodies, other people’s experiences, other people’s choices, and other people. They hold the title to their lives; we hold the title to ours.
2) If you have a problem with the way you look, find a bigger problem.
Like most women I know, my feelings about my own appearance vary widely from day to day (and from moment to moment). Sometimes, I look in the mirror and see a total sex bomb. Other times, I see a blubberous ogre. In almost thirty years of research, I’ve only found one way to combat that Cosmo-reading, trash-talking, mean-girl demon in my head: find something more interesting to worry about.
The way we look is probably one of the least interesting things about us, and unquestionably one of the least interesting things about the world. Your head, regardless of its shape or accoutrements, is carrying inside it the most complex phenomenon in the known universe.
So next time you look in the mirror and scowl, or see an unflattering picture of yourself, or catch a peripheral glance of your blubberous ogre thighs, remember this: the world is chock-full of stuff that is infinitely more fascinating than the girth of your thighs. In this corner, we have AIDS and climate change and abject poverty. In this one, we have the Grand Canyon, wombats, and Mary Oliver. Pick any of these, think about them for twelve seconds, and laugh at yourself.
Let’s all begin to consciously prioritize our own pleasure, satisfaction, and self-expression over sitting and looking pretty. Here are some tricks:
Eat what you want.
Food is one of the primary sensual pleasures that the gods have allowed us, and if you’re reading this, you are living in a time of unprecedented culinary abundance and variety. You can very likely walk out of your house right now, and within an hour be back at home eating oysters, or chocolate ice cream, or bacon-wrapped dates, or a grapefruit the size of your head. You could be sipping a mango lassi, even though it’s February in New England. This, my friends, is a fucking miracle.
If I hear one more woman making her culinary choices based on the girth of her thighs alone, I’m going to drown myself in mango lassi. Sure, eat a salad sometimes, for health reasons or cosmetic ones. But other times, eat the bacon-wrapped dates, because they are a fucking miracle. Choose joyfully from the menu of your life – it’s long, and broad, and sacred.
Wear what you love.
Similarly, wear things that make you feel happy and wacky and soulful. Wear things that remind you of your childhood, or the beach, or mind-blowing sex. Don’t automatically resort to the thigh-fatness metric. If a dress makes you feel delighted and creative and full of magic, but your thighs look like overstuffed sausages, so be it. Now they are magic sausages.
Don’t just sit there and look pretty.
If someone snaps a picture of you doing something important or funny or inspiring – say, scaling a fish, or painting a house – and the demon in your head says you don’t look pretty, tell him to fuck off. Post that photo online. Instagram needs to be reminded that we are complex creatures; a woman can be pretty sometimes, and other times she can be happily (and greasily) scaling a fish. There is no law requiring perpetual prettiness, THANK GOD. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
We are entitled to our faces and bodies, however they are composed, whether anybody finds them pleasing or not. Post a picture in which you’re not pretty, but full of some other kind of light.
3) Become a sexual subject.
Sexual objectification is a big, nasty, complicated problem. As women, we bear the brunt of that problem most of the time. Here are just a few of the things that suck about it:
We objectify ourselves and each other.
As alluded to above, most women (yes, even us creative, smart, professional movers and shakers and doers and thinkers) have a deep–seated conviction that we’d be better off in life if we were prettier/thinner/taller. This is maddeningly stupid, and we know it, but it’s all smashed up in our subconscious primordial ooze, with the Disney Princesses and the Nationwide Insurance jingle, and we have a very hard time rooting it out.
We enable each other’s self-objectification by sizing up our friends (and enemies), commenting about their appearance, and complaining about our own appearance. When we say “have you lost weight?”, or “my thighs are getting so fat”, we are feeding each other’s demons.
I’m working on this one by putting the kibosh on all appearance-monitoring of my female friends, and all discussion (complainy or otherwise) of my own appearance. If that sounds really hard (like it does to me), remember the wombats and Mary Oliver.
Self-objectification makes us dumber.
Self-objectification results in a phenomenon called body monitoring, which literally makes us dumber. Body monitoring means thinking about how we look, imagining what we might look like to the other people in the room, fidgeting with our hair and clothes, and arranging our face and body in order to look more attractive. It happens so often, and takes up so much brain space, that it has a measurable effect on our ability to focus and perform.
This one is tough to combat, but my current approach is this: when I’m in a public place, and I notice I’m sitting in a way that might not look cute, I bite the bullet and keep sitting that way. I’m trying to train my demons the way I train my dogs: no rewards for bad behavior.
When we objectify ourselves during sex, we don’t get to have sex.
Sexual objectification makes us feel that we are not the subjects of our sexual encounters. I’m using “subject” here in the grammatical, sentence-diagramming sense, as in “the entity that is doing or being”; as opposed to the “object”, the “entity being acted upon”.
It’s simple grammar, folks: when we’re being sexually objectified, we’re not having sex. We are being sexed at, or in, or upon.
So here’s my challenge: the next time you have sex, verbalize a sentence in which in which you are the subject. That sentence should probably start with the word “I”, as in, “I want you to…” or “I like that”, or “I don’t like that”. (Interestingly, it seems like the most commonly-depicted phrase of dirty talk uttered by women in movies/books/porn is “fuck me”, or some variation of it - a sentence in which the speaker is still the object).
Of course, sometimes, sexual objectification can be fun (fear not, Fifty Shades devotees). I’ve been known to enjoy a helping of it from time to time. I’d argue that if it’s something you can openly discuss and ask your partners for, you are in fact acting as a sexual subject. (When you ask to be objectified, you have to make yourself the subject of the sentence, eg: “I want you to tie me up.”).
For extra credit: orchestrate a sexual encounter wherein you’re the subject. If someone were writing a story about the encounter, you would be the subject of most of the sentences (“she took off her dress” or “she climbed on top of him”). I am challenging us all to initiate more of the sex we have, and initiate more of the things we want during sex.
Join me in the pursuit, ladies: we’ve been getting fucked for millennia. Let’s start fucking.