Sunday, 10 January 2010

'..I finally had an orgasm and my doctor told me it was the wrong kind...'

- 'Manhattan,' Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

I found out the other day that the female G-spot is a myth.

Or, more accurately, that the papers say that a study says that the G-spot is a myth (a couple of articles here and here). This startling statement is accompanied by some patronising 'Relax, guys - the pressure's off, you don't have to find it after all' comments, and some fairly dodgy explanations that the G-spot is a 'figment of women's imagination, encouraged by magazines and sex therapists'. This despite 56% of the women in the study saying they had one.

The study, when you look closer, is painfully flawed. They are not trying to prove the existence or otherwise of the G-spot, they're trying to come up with a hereditary basis for its presence (the journalists clearly ignored this bit). So, asking identical and non-identical twin sisters if they have a G-spot should produce higher positive results in the identical sets, who, genetically, should share the same features - presumably, including the G-spot.

Problem 1. The question they asked was daft: 'Do you believe you have a G-spot, a small area the size of a 20p coin on the front wall of your vagina that is sensitive to deep pressure?'

It demands a straight yes/no and doesn't allow for discussion about variation of where it is or how sensitive it might be. And who measured whose G-spot against a 20p coin? Wait, I forgot, it doesn't exist. So it's notionally that size for the purposes of the question.

The way I would have asked (and I am heavily influenced by Shere Hite) would be a series of questions which asked for full-sentence answers, e.g. 'What is a G-spot? Do you have one? Where is it? How does it work? When and how did you first find it? How does stimulating it affect your sexual response/orgasm? Please tell us anything else about the G-spot you think is important that we haven't asked about.' Then they might have got some answers which reflect women's experiences more honestly, and take into account the variation in women's sexual responses.

And I dislike the bias that seems inherent in 'Do you believe...?', which implies that while you might believe this about your body, we are scientists and deal in facts and therefore know better than you.

Problem 2. The G-spot is well tucked away, physically and socially. Its existence is not on a plain binary, easily established by asking, like being able to roll your tongue. It's like the male prostate gland - in fact, some theories suggest the female G-spot is a vestigial prostate gland. Now, most cisguys do have a prostate gland, but if you lined a bunch up and asked if they had discovered the fun you could have with it during sex, some would grin cheerfully and say 'Hell, yes!', some would be offended, and some would look a bit shifty and mumble. That's not because of a genetic variation in the existence of the prostate gland, (though of course there will be variations of size, shape, sensitivity, and so on) it's because of a social construct, the 'Anal play is gay' rule, which prevents some cisguys from finding out whether prostate massage works for them.

Similarly, social acceptability has increased around talking about sex and genital anatomy since, say, fifty years ago. The study did indicate that younger women were more likely to say they have a G-spot - possibly because they live in a time when it's more acceptable to read about it, talk to your friends about it, ask your lover to look for it, or even - shock! - look for it yourself.

There's no allowance made in the study for women who have very little or too much sensitivity in the front wall of their vagina, or who find it's only sensitive some days of their cycle, or who tried stimulation there once but didn't like the sensations, or who don't necessarily want to look for it, or for any other possible experiences that might produce the answer 'No' to the question posed.

Pretty much all queer and non-heteronormative sexual experiences were omitted. Worryingly, gay and bi women were excluded from the study altogether, because of 'the common use of digital stimulation among these women, which may bias results'. Oh, yes, because no nice straight girl ever uses her or her partner's fingers for stimulation. Women who hadn't had PIV sex were also excluded. So, by implication, the G-spot is only the G-spot if discovered with a cock.

The study concluded that: A possible explanation for the lack of heritability may be that women differ in their ability to detect their own (true) G-spots. However, we postulate that the reason for the lack of genetic variation—in contrast to other anatomical and physiological traits studied—is that there is no physiological or physical basis for the G-spot.

First - what is a (true) G-spot? Who decides? The women whose experience this research is trying to dissect, or the researchers, who have already wandered off towards the odd idea that the G-spot doesn't exist and that 56% of the experiences they've asked about are in fact 'figments of women's imagination'.

Second, surely a differing socialised ability to detect something as obfuscated as the G-spot makes more sense of the figures than assuming that a thousand of the women you've interviewed are deluded about their own sexual responses.

But apparently not. Apparently, the G-spot is dead.

There are three things about this sorry tangle of miscommunication, bad science and worse journalism that make me really angry, and they both go well beyond the parameters of this particular study and the press response to it. First, can you imagine if the equivalent happened with any part of the male anatomy? 'Sorry fellahs, you know we said you had a prostate gland? Well...turns out it doesn't exist. Yeah. Sorry.' It's hard to picture, isn't it? The sexual function of the male body is very well understood by now. Yet the female genitals - especially, though not only, as regards sexuality - are still the site of mystification, confusion, and a whole lot of propaganda. Male writers and medics have been telling women how they should be having sex since before Freud declared the clitoral orgasm immature and unworthy of notice.

This week, women are being told that there is no G-spot. In February 2008, we were told that the existence of the G-spot could be proved by ultrasound scans. There are stacks of studies out there, all with their own angle, and the press has had fun exaggerating and misrepresenting them to the unfortunate reader.

Women's power in their own bodies - and men's comprehension of the female body - is weakened by misinformation, doubt, and a weird mixture of hype and shame. And these reports get people worried - not just about the G-spot, though the practise of collagen injections purported to 'enhance' it suggests that insecurities about it are pretty widespread - but about the shape of our clitorises, whether our labia are too big, whether we smell and taste right, whether we have the right sort of orgasms.

And the constant bombardment of media pressure to find your G-spot, to have multiple orgasms, to have longer, better, more contorted orgasms, isn't right either - I am right there with Andrea Burri on this, if nothing else. She says that women who don't report having a G-spot are pressurized and made to feel inadequate, as are their partners, and this is true. So are women who don't have orgasms through penetration, and women who only come through self-stimulation, and women who have sexual experiences which don't fit with the promoted norm - which is to say, pretty much all women.

The third thing that pisses me off is this. I have what I'd call a G-spot. I found it the night of the Millennium celebrations. I was fifteen. I must have read about it, but I don't remember where - I just remember finding this sensation that made me curl up and squeak with joy.

But that's just me, that's one person's experience of one female body, and the plural of anecdote is not data. I don't get to stand up and say 'I know the G-spot exists,' because what I know is that it exists for me. Some women haven't experienced what I would call a G-spot, some women have a different experience of size, or shape, or sensitivity, or variety of orgasms, attached to what I'd call a G-spot. And that's all good, and no one - not the Times, not the BBC, not a small team at King's College, London - gets to tell any woman that she's doing it wrong or likes the wrong things or is deluded about her own sexual experiences.

Sexual response is a subjective experience and it is unique - something that the writers of this study seem to have missed, by reducing their question to a heavily-qualified statement with a binary Y/N answer as the only possible response.

Entirely subjectively, then, I have what I'd call a G-spot. And, frankly, I don't care if it's the crura of my clitoris, a vestigial prostate gland, a urethral sponge, or whatever this week's explanation is. It is there and I enjoy it. It's my body, I feel this, I have orgasms that way, get used to it or get out of my bed and get out of my media.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Yes, I dress to the left - who am I to defy convention?

I want to talk about my relationship with cock - partly about the mechanics, and partly by way of entertaining my reader with silly anecdotes.

Cock seems to be a bit of a trans standard - the absolute delineation of how far you've got. 'So do you have a dick still/yet?' gets thrown at me, and my friends, both FTM and MTF, and occasionally cis-gendered too.

To which my response is 'Yes. I have five, and they're all bigger than yours.'

So, my cock. Well, that's a weird one. I do not have a physical cock that is attached to me, because I am not yet medically transitioning, and even when I do, I am deeply reluctant to let anyone get near my genitals with a scapel. The constructive surgery required to make a cock is reputedly quite dodgy and prone to issues, depending what procedure you go for and what surgeon you get. And surgery is looking increasingly distant as Charing Cross ignore my repeated attempts to get an appointment. So currently, I am making do with a knotted sock down my trousers.

And I dress to the left. I made a conscious decision to do this, because apparently most guys do. (Note for statisticians - this is drawn from observations made in the 'Hite Report on Male Sexuality', and a conversation I had a while back, when me and a couple of other guys concluded that men dress to the left because they put it away with their right hand, and therefore it automatically ends up on the left side. I'd love to get a research grant and spend a few years idly pursuing this line of inquiry on an academic scale, preferably with tenure and a book deal, but that ain't going to happen).

So, working from anecdotal evidence only, I dress to the left in order not to draw attention.

I reckon it helps my passing. I know I look at other mens', obviously, and I understand from 'Queer As Folk', 'My Secret Garden', and a number of other sources that other people do too. So I quite want it to look realistic.

For those interested in the mechanics, I use either a football sock or a longer, almost knee-length one, which I knot at the base, looping the free end through the knot til it's basically a lump, and then pulling the free end through the fly of my boxers to anchor the thing in place. (I have had it slip, and suddenly fall down to knee level. I tell you, unobtrusively trying to kick the packer down your trouser leg, and then retrieve it from the floor, is not fun). Then, as I said, I pack it to the left.

'Packing' is a common term for wearing a knotted sock, silk glove, folded hankie, silicone soft dildo, or other device for verisimilitude. It's derived, apparently, from the term 'packing heat', or wearing a concealed gun. I like what this says about phallic imagery.

I was cautioned as a baby-transguy that it needs to look soft. No semi-ons need apply. The fact that I needed to be reminded of this bears out another of my theories about my transition. I am, in fact, going through male teens in my twenties. If I had anything to measure with a ruler, I would, and this also says something about phallic mythology and masculinity as we learn it.

Also, it makes me walk differently. Having a physical bump at crotch level makes me remember to move differently, reminds me to make a realistic amount of fuss if I inadvertantly crush it on the arm of a bus-seat (which I have done), reminds me to adjust it every so often - not too obviously, but as if it was bothering me. These are things I have observed, and am copying, deliberately and with aforethought, because they look right. The hardest thing to learn was readjusting. I hadn't realised how massively ingrained it was, as female, that you don't scratch, fidget, or even touch your genitals, at all, ever, in anyone's presence, til I started doing so as a guy and found it so profoundly difficult.

But presentation in public is probably the easiest side of packing. The question is, what do you do when the pants come off?

There are surprisingly many mechanisms by which a female-bodied person, or anyone else who wants one, can get a simulacrum of a dick. The She-Wee, the Whiz Freedom and the Pack And Pee have solved the problem of pissing standing up for those of us without an exceptional ability at projection. And very handy they are too, when camping, at a festival, walking home from the pub, or being kettled by the Metropolitan Police. They requires practise, but that's all.

Then there is the bewildering selection of dildos currently on the market. You can get realistic, pornographic-realistic, and horrific-realistic, anywhere on the web. Then there are the rather less unpleasant silicone ones which don't attempt total realism at the expense of good taste. I mean, a cock when attached (biologically or otherwise) to a person I like is an awesome and delicious thing. A cock on its own, in stark isolation from a human being, is just a bit icky. So I tend to buy silicone ones, matt black or purple for preference, and enjoy the obvious genderfuckery that goes with them.

I bought my first strapon when I was about twenty. Because I had no money, it was cheap, and the wrong shape, and the wrong colour, but I still used to go to sleep wearing it, just for the first few blissful seconds of waking up with a hardon. It was consoling - a sort of trans safety blanket.

Then I got one (gonna plug this, cause it's good - it's the Sh! Dickie ) which was cock-shaped but not in any way veiny or 'flesh-coloured'. (I have a beef with 'flesh-coloured' in describing dildos, as with tights, make-up, etc, as meaning pretty much exclusively 'flesh-coloured if you are white', but that's a whole nother post).

In the last couple of years, a few 'strapless strapons' have appeared on the market - the Feeldoe being the most famous, and the Share is, in my view, the best. They have one end which is more or less phallic, and the other end is egg-shaped, and can be worn in the vagina by the wearer/active/giver/whatever. They're good because they allow for sensation for the wearer. I've found that conventional harnesses have no direct sensation benefits for me. (Apart from the optical thrill, which gives me a buzz, but can wear off quite fast.) They also require PC muscles of steel to control properly, and limit the positions you can do.

Buit I still feel lucky, despite all the limitations, logistics, and the fact that when you boil it right down I have a female construction, fuelled by oestrogen, and my functioning and sensate genitals have nothing to do with what I think and feel should be there. I have a couple of major advantages.

I love cock as attached to others. Cock is beautiful, powerful, cute, vulnerable, appealing, and sensual. (And here, I must apologise to those who don't share my enthusiasm, and ask them to bear in mind that my relations with cock are dictated by what I feel about my own body, by a firm compromise with my androphilic side, and by genuine affection for some men and their bodies more then either).

But - I don't have to have a relationship with my cock which is such a cliche it's become a fact. I don't have to stress over whether I was circumcised or not, I don't have to freak about the size or the width or the response to alcohol or tiredness. I need never worry because it doesn't look like all the other guys' in the showers. I need never, like Lord Rochester, address an entire poem about premature ejaculation to it.

I'm a transguy, so I get to create my own. If my friends and lovers will willingly suspend their disbelief, (cue Blackadder Goes Forth joke) I can have a lot of fun with my silicone toys, and then leave them under the pillow when I want to.

But I don't see myself shaking off that bit of patriarchal brainwashing - I'm too hardwired to fit into the masculine mould society had prepared for me. So, as and when I get some testerone in the system, experience male puberty, and announce proudly that it's grown to nearly two inches, you can all point out this article and laugh at me.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

'When I was a little girl, and so my mother told me...'


This is a long rage about what little girls learn and why, and what they don't learn and why they need to. We learn that we are not safe in our bodies, and then we learn to fear them, to hide them and not discuss them and keep them out of danger as much as we can. Our mothers teach us this because they want us to be safe, but there is no safety when what you fear is yourself.

I feel damn lucky, because I have strayed across the gender line now, and I can see what had to be re-learnt as a grownup, so I could call myself a man. But some of this, I had to learn just to deal with living in a woman's body, .

What I was taught when I was a little girl
When I was eight years old, I had to go to the doctors for suspected early menarche. My mother asked for a lady doctor but none were available, so an elderly man with greying hair and cold fingers examined and prodded my 'between-my-legs', (the only name I had for it) while my anxious mother looked on. I wasn't unduly distressed by the examination, but I remember the amount that my mother was freaked out and embarrassed by the whole incident. And I got scared, because I could see that she was scared.

That was when I found out my body wasn't really mine.

Fast forward, from Cornwall in summer 1992 to last Christmas. I went to a GUM clinic to get a checkup. These are always unpleasant, but at this particular hospital, they use metal speculums with screws to loosen or tighten. They hurt. They really hurt. I found this out the previous visit, and they now freak me out horribly - worse than a dentist's drill, worse than a bad tongue-piercing, worse than injecting into the eye.

I was shoved up in the stirrups, baring my embattled genitals to the world, and the nurse went off to fetch the doctor. She left my lying there, exposed, cold, unable to fidget or run away (as I very much wanted to), the dreaded speculum lying in my view on the side table.

And I started to cry. Because I hate this procedure, I was nervous, I thought I was ill, I had no control over what happened next, because I was lying, waiting and knowing that this would hurt and humiliate me and I couldn't move.

The doctor returned. I was clearly crying, my breathing was ragged. She ignored my tears, said 'If you don't relax, this will hurt more,' and I lay back and recited the phonetic alphabet to myself, and tried to ignore what was going on down there.

Every woman I talk to about this has a similar horror story.
Once the female body is in the hands of the experts, it's not yours any more.

What I was taught as a teenager
I learned that I could be attacked because of my body. I was banned from walking alone after dark, I learned that I must dress conservatively, I must never ever speak to strangers, I must not wear short skirts, because these things were dangerous to me because of my body. I was not allowed to be even slightly less than fully covered in front of my male relatives - including my father and brother, men whom, to this day, I would unquestioningly trust with my life. I was taught that my body was dangerous. The first time a stranger accosted me because of my body, I was fourteen years old. I literally ran all the way home, and cried for half an hour with fear.

Every woman I talk to about this learned a version of it.

Once the female body is a sex object, it's not yours any more.

What I was never taught when I was a little girl.
How to take an attacker out at the eyes, the throat, the kneecap. How to stack up muscle on my upper body so I am physically able to wrestle men bigger and stronger than me. How to run. How to ask questions, all the time. How to take a handmirror and look at my cunt, and then draw what I saw, and then learn to love what I saw. How to kick in heavy boots. How to look bigger and more confident. How to meet people's eyes. How to fight back. How to forgive myself for not fighting back. How to love my body. How to enjoy sex. How to tell a man I can't go swimming because of my period. How to demand safer sex. How to get checkups every six months in case we weren't safe enough. How to make a fuss when the checkups are skimped or insensitive or painful or humiliating. How to talk about my clitoris. How to negotiate orgasms. How to not shave and not care. How to ignore makeup. How to argue with doctors. How to forget what my mother told me, and think about what daughters need to hear. How to demand this knowledge for all women.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

This is BBC Radio 4, and here is a total 'WTF?' comment.

The other day, I caught an item on the radio that caused me to boggle with astonishment.

It was on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, and Delia Smith was being interviewed.

Passing lightly over the fact that she has donated 11 million pounds to Norwich City Football Club (raising two questions, 1. Is there that much money in cookery? 2. Is there really nothing better she could have done with it?), the bit that caused my jaw to drop was when Jane Garvey asked her if she called herself a feminist.

Now, I have no issue with people who do not call themselves feminists. I know a huge number of strong women who are going places, and a lot of men who believe absolutely in equality, who have their own word for their views. This is fair, because the word 'feminist' has a bad image these days, and is not a label everyone is happy with. I'm also aware not everyone is comfortable with labelling themselves, and that is also a position to be respected. What I have less respect for is people who miss the whole point, that it's not just calling yourself a feminist, or a womanist, or a believer in equality; it's about how you think and how you act and what makes you angry and what you ask questions about. I have less respect for people who can't see that there's a problem.

Hence my rising hackles when I heard this.

Jane Garvey: Would you call yourself a feminist?
Delia Smith: No
JG: Why not?
DS: Well because - I don't know whether I- I'm, sort of, outside it, but I've never really felt, kind of, any problem. I've never felt inferior, I've never felt - I suppose there are little irritating things like - if I want something men did, I ask my husband to ring up because they'll take more notice of the man's voice than the woman's voice. I also really like men a lot - I like the company of men.

(I typed this verbatim from the Listen Again recording. The link is here if you want to catch the whole item).

I'm amazed by the sheer lack of connection in her point of view. She says there's no problem, and immediately articulates an aspect of the problem. And yet she hasn't made the connections.

She's said it herself - men do not yet respect women as equals. And this in the UK, where we are still getting a good deal - we can vote and work and own property and decide if and when and whom to marry, and if and when and how to have a family. We're doing well, and that's fantastic. There's still lots to be done, but I'm happy we've got far enough that some people can relax and say, 'yes, this is good. We're doing well.'

But there are places in this increasingly small world, where women can't do any of the above.

I can't see, any way I look at it, that there isn't a problem. I try to respect everyone's political views (which is not to say I won't debate til I'm tired if I think they've missed something important) but I find it hard to deal with a total lack of engagement.

So, I'd suggest a new school of thought for the relaxed, the satisfied, in this lucky country. I'd call it 'international feminism', but it goes by many names, and it's practised by egalitarians and teachers and diplomats and aid workers and Amnesty International and the people who are still trying to gain the benefits that we have for more women, for more people, worldwide.

We could maybe start by phoning Norwich City and telling them we might just have a better use for that 11 million quid.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Mono/Poly (2 of 2)

Further to my previous post, here is the upside.

There are lots of ways to be together that are not monogamy. You can be polyamorous, non-monogamous, in-an-open-relationship, swingers, Ethical Sluts, or [insert your own word here]. Each has as many different meanings as there are people who practise it, so for the sake of simplicity I will use 'poly' and try to cover as many aspects of all forms of non-monogamy as possible

Polyamory is not polygamy.
Polygamy sounds like it's closely related to monogamy, and linguistically it is. Within religious denominations such as the Mormons, to quote an American example, it's also an unequal system, in which men get to have multiple wives while women are expected to stay faithful to their shared husband. It's another male-focussed social system with sightly different ratios of male:female. (I'm aware this is not true of every polygamous society worldwide, but once again I'm focussing on traditions descended from the Abrahamic laws). Polyamory is about both women and men having freedom to have sex with more than one person. It also holds none of the expectations on women of sexual availability, child-bearing and economic dependency that are frequently found within polygamous Mormonism.

Polyamory is not a way of cheating without saying you're cheating.
Poly is, like good kink, safe, consensual, and well-negotiated. Poly doesn't just happen to a relationship without mutual consent. It needs to be talked about, common ground is sought and found, and boundaries are made clear. Poly couples have ground rules, and partners need to stick to those. Some people insist on only same-sex partners, on only playing when out of the family home, on only playing as a couple, on meeting a partner's potential partners first.
Which brings me to...

Poly is safe if you make it safe.
A major ground rule for most poly couples is safer sex. While monogamy pretty much removes the opportunity to be frank about the use on contraception and barrier methods with other partners, poly negotiations pretty much require an agreement on safer sex.
That is where fidelity to your primary/ies happens - you don't just trust them with your heart, but quite literally with your life. And they trust you with theirs - and if that isn't a big damn incentive not to take risks that you might take if it was just you, I don't know what is.

Poly does not make you a bad parent
I'll be brief on this one, not having tried it myself. But it's still asumed that poly parents, like gay parents, means children automatically suffer from growing up in an atypical household. There are always going to be some parents who don't put their child first, but why should anyone assume they're always the non-monogamous, non-straight, non-Normal ones? This is not the case. Having extra adults involved in their care is a good thing for children, they get more attention and affection and time. The nuclear family, that recent invention, can stand to grow and stretch and include more people in more bonds. Extended families of multiple adults were caring for children long before economic forces created the two-parent, one-earner-one-carer model - which, by the way, is going out the window anyway, now that women can work and one wage won't feed a growing family. Extended familys of parents and partners who are happily together in whatever combination are a bonus for a child.

Poly is not just for bisexuals...
...although the two do go together like Baileys and coffee. But poly can work for every orientation, and the notion that it's just us bisexuals, having all the cake and eating it as usual, is an unfounded stereotype. You can be straight and be poly, and you can be gay and poly. People of any orientation can have a great time with partner-swaps, swinging, V-shaped relationships, cruising together and getting involved in group sex for any number of players. But, speaking personally, being bi and poly is a particular delight. Being bi makes it tough to be monogamous, because not only do all the girls look hotter once you're paired up, but all the boys do too. It's good to be in a relationship which doesn't preclude you from taking an active interest in the other end of your attraction spectrum.
I'd argue the same is true for people of all sexual orientations - one person, however much they make you swoon, however well they know you, is unlikely to be the only person in the world you're turned on to. It happens, certainly, but there is much more extra-curricular attraction going on than we think, and it's not always guilty. You can be twenty years happily married and still nourish a yen for James Taylor, or spinning with first love but also watching every Kiera Knightly film you can get your hands on. And that's OK. Poly makes it negotiatedly all right, not just to have those attractions, but to act on them.

Poly keeps you talking.
Lovers have to talk. It's the difference between foundering and salvation. Having an atypical relationship means you take nothing for granted and discuss everything - you have to renogiate everything with your partner because the rules aren't the same. This is also true of kinky relationships, queer relationships of every sort, and any sort of relationship that swims against the tide of normality. You have stuff you have to talk about, because you're in unmapped terrain, and all the practise comes in handy when the trivial little deal-breakers like the dishes and the dusting rear their ugly heads.

Poly is frubbly.
There's a word I want to see written into the OED, not because it sounds nice, but because we need it. It's the diametric opposite of jealousy. The nearest antonym of jealousy I can find is 'trusting', which is defining jealousy as irrational posessiveness. It's more than that. It's biting insecurity and silent fear and frustration and stress. Frubble is the opposite to all those things. Frubble is when you send your Significant Other off to be with zir Other Significant Other, knowing they'll both be glad to see you when you all meet tomorrow. It's when you phone your primary to talk about the amazing weekend you had with someone else, and ze's genuinely pleased for you. It's when you are glad that your lover is finding something ze needs with another lover, something that you didn't necesarily have - be it a shared interest in cooking, complementary kinks, or an eostrogen-based body.

Poly is fun
Poly is tricky. In one way, it's monogamy squared, cubed, endlessly expanded to include new people. It's harder to make time, to balance commitments, to keep things even and open and negotiated. But it can also let you out to have fun and give you a place to come back to. It can allow friends to bond sexually and erotic interest to stay above-board and safe. It lets men, women and everyone else do things they've been told, for no good reason but Normality, that they can't.

I'm not saying it's not tough. It's hard work, it can go horrendously wrong, it can be painful and difficult and break your heart. It can also be fantastic, uplifting, comforting, sexy and so uniquely good it makes you cry.

Bit like love, really.

Mono/Poly (1 of 2)

There's a T-shirt my primary partner, who is a maths geek, wants me to make for him.

It will say


That would look much cooler if I could find the correct symbol for [does not equal], or, indeed, remember it. But there, in a nutshell, you have the reason why he's my Primary and not my Only.

I'll start with monogamy and what it isn't, and (in Part 2) move on to polyamory and what it can be.

What follows is ranty and possibly biased. I am by no means dissing monogamy for couples who find that it works best for them. But I suspect there are many paired-off people who are trying to work out why they are turned on to other people, and whether they are the only one drawn to extramarital play? And monogamy isn't good if you do it not as a voluntary choice, but because you didn't know there was a choice.

So, a few things to consider:

Monogamy is not love.
Monogamy is a cultural construct designed to make people, and particularly women, have sex only with their socially-sanctioned partner. It's enforced by social pressure, by law, by coercion, or (recently) by sheer mass-media hype. In the West, women have sufficient independence that they do not have to be monogamous (sadly, in other parts of the world, this still gets you stoned to death in very much the way Moses wrote into the Pentateuch). But, having gained decent brith control and economic independence, we've all bought into the Cinderella/Pride-and-Prejudice/Bridget-Jones idea that once you meet The One, you'll never ever want anyone else again, and you'll just skip off into the sunset hand in hand.

Monogamy sells.
Monogamy, now that it is frowned upon for a father to sell his daughter on to a husband, is often based around the insecurity we're all nourishing inside, the bit that says 'what does ze have that I don't? Is ze prettier, wittier, better in bed?' There's a vast market in breath-freshener and diet pills and makeup and muscle-building shakes and vaginal douches and fancy underwear and books on how to give better oral sex, and they sell partly because we want to keep a partner faithful.

Monogamy is not equality.
Monogamy started out as a neat way for men to be sure the child they are raising is their own, once we as a species figured out that straight sex led to pregnancy. Before that, maternity was the important element of parenthood. Once it became apparent that men might be contributing to the care of someone else's child, social rules shifted to make it more difficult for the child's mother to have more than one partner. Patriarchal control kicked in, ensuring women were passed from father to husband in a virgin state, because illicit sex got between men and their property. Monogamy originated as a way to ensure paternity, and developed as a method of controlling women.

And monogamy is not working.
Humans are not built for monogamy. It's a social construct, not a biological drive. Our biological drive demand that we fuck a lot of people, and we tend to kick against our social training and do just that. Something between 25% and 50% of people have had extramarital sex, and that's the people who admitted to it. One in five fathers is bringing up a child who is not biologically his. Clearly, this social construct is failing. If four thousand years of moral opprobrium hasn't stopped us shagging around, surely we should embrace the opportunity to do so without guilt and dishonesty?

So what, if any, alternatives are there?

Part 2 follows soon. Watch this space.

Edited to add a couple of corrections.

I am informed by people who know their maths that the symbol I was after in fact means [Can Never Equal], rather than [Does Not Necesarily Equal]. This is linguistically true in the case of Love =/= Monogamy, but means the basis of my first argument is open to misunderstanding. What I was getting at is that, in our culture, romantic love is generally held to include and require monogamy in order to be valid, and I'd like to seriously question that assumption - especially in the media, and in the way we police each other's relationships, and submit them to the bitter testing of The Norm.

Second, I'm aware that some of my arguments have been ethnocentric, focussing largely on cultures descending from the Abrahamic traditions central to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. My apologies for skipping over other cultures and traditions so regardlessly. I'm aware that I find it easier as a writer to skip things I know less about. In future, I'll indicate where I am missing out important bits due to lack of
knowledge and research time.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Writer's block strikes again

Today I scribbled down fourteen great ideas for new posts. Tonight I failed to write any of them.

I have been writing for four hours and come up with nothing worth reading. Tomorrow, with any luck, I will be able to make a coherent post about monogamy, why I don't do it, and why I think it's a harmful creation of the patriarchy and hurts women.

Please watch this space while I get my thoughts in order. Sensible amounts of posting, as per my New Year's resolution, will be resumed shortly.

K x