Sex, Moods, and a Wife's Selfless Duty: And We Are in What Century Again?

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

The fascinating thing is this.

There’s this…. thing on the Internet. A pair of columns by conservative writer/ radio host Dennis Prager, exhorting wives who aren’t in the mood for sex with their husbands to suck it up and do it anyway, pretty much whenever he wants. You really have to read it for yourself (if you have high blood pressure, be sure you’ve taken your medication first), but here’s the gist:

A man know that his wife loves him by “her willingness to give her body to him.” Therefore, she should only rarely refuse to have sex with him when he wants it. And her decision to accept or refuse sex should have nothing to do with whether she’s in the mood for it, or whether she thinks she’s going to enjoy it. A considerate husband will of course recognize that “there are times when a man must simply refrain from initiating sex out of concern for his wife’s physical or emotional condition”… but apart from “those times,” a wife should pretty much never say “No.” And her mood should have nothing to do with that decision. Sex is an obligation that a wife owes to her husband, and for a wife to refuse it simply because she’s not in the mood is just plain selfish. (Oh, and by the way: This isn’t just how nature made us. It’s how God wants it.)

No, really. I’m serious. It’d be laughable if it weren’t so appalling. I could scarcely believe it was written in this decade. It reads like a marriage manual from the ’50s… and not a very modern marriage manual from the ’50s at that. It almost makes me want to call parody on it and invoke a sexual version of Poe’s Law (“it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that can’t be mistaken for the real thing”).

But the fascinating thing is this.

If you take out all the content about gender roles?

Total Woman
If you take out all the sexist, retrograde, “sex is an obligation that women owe to men,” “women’s sexual desires are less important than men’s,” “close your eyes and think of England,” Total Woman dreck? If you leave out the creepy, oft-repeated language about a woman “giving her body”? If you disregard the bizarre assumption that sex is always something men initiate and women either accept or reject? If you ignore the unsubstantiated at best, blatantly wrong at worst assertions about women’s and men’s sexualities… including the assertion that experiencing sex as a sign of love is somehow exclusive to men? If you overlook the idea that sex with a passive, compliant meat puppet will make men feel loved and satisfied? If you pass over the glaring omissions… such as the idea that men have an obligation to pay attention to women’s sexual pleasure, and if women are repeatedly saying “No” to sex, maybe it’s because their men are inconsiderate lovers who treat sex as something women do for them, instead of something they both do for each other?

If you can squint real hard and somehow ignore all that?

What he’s saying is not radically different from stuff I’ve said in this very blog.

I, myself, have argued that you don’t always need to be in the mood when you start sex. You just need to be willing to be in the mood. If you always wait until you’re both in the mood — especially if either or both of you are stressed, getting older, parents, a couple who’s been together for a while, or just insanely busy — you may wait a good long while, and will wind up having a lot less sex than either of you wants. But starting to have sex can get you in the mood, even if you weren’t in the mood to start with. It’s a good idea sometimes to let yourself be seduced, to start having sex before you’re in the mood and let yourself get drawn in it as you go.

I’ve even argued — very controversially — that if a person unilaterally and permanently refuses sex to their partner without being willing to discuss or negotiate it, it is not automatically the worst moral choice for that partner to seek out sex elsewhere. An argument that was based on the idea that sex — not sex on demand whenever and however you want it, but some amount of some kind of sex — is one of the things we have a right to expect in a romantic relationship. (And no, I don’t want to start that argument again. Please, for the sweet love of Loki, let’s not start that argument again.)

And I certainly wouldn’t argue with the proposition that sex is one of the main ways that people in a relationship feel loved. Like, duh.

But what on earth does any of that have to do with gender?

What on earth does it have to do with what men want, and what women should do about it?

Good vibrations guide to sex
If you spend even a cursory amount of time reading sex educators, sex therapists, sex advice columns, etc., a glaringly obvious pattern will jump out and smack you across the face. The pattern is this: A lot of couples have significant differences in how often they like to have sex… differences that can cause serious problems in their relationship.

And that pattern has little or nothing to do with gender.

Lesbian couples can have significant differences in how often they like to have sex. Gay male couples. Couples where one or both partners are trans or unconventionally gendered. People in triads and other non-coupled relationships.

And opposite sex couples can certainly have significant differences in how often they like to have sex… differences that most definitely cut across gender lines. In hetero couples with differing libidos, sometimes it’s the man who wants it more often — and sometimes, it’s the woman. Pretty often, it’s the woman.

It’s certainly possible that, on average, men tend to want sex more often than women. (I haven’t seen any good research on this one way or the other… but it wouldn’t shock me.) But even if that’s true, it’s hardly a universal rule. Plenty of women want sex more often than their male partners. In fact, a disturbing number of these women have had the crummy experience of being insulted, mocked, and rejected by their male partners for their high libidos.

So I ask again: What’s gender got to do with it? Why was this framed as a salvo in the battle of the sexes?

Let’s try an experiment. Let’s take the gender stuff out of this piece of advice, and see what happens.

Here’s what you get when you take the gender stuff out. Sex is one of the important ways that people in a relationship feel good about themselves and know that they’re loved. Sex is an important part of a romantic relationship, and people have a right to expect it. Often, however, people in relationships have differences in how often they want sex. These differences need to be worked out, since they can cause real problems in the relationship, including the problem of one or both partners not feeling accepted and loved. That working-out may involve a reasonably happy-medium compromise, in which one partner winds up having sex somewhat more often than they’d normally be inclined to, and the other winds up having it somewhat less. (It can involve other solutions as well, such as non-monogamy or redefining what you think of as sex… but let’s stay on topic, just this once.) And if you always wait until you’re in the mood to have sex, you may end up having sex a lot less often than either of you wants, and a lot less often than is good for your relationship. You don’t always have to be in the mood; you just have to be willing to get into the mood.

See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?

But when you put all that gender stuff in? When you make this about women’s sexual responsibilities to men, instead of people’s sexual responsibilities to their partners?

It’s not just wrong. It’s not even just sexist. It taps into a toxic mythology that made people miserable and ruined relationships and marriages, for decades and indeed centuries. It is a revival of a sexual system that was demeaning and depressing for both women and men: a system in which women’s sexual pleasure was considered trivial at best and non-existent at worst, in which sex was a service women were expected to provide for men on demand without concern for their own desires, in which women’s bodies were a commodity that men were entitled to and women were obligated to “give.” It is a form of relationship between men and women that our society has largely been rejecting… and with good reason.

And that’s the real tragedy of this sorry piece of writing: It didn’t have to be this way. There was a germ of a good idea buried in the toxic waste: a germ of an idea about how, in sex as much as in the rest of your life, you have to look after your partner’s needs as well as your own; to be willing to be flexible and accommodating; to not let your moods control how you treat each other; to take pains to make sure your partner knows they’re loved.

But the toxic waste was so overpowering that it makes me seriously question whether the germ of a good idea was really what Prager cared about. It makes me seriously question whether his crucial issue was “men need to know that they’re loved”… or whether, instead, it was “women need to know their place.”

Sex, Moods, and a Wife's Selfless Duty: And We Are in What Century Again?

Against Deism

I suppose it’s a little silly to spend an entire blog post arguing against deism. After all, of all the religious beliefs out there, it’s the one that’s most consistent with the evidence. And it’s almost certainly the one that does the least harm. In fact, deism pretty much is atheism — except for the “believing in God” part.

But — for reasons I’ll explain in a moment — I’m going to argue against it anyway. I don’t care about it nearly as much as I do about other religious beliefs… but I care enough to spend a blog post on it.

Deism, for those who aren’t familiar, is the belief that the Universe was created by a god; but once said Universe was created, God no longer had anything to do with it. God has a plan, but that plan is proceeding without God’s intervention. He/she/it brought physical existence and the laws of physics and whatnot into being… and stopped there.

So for any practical purposes, deism is indistinguishable from atheism. An entirely non-interventionist god — one who doesn’t intervene even with any afterlife we might or might not have, much less with this life — is, in any useful day- to- day sense, utterly indistinguishable from no god at all.

But for that exact reason, I think deism is logically indefensible.

Karl popper
Because a deistic god is essentially indistinguishable from no god at all, it is an entirely untestable, unfalsifiable hypothesis. Even more so than more common religious beliefs. Regular religious beliefs typically suffer from a great degree of unfalsifiability… but they do make some claims about how God acts on the world. Claims that tend to be slippery and goalpost- moving and heavily reliant on mysterious ways, to be sure… but claims nonetheless.

A belief in a deistic God doesn’t. Deism essentially says, “God exists… but saying that God exists implies absolutely nothing about the world. God exists, but his/ her/ its existence is completely indistinguishable from his/ her/ its nonexistence.” Totally untestable, totally unfalsifiable. With conventional religious beliefs, a world without God would be very different indeed from a world without God. With deism, there’s no difference at all.

Now, a deist god supposedly answers the question of how all this Universe stuff got here in the first place. But in fact, it really just begs that question. Any questions about the Universe that the deist God hypothesis supposedly answers — how did it get here, how did something come out of nothing, if it just always existed how is that possible — have to be asked about God as well. It doesn’t answer those questions; it just pushes them back one level, to God instead of the universe. If you can say that God just always existed, or that God somehow just came into being out of nothingness, then there’s no reason you can’t say that about the universe as well.

I suppose you could argue that a deist god answers the question of why believers believe; why people feel the presence of God even though there’s no good evidence for him. Except that it doesn’t. Given the fallibility of intuition and its tendency to tell us what we want or expect to hear, people’s personal feelings and intuitions don’t make a good argument for a deist God, any more than they do for an interventionist God. In fact, intuition is actually a less good argument for a deist God… since with a deist God, you have to ask the question, “If God isn’t intervening in any way, shape, or form, then how is it that I can feel his/ her/ its presence?” The whole “this is how our brains work, we’re wired to see patterns and intentions even where none exist, and to see what we expect and hope to see” thing makes a better explanation for these feelings and intuitions than the God hypothesis does… regardless of whether the God in question is interventionist or not.

The deistic God hypothesis isn’t necessary. It doesn’t answer any questions that the not-God hypothesis doesn’t answer. Plus it presents a whole new set of unanswered and unanswerable questions — such as how exactly God created the universe out of nothing, and why God doesn’t intervene even though he/ she/ it clearly has the power to. And when your Hypothesis A doesn’t answer any more questions than Hypothesis B, and it presents extra unanswered questions that Hypothesis B doesn’t present, and it has extra entities and layers of complexity in the mix that Hypothesis B doesn’t have… then that’s a hypothesis you probably want to let go of.

But again — why do I care? If deism is essentially indistinguishable from atheism, why do I care about it enough to bother criticizing it?

I care for the same reason I care about progressive, non-bigoted, science- positive religion.

I care because it gives legitimacy to the idea that it’s okay to believe in undetectable supernatural entities, without any evidence to support that belief.

I care because it gives legitimacy to the idea that it’s okay to believe in undetectable supernatural entities, simply because you feel it intuitively.

I care because it gives legitimacy to the idea that it’s okay to believe in undetectable supernatural entities, simply because you want to: because you find the idea of a god comforting, and because you find the idea of there not being a god weird and upsetting.

It’s not just that deism gives legitimacy to the basic concept of God and religious belief. It’s that it gives legitimacy to these faulty forms of reasoning; the ones that keep getting used to defend the more obviously indefensible forms of religion. It gives legitimacy to unfalsifiable hypotheses, and prioritizing intuition over evidence, and wishful thinking.

And I’m not okay with that.

I do think deism is often a gateway religion; a step that people go through when they’re in the process of letting religion go. I can’t remember now where I read this, but I was recently reading some former Christian minister talking about how, as he thought about it harder and looked at it more carefully, the evidence for the God he’d been raised to believe in was looking increasingly weak and inconsistent… until finally his God had been reduced to an entirely deistic one, a God who was out there somewhere but was completely detached from human reality. At which point, he clung to his belief for a little longer… and was then finally able to let go.

It seems like this happens with a lot of people. I get that. And I’m basically okay with it. I don’t expect every fervent believer, or even lukewarm believer, to immediately relinquish every scrap of their belief the first time they hear a good argument for atheism. People need to go through their process — I certainly did — and that’s fine. And if their process stops at deism, I don’t really care very much. People who believe in deism aren’t going to inflict much harm on themselves or others trying to appease their entirely non- interventionist God.

I’m just saying: If you’ve stopped at deism — if you believe in a God who’s out there somewhere, or who was out there somewhere at one time, but whose existence is 100% indistinguishable from his/ her/ its non-existence… then I’d like to encourage you to look at whether that belief really makes sense. And I’d like to encourage you to take that final step, that leap of non-faith. Come on in. The water’s fine.

Against Deism

Home Carbonation, and Contrary Human Nature

Have you ever wanted to do something that you basically couldn’t care less about, just because someone told you that you couldn’t?

Soda club
Ingrid and I just signed up for this Soda Club thing: a “make your own sparkling water” gizmo with replaceable CO2 cartridges. A keen idea, and one we’re very excited about: we drink a ton of fizz water, and we’ve been going through a ton of plastic fizz water bottles every week. (Yes, we recycle them; but with plastic especially, it’s much better if you can just avoid buying the stuff in the first place.) This gizmo will cut our plastic consumption by a considerable amount. Plus, we can have as much fizz water as we want, whenever we want it, without suffering the miserable indignity of going to the store or waiting for our next grocery delivery.

But here’s the thing. One of the instructions on the Soda Club soda maker says that you should not carbonate anything other than plain water.

And the moment I read that, I was immediately filled with a powerful desire to carbonate things that I shouldn’t.

I now want to carbonate everything. Coffee. Soy milk. Orange juice. Bourbon. Absinthe. I want to go through our entire liquor cabinet and carbonate everything in it. I want to make my own sparkling wine, just by taking regular sparkling wine and carbonating it. I want to go to the supermarket and find a bunch of weird beverages, just so I can carbonate them. I want to buy a second carbonating gizmo, just so I can try to carbonate weird stuff without mucking up the one we use for water.

Now, it’s important to understand: Before we got this gizmo and read this warning, the thought that it might be fun to carbonate coffee or bourbon had never, ever occurred to me. Not once. If you had asked me, “Would you like to carbonate some coffee?”, or, “On your list of things you would like to do before you die, where does ‘carbonate coffee’ fit?”, I would have looked at you like you were nuts.

But now I’m the one who’s nuts. This is driving me mildly batty. I really want to know what carbonated coffee would taste like. I’m sure I’ll forget about this in a week or two (or I would have if I hadn’t blogged about it). But for now, the desire for forbidden carbonation is raging hot in my blood.

What the heck is this about?

Marlon brando wild bunch
I have a strong fondness for this part of me that wants to rebel against everything. It’s a big part of what makes me who I am, and especially who I am as a writer: the part that looks at the ideas and rules that most people accept without question, and asks, “Is there really a good reason for that?” That’s an important and valuable human activity. Fun, too.

But at times, it’s a bit silly, and even counter- productive. As I’ve written before: To reflexively rebel against the mainstream means you’re just as controlled by that mainstream as you would be if you reflexively conformed to it.

And some rules are rules for a reason. According to the company’s FAQ (no, I’m not the first person to ask this question), if you carbonate things other than water with ther gizmo, “you risk damaging your drinks maker, not to mention making a big fizzy mess!” (Exclamation point theirs.) I don’t know why this is — I don’t know if there’s some weird chemical process that happens when you try to carbonate soy milk — but I doubt that they’d make up a rule like that for no reason. If they say it makes a big fizzy mess, it probably makes a big fizzy mess.

I’m reminded of an interview I once read with the actor Klaus Kinski. He was raging against the intolerable strictures of our conformist society, and he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I’ll be driving along, and I’ll see a sign that says ‘Right Lane Must Turn Right,’ and I think to myself, ‘MUST turn right? MUST?!? FUCK YOU!'”

Right lane must turn right
That line made me laugh for weeks afterwards, and it was a catch- phrase among my circle of friends for a long time. It was such a blatantly absurd example of pointless rebellion. Traffic laws are the perfect example of laws that are there for very good reasons indeed… and in any case, it seemed just a teensy bit out of proportion, a case of choosing one’s battles somewhat poorly. There are far more intolerable strictures of our conformist society than the right turn only lane.

And yet, it’s kind of how I feel now about the home carbonator.

“MUST not carbonate anything other than water? MUST not?!? FUCK YOU!”

Home Carbonation, and Contrary Human Nature

You Got Religion In My Porn! The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This piece, and the piece it links to, includes references to my personal sexuality: not to my sex life per se, but to my sexual fantasies and my tastes in porn. Family members and other who don’t want to read about that, please don’t.

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about the influence of religion on porn: not religion being used to oppress or demonize porn in this case, but religion as inspiration for porn. I’ve been writing more erotic fiction lately, and a fair amount of it has religion as a major theme… something I never used to be interested in, either as a porn writer or a porn reader. So I’m trying to figure out what that’s about… and am asking other porn writers/ readers if they’ve ever found their interests shifting in this direction.

It’s titled You Got Religion In My Porn!, and here’s the teaser:

Part of it, I think, is actually the atheism. Not surprisingly, I spend more time thinking about religion now that I’m an atheist blogger than I have at any time in my life (since I was a religion major, anyway). So religion is just on my mind more… and consequently, it’s more in my libido.

Plus, being a critic of religion, the darker aspects of religion are particularly on my mind. And the erotic imagination/ porn- writing parts of my mind are pretty dark, and they tend to gobble up dark things like they were chocolates. Nom, nom, nom.

And of course, as Ingrid points out, anything that’s forbidden or taboo almost automatically becomes erotic. As an atheist, religious thinking about sex — imagining sex through the eyes of a fervent believer, putting myself and my libido into that mindset — feels kind of taboo… and thus it becomes more erotically exciting than it might otherwise be.

I think there’s something else, though; something other than the accident of what I happen to be thinking about these days. That’s probably why I started playing with it in the first place; but it doesn’t explain why I’ve been running with it so eagerly.

To find out what I think my new-found interest in religious porn is about — or to chime in with your own thoughts and experiences about it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

(Note: If you decide to comment on this piece here in this blog, please consider cross- posting your comment to the piece itself on the Blowfish Blog. They like comments there, too.)

You Got Religion In My Porn! The Blowfish Blog

Free Will, Doing Good, and the "12 Policemen" Metaphor

There’s a common Christian apologetic: a defense for why a god who’s supposedly all- powerful, all- knowing, and all- good still allows evil to flourish. You’re probably familiar with it. It says that in order to have free will, people have to be free to choose evil… and free will is an inherently greater good than not- free- will, one that more than counterbalances the evil that’s required for this free will to exist.

Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism was recently blogging about this apologetic: he’s written about it well and thoroughly, more than once, and I don’t have a huge amount to add. But I do have a particular take on it, and I’d like to share it with the rest of the class.

Let’s take two people: Person A, and Person B.

Person A is born into relative prosperity — not stinking rich, but comfortable — to loving parents who take good care of him and teach him good values. He gets a good education, good nutrition, good shelter and health care, and has a general sense of security throughout his upbringing. He is born with relative good health, both mental and physical. His education and the relative prosperity of his family make it possible, and indeed fairly easy, for him to go to an excellent college, and to choose from any number of satisfying careers that he happens to have an aptitude for.

Person B is born into poverty, to parents who are abusive, neglectful, and/or absent. He is underfed, he attends lousy schools, his neighborhood surrounds him with crime and violence, he rarely if ever sees a doctor, he often wonders where his next meal is coming from. He may find himself in the foster care system at an early age. He may have mental health problems: perhaps difficulty controlling his anger. Unless he is unusually bright or gifted, his education and family situation will make it extremely difficult, if not wildly unlikely, that he’ll be able go to any college at all, and will make his career options limited to say the least.

It’s pretty well- documented that B is more likely to do bad things — to commit crimes, and make bad, even evil choices — than Person A. It’s not a guarantee, of course: Person A may wind up being a meth dealer or a mugger, or indeed a banker who bilks ordinary people out of their life savings in a mortgage scam; Person B may wind up being an epidemiologist or a social worker, or indeed a janitor who treats his neighbors and family well and volunteers at the rec center on weekends. But the odds are much more in favor of A than B. I think few people would argue with that.


Let’s get back to free will, and to God.

Person B is surrounded by badness everywhere, and the choice to do evil is readily offered to him on a daily, indeed on an hourly basis. Evil is the easy choice for him, even the obvious one. Person A can certainly choose to do evil, but he has much less motivation to do so. The choice to do good is relatively easy for him.

Does that mean that Person A doesn’t have free will?

And if not — if Person A has free will — then why on earth doesn’t God make everybody a Person A?

If relative comfort and security are not incompatible with free will, then why didn’t God create a world in which all of us have that? And if evil is really necessary for free will, then why didn’t God create a world in which all of us live in poverty, violence, and hopelessness?

According to this apologetic, we need to be presented with the choice to do evil in order for our choice of good to have meaning. And yet, if you believe in this particular version of God, then you have to accept that he has created a world in which people are presented with these choices in wildly different degrees. For many people, the choice to do good is relatively easy; for many, many others, that choice is far more difficult. Why the discrepancy? If all these people are equally free, despite having such wildly different opportunities and motivations to choose evil, then doesn’t that put a gigantic hole in the idea that the opportunity and motivation to choose evil is necessary for free will?

Does that make any kind of sense at all?

Child abuse prevention_center
And think about this. One of the human activities that we think of most strongly as “doing good” is working to change people’s circumstances so they’re less likely to make bad choices, and to give them more opportunities to make good ones. Anti- poverty work, education, prevention of domestic violence… that’s considered doing good. Trying to shape people’s lives — and indeed, their emotions and their minds — so they’re less likely to do bad things, and in fact are less motivated to do bad things… that’s considered doing good. Pretty much a textbook definition of it.

If evil is necessary for free will, then are these people actually doing harm by reducing evil and thus diminishing free will?

And if these people are actually doing good, then why doesn’t God do good in the same way?

And don’t argue “mysterious ways” or “we have no way of understanding what ‘good’ means to God.” If you say that God is still good despite behaving in ways that we would call despicably evil in humans, you’re essentially rendering the whole concept of good and evil meaningless.

I read a metaphor recently (which I now can’t find again — if anybody has a link, please let me know link found — thanks, Adele!) that explains this beautifully. A woman is brutally raped and murdered on the street, and twelve policemen stand by, watching and doing nothing. When asked why they did nothing, they each say things like, “This evil act gave some passerby the opportunity to do good by stopping it.” “This evil act is necessary for both the victim’s and the rapist’s spiritual growth.” And — most pertinent to this discussion — “People have make their own choices in order for free will to be meaningful: if I stopped this rape, it would negate the rapist’s free will.”

It’s laughable. At best. Unremittingly wicked and grotesquely irresponsible at worst.

And if it’s laughable, irresponsible, and wicked for the policeman, then why isn’t it for God?

If evil is a necessary part of God’s plan to give us free will, then we should all have roughly the same exposure to evil, and roughly the same opportunity and motivation to commit it. We clearly don’t. And the fact that we don’t makes this apologetic a complete joke.

Free Will, Doing Good, and the "12 Policemen" Metaphor

Right of Refusal

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Night stop sign
So when do you have the right to absolutely refuse a certain kind of sex to your partner?

There was a letter to Dan Savage that got me thinking about this. A woman who’s a rape survivor has a boyfriend who wants to act out a rape fantasy with her. A serious, hard-core version of a rape fantasy, too, in which he could spring it on her at any time, and she wouldn’t get to use a safeword. Not surprisingly, she said “No” — and instead of dropping it, he’s continued to pressure her about it, accusing her of being manipulative and having no regard for his needs, and bringing it up again and again.

Dan’s advice: Dump the motherfucker already.

I totally agree with Dan’s advice, as far as it went. A rape survivor absolutely has the right to say “No” to acting out a rape scene that they think will traumatize them… and to drop the partner who won’t take that “No” for an answer.

But I’d actually go further than that.

I’d say that anybody has the right to say “No” to any particular form of sex, for any reason whatsoever.

Red_flag 1
This isn’t just about pressuring a lover to do a heavy-duty edge-play scene, a lover for whom that particular scene is an emotional minefield. Yes, that raises giant red flags for me. That definitely makes me agree that his ass should be dumped; that the letter’s author is entitled not only to keep saying “No” to his request, but to kick him to the curb and never look back.

But if someone had written to Savage Love saying, “My lover is pushing me hard to give him oral sex, I’ve been willing and happy to try other stuff with him but I really really don’t want to do this, and he’s pressuring me hard about it and is refusing to drop it and is saying I’m manipulative with no regard for his needs”… my reaction would be more or less the same. Not as extreme, and shaded with several Ifs and Buts and waffly equivocations… but more or less the same. My red flags would not be waving quite as high, or as frantically. But they’d still be waving.


Here, as promised, are some of those Ifs and Buts and waffly equivocations.

If the things on your “No” list aren’t actually going to cause you trauma — if they’re just things you’re not that crazy about — then I do think it would be sporting of you to give them the old college try. To say the least. When we’re looking at our sexual likes and dislikes, I think it’s important to sort them into what I call broccoli and tofu: the things that make us want to hurl just thinking about them, and the things that simply aren’t our favorites. And if something simply isn’t your favorite — or you’ve never even tried it and you just think you won’t like it — then I think it’s more than a little selfish to not even consider it. I don’t think we have a right to expect our partners to give us anything and everything we want in bed… but I do think we have a right to expect that they care about our sexual pleasure and want to help us get it. That’s sort of the point.

I also tend to agree with Dan Savage that there are certain basic sex acts — oral sex, say, and light bondage — that are… well, basic. Things that most people assume will be on the menu in a sexual/ romantic relationship. If you’re going to say “No” to rape fantasies or diaper play, I don’t think you need to say anything else… but if you’re going to say a permanent, non-negotiable “No” to giving oral sex, I think you need to be aware that you’re stepping outside the common expectations for a relationship, and should perhaps show some extra flexibility in other areas to make up for it.

And if you have an insanely huge laundry list of things on your “No” list, none of which you’re willing to negotiate or even consider, then that’s definitely a problem. If you’re saying “No” to oral sex, that’s one thing… but if you’re saying “No” to oral sex, and manual sex, and tying each other up for sex, and dressing up for sex, and sex outside the bedroom, and so on and so on and so on…. that, in my opinion, is seriously obnoxious.

Any or all of this may make you unreasonable. It may make you inflexible. It may make you unsporting. It may make you not exactly the best lover on Loki’s green earth. It may make you, in short, a jerk. It may make sex advice writers everywhere advise your partner to dump your sorry ass and move on.

But you still have a right to it.

Ultimately, you get to be the one who decides what your hard “Absolutely not” list is.

And if there’s just a couple/few things on that “No” list? If you’re generally good, giving, and game in bed, if you’re generally interesting in pleasing your partner and open to trying things they like, but there’s just a couple/few things that really just gross you out? You know you’re not being rational, but they just do?

It doesn’t matter what those things are. It doesn’t matter if the thing you don’t want to do is a hard- core no- safeword rape scene or a garden variety blowjob. You still have the right to say “No”… and to have that “No” ultimately accepted. And it doesn’t make you unsporting, or unreasonable, or selfish.

Yes, we have a right to expect our partners to take our desires seriously. Yes, we have a right to assume that our partners want to give us pleasure and are willing to be flexible to make that happen. And if the sex is really not working — whether it’s because our partner is an unreasonable, selfish jerk or the two of us just aren’t sexually compatible — we have the right to end the relationship.

But we don’t have the right to get the exact sex we want, from the person we want it from.

So I ask again: When do you have the right to absolutely refuse a certain kind of sex to your partner?


You always have that right.

Right of Refusal

On Mortgages and Morality

There’s this meme going around among right-wing Republicans; most vocally in the now-famous Rick Santelli rant, but I’ve been seeing it for a little while now. It has to do with the mortgage crisis and the bailouts. And it goes something like this:

“Why should you pay for your neighbor’s mortgage? Why should you pay for their mistake? They’re the ones who took out the mortgage they couldn’t pay. Why should you bail them out?”

Whenever this meme raises its head, there’s a point Ingrid keeps bringing up. And it’s what I want to devote this post to.

When we bought our apartment three and a half years ago, of course we applied for a mortgage (what with the whole “not having the cash up front to buy a San Francisco apartment” thing). We found a mortgage broker, filled out the applications, provided all the pertinent information.

And we trusted the bank to tell us if we qualified.

We trusted the bank to tell us if they thought we had enough income, and a stable enough income, and a solid enough history of paying off our loans and bills and such, to pay off the mortgage on this apartment. We thought we could, obviously; but we also didn’t know any more than the average person about the complexities and finer points of the financial world. Which is to say, we didn’t know much. We trusted that the bank — being a bank and all — knew more about the financial world than we did. We trusted that they were doing a careful evaluation of our financial prospects, based not only on the information we gave them, but on their own extensive experience of loaning people money. And we trusted that, if they thought we couldn’t pay off our mortgage, they’d tell us.

A trust that, as it turns out, was grossly misplaced.

The mortgage is not a problem for us. We’re doing fine. (And I don’t think our mortgage actually got sold in the speculative bubble.) But the fact that we’re doing fine — the fact that the bank was correct when they told us we were a good risk and would probably be able to pay off our mortgage — is apparently just pure dumb luck.

The banks, as it turned out, were no longer making their “to lend or not to lend” bets based on a careful assessment of whether applicants would probably pay off their loans. The banks were now speculating on mortgages, buying and selling them like they were tulip bulbs in 17th century Holland. The banks were not betting that people would pay off their loans. They were betting that somebody else would buy the loans from them, at a higher rate. They were betting, as all speculators ultimately do, that somebody else would be a bigger idiot than them. They were betting that they could make money on mortgages — regardless of whether people could pay them off or not.

Which brings me back around to the topic at hand:

Does it really make sense to blame homeowners for the mortgage crisis?

Does it really make sense to blame homeowners for taking out loans that their banks told them they could pay off?

Maybe I’m showing myself to be a financial simpleton here. But it seems to me that it’s not the job of the loan applicant to know if they’re a good credit risk or not. That’s the job of the bank. The job of the loan applicant is to ask for money. It’s the job of the bank to decide whether the applicant will probably be able to pay it off. It’s the job of the bank to say Yes or No.

Now, I understand that during the housing bubble, some people lied on their mortgage applications. People said they had jobs when they actually didn’t; people said they made way more money than they actually did. And while it is, theoretically, one of the jobs of the bank to check that the information on loan applications is accurate — to oh, say, let me throw out a crazy idea here, call the applicant’s employer and make sure this person actually works there (something the banks were failing to do during the mortgage bubble) — it’s also the case that the people who lied on their mortgage applications clearly do not fall into my “We applied for this loan in good faith, we trusted that the bank wouldn’t loan us money that we couldn’t pay back” category.

So I wouldn’t have a problem with a homeowner bailout plan that said, “If you lied on your mortgage application, then you’re shit out of luck.”

But everybody else?

They were lied to. They were told, “Yes, we think you’re a good credit risk,” by banks who they trusted to answer that question truthfully. They were told, “Yes, we think you’re a good credit risk”… by banks who, as it turned out, didn’t give a damn if they were a good credit risk or not, as long as the banks could turn their mortgages over to a bigger idiot at a profit. The mortgage crisis was not about ordinary Americans recklessly buying homes that they couldn’t afford. Or at least, that’s not mostly what it was about. It was about the banks and financial institutions recklessly speculating on mortgages — i.e., people’s homes, and people’s lives — as if they were tulip bulbs.

I understand the moral principle that people should accept the consequences of their actions, and that you shouldn’t reward people for bad behavior. Like a lot of people, I cringed at the bailout of the auto industry, and while I reluctantly had to swallow that it was probably necessary (on a different moral principle: namely, that you shouldn’t make lots of other people suffer just so you can punish someone for their bonehead mistakes, otherwise known as Not Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face), there was definitely a strong sense of injustice about it that stuck in my craw.

But bailing out homeowners who got caught in the mortgage crisis doesn’t mean that we’re paying for our neighbors’ mistakes. It means we’re paying to help our neighbors who, through little or no fault of their own, got scammed by institutions they had every reason to trust.

And that, I thought, was one of the good old-fashioned American values the right wing keeps going on about.

On Mortgages and Morality

The Erotic Fiction Anthology: A Victim of its Own Success: The Blowfish Blog

Best american erotica 1993
I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about the strange nostalgia I have for the days of my youth when erotic fiction anthologies were few and far between, instead of numerous and widely available like they are today. It’s called The Erotic Fiction Anthology: A Victim of its Own Success, and here’s the teaser:

I don’t normally indulge in “It was so much better in the old days” nostalgia. I’m 47 years old, and am highly conscious of the dangers of incipient old farthood. And I’ve felt for years that if you refuse to see anything good in current popular culture, you might as well just start yelling at kids to get off your lawn. Anyone who thinks movies aren’t as good as they used to be needs to start watching documentaries; anyone who thinks hip- hop is just artless noise needs to start watching “America’s Best Dance Crew.”

But when it comes to erotic fiction anthologies, I have to admit that I have more than a touch of cranky old-fart nostalgia.

And strangely, it’s a nostalgia for the days when erotica was stigmatized, marginalized, and dirty.

To find out why a sex- positive writer like myself would be even a little nostalgic for the days when erotic fiction was even more stigmatized than it is now, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The Erotic Fiction Anthology: A Victim of its Own Success: The Blowfish Blog