The Philadelphia Slut Walk is tomorrow!!

stoprapeI’m a slut.  I know, I know, that’s supposed to be a derogatory term for sexually active women, but frankly I never accepted most of our mainstream hetero/mono-normative lingo anyway.  We here at PolySkeptic are sex-positive, sex-enjoyin’, heathen mofos who support people of all genders, sexual orientations, and levels of kinkiness gettin’ their freak on.  Be the slut you want to be!

And if you happen to be in the Philadelphia area tomorrow (Saturday, September 28th 2013)  you can come out and hang out with a bunch of sluts and help raise awareness about rape culture, slut shaming, and other concerns of sex-positive advocates.

I will be there, at least for some of it (there is a poly party that will draw my attention in the afternoon).  So if you are also a slut, if you think that you might be one deep down inside, or if you just want to show some support for slutty friends, perhaps you might stop by.

There is a facebook page for the group organizing the event, as well as a website (which seems to not have been updated recently).

Here are the details:

What: Slut Walk Philadelphia

When: Saturday, September 28th, 2013.  11:00AM

Where: Love Park (1599 John F. Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia)

Why: Because sluts are awesome.

Who: You.

Naked Skepticism and the new polynormativity

One of my motivations for writing this blog is a general sense that there is an important issue which needs to be addressed by, well, all of us.  Our culture does not have a healthy view about sex and relationships.  The mainstream view is not ideal, even where aspects of non-mnogamy and kink enter into it.  50 Shades of Grey; need I say more? And where polyamory gets introduced to the mainstream (and I will be writing more about that in the next week or so), it is portrayed in the light least offensive to that mainstream, much like how accommodationists present atheism to the mainstream.

Atheists tends not to be polyamorous, poly people tend not to be atheists, and skeptics just aren’t implementing their tools at all they should be.  Philosophically, I primarily identify as a skeptic.  But for similar reasons as PZ Myers (link above) and Jen McCreight have trouble with the skeptic community, I identify first as an atheist because I prefer the way that the new atheists have addressed religion in our culture.  I think something similar needs to be done for polyamory.  Let’s called it the new polyamory, or perhaps something less awkward.

In essence, we need to talk about sex.  Oh, and relationships, desires, social expectations, etc.  We need, in short, to apply skepticism to how we think about such things, and I think if we do so then polyamory will be much more prevalent, because I think that polyamory (or at least accidental monogamy through polyamory) will be the result if we do apply skepticism to our sexual and romantic lives.

I have said that skepticism, properly applied, necessarily leads to atheism.  With polyamory, I am willing to say something similar.  Skepticism, properly applied, leads to a new paradigm of relationships, including sex-positivity and the non-default status of monoamory.  If we think critically, as a culture, about relationships, we should arrive at a place very much like the polyamorous world (only better, because their skeptics too).


Naked Skepticism

A good skeptic learns to strip away, as much as cognitively possible, the assumptions and biases which lead us towards irrational conclusions.  Nobody can do it completely, but it should be a goal for all of us to aspire to; deconstructing the worldviews we hold about all of the important aspects of our lives.  Skepticism implies that we require sufficient* evidence in order to believe something.  Something which is merely logically possible cannot be said, reasonably, to be true on those merits alone.   Rather, there should be some empirical evidence in order to lend weight to a proposition.  The proposition that a “god” exists, for example, does not survive this test and so any skeptic worth their salt should not accept the proposition that a god exists until good evidence presents itself (I know of none), and therefore a skeptic should be an atheist.

But more than that, a skeptic should be willing to strip away their assumptions, the foundations to their worldview, as much as they can.  Why do we seek one romantic partner? Why is monogamy the goal? Why is sex often considered dirty, or at least somehow less than pure? Why don’t we start with the bare facts of our desires?

Part of the reason is related to religion, especially when it is tied to traditional gender roles and such, but that is only part of the answer.  Religion is a symptom of this problem, in most cases, and the fundamental problem is the tendency towards jealousy, sex negativity, and perhaps some evolutionary psychological reasons having to do with things such as men wanting to make sure that our children are really theirs, and not those of the mailman (but evolutionary psychology is less reliable, in many cases).  Traditional family values, conservatism, and patriarchy, in other words, are at fault.

So, what can we do about it? We can start by asking ourselves questions like

1) what do we really want sexually and in terms of relationships in general?

2) what are we afraid of, jealous of, and why?

3) what do the people in our lives want?

But in order to get there, we need to strip away the layers of moral, cultural, and often religious thinking about these issues.  We need to be able to apply the best that skepticism, science, and soul searching has to offer us.  We need to challenge assumptions and apply skepticism to our relationships with people, but first we need to apply them to our own worldview so that we can be sure that the answers we give are actually true answers.


Towards a new polynormativity

Recently, the Sex Geek wrote an interesting post called the problem with polynormativity, which is well worth the read.  And while I thought that the post was good and made some excellent points, I think it missed an opportunity; one I wish to tackle here.  The post in question addresses how polyamory is depicted in the media and to the mainstream in general.  The Sex Geek says this:

The problem—and it’s hardly surprising—is that the form of poly that’s getting by far the most airtime is the one that’s as similar to traditional monogamy as possible, because that’s the least threatening to the dominant social order.

This is undoubtedly true.  In my experience with the media, I have noticed that the questions, framing, etc seem to imply a couple-centered view which misses much of the point.  The Sex Geek addresses this and more quite well, so I will encourage you to read the whole post.  So, after that brief thesis, the post continues and eventually goes on to list four norms that make up “polynormativity,” which I will simply list and hope that you will read the full post for the full effect.

1. Polyamory starts with a couple.

2. Polyamory is hierarchical.

3. Polyamory requires a lot of rules.

4. Polyamory is heterosexual(-ish). Also, cute and young and white. Also new and exciting and sexy!

The observations therein are good, and I am in general agreement, but where I think Sex Geek dropped the ball was the opportunity to define what polynormativity could be, rather than what it is.  Because what we are faced with in our Western culture is a hetero-monamorous-normality which is not particularly healthy for many of us, although many manage to tweak it enough to work for them.  And that’s part of the problem.  We are often forced to tweak a set of values about sex and relationships which do not match up with our desires, but which seem ubiquitous, rather than throw out the framework altogether.

So, if we were to claim the term polynormativity to mean something other than a tweaked hetero-normativity, what would it look like? Well, allow me the boldness to try and sketch out a few pieces of that potential puzzle.

1.  Polynormativity would be sex positive. Sex would be what we wanted it to be.  It would be fun, it would be recreational, and it would not be restricted to just our serious partners (hell, if we wanted we could be non-sexual with our serious partners and slut up the rest of the town!).  We would not be ashamed about our desires, we would seek to satisfy them consensually (and hopefully enthusiastically), and we would be transparent about it.  It wouldn’t quite be Brave New World (which was refreshing to read because it turned our current model on it’s head, even if that is not our goal here), but it would erase the idea that sex is reserved for just one person, or one person at a time, and even that it’s not OK to have with friends.

2.  Relationships would be agreed upon.  All relationships structures should occur through overt agreement, or possibly organic growth from actual needs, and not by default or assumption.  Currently, for mainstream society relationships may not start as exclusive, but they tend to assume the default ideal goal of monoamory, often monogamy.  Dating is not assumed, at least in cosmopolitan culture, to be exclusive by many of us young people (especially those even younger than I am).  But the goal for most people is to find one person to make a “commitment,” as if commitment ever necessarily implied exclusivity.  The idea currently is that real love, a relationship of real depth and meaning, must be an exclusive club.  You may be able to have two lovers, but you can’t truly be serious with more than one at a time, because we rationalize our jealousy into a culture of possessiveness through the Disney-esque romanticism of the princess and her prince.


3) We would start with our desires, and build up our relationships upon them.  All too often, we fit our desires into the mold of our relationships, rather than the other way around.  We may really like that person we met at the party, but we have a relationship already so that desire either gets suppressed or we act on it surreptitiously.    We decide that a desire, whether it be homosexual, non-monogamous, or kinky in nature, is not acceptable to our lifestyle, so we grin and go along with the status quo.  How many people are in the closet, either as homosexual or bisexual? How many people repress desires for people they care about because they are in a relationship? How many people have fantasies they never explore because they think it is wrong, dirty, or it might make people judge them as a ‘pervert’?

What the hell is wrong with being a pervert? So what if someone gets of on being tickled? Who cares if what Bob really wants is to get peed on? Why do you care if what I want for my birthday is to have hot sex with two or three beautiful women after drinking some fine Belgian ale? (I’m really not that kinky, am I?) We need to have the strength to admit what we really want, and try and find ways to have it if it’s possible (and moral.  If your kink is to murder people, well you might be out of luck).

If we were to follow basic guidelines such as those three above (and the list is not intended to be comprehensive or exhaustive), then I think that most people would land on something like polyamory, assuming they are willing to do the work it takes to maintain the relationships they want.  And the more people that do it the less weird it becomes, and people can stop using the excuse that they don’t want people to find out because it’s weird and they might lose their job or someshit.  If everyone’s doing it, it become the new normal—hence the new polynormativity!

Love each person as you actually love them.  No less and no more.

I’m ready for it.  Are you?


*And what is sufficient will depend on many factors, which go beyond the scope of this post.  But I’ve always liked the maxim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  That is, the strength of your evidence should be proportional to the audacity of your claim.  Of course, what is audacious to one may not be so audacious to another, leading to a spiral which I choose not to follow at present, mostly to maintain my sanity.

Harassment and sex-positivity

So, Wes put this post up about how honesty is hard a couple of days ago. And, as usual, people seem to get pissed off about what Wes says.  No news there.  It’s one of the things I like about Wes; while I don’t always agree with him, he does not sugar coat his opinions.  He has strong and often unpopular opinions and he does not veil them, and I find this attribute respectable.

Speaking of which, a commenter of that post embedded this video, which I shall put here because it is quite good, and creates a language to talk about communication in this context:

Speaking of comments; since Wes linked to a post by Jadehawk in his post, Jadehawk has subsequently posted a response to Wes.  I read it today, and my impression is that emotions are getting in the way of clear communication and understanding (it happens), and I posted this comment (currently awaiting moderation):


I think that there is a bit of misunderstanding occurring here.  I know Wes fairly well, and I think you may be misunderstanding the message intended in his post.  I cannot speak for him, but being around him frequently and sharing more than a few opinions with him, I can say that your representation of him here is at least partially in error.  Libertarian? lol….

In my view, lack of clear communication is indeed a form of dishonesty.  What seems clear to a communicator is not necessarily clear to the listener.  And while I personally try to be generous with interpretation, sometimes a follow-up direct question is relevant to make sure I am getting the intended message.  I didn’t see you asking for clarification above where ambiguities in language could have led to you understanding Wes’ intentions better.  I saw you running with less-than-ideal interpretations.  I don’t think you did so intentionally.

It is not a lack of impulse control that is at issue here, as I see it.  What is at issue here is that we need to be honest with ourselves with what we actually want, and if we are going to seek a desire that involves another person, we need to be unambiguous about it. That is, once we have decided that this is not a time to reign in an impulse we have (assuming, indeed, that we have free will), we need to be direct about it because veiling our intentions is a form of lying, even if it a common and socially accepted form of lying.  The question is whether this socially accepted form of lying is something we, as rational, skeptical, people, should perpetuate or not.  I think the answer is no, and you may or may not agree with me. That is a discussion worth having.

So, I think we all need to be direct and honest, to not veil our interest, and to learn (as a society) to get used to hearing and answering that honesty (Have you sen The Invention of Lying?).  And while this does not have to include cold hitting on, it may include that.  And I agree that a conference about atheism/skepticism is not be the best place for such cold approaches, if that is indeed what a person wants there is nothing disrespectful about doing it.  It just is unlikely to succeed, so a smart person may put off, temporally, that expressed desire  That is, they do not pretend to have another goal, they just might put off communicating it until introductions and other conversational things are established.  I personally would not coldly approach someone for sex, as my desires do include to get to know someone a bit better before asking for such a thing, but I certainly would not think less of a person for doing otherwise than what I personally want.  I find such directness refreshing, mature, and very respectable.

Some people’s boundaries exist elsewhere.  Some people WANT or even DEMAND direct and blunt questions, and others want some issues to be rarely if ever addressed.  The issue of whose boundaries we accept as the default is not so easy as you seem to argue above.  Why defer to a lower threshold of boundaries, which infringe on those with higher thresholds?  A case needs to be made for that (And I accept that such an argument may exist.  I just have not seen one I find convincing).

The issue is this.  There is a real tension between the important issue of harassment by disrespectful people and sex positivity.  The reason this tension exists is that there is a continuum that stretched from assault on one extreme and enthusiastic consent on the other.  In the middle are things like harassment, being extremely annoying, being amusingly annoying, finding the proposition interesting but not compelling, considering the proposition seriously, accepting it, etc.  The line between unwanted attention and wanted attention will differ, greatly, for different people.

For example, a person coming up to me and putting their arm around me, telling me they think I’m cute, and inviting me to their room for sex crosses no line for me.  It does not matter their gender (I’m heterosexual and male), attractiveness, etc.  I will either say no, perhaps (and discuss what we’re into to see if we’re compatible), perhaps some other time, or “yes! let me get my stuff and I’ll be right with you.”  (Yes, yes, I have privilege which makes this situation non-threatening to me, but I know many women who feel the same way).  For other people, this situation would be harassment.  That’s a problem.

Because leaving out extreme examples, there will be cases where what I find acceptable is considered unacceptable by others.  Clear, unambiguous, blunt questions and answers are the only way to be sure.  And because of our social values of politeness, this is, indeed, hard.

But I am not Wes, so I cannot speak for him.

And, indeed, I am not Wes.  I imagine that he would have a different answer than I would, and we may ultimately disagree about this issue. Disagreement is not bad, however.

My major concern here is that in this larger discussion about how to implement harassment policies (and I think that the OpenSF policies Greta linked to there are quite good), we may possibly run into a real tension between harassment and healthy sexuality.  For example, in the G+ hangout video from a few days ago, the question was raised about whether speakers at conferences should be encouraged or even barred from having sexual relationships with attendees:

You don’t have to watch he whole video, but you should if you are interested in this topic.  The relevant bit starts around 53:10 of the video, where Dan Finke raises the issue about Jen McCreight’s suggestion about having speakers be “out of bounds” (Dan’s wording) for sexual activity at conferences.  Watch the conversation for yourself, and you will see that some people agree with this suggestion.  I agree with Rebecca Watson’s view, that there should be no barrier between any adults at conferences about sexual activity, while others (namely PZ himself), seem to agree with Jen.

This demonstrates, for me, that there is a real tension in this conversation about where the practical and possibly ideal line between harassment and appropriate sexuality in the skeptical/atheist community exists.  This conversation is not just about dealing with harassment–although that issue is the primary and essential issue which needs to be addressed.  But this conversation is also about the line between appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity even where harassment does not exist, and we need to admit that this is part of the issue.

Do I have any certain answers? No.  Do I think that this discussion will lead towards a de-sexualization of conferences? No.  Do I think there will be continued issues about where the line between inappropriate/appropriate sexual activity is? Yes. Do I think sex negativity and sex positivity are relevant issues to discuss in relation to the larger issues? Yes.

Harassment needs to be dealt with unambiguously, swiftly, and as openly as possible without unnecessarily naming specific people.  If and when we successfully deal with implementing harassment policies, there should be more conversation about the problem of sexual activity, appropriate times and places for it, and the issue of differing boundaries and how to deal with them.

I think that the skeptic.atheist community is full of smart and capable people, but  I also think that our culture is rife with ideas about communication which are compatible with conservative (or at least out-dated) modes of sexuality.  We need to think about how the relationship between how we communicate and how we think about relationships affects us.  The conservative hetero-monogamous model of sex is steeped in polite, veiled communication which is quickly becoming obsolete, and I don’t think the atheist/skeptic community is fully aware of this.

One of the first things I learned about how to be polyamorous (which is true even if you are not), is that you need to communicate your needs and desires directly, and that you need to be able to say yes or no clearly, according to your desires. We need to practice saying no, saying yes, and asking for and hearing what is wanted.

Saying “no” can be hard for some people.  Saying “yes” can be hard for others.  Asking for a clear yes or no is hard for most people.  We need to get over this value of ambiguity as a society if we are to grow up, whether we are privileged or not.

As I keep saying, the atheist/skeptic community has a lot to learn from the polyamory community.