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Is there room for sex (or at least sex-positivity) at atheist/skeptical conferences? May 30, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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So, the consensus that is forming on the atheist blogosphere seems to be that there should be significant distance between the world of skeptic/atheist conferences and the world of sex.  If you find yourself at a conference, you should probably put the possibility of hooking up aside.

You know, unless you really want to keep pissing a lot of people off.

Some quick context, in case you have not been aware of the various goings-on around the atheist/skeptical blogosphere recently.  I won’t bother trying to summarize, so I’ll just point you here, here, here, and most recently here (there are many others, but that is where I spent much of the last few days or so…).  Arguments have been had, flame wars ended in ban hammers being unleashed, and good times were had by all.  In the end it seems that a few people were educated, some minds possibly changed, and many others are still holding onto the opinion they came in with.

Oh, and a fair amount of frustration (perhaps related to lack of sex? Or is that joke not funny? Fuck it.)

Just another weekend on the internet.

(I also spent way too much time here, but that is not directly related to this post, but since I spent like 2 or 3 days reading and contributing to comments, I figure I would pass it along)

So, I’m a bit nervous to bring up some questions considering where things stand and what people have said, but I’m going to do it anyway.  I’ll claim that I was tired.  Perhaps drunk will work.  I’ll start drinking now….

So, this is a question that is of some interest to me, because I think, write, and sometimes comment about the intersection of issues related to sex-positivity and skepticism.   I’m an unapologetic slut who is not only quite comfortable with my sexuality, but who believes that sexuality is and should be a part of our lives in more integrated ways.  That is, I don’t think that we should pretend that it’s not a real thing that we think about day to day, assuming we are actually thinking about it.

And I know that many people don’t think about sex at all, much, or in most circumstances.  I also know that other people, such as myself, think about such things rather frequently, and I personally have to remind myself that this is not the case with many people.  So, what do we do with these facts when we travel near or far to go to a conference and find ourselves possibly interacting with interesting people whom we will likely not see again any time soon?

I don’t often go to conferences, being generally broke and not being invited to speak at them and all.  But when I do go to such events, I would be lying if the presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of smart, funny, sexy people is not something I will notice.  I’m attracted to smart people, and I feel no shame in feeling that way.  I’m not merely objectifying a person by finding them attractive if part of what attracts me to them is a combination of their thoughts, sense of humor, and of course their body.

We are always objectifying others.  We are doing so in the technical sense of other people literally being objects (but not mere objects), but also in the sense of making judgments based upon mere appearance, even if more information will eventually provide a more substantial judgment after we have a chance to get to know them better.  The question is whether we are merely objectifying, or are using multiple criteria of judgment to view a person.  I think it’s only honest to admit that this is part of our humanity, and not pretend that this behavior did not exist or that it was wrong per se.

It seems to me that part of this desire to cut out flirting, hitting on, etc at such events verges on doing just that.  In an attempt to create a safe space (and I cannot emphasize enough how important safe spaces are), I worry that we may be cutting out part of our humanity, a part of our humanity that means a lot to me and many other people.  I wonder if we are forgetting that part of creating a network of people, if we care about sex positivity in our culture, must involve our sexuality in all of its diversity.

Religion has done too much to squash and make sexuality dirty and immoral.  I am left with a bad taste in my mouth that the hetero-normative concept of sexual ethics has made too much of an impact on our culture, even among skeptics and atheists. I want to live in a world full of sex-positive skeptics who embrace their lustiness openly and unapologetically.  Perhaps my definition of sex-positivity goes beyond most people’s.  I think that is quite likely.

Now, I don’t suggest we schedule orgies at conferences, or that we consider this desire for sex positivity over the concerns of people’s safety, but I think that in this conversation we need to keep in mind that some people at such conferences, while not there for the sole purpose of sex, are quite interested in finding potential partners for such activities.  And whether we extreme sluts are an extreme minority or not, the fact is that recent discussions are going to make us avoid such interests.

And while I think those safe spaces are ultimately more important than this concern, I don’t want this concern to be ignored.  I don’t know what role sex-positivity can play in the networking and growth of this community pf reason, but I hope it is not left behind completely.

That said, I am quite shy IRL.  I rarely openly flirt with people I don’t know, I have never directly propositioned anyone at a conference whom I had not already known and interacted with prior to then, and I do attend such things primarily for the lectures and opportunity to meet people in non-sexual ways.  I don’t go to conferences to hook up and I have always tried to be completely respectful to speakers, guests, etc as people with minds, and not as mere bodies.

But bodies we have, and we cannot forget that nor the fact that they can be quite distracting at times.  I find a wide variety of bodies, especially when they contain brains which house intelligent minds, quite attractive.  I am left wondering if there is room in the conference world for this sexuality, or if it will have to be something left behind when we attend such things, perhaps finding it by accident in rare cases, but never intentionally pursuing it.

The fact is that if you want to find hook ups, there are places for that.  There are singles bars,  clubs, and swingers cruises for all those interested in such things.  But is there room for setting aside a time and place for people who might be interested in sexual activity at such conferences? Could we designate an arm band system, a specific location and time, where such flirtation is not only acceptable, but set aside for?

And if this were to be arranged, would it end up merely attracting the creepy people none of us wants to hook up with?

Ugh, there just does not seem to be an easy solution here.  Perhaps it would be better to leave it out of the conference atmosphere, but I hope not completely so.  Guidelines at very least are important, and we need to continue to educate ourselves and one-another about what a safe space looks like, as there are still many who don’t understand this idea (hell, I’m still learning and I think about this stuff all the time).

It seems that we, as a community, will have to adjust to the fact that many people (perhaps most?) simply don’t want to mix their business/activism with that kind of pleasure.

And while I understand this, the side of me that wants a more sex-positive world can only look on with some small measure of frustration and disappointment.  Despite what I would ideally prefer, I am forced to admit that there are too many issues of social justice between where we are as a society and where we will need to be before we can have gatherings where enough people are respectful, safe, and mature to allow our freaky flags fly en masse.

I hope I get to see it before I die, but I’m skeptical.

You don’t have to be a slut, but you should if you are May 22, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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I love sex.  I think people should have as much sex as they want.

There are a number of cultural, social, and psychological barriers between people’s desires and what they do.  In many cases, these barriers are necessary and good, such as the object of said desire being attached to a subjective point of view that does not share that desire.  In other words, wanting sex with another person is insufficient; they need to want it too.  Having sex with mere objects, however, is fine (so long as it’s your object, I suppose).

Religion, while not really the ultimate source of such barriers, certainly perpetuates many of the behaviors that act as a barrier to healthy desires.  Religion is but a very prominent and powerful outgrowth of human behavior, and much of that behavior is not healthy.  Theological positions which declare our desires to be sinful, ungodly, etc are expressions of our deep fears and insecurities projected onto the universe, magnifying our senses of guilt, repression, and self-deprivation beyond its rational scope.  Most of theology, that is, is anti-human.

We all want sex to some degree.  For some, that amount is zero, and those people will probably not be sluts.  I mean, they can choose to participate in sex, but without the raw desire and attraction, why would they?  It’s not what they really want, so deep down they are not sluts.

For other people, that degree of interest in sex is great.  When I was younger, I remember spending weekends with a girlfriend where marathon sexcapades were common.  Having aged a bit, that is no longer the case but I still love sex, and I like it with women of varying body types, varying personalities, and even with varying numbers of them.  I am an unapologetic slut deep down, and I a not a slightest bit ashamed of that, and I love meeting people who feel the same way, or who at least share an attraction to me.

Whether they also share it with 1, 2 or a 10 others is not really important.

But I also don’t have that much time.  I have two very meaningful relationships, with my wife(!) Ginny and my girlfriend Gina.  Frankly, I don’t have much time to meet other women.  And other times even if I know other women I am attracted to, I don’t communicate it if it seems to create logistical problems, I get no indication that the attraction is two-way, etc.  But, when I do meet someone that I find attractive, I often communicate my interest.  Sometimes it works out, other times not so much.

The point is that I follow where my real desires actually lead, and not to some ideal or expectation.  I don’t artificially pretend that I am more or less interested in sex than I actually am.  Not everyone does this.  Some people reign in their desires, magnify them, or try and intentionally divert them away from some direction they find objectionable.  Now, if they have a good reason for doing so (and what I consider a good reason may differ from theirs), then no problem.  But some people are not comfortable with their sexuality, and that is not healthy.

Slut-shaming is a problem.  There is no reason to talk badly about a person who has a lot of sex with a lot of people, unless they are hurting people in the process.  There is nothing inherently wrong with such a thing as really liking sex and then having it, so long as it is done consensually, comes from real desire, and with transparency.  There is also no reason to feel bad about wanting such things to start with.

From where I stand, the problem comes from where people have those desires but don’t find healthy ways to act on them.  That is if you do have those desires to be sexual, and you are not seeking healthy and consensual ways to act on them, then perhaps there is something wrong.

Are you in an exclusive relationship? Perhaps you need to have an open and frank conversation with your partner.  Are you intimidated? You need to find ways to take steps to get over that.  You you feel dirty? Come on, you don’t find that as part of what makes it hot? No? Well, then perhaps you should find “clean” ways to have sex.

I feel too much pity for people who get into their 40’s, 50’s, or later and finally cannot stand to put off their desires any longer.  I have met many people in the poly community that talk about how they ignored so much about their sexuality when they were young, and then they found later on what they wanted.  Don’t get me wrong, I am glad they did find it, I just wish people would find it earlier.

We need to be who and what we really are under all the bullshit of socialization, religious training, and following of default expectations.  We will all be happier getting what we want out of life by pursuing it rather than putting it off.

In short, we’d be better getting off than putting off.


Strip clubs, heaven, and other boring fantasies. April 27, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I have been thinking about my up-coming bachelor party.  I’ve been to a few over the years and have had good times at each, but mine will be different.  At mine, there will be no strip clubs on the agenda. 

I know this will disappoint a few people who will be there, but they can go do such things on their own time.  Oh right…bachelor parties are excuses for momogamous married men to act like they are single for a while.  My not allowing them their vacation from reality is a bit selfish of me, or something.  See why I’m convinced that monogamy aligns with people’s true desires?

The reason that I have insisted that my best man not include strip clubs into the plans (he is not married, and is not interested in such things anyway) is that I don’t find them exciting.  Sure, I like seeing naked and often attractive women, but such clubs are all a farce.  It isn’t real.

And although it may sound contradictory at first, fantasies which are not realistic are not exciting to me.  I can appreciate the aesthetic beauty of human bodies in such clubs, but it rarely does anything for me sexually. 

Perhaps its because I actually get to see real live naked women (notice the plural) fairly often, also that I am not restricted from other women, that strip clubs don’t do much for me.  Perhaps, although even when I was unattached and monogamous I still didn’t get much out of the experience.

When I think about it more seriously, I realize that I simply cannot get caught up in the lie.  I realize that these women stripping for our money are not into me.  I know that this is not flirtation, pre-foreplay, or how real relationships develop.  And in the rare case where a stripper might be into me, I would still be unable to find it really arousing until she made that clear to me on her own (I don’t ever expect this to happen).  I’m certainly not going to ask them for their real name or contact info, knowing how often they receive such requests and how annoying it can be.

In contrast, I get quite excited when meeting fully clothed women with whom I share flirtatious bantor, playful affection, and maybe even phone numbers.  And in my fantasy life, my thoughts may occasionally start with outlandish possibilities, but ultimately I find myself attracted to more realistic possibilities as fodder for, well….

The point is, I am much more interested in fantasy tied to real people with whom I really have, continue to, and might again interact.  I have serious trouble suspending disbelief too much, especially when it comes to sex.

Also philosphy, theology, etc. 

See, I baited you with sex talk, and now I’m talking philosophy.  But now that I have you dug in this deep you might as well see it through, right?  Right.

So, I can’t get excited about stuff that isn’t real, or at least real-ish (this is why I prefer science fiction which at least tries to be scientifically plausible).  Belief in silly unskeptical things leaves me cold, and so my mind is more attracted to what can be demonstrated to be real.

I grant that I have cognitive biases.  I understand that my mind is more attracted to certain ideas than others and that this cognitive gravity does not necessarily align with reality in all cases.  I’m not some super rational skeptical guru who was born with some freakish reality detecting brain (but that would be awesome!).

Quite often I have to apply skeptical methodology to check my thoughts for such biases.  But I have a strong tendency to move towards what seems to be tied to reality.  And when something seems unfettered, my mind cannot any comfort from it, and what enjoyment it can get is short-lived and superficial.

So when I hear people talking about things such as faith, hope, and other synonyms for wanting to believe something which is clearly, demonstrably, untrue, I cannot sympathize.  I may be able to empathize, but it is not an experience I have which I can share, and so I see such faith as nothing more than a self-delusion.

I realize that many other people do get genuine pleasure out of fantasy detached from reality, and I can sometimes hold onto such pleasure briefly as well.  But this pleasure disintegrates quickly, much quicker than it seems to do for others, and I find myself mostly disappointed by the promise of fictions.  Sometimes I wish I could sustain such pleasure from facades, delusions, and lies.  But even that wish is effemeral.

Heaven does not appeal to me.  The fact that the idea seems so absurd and impossible to me, let alone unpleasant even if true, makes it unappealing to me.  I simply cannot get caught up in the lie.  I holestly do not understand how other people can find it so beautiful, inspiring, and worth wanting.  Perhaps the failing is mine.

A loving, merciful, nor even a self-sacrificial God is not appealing to me either, nor are angels or other such things.  I can’t see them as things which would be nice to want to believe in.  I can’t see them as positive symbols, helpful metaphors, or even happy thoughts.  They seem vacuous and undimensional to me.

I just see them as fictions, unhelpful and distracting from the real pleasures, beauty, and even the naked ugliness of reality.  There is more than enough in reality such that adding extra sparkly, null-colored fantasy on top of it does not help at all.

I do not like strip clubs, and I could not look forward to heaven.  My mind is not enticed by such fleeting and superficial distractions when there is real, gritty, dirty fun to be had.

“Oooh, Heaven is a place on Earth”?

Yeah, that works.  I will spare you my image of a heaven on Earth.  There are some things that nobody who reads this blog needs to have in their minds.

Past liberal, future conservative. April 24, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be sexually liberated.  The 1960s began a new cultural revolution for sexuality in the west, and it has allowed the once radical idea of sexual freedom for adults to become mainstream.  And, as I see it, what was once radical traversed through liberal/progressive to mainstream, and its trajectory is pushing it towards conservativism for future generations. 

Currently many people, who would have been thought of as radical to 1950’s repressive standards, are now trying to defend our cultural accomplishment of liberated sexuality against the remaining religiously-motivated reactionaries who are trying to maintain a pseudo-traditional view of strict abstinence towards life-long monogamous marriage. 

I don’t have statistics available to me right now, but I would bet that evidence exists to support the claim that the majority of people in countries like the US, Western Europe, etc agree that non-married adults who choose to maintain sexual relationships with other non-married adults should be permitted to do so at their whim.  That is, our freedom to have relationships of our choosing, as adults, is mostly uncontroversial.

This, in our culture, has not always been the case in the last couple of centuries.   There were many social stigmas as well as other cultural control mechanisms which made such things rather difficult for adults, especially woman, even if it did happen (our desires are too strong to eliminate completely!).

So, having gone through a couple of generations since the sexual revolution of the 60s, most people accept a worldview of sexually active adults.  Many people still may have reservations about gay marriage, the alternative sex world, or non-monogamy but do not object to the extistence of relationships which include homosexual, kinky, or non-monogamous behavior if that is what people want.

When we talk about “conservatives,” then, we are talking about people who oppose homosexuality, non-procreative sex, and “adultery,” right? I mean, people who oppose such things certainly are conservative, but are they the extreme conservatives or merely the standard conservatives?

For me, to be conservative is to attempt to maintain some “normal” or mainstream behavior in order to preserve cultural practices which are beneficial either because they are valuable in themselves or because they work to maintain some other aspect of culture which is valuable.

As an example, take the rhetoric about traditional v. Gay marriage.  Gay marriage, it is claimed, seeks to destroy “traditional marriage”, even though the “tradition” of marriage has already changed from a property arrangement to an agreement between two individuals to remain committed to each other and share responsibility for resources, children, etc. 

That is, the former tradition of a property arrangement, a tradition once defended by conservatives of an era past, has been transformed by progressives (“liberals”) of the same era, and has become traditional.  And now that new tradition is being defended again by people who share the opinion of those once-radical progressives, but we call them conservatives today. 

We at least call them not-liberal (as my own father’s political status is on facebook).  The point is that history is currently moving towards liberalization, progressive values, etc.  Even if it is moving slower than I would like.  Also, it could possibly start moving in the other direction just as easily, so we need to keep up the effort.

My hypothesis is this; within the next generation or so, or at least within my lifetime, what we now see as the mainstream view of relationships will begin to look more conservative—what is now centrist, mainstream, or traditional will shift as progressive people recognize the legitimacy of views which are seen as radical now; things like polyamory, for example.

Liberals of today are maintaining pretty tame views about sexual liberation.  Even my own generation, people I went to highschool, college, etc (as well as those 10 years younger, in many cases) hold views about relationships which look to me, from my “radical” point of view, as conservative by comparison.

These are people who self-identify as liberals.  They support Barack Obama, gay marriage, science, and are almost exclusively pro-choice.  But they see much of BDSM, swinging, polyamory, etc as radical.  They think it is damaging, impractical, or at best experimental.  They tend to question whether my engagement and relationships can really be legitimately serious, important, and be a function of mature, responsible, true love.

Ladies, gentlemen, and genderqueerfolk, I present to you tomorrow’s tradition-defending, centrist (but leaning conservative), pragmatic culture.  They will take what they have learned, in response to yesterday’s conservatism, and create a newer conservatism of their own.

And when they are retired, grandparents, and defending the tradition they were raised with, our grandchildren will be pushing the possibilities of relationships, sexuality, etc in directions that us weird folk can only imagine and dream about now. 

And we will be proud while those whining conservatives we grew up with will be grumbling about traditional one-at-a-time spouses, how they had to fumble around with their first sex partners to learn, rather than having excellent comprehensive sex education which makes young adults unashamed to enjoy sex, etc.  Just like conservatives do. 

And these future generations will be the newer liberals, progressing in ways hard for us to imagine.  Our generation will be the conservative generation, with some of us weird folks sticking around to appreciate what legacy we worked for, were ostracized for, and for which we were labeled as freaks all our lives.

Well, let’s get on with it then, freaks!  Let’s pave an easier road for the next couple of generations, and see what unrepressed, unshamed, and radical people can do with the possibilities of love, sex, and (hopefully) skepticism.

Friendship and polyamory March 26, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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In my last post, I discussed how monogamy is unlikely to satisfy all of our needs.  I was aware of a few issues tangential to that, but wanted to leave them aside in the interest of keeping posts shorter.  So I will address two issues today; non-sexual friendships and our ability to satisfy needs and desires without relationships.

“The Greatest Love of all”

As I mentioned the other day, in order to have successful relationships, you need to start with yourself.  We need to find where it is possibly, and even preferable in some cases, to find ways to make ourselves happy on our own.

Surely, there will be many circumstances where there will be overlap between this self-satisfying of desires and our relationships with other people.  Our sexual needs, for example, sometimes can be answered with masturbation and sometimes will require, you know, sex with other people.  Also, there will be times when an emotional challenge can be solved by some serious thinking, reflecting, and evaluation of a situation on our own.  Other times we will need the perspective of others to help us, as often other people see things in us we cannot see.

We are not island nations, but sometimes our own domestic policy is sufficient for answering to issues of the day rather than appealing to other nations, (or whatever the UN would be in this analogy) for help.

But the essential point is that when it comes to our needs, simply looking within is a great way to go satisfy them.  Therefore, I encourage everyone to maintain a healthy relationship with the complexity inside our own heads.  I encourage self-love, without getting all hippy about it or something.  Dammit, I think I might be too late….

Polyamory as a footnote to Plato?

…or at least Platonic friendship.

Many of the needs we have in our life, complex as they are, do not require finding a sexual partner at all.  The needs which are not satisfied by our partner(s), which are not satisfied by them, do not necessitate finding another romantic or sexual partner necessarily.  Sometimes just a Platonic partner, or friend, is sufficient.

As I have written about before, polyamory does not require sex to be polyamory.  As a result of this, many people are already polyamorous even if they don’t use the term, or know the term.  Friendships outside of a relationship, especially if they are very close, are so much like what polyamorous people are doing that I often use it as an example of how poly works to people who seem confused by it’s strangeness.  It’s really not that strange.

If you are in a monogamous relationship, there will be things you want and need to do which your partner does not satisfy.  Whether that is watching sports, going shopping, or getting some drinks on a Wednesday night, our friends fulfill many of our needs which our committed, exclusive, relationship do not.

Assuming that one partner in a coupling does not interfere with their partner’s friendships, which does happen (and, I think, is due to the same jealousy which makes most people avoid polyamory), those relationships are highly rewarding, meaningful, and important to us.

Most monogamous people have arrangements just like this, and many of them, in reading this, might be confused why this has anything to do with polyamory.  “So,” the objector may say, “why would people need polyamory when we have friends, ourselves, and our one loving partner to satisfy our needs in life?” Well, if these things actually do satisfy your needs, then perhaps we don’t need to be polyamorous. Where I have the problem is that people ignore, repress, or rationalize away other needs they may have in order to maintain monogamy artificially.  My problem is when monogamy is maintained for its own sake, and not for the sake of authenticity and honesty about what we want.

That is, many people pretend like monogamy+friendship=satisfaction of all needs, when in fact it does not.

What happens when a friend of ours starts to become someone you are very attracted to? What happens when you develop feelings for a person at your gym, book club, or run into an old flame? Why should we ignore this reality, just because we have a sexual/romantic partner? And if so, why?

What’s wrong with enjoying sex, safely, consensually, and transparently with other people whether we, or they, are in a relationship?

What’s wrong with wanting your cake and having it too?


Pursuing every desire?

Yes, there are people out there I am sexually attracted to who I don’t pursue.  I don’t pursue every potential relationship I find, because I recognize that it sometimes there are complexities of desire which are more than I need or want, and so I don’t pursue every desire.

But sometimes the feelings are too strong, the desire to intense, to ignore.  And depending on how much time I have in my life, I will pursue sexual/romantic partners to various degrees.  Right now, my fiance and my girlfriend take up a lot of my time, so pursuing anything very involved or serious is unwise and unwanted at the moment.  That said, if I really got into someone, I would probably find time, because, well, love is worth the effort.

But finding a friend with whom I can share a sexual relationship, especially if that desire is two-way, is healthy and available to me.  It does not threaten my relationships to do so, and it brings some pleasure and joy to my life.  Why should I not want and pursue such things?

Friendships are great, whether they are Platonic or not.  We should allow ourselves to express how we feel about people without artificial censorship or repression because of some strange obsession with maintaining monogamy in our culture.  So keep up your relationships with yourselves, enjoy your friends, and allow yourselves to have the relationships with the people around you as you want, and let “normal” social expectations and pressures have minimal say in how you do so.

Why a sex strike is not a helpful response to attacks on reproductive choice March 16, 2012

Posted by Ginny in Culture and Society.
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I’ve seen a couple of calls for a sex strike of some kind, in response to the many recent attempts to restrict availability of women’s reproductive choice services (both abortion and birth control). I get where they’re coming from, and I think their main argument is correct: before birth control, women and men alike had much less sexual freedom, and the further our access to it is withdrawn, the less sex people will be having. The posts I’ve seen about sex strikes are a well-meaning attempt to confront men with the reality of this consequence before it’s too late. (There could very well be calls out there employing a nastier, “they’re trying to screw us so let’s not screw them!” tone, but I haven’t encountered them yet.) The problem is that tactics like this aren’t paying close enough attention to who is pushing this legislation, who is supporting it, and how a sex strike is going to affect them.

Historically, sex strikes have been effective when the women of a single community took a strong position against actions or policies that the men of their community were embracing. That’s not what’s going on here, though. Pulling back access to reproductive choice services is not something men are doing to women: it’s something political conservatives are doing to everybody. And while political conservatives do tend to skew male, the difference is not dramatic (For an example, look at the demographics of voters in the 2006 elections.) My experience is that people tend to run in social circles with similar political beliefs, so women who vote conservative are more likely to date men who vote conservative. And how likely are women who vote conservative to participate in a sex strike? My guess is… not very likely?

A lot of conservative voters have very strong beliefs around sexual morality, believing sex should only take place in monogamous heterosexual marriages. Needless to say, a sex strike is not going to scare them: unmarried, unready-for-children people having less sex is exactly what they want. So the success of a sex strike depends on the existence of a significant population of conservative voters who are relatively neutral on sexual morality and who enjoy non-procreative sexual activity. And even if that population is large enough to affect election results, the men of that population would have to be dating / married to / hooking up with women that are politically motivated enough to engage in a sex strike. I just don’t see that as likely. I think conservative-voting, apathetic-on-social-issues men are mostly dating (etc) apathetic-on-social-issues women, who aren’t going to participate no matter how hard a strike is pushed.

So I think a sex strike is going to have a negligible effect on conservative voters, who are, after all, the ones who place and keep these politicians in power. What about the politicians themselves? Will they suddenly find themselves unable to get laid and reconsider their stance on birth control availability? Not likely. Rich and powerful men play by different rules, in sexuality as in many other things. Rich and powerful men have nothing to lose by returning to the sexual dynamics of the pre-birth-control era. Do you really think a successful politician in the 40s had a hard time getting laid? It’s the average men and women who gained from the availability of effective birth control, and it’s the average men and women who will lose as that availability is withdrawn.

It’s pretty popular these days to pooh-pooh attempts at grassroots activism on the grounds that they’re ineffective. In general, this irritates me: why discourage people from trying? But in this case I have philosophical objections as well as pragmatic objections. A sex strike encourages women to use their bodies as a bargaining chip, and haven’t we seen enough of that? It supports a “battle of the sexes” mentality, and haven’t we seen enough of that? It makes sex once again about power and control, and not about joy and connection. If I thought it was going to be an effective tactic, maybe I would think all this a worthwhile price to pay — maybe. But I don’t think it is, so I would rather see us support the right to reproductive choice by continually affirming sex as a healthy, joyful, and mutually beneficial part of human nature.

Ask the Sexologist: Recommended reading on the sources of kink March 14, 2012

Posted by Ginny in Culture and Society.
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Hi Ginny,

just spotted the new post on the Brunettes…. So, figured I’d ask a simple question, which is: what books would you recommend for a layman to get acquainted with the current state of sexology/sex research? I’m prompted to ask because I’d been reading this excellent article:


and reading the comments I came across a reference to A Billion Wicked Thoughts. Alas, even a quick check of that book & some online reviews (e.g. at Figleaf’s site) confirmed that it was pernicious dreck. So I’m left wondering what I SHOULD be reading…. In particular, I was curious about how people’s sexual identities are formed–how does one end up being “submissive” or having a particular fetish? And what about cultural differences–what does “kink” look like in other cultures? Are dom/sub, top/bottom binaries pretty much universal or do they have a more recent, specific history?

As you know, there’s a stereotype in popular culture that people who are into S/M have had damaged childhoods or were raped; I gather the BDSM community often hates this stereotype (perpetuated e.g. in the otherwise S/M-positive film Secretary). There’s probably a grain of truth to the stereotype (in my anecdotal observation, anyway) but I was wondering where to go for a more reasoned, empirical study of the topic.


Hi N,

“Why we like what we like” sexually is one of the toughest and — if judged by my cohorts’ research interests — most intriguing questions in sexology. It’s hard to study for a number of reasons: how do you recruit a good representative sample on such a sensitive topic? How do you measure all of the possible variables, both genetic and environmental? How do you gather reliable information about subjects’ childhoods, possibly including pre-memory stages of life? And how do you get funding for a study on the origins of fetishes in our sex-negative political environment?

To have a really solid answer even to the simple question “Does childhood abuse make one more likely to develop BDSM inclinations?” you’d want to do a longitudinal study, starting with a large sample of abused and non-abused children, and follow them through life, interviewing them about their sexual interests in adulthood. I can think of half a dozen reasons such a study would be hard to pull off, just off the top of my head.

SO. I’m sorry to say that I can’t give you a definitive answer, or even point you to resources that have one: as far as I’m aware, it’s not out there yet. But there are some theories being tossed around. One book I found interesting is Arousal, by Michael J. Bader. His basic thesis is that fetishes and fantasies all have the purpose of making us feel safe enough to be sexually aroused. Based on the different insecurities and anxieties we have, some people get that feeling of safety from exhibitionist fantasies, some from submissive fantasies, etc. It’s an interesting read and a valuable theory: I wouldn’t say I’m completely sold on it, but it’s a contender.

For cross-cultural information, Exotics and Erotics, by Dwight R. Middleton, is a great overview on desires, practices, and identities across cultures. The World of Human Sexuality by Edgar Gregersen is longer and more in-depth, and very scholarly in tone, but if you can handle a little dryness in your prose it’s fascinating reading. Neither one of these have a psychological focus: they describe rather than attempt to explain. However, knowing what sexual tastes and practices are considered normal or abnormal in other cultures helps to shed light on our own.

Good job rejecting the Ogas and Gaddam book, by the way. Their work is not entirely meritless, but their research practices are really lousy. I can sort of understand the temptation to do bad research when good research is so difficult and ridden with obstacles, but there’s no excuse for giving in to it.

Let me know if you have further questions!

“Marital Zipcar”? March 10, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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I don’t know how I feel about the idea, but it is basically slightly more organized partner-swapping.

In any case, the term “marital Zipcar” will likely stick with me for a while.

I think the basic idea already slapped your brain with either awesomeness or disgust (no middle ground is possible, I asset!), so the question is obviously whether it would be a concept worth discussing, as polyamorous people?

I am not sure, but it did make me think about it as swinging for poly people; as in, we have our little poly family over here, and so do you all, so let’s mix up and see who might be interested in swapping a partner or two here or there occasionally.  Rather than “monogamous swapping” (really, it’s not monogamy if there is sharing of sexual partners) among couples, it is swapping among groups of people who tend to be too busy to go out and look on their own for a little variety.

Sort of like a hybrid between polyamory and swinger communities.  Swingers tend to be couples who play with other singles or couples, polyamorous people tend to be more relationship oriented.  And, of course, some poly people do a fair amount of interconnecting between poly groups, but rarely do orgies break out (in fact, outside of specific parties which are designed to create such things, I have not seen this appear spontaneously).

So, would a “poly Zipcar” be a variation on polyamory, or would it just be swinging?

I guess the question depends on how we distinguish polyamory and swinging; as a qualitative difference or one simply of relationship versus sexual orientation.


In any case, one of these days Ginny and I will have to re-construct our attempt to graph the dimensions of differences between swingers and polyamorous people; it involved (if I remember correctly) at least three axes!


Sex+ Questionnaire (via Laci Green) February 22, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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I’m just answering the questions already answered by Laci and others.

Sex+ Questionnaire For: Shaun McGonigal
Age: 34
Sex: Male
Location: Philadelphia, PA

Sexual Awakenings

1. How did you learn about sex?
I attended a very liberal Quaker school in Philadelphia, where sex-ed was pretty good.  Thus, by 5th grade I had a pretty good idea about what sex was, and in 8th grade we dealt with more advanced questions about STIs, pregnancy, etc that most people don’t learn until later (if ever).  In terms of learning how to do it well, that took practice.  Lots of practice.

2. Were you able to talk about sex with your parents?
Somewhat, but because of good education in school it was largely unnecessary.  I am pretty open now, and have been for most of my adulthood, and now my parents and I can be pretty open about jokes, discussions, etc (so long as they don’t get detailed).

3. Do you remember your first kiss?
Yes.  I was playing truth or dare.  I chose dare (and dared!).  I was about 11, maybe 12.

4. Tell us about an embarrassing moment you’ve had with sexuality/a partner/etc.
Huh…many   Getting caught several times by both parents (mine and my partners) or almost caught.  One time, while with a girl for the first time (it was her first time ever), she looked down and said “I think you’re in the wrong hole” which led to me pulling out and almost falling off the bed.  She was just messing with me (a joke to lighten her anxiety, perhaps), but I was really humiliated nonetheless.

5. How old were you when you made your sexual debut? Were you ready for it?
19, and yes I was.  I waited, passing up a couple of opportunities when I was 14 and 17 or 18, and I suppose I am glad I did.


6. Are you in a romantic or sexual relationship?
Yes, two of them (they are both sexual and romantic)

7. Would you prefer being in a relationship or being single? Why?
There have been times when being single was necessary and preferable, but I am extraordinarily happy with my relationships currently.  The joy, opportunity for growth, and intimacy I get with my partners is irreplaceable and wonderful.

8. Would you ever consider a polyamorous relationship?
Have, and am in one.  I am engaged to be married in a few months and my girlfriend and I consider ourselves long-term partners.  Polyamory is amazing.

9. Have you ever cheated on a partner?
Unfortunately, yes.  Worse, I lied about it once.  I learned that honesty is better than not, and eventually discovered taht I can have more sex without having to sacrifice relationships.

10. What was your longest relationship? Your shortest?
Longest was about 3 years, but it was a little off and on.  Mostly on.  Shortest? What is the definition of “relationship”? Because the answer could be “an hour” or ” a couple of weeks or so.”

11. What do you look for in a partner?
Intelligence, authenticity/honesty, lack of faith (IOW, skepticism), sex-positive attitude, and somewhat nerdy/geeky personality.

12. Do you have any “deal breakers”?
Deep religious conviction or lack of intellectual curiosity.


13. What is your favorite way to ask for consent?
“So, I am attracted to you; would you like to have some kind of sex?”

14. What is your favorite position?
Depends.  I love a woman on top, moving how she likes and watching her enjoy herself.  I prefer to finish while on top, especially from behind.

15. Would you/have you had a one night stand?
I have, and would again under the right circumstances.

16. What’s your favorite place to be touched by a partner?
Ears, nipples, penis.

17. Is there anything that you’ve wanted to try sexually but haven’t (yet)?
Not really.  I have had the opportunity to explore fantasies, and very little is left unexplored.  I’m pretty vanilla, overall, and am comfortable with that.

18. Would you/have you had group sex (3+ people)?
I have, many times, and will again, many times.  Most so far (with full penetration, anyway) was with 5 people.  I’ve “fooled around” with around 7 other people before, as well.

19. Would you/have you practiced BDSM?
I have, a little.  i would again, but it would be pretty tame.

20. Would you/have you done role-play?
I have.  Not my cup of tea.  I have trouble pretending not to be in reality (hence the atheism)

21. What is your biggest turn on?
watching someone cum, especially if I’m helping make it happen.

22. Biggest turn off?
being messy, dirty (literally, not metaphorically), or surrounded by excessive clutter.  Scat play is right-out!

23. How often do you masturbate?
Once or twice a week.  Mostly, it’s not necessary, but sometimes it’s just what I want.

24. What do you think is the most erotic part of your body?
right ear or my penis, depending.

Self Love

25. What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
My ability to challenge myself to be better than I have been, and to overcome the struggles I have been handed.

26. What’s your biggest accomplishment in the last 3 years?
Surviving an awful relationship which brought me to Atlanta, left me abandoned, and coming out stronger than I’ve ever been.

27. Tell us one goal you have for yourself.
I want to one day actually become the person I see myself as when I’m feeling confident (some say arrogant, but whatevs…)

28. How do you take care of yourself?
By being honest with myself, opening up to people I love when I need help, and by writing.

Hot Topics

29. Do you support a woman’s right to choose an abortion if she accidentally gets pregnant?

30. Do you think prostitution should be legal?

31. If you had a baby boy, would you have his foreskin removed (circumcise him)?

32. Should same-sex marriage be legal?
Any legal arrangement between consenting adults should be legal.  So not only should same-sex/gender marriage be legal, but so should polyamorous marriage.

33. Should comprehensive sex education be given in high schools or abstinence only?
Comprehensive, and much of it before high school.

To Infinity, and Beyond

34. What do you want to be when you grow up?
A good husband, boyfriend, and (perhaps) father.  I want to be respected (and I want to earn that respect) and look back with as few regrets as possible.

35. Do you want to get married?
I am getting married (to a wonderful woman)!

36. Do you want to have children?
Almost certainly.  The question will be whether I want to have children with more than one person or not.  Time will tell, I suppose.

37. What do you want to do for others before you die?

Help them see what they are capable of if they rid themselves of there stupid fears.  We are all capable of much, but are held back by so little.

On accidentally coinciding anniversaries and possible futures February 12, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, today is Darwin Day.  That is, on this date in 1809 Charles Darwin was born, and so every February 12h many scientifically-minded people, including many in the skeptical and atheist community, celebrate the life and works of this man.  And while I have some reservations about elevating Darwin to some quasi sainthood, which seems (Perhaps unconsciously) implicit in doing such, I am glad to have a day to remember the extremely important impact of his ideas on our view of the world.  In many ways, evolution and the mechanisms which underlie it were a serious blow to the explanatory role of theology, which lays sick and holding dearly onto life as we speak.

Well, many of us know its already really dead, and merely being propped up and puppeted—poorly!—by those still intoxicated on the putrid fumes of theology.

But I allowing myself to be distracted.  See, there was something else I intended to talk about today….  Oh, right!


Happy 3rd anniversary to this blog!

That’s right, folks! On February 12th 2009 (which was the 150th anniversary year of The Origin of Species, as well as Darwin’s 200th birthday!), I posted my first words on this blog.

And since then much has changed.  I have gone through some pretty awful times, lived in Atlanta for a while, had some more awful times, and then met my future wife before moving back to Philadelphia.  I have covered topics as wide ranged as the history of religion, commentary on culture and atheism, polyamory, sex, and (of course) philosophy.  I doubt that will change much, but I will talk briefly about what kinds of things I have been thinking about recently which will turn into blog posts in the future.

In the next year, I want to start focusing on what I see as an interesting phenomenon from my point of view.  See, I have been part of the atheist community for about 10 years now.  I know many people within it (although many of the newer and younger contributors have slipped by me since I have not been financially secure enough to go to any conventions recently), and I follow what is talked about in the bloggosphere (I read like 30 blogs), on youtube, and behind the scenes much more than I talk about here.  In many cases, I don’t comment on issues that arise because others are already doing so.  So, for example, when the kerfuffle with the Amazing Atheist came up recently, I sat back and watched others tear him to pieces (I always thought he was a douche bag though).

But one thing I have been noticing recently is that the struggle that the atheist community has been through, the relative attention it is now receiving, is something that those in the polyamory community will have to deal with in the future…probably.  I have already seen pieces of this recently, both in my writing and elsewhere.  Many of the same cognitive biases, types of arguments, etc which atheists have long (and repeatedly) responded to from theists or their accommodaters, I sometimes see in response to polyamory–even from skeptics!  There are exceptions (JT Eberhard, for example), but in my opinion if sexuality, relationships, and our emotional issues surrounding them were to receive the same skeptical treatment that religion has, more people would not only be accepting of polyamory, but they would internalize many of the lessons it has to teach.  This does not mean everyone would (or even should) become polyamorous, but it should mean that the unhealthy, sex-negative, cheating over sharing mentality of our culture would decrease, even if many people would still find themselves content and happy while being actively monogamous.

I want to create a rhetorical platform for polyamory.  I want to foresee the social implications of its collision with mainstream culture, anticipate the reactions from people of all kinds (the conservative Christians will have a field day saying “see, told you! We allowed homosexuality and now this!”), and use what I have learned from the atheist community to help people understand polyamory (much like how Greta Christina taught us how the atheist community could learn from the gay community).

But more broadly, I want to start connecting the dots between skepticism, sexuality, and the default status of exclusivity in our culture.  I want people to be more educated about their sexuality, emotional issues related to it, and about better ways to communicate with people around them. I want people to have what they want without hurting other people to get it.  I want the monogamous and cheating culture to gradually transform into a culture which values sharing ourselves as emotionally mature and authentic people.

Yeah, I’m an idealist.  Sue me.

So, I’m probably not going to get all of that, I know.  But perhaps we can make some inroads, create a few more skeptics in the world, and bring to light the related issues of both religious belief and sexuality.  And maybe, before I die at a ripe old age after a happy life with people I love, I can see a world where cheating is not seen by most as morally preferable to sharing.

Oh, and no religion too!

So, here’s to another year, and thanks for reading, everyone!