How’s that for a comeback?
I don’t talk about sex very often, at least not in relationship to my own personal self. To do so seems indiscreet, boastful, and, because of the unpleasant puritanical hangover to which women are still subjected…well, skanky. Women who talk about sex are obviously women who are having, or interested in having, sex, ipso facto: they are sluts. This is an unfortunate mental block to which even I, a practitioner of plain old boring straight monogamy, am subject. Women reach a stage in their lives – usually in the mid-to-late-twenties – where almost all of their friends get married at once, five or so dizzying years flying by in crinoline and taffeta. But there is a phenomenon that precedes it, taking place in the mid-to-late teenage years, in which almost all of a woman’s friends lose their virginities, one after the other, like dominoes.
It is this stage of life in which I presently find myself, with few of my friends still in retention of their “virgin patents,” as Shakespeare put it in Midsummer. In an unscientific poll I conducted, every one of them, myself included, felt an intense, burning, scarlet-letter style stigma after renouncing said patent, sometimes for weeks afterwords. It was a jumpy, unfounded, uncontrollable paranoia, no matter how pleasant the circumstances of renunciation (“I look at people and wonder, do they know what I was doing last night?” is the average unquashable question). It was a feeling of precariousness, that at any moment we would somehow slip up in thought, word, or deed and give ourselves away. A brastrap stained with oily fingerprints would slip out from under a sleeve; a previously unnoticed hicky would appear in an inconvenient place; some sort of balance of chemicals we’d never heard of would change fundamentally and give us clusters of pimples that spelled out “I AM NOW SEXUALLY ACTIVE, HAVE A NICE DAY,” on our foreheads. Maybe in braille.
The upswing of this is that the feeling goes away after awhile, leaving behind it a feeling of heady confidence: I had sex one time, and no one noticed. Maybe I could get away with that on a regular basis. But it’s still a hard thing to talk about, even to other women in hushed tones in empty rooms. Which is one of the many reasons I’m thankful for Dan Savage.
Dan has written his sex advice column, Savage Love, for about as long as I’ve been alive (maybe not quite that long, but close). He is also a funny and heartbreaking writer, and fairly regular contributor to This American Life, which is where I first heard him read an essay and became enthralled. The essay wasn’t about sex, it was about his experiences as a gay dad, excerpted from his book The Commitment (a life-changing read, by the way). It was stunning for many reasons, not least because Dan’s love for his son is blinding; he’s not just a dad, he’s a great one, doing his absolute best every minute of every day to make sure that his little guy grows into a happy, well-adjusted adult. All children should have such parents, gay, straight, transgendered, whatever.
After a taste of what a friend refers to as “the Dan Savage gateway drug,” (his essays on family and culture) I was hungry for more, and discovered that Dan produces a weekly podcast version of Savage Love, in which people call in, record their questions, and, with any luck, have them answered by the master. Sometimes Dan even calls back to ask follow-up questions or berate someone for dysfunctional or destructive behavior.
His on-air manner is frank, funny, and profane. He’s completely unapologetic, and seems determined to slaughter every sacred cow there is so that we can all enjoy post-coital hamburgers together. The wit, humor, and attention to grammar (“I would hope all of my listeners know that the past-tense of “come” is “came,” not “commed,”) drew me in. The parade of problems and advice kept me there.
The result of all this listening of people talking about sex in a positive, happy light, was that I began to feel like it was something that could be talked about. My mind opened up to the worlds of other people’s ‘kinks,’ as Dan says, and began to see that, though I may not share most of them, responsibly sexually active adults all have something in common: a need to connect with another human in the most intimate and pleasurable way on earth. Almost everything between consenting adults is A OK in Dan’s book, and, inch by inch, I became more accepting and less prudish, simply because I’d heard so many different forms of sexual expression discussed in a non-judgmental forum. I have become well-informed and damn near unshockable, and I strive to be that way about everything.
So I am feeling fiercely protective of Dan this evening, having stumbled upon a brief article mentioning him and a frustratingly ignorant comment attached to said article. The article is posted on a well-put together sex-ed site, which, coincidentally, I highly recommend for those of you who are or have teenagers. While I was clicking around the site, just to see what was up – I haven’t visited in a few years – I noticed Dan’s name and, of course, had to read the whole article.
The author had seen Dan speak on a college campus, and seemed on the whole pretty uncomfortable with Dan’s frankness in the same way I was when I first began listening to him talk about people, you know, doing it, right there on my iPod. He writes:
While I think that, over all, Dan Savage gives awesome advice and that it’s great to have someone like him be in the position that he is in, I do sometimes cringe at some of the advice that he gives. And so, because I did end up leaving the room feeling giddy and empowered, I want to get the negative bit out of the way first and end this blog on a positive note. To the question “Is it weird to still be a virgin in your 20s?” Dan answered with yes. He then qualified his response by stating that most people become sexually active at 15 or 16, but from there proceeded to talk about how waiting longer to have sex may make someone more prone to sexual dysfunction.His advice was “Get out there, get drunk, and get it.” He added “You don’t want to get really shitfaced and accidentally rape someone, or get really shitfaced and be accidentally raped, but anyone who says that there can be no consent when alcohol is involved is lying.”
It was this section with which the commenter took issue.
As if we could somehow get ourselves raped on purpose?!? Um, okay. “I meant to get mugged last night,” or “No, it’s okay, we got robbed on purpose.”
It’s at times like this when I’m glad I don’t give people my opinion for money, because I think I would be perpetually angry at people who just don’t listen. In context, Dan’s point is clearly that alcohol is not the root of all sin that Susan B. Anthony and MADD would have you believe; in fact, in responsible quantities, it is a social lubricant. In fact, he is specifically telling his audience to drink only in moderation, for the safety of themselves and others, and he is making a very important point about rape: a woman who goes into a situation looking for sex (“a hookup,” as the kids say) can still be raped. She still posesses agency, and can put the brakes on at any time she pleases, she was not “asking for it.” He’s really advocating personal responsibility, here, telling people to stay in control of their fates, not to surrender that agency.
So I am upset at this unfair maligning of Dan, without whom I would never have heard of “grammar fetishists” (“My girlfriend likes me to use bad grammar in bed so she can punish me,” the caller explained. “I am amazed you are not a grammar fetishist,” Calvin said later when I told him about it).
And, really, I’m upset at the maligning of the term “rape” in general – it’s come up this week more than one might think.
My mom sent me this absolutely appalling article, “The Wilding of Sarah Palin,” written by a self-professed “recovering liberal.” The rape undertones are right there in the title, if she’s refering to what I think she is, and the references only get more overt.
I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow, as it would doubtless only make us both angry. The gist is that this woman was paranoid about being raped in college, so she became a women’s rights activist within the democratic party. She posits that democrats purposely keep women afraid of rape so that they’ll vote democrat, like a sick stick to the carrot of equal pay and abortion rights. She goes on to insinuate that democrats put out some sort of subliminal messages about conservative men all being rapists. She makes this allegation with no evidence whatsoever, and, if the average conservative sex scandal is any indication, my 14-year-old brother has a lot more to fear from Mark Foley, Larry Craig, and Ted Haggarty than I do.
She goes on to hint that she might have been raped (“probably at a peace rally,” Calvin groaned), and called the perpetrators “minority,” “thug,” “hoodlums,” blaming liberal social programs for the circumstances that led directly to her violation. If I may interrupt: I have a hunch that not stoning rape victims was once considered a “liberal social program.”
She goes on to accuse everyone at Berkley of being a “sleazebag,” (really, everyone) and that because liberals subscribe to the concept of moral relativism, they sanction the stoning of women in the Middle East. Where, the last time I checked, women were being preyed upon by religiously and politically conservative men.
Then it gets really good (or bad, I guess, would be a better word for it):
My other epiphanies: those ponytailed guys were marching for abortion rights not because they cherished women’s reproductive freedom, but to keep women available for free and easy sex.And the eagerness for women to make good money? If women work hard, leftist men don’t have to.
Then along came Sarah, and the attacks became particularly heinous. And I realized something even more chilling about the Left. Leftists not only sacrifice and disrespect women, but it’s far worse: many are perpetuators. The Left’s behavior towards Palin is not politics as usual. By their laser-focus on her body and her sexuality, leftists are defiling her. They are wilding her. And they do this with the full knowledge and complicity of the White House.
That’s right. Suggest that Sarah Palin is not fit to be the president, make a reference to her looking like a trailer-trash-beauty-queen-Barbie, or even question why a supposed symbol for conservative women’s independence and awesomeness required Wasilla rape victims to pay for their own rape kits out of pocket, and you are symbolically raping her.
The extreme Left still consider themselves warriors, righteous soldiers for their Marxist cause. With Palin, they use sexual violence as part of their military arsenal.
WHAT sexual violence? Has anyone raped Sarah Palin? Ever? Has anyone ever gathered a large group of impressionable people and suggested to them that they should try and make it happen, in the way that some conservative preachers are instructing their flocks to ruminate on our current president and the Psalm that says “Let his days be few; and let another take his office, let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow”?
Anyway, the woman goes on to say that all liberals hate Sarah Palin because she represents the sacred mother Mary or some damn thing, and that liberals are “life-despoilers,” as though we all sit around in dark basements plotting the destruction of the world order, with our faces all gross and melty like those Indiana Jones Nazis. Also, liberals have to take time out of this busy schedule to rape conservative women and then personally strangle any resulting offspring. There’s a quota, you know, something like five a month or they won’t let you vote in the primaries anymore.
“Life despoilers.” It would kind of be a sweet name for a rock band.
I had a point, somewhere, like, maybe 1000 words ago? Have you guys seen it?
Maybe if we were all a little more like Dan Savage – a little more open, a little more irreverent, a little more positive about a natural, biologally imperative act we’ve engaged in since our own inception – then the word “rape” wouldn’t get thrown around so much. Not only would people not get huffy at its very mention in a sex column, trying to find fault and hurl accusations of “anti-woman” and the like; people would stop suggesting that to question a woman in the public eye is to “symbolically” rape her.
Jon Stewart once said (and I never get tire of quoting it) “You know who was like Hitler? HITLER.”
You know what’s like rape? RAPE.
Let’s not trivialize it, and let’s not make it into a boogyman to the degree where it can’t even be discussed. Maybe we could just talk about rape like a normal societal ill, like poverty or murder, and not like something so loaded that to even mention it is to draw a sharp political line in the sand.
And maybe we could talk about sex like it was eating, or breathing, or dying, or anything else we all do, an unshameful everyday occurrence.