All posts filed under: Sex

My Own Private Chateau—Pauline Réage’s ‘Story of O’ Revisited

I’m sitting on a plane and I’m feeling increasingly excited. I’m flushed. My heart rate is up, and I can’t seem to find a comfortable way to sit. My agitation isn’t caused by any nervousness about flying, nor by any fears of contracting COVID-19 during the flight. My disquiet has been triggered by the book I’m reading. The sensations it arouses almost overwhelm me. I find I have to pause every few paragraphs, close the slim volume, and rest it on my lap in order to regain some sense of personal composure. Fiction usually transports my imagination away from myself, but this book is accomplishing the opposite: I feel increasingly aware of my body as I read it, as though being immersed in fiction has drawn me into a moment of privacy with myself. It feels somehow unseemly for the public world of the airplane to intrude on my private sensations. I have to put the book down frequently in order to remind myself that it is no act of indecency for the happy family …

Sex and the American Presidency

This essay was first published in the French literary journal America, on July 8th, 2020 America was founded by an austere religious sect for whom sex was anathema. America invokes God on both its coinage and paper money. In 1630, John Winthrop declared America to be “a city upon a hill,” gilded words that borrowed from the Sermon on the Mount and were famously echoed centuries later by Ronald Reagan. And yet the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, has appeared in not one but three softcore pornographic videos. Mercifully, he remained clothed for the duration of his time onscreen and did not engage in actual sex, yet one must ask: How did we arrive at such a louche and ridiculous place, a carnal funhouse where the individual on whom the hopes of 330,000,000 of his fellow citizens are pinned is someone who once posed for a photographer while reclining on a bed clad in a bathrobe that looked to have been filched from a stripper’s closet, subsequently married a former model a …

Keeping Male Bodies Out of Women’s Rugby

From November 2015 until February 2020, World Rugby, rugby’s global governing body, incorporated guidelines established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on transgender participation in sports. According to these rules, males who wish to self-identify into women’s rugby could do so if they committed to reducing their testosterone levels to 10 nmol per liter or lower for at least 12 months. (The average level for men is about seven times that level.) During this period, instances of biological males playing in the women’s game increased, and some participants began to express alarm. One rugby referee posted on the website Fair Play for Women, for instance, that “being forced to prioritize hurt feelings over broken bones exposes me to personal litigation from female players who have been harmed by players who are biologically male. This is driving female players and referees out of the game.” Another wrote, “I volunteer my time to officiate matches because I love my sport. But I won’t continue much longer if I have stay quiet about the unfairness I see on …

The Dishonest and Misogynistic Hate Campaign Against J.K. Rowling

When J. K. Rowling first outed herself as a gender-critical feminist, my first thought was: If Rowling can be cancelled, anyone can be cancelled. Not only is she one of the best known and best loved authors in the world (the writer of children’s books, for goodness sake), she also has a personal history that ought to make her un-cancellable. This was the mum who escaped an abusive marriage and lived off benefits, writing the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh café while rocking her sleeping baby in a pram. This was the woman who became a billionaire, but then lost her billionaire status by giving away so much money to charity. If anyone was safe, Rowling should have been safe. And it turns out that she was, because despite the best efforts of her critics, she hasn’t yet been truly cancelled. Her latest book, the murder mystery (written under the pen-name Robert Galbraith), was published on Tuesday and, as of Thursday, was number four on Amazon’s bestseller list for all literature and fiction. …

Don’t Listen to the Outrage. ‘Cuties’ Is a Great Film

If you’d asked me a month ago what could possibly break through a news cycle dominated by the biggest global pandemic in a century, the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the worst civil unrest in the United States since the Civil Rights Era, a diverse, French arthouse film about four 11-year-old girls trying to win a dance competition wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Yet since its recent release on Netflix, Cuties has broken through the noise, and how. I wish it were for the right reasons: For instance, because Senegalese-French director Maïmouna Doucouré has written and directed a brilliant, award-winning first feature drawn from her experience growing up as an immigrant kid caught between cultures. Or because it’s alive with tenderness and heartache: a grittier, cross-cultural Eighth Grade about friendship, the love of a parent and child, and our longing to fit in, no matter our age, no matter the price. Or because it’s alive to injustice without preaching or judgement. But no. Cuties has broken through because of grotesquely false …

The Philosophy of Pansexualism

The word “pansexual,” denoting those who are sexually or romantically attracted to others regardless of their sex or gender, has been around for at least a century. But the designation remained relatively obscure until about a decade ago, when a number of celebrities began using the word to describe themselves. It quickly became a popular self-identifier for young teenagers. And the idea of “pansexualism” is now increasingly being included in the vast and growing LGBT typology. Earlier this summer, when the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control published its COVID-19 Language Guide on “inclusive language for written and digital content,” for instance, the provincial agency exhorted readers not to use the term “sexual preference,” as it might be offensive to “pansexual people,” since they exhibit no “preference” whatsoever. (The agency offers a similar warning about offending bisexuals, which I distinguish from pansexuals as follows: While the former are attracted to each sex/gender, the latter may also be attracted to those whose genderqueer status removes them from the male-female gender dyad, or who report having no …

At the NHS and BBC, Important Steps Toward Restoring Balance in the Gender Debate

In recent months, a sense has emerged that the tide might finally be starting to turn in the gender debate: Things that most everyone believes to be true, but that no one has been allowed to say, are now increasingly being said by writers, lawmakers, and litigants. Certainly, the battle is still far from over. CNN is referring to women as “individuals with a cervix.” Last month, J.K. Rowling was trolled yet again for stating ordinary views about men and women (though thankfully, the media is no longer getting away with defaming her). And best-selling children’s author Gillian Phillip has been sacked by her publisher, Working Partners, because she added the hashtag #IStandWithJKRowling to her Twitter bio. But at least now, in mid-2020, these acts attract growing criticism. We are no longer in 2018, when the most militant gender activists could still pretend that they spoke for the entire LGBT community, with the “debate,” such as it then was, consisting mostly of endless mobbing campaigns against so-called “TERFs.” One reason it has taken time to …

The Futility of the Conservative War on Pornography

As we head into a tumultuous US election season, it is worth remembering that political parties can get trapped in partisan frameworks that cater to the loudest sections of their base, but which prevent them from appealing to a wider range of voters. Ideological litmus tests not only narrow appeal, but they cause politicians to pander, to disregard evidence, and to reject compromise in favor of rhetorical stridency. Social conservatives’ endlessly sputtering crusade over pornography is unusual in that it brings them into alliance with many radical feminists on the Left. Nevertheless, of the two main parties, it is the moral majoritarians in the Republican Party who have most frequently attempted to generate political capital by inveighing against pornography. This movement’s foundational moment was President Reagan’s Meese commission established to investigate the potential harms caused by pornography. The Meese Report, however, badly over-reached—even those who worry about the effects of pornography acknowledge it made unsubstantiated claims about its effects. Recent US presidential election years have seen promises to strengthen anti-pornography laws included as part of …

For 30 Years, I’ve Tried to Become a Woman. Here’s What I Learned Along the Way

I turned 45 this month. I can’t deny that I’m in my middle years. Although I’ve been blessed so far to avoid noticeable gray hairs, there are unmistakable creases around my eyes and forehead. My hands are even picking up the signature wrinkles and definition that I’ve always associated with “old hands.” Beyond the outward signs of age, I feel it inside. My peak energy levels are lower than they used to be, and the idea of dashing around makes me tired just thinking about it. The aphorism that you’re only as old as you feel may have some truth to it, but one can’t just wish away one’s age. When I appraise myself in a mirror, looking for signs of aging, I can’t help but look for the signs that betray the sex I was born. Male. A bouncing baby boy, and more or less on that trajectory until my early teen years, when I became convinced that I was actually a girl. It was only a short time later that I started taking …

Bad Vibrations: The Lies Universities Tell Their Students about Sex

Universities today bombard students with two contradictory messages about sex, effectively encouraging them to carry a dildo in their pocket, while lugging a fainting couch behind them. On the one hand, universities have returned to a quasi-Victorian concern with the unique fragility and vulnerability of college women in matters of sex. This belief in the frailty of college women flows from a lineage of feminist theory, whose foremost representative is probably Catherine MacKinnon, in which “structures of power” hold down women as inherently unequal partners in sex. These structures, the argument goes, must be reformed to correct historical wrongs, to reward and encourage the right sorts of individuals and activities, while punishing and suppressing the wrong ones. On the other side of the campus sex ledger is the dildo raffle. At “Sex Week” festivities and other gatherings nationwide, colleges and universities actively promote sexual libertinism. During Sex Weeks, campuses routinely host BDSM demonstrations, and rhapsodise over orgasms, anal sex, sex toys, and more. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse hosted a teach-in entitled “Clitoral Masturbation and …