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Archive for the ‘Sex’ Category

Ava Gardner adopts the confident poise of a non conformist

A lo-fi internet connection coupled with inventory lapses in both Laser and HMV has left me with a hard-nosed jones to watch Mogambo, the 1953 flick starring Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable.  After reading Ava Gardner’s memoir Ava: My Story, where she highlights the role in terms of one she wore as a second skin, as I turned the page I needed to see it like yesterday.  (Plus the book is worth reading because it’s filled with vivid detail, including Gardner’s descriptions of the arguments if not battles she carried on with third husband Frank Sinatra, as well as candid assessments of the first two marriages to Mickey Rooney and Artie Shaw. Gardner’s memoir is so juicy it should come with a napkin). What most peeks my interest about Gardner’s recollection of Mogambo is that the storyline takes a radical departure from the Hollywood playbook wherein so-called ‘Bad Girls’ such as her character Eloise Kelly seldom land the man and have the happy ending.  Eloise, a tippling fast-talker, lands her guy over the prim Linda Nordley, played by Grace Kelly. (Have to admit that I was never a fan of Grace Kelly.  If she were on the Hollywood scene today, she’d be the type to marry Tom Cruise.  She’s creepy and bloodless onscreen).

Traditionally, celluloid narrative arcs set for the ‘Bad Girl’ stock figure dictate she never gets the guy in the fade out.  Trangressive women onscreen have existed to receive punishment, comeuppance, even death in order to underscore the normative morality culture proscribes, as the stuff of which conservative gender roles play a significant part.  Whether uppity, slutty, boozy or back-talkers, all such offending women have been served a lesson on film.  Cinema screens have produced a sizeable catalogue of Bad Girls in need of correction, from Louise Brooks as Lulu in Pandora’s Box (1929); Bette Davis as Julie in Jezebel (1938); Joan Crawford’s Crystal Allen in The Women (1939); Elizabeth Taylor’s Oscar winning turn Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield 8 (1959) (a film which she—to her credit—referred to as a ‘piece of shit’); Ava Gardner later in Night of the Iguana; up to the plot resolution of Maeve Binchy’s Circle of Friends, audiences have become primed for the Bad Girl to be issued a smackdown before the final scene.

There are two qualifiers which offer an alternative ending for Bad Girls on film: mistaken identity or reform, resulting in vindication or transformation for the lady in question. Rita Hayworth as titular Gilda set the gold standard for the conception of Emma Stone’s character Olive in Easy A,or other films featuring the message about the danger of hasty judgements of a lady’s character, but only when she hasn’t actually earned the defamatory slut shaming.  Then there’s the case of reformed Bad Girls,those ladies ranging from Eliza Doolittle to Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman who share the same reformation-as-fairy tale ending, which reminds the Bad Girls that they just have to become whatever a man wants in order for their happy ending to be realised.  Cue the eyeroll, right?

The elusive fourth option, to stay a Bad Girl and still get the man seems the point of Mogambo.  Maybe we need to gather to screen this rare gem?

So what about an Anti Room Film Club?

Anyone interested in meeting up to screen and discuss classic films?

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In her late teens, Jillian Lauren was snapping up luxurious evening gowns and lingerie on shopping sprees at Chanel and Louis Vuitton. She was driven to shops by private chauffeurs and escorted inside by hired security guards; the shop girls scrambled to get her whatever she desired. Her evenings involved wildly elaborate parties, complete with bottomless bottles of expensive champagne and endless heaps of caviar.

What sounds like an episode of MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” was Lauren’s life at age 18, only she wasn’t so much the guest of honour as she was the high-priced entertainment. Back in the early ‘90s, the young New York University drop-out was a harem girl of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the brother of the Sultan of Brunei. Lauren, now a wife and mother, is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, about her experience as a high-class prostitute.

So how did a young girl from Jersey end up half-way around the world in a palace vying for the attention of a playboy Prince with two-dozen other call girls? A series of rebellious choices, most likely fueled in part by a troubled childhood, saw Lauren go from college student to part-time stripper to live-in working girl within a year. At first she thought she was going to Singapore for a two-week stint as company to a wealthy businessman, but when the plane landed in Brunei she was told otherwise. While she admits she was taken by surprise she also says she had the choice to leave. Lauren stayed six months before going back to New York City only to return for another six month period a short time later.

While some may hear her story and think Lauren was misled by those who brought her to Brunei, she takes full responsibility for her decision to stay.

“I was never hoodwinked by anyone and I walked into the situation in Brunei with my eyes wide open. In fact, I think that the people who led me into that line of work were pretty forthright and respectful. Probably more so than most women who enter the sex industry at a young age,” says Lauren. “At the same time, I sometimes look back and bemoan my lack of role models. However, I was so headstrong and independent that even if someone had been around to talk sense to me, I probably would have done exactly the opposite.”

What attracted her to Brunei at first was the promise of something better, a fantasy life beyond her wildest comprehension. The willful teen was all about taking chances and seeing where life would take her. She’d had enough of the mundane, often suffocating suburban life of her childhood and was struggling to find her place at university in New York. The unknown, with all its possibilities, was more appealing at the time.

“I had absolutely no idea where I was heading. I was running entirely on the boldness of youth and my utter ignorance of consequences. If you had told me where my life would lead when I was first traveling to my dorm at New York University at the age of 16, I wouldn’t have believed you in a million years,” says the author.

Where Lauren found herself after arriving in the desert country was a richly appointed palace with a large house staff and a constant party atmosphere. The girls slept in their own private rooms, ordered whatever they desired from the palace kitchen and had full access to a state-of-the-art gym. In the evenings they’d dress up for parties – the guest list was always comprised of the Prince’s well-heeled friends – that started at 11 p.m. and didn’t wind down until dawn. The sex part didn’t even come into play until two weeks into her journey when the Prince, who selected whatever girl he wanted for an hour or for the night, chose her. This open selection process encouraged an often bloodthirsty nature among the girls; there was a sense of power that came with being the Prince’s favorite, though once attained keeping that intangible title was an entirely different effort. Not exactly Pretty Woman, not that prostitution ever is, says Lauren.

“In Some Girls, I’m pretty clear about where I stand on [that movie]. I say that the part about not kissing tricks is true and the rest is an insulting crock.  It’s the absolute worst manifestation of the Cinderella story – presented with no sense of consciousness or irony,” says Lauren. “There is no attempt at all made to deconstruct the myth, to make it relevant in some way to the complexity of modern relationships and power dynamics. What is the message, really? That we’re whores until we’re validated by a rich man, at which point we transform magically into princesses?”

The experience eventually led Lauren to a better understanding of herself, and while she says she would never go back to that life she’s clear that she doesn’t regret what it did for her emotional and spiritual growth. After leaving Brunei she went to college, struggled with drug addiction and worked a series of odd jobs before working her way through the past (a process that started only after she started “loving and trusting” herself) into the life she knows today. Lauren is now a successful author and journalist living in Los Angeles with musician husband Scott Shriner (bassist for Weezer). They are doting parents to son Tariku, who they adopted two-and-a-half years ago in Ethiopia. She credits her experience in part to helping her be a better wife and mother.

“The real lessons for me were learned as I looked back and reflected. I was able to discover a different level of compassion for both myself and for the other people who shared my story. I looked at pictures of myself from that time and I said, What was so wrong with me? Why did I hate myself so much? I was beautiful. I was hopeful. I was brave. I was adorable. I can see it now clear as day, but I couldn’t see it then. The story is about struggling to love yourself and learning to forgive yourself. I can’t think of a lesson that I use more as a mother, wife and friend than forgiveness.”

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem is available at Amazon UK. Lauren’s second book, Pretty, will be released in August. Learn more at her website: http://www.jillianlauren.com/

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Most tips about dating targeted at single women amount to a Sisyphean course of self-improvement, whether the focus is on their appearance as complicit with the beauty mandate or with interpersonal skills such as listening and hobby development, all are designed to make women a better match and ring ready, which culture has emphasised since they were knee-highs.   Instead of regarding every date as a potential Prince Charming, it might be more useful to utilise the Rochester Rule as a primary criterion for finding a good man.  Put simply, Charlotte Brontë’s novel unintentionally illustrates how much one can learn about a man from the way he treated women in past relationships, only her titular Jane Eyre was too much of an inexperienced sap to give the evidence full consideration.  When you have a man’s track record to consult, do so with the knowledge that he’s not going to be an entirely different man with you.  You can anticipate who he was with other women will remain consistent in the current relationship.  In the case of Brontë’s Edward Rochester, a man who locked his wife up in the attic for a decade, just to keep control of her dowry, Jane would have to wonder what he’d do once she became inconvenient, put on some weight or asked too much of him.  Marry him?  Reader, she should have busted ass for the nearest exit.

Edward Rochester stands as a familiar romantic figure in popular culture.  He’s usually attractive but in an unconventional fashion.   A Rochester presents himself as a ‘deep’ or ‘tortured’ soul, a misunderstood genius, a man prone to emotional outbursts, passionate exclamations and who makes wild demands on a lady.  After the 19th century original, there were several other men who fit the Rochester template, a leading man who should give women pause, including Charles Boyer in the classic Gaslight, Orson Welles, Ted Hughes, probably Richard Burton, Ike Turner, Charles Bukowski and Jack Nicholson.  The Rochester type gets off on treating women like crap, by building himself up through reminding women how little they matter in the end.  With outsized ego and a dissembling manner, Mr. Rochester manipulates women while remaining oblivious to the distress he causes.

Scarlett Johansson should take note of the Rochester Rule now that she’s moved in with Sean Penn.  Any dude who imagines a divine intervention in terms of licence to blow rails and buy women, where god commands:  ‘you’ve tortured yourself enough.  Two hookers and the eight ball are inside’ (starts 9:16 mark) probably isn’t going to cozy up to monogamy, especially when he likens it to self-imposed water boarding.  Penn rates close to Charlie Sheen’s level of wacked out entitlement, public rages, a total disregard for a woman’s well-being, with only a slight differential of talent in his favour.  Ms. Johansson, go ahead and have your fling, but do it without the mistaken belief that you can heal or redeem him.  Robin Wright tried that route and looks positively shell-shocked as a result.  Vagina ain’t the Red Cross, ladies.  Let the Rochester type save his own damn self.

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When I was little and we got the giggles in ballet class, the teacher told one of the big girls off for saying we had laughed so hard that we “literally hosed ourselves”.
We hadn’t, obviously.
But then we hadn’t had sex, been pregnant, given birth to children, or had hysterectomies yet either. Nowadays, one in four of us probably do “literally hose ourselves” every time we get the giggles. It kind of robs the joy out of life. We also hose ourselves if we try to sneeze and walk at the same time, or if we shout at our offspring, the very offspring who popped our poor bladders into our vaginas when the ingrates were in utero, ever after rendering us vaguely incontinent, then adding to the mortification by demanding we jump on the trampoline.

Oh, that'd be nice...

Jump? God knows, even dancing is getting embarrassing. Perhaps that’s why so few gals over 30 are found in night clubs: it’s not that we’re too tired, but that we’re scared of piddling a little while in the clutches of the boogie-monster. No one wants to be the old lady in the night club smelling faintly of wee and broken biscuits.
And as for exercise, if another gym bunny yells “cardio” at me I’ll scream. That’s why all my workout sweatpants are black. You try jogging with your bladder dripping every step you take. You try the step machine when every ten strides needs a change of knickers and a change of gyms too due to the sheer shame of it all. One optimistic bunny insisted we go outside to do some leapy little sidesteps. Did I say leapy? Should have said leaky…
“You obviously never did your pelvic floor exercises,” she said haughtily.
“I’m doing them as we speak,” I snarled back. I’ve been doing them ever since I gave birth at the age of 19, and then again at 27, and all the way through that second pregnancy, particularly after staying with a physiotherapist aunt who reminded me constantly, saying I’d be sorry if I didn’t.
A friend with four children of her own said memories of me post-birth had ensured she still does her own merry Kegels every day — she recalled how every time I stopped at a red traffic light I’d shout “Pelvic floors, ladies”, and we’d all start squeezing. I did it at traffic lights when on my own too, and sometimes I even did it at green lights for good measure. I did it, oh yes, and I still do

But for what? To be in my thirties and unable to run, or jump, or even dance with any feeling? To be terrified of tickling contests with my bloke or playful rugby tackles and bear hugs from my boys?
I never spoke about it because how could I? I didn’t want to tell the people I love that sudden movement makes me wet myself. I’d rather be on a pedestal than in the litterbox, and what woman wouldn’t?
I finally mentioned it to my doctor who said “pelvic floor exercises” then looked at me knowingly when I protested that I did, that I do, that I can (sort-of) stop my urine mid-flow so I know I’m pulling the right muscles. “Keep practising,” she said very unhelpfully, because if 20 years of traffic light Kegeling ain’t helped yet, then it ain’t going to, frankly.

The forecast is wet.


So I looked into it, and that’s when I discovered the one-in-four figure and realised I was not all alone in a corner with the old ladies, air freshener and a maxi-bag of incontinence pads. No, instead I am in the esteemed company of numerous mothers — whether they’d given birth by Caesarian or naturally, because it’s the hefty baby in the womb that juggles the bits down below. I am also in the company of hysterectomy patients, prolapse sufferers, and both overweight people and serious sportswomen (it’s the bouncing again, the hardcore gym-bunny bouncing!).
It seems to be a flaw in the very design and manufacture of women, and a mortifying one at that. Are you listening, God, because I’m shaking my fist, gently though so as not to pee myself?
Apparently, tragically one of the main reasons old women end up in nursing homes is incontinence.

 

But is it actually fixable? I don’t know. I know you can have an operation. I know it’s not always successful, and if it fails it’s not easily repeatable. I know online there are countless pelvic floor toners. I know they offer results in anything from two to twelve weeks. I know I bought one based on positive reviews, and it arrived on Monday, all parcelled up in surreptitious brown paper. I know it takes batteries and comes with a probe and now I know it makes me squeak if I set the power too high.
Yes, I am trying to fix my fanny by electrocuting it.
Bet that made everyone squeeze the old pelvic floor…
I’ll let you know how it goes, or maybe you’ll just hear my whoops of joy as a bounce ever higher on the trampoline.

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Feminism and the art of burlesque have traditionally had a complex relationship. It is empowering? Degrading? Subversive? Creative? Clichéd? Pandering to the male gaze? Subverting that gaze? Here feminist and burlesque fan and performer Ciara O’Connor gives her view.

The word “burlesque” has cropped up in polite conversation quite a lot recently. Christina and Cher’s affront to the word notwithstanding, every so often someone brings it up when out for drinks if I say I’ve just been to a show… and often there is a reductive remark about strippers. Take for example Maeve Higgins’ recent comment on the Tweeter : “Burlesque is so shit. Stupid middle class women stripping.” I’m not sure if Maeve has ever been to a show, but I know her comment was a reflection (if a slightly more abrasive reflection) of some peoples ideas and conceptions of what Burlesque is and is not. There are always people who are indifferent towards any medium, the decriers declaring Burlesque is dead, those who say it is anti-women, and those who couldn’t care less.

Feminist burlesque performer Blackbird, aka Emily

Because I’m a fan of the art form, and I occasionally perform at cabaret shows and see a lot of different types of burlesque, I thought I’d throw my two cents into the ring.

Burlesque’s etymology denotes a send up, it is a derisive imitation, grotesque parody. Burlesque is close in meaning with caricature, pastiche, parody and travesty, and, in its theatrical sense, with extravaganza, as presented during the Victorian era (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_burlesque). From the Wikipedia entry on Burlesque we see that it isn’t just all 1950s pin-up wither, its been around a long time: “”Burlesque” has been used in English in this literary and theatrical sense since the late 17th century. It has been applied retrospectively to works of Chaucer and Shakespeare and to the Graeco-Roman classics.“

Later forms of burlesque came in the popular variety show format. These were common from the 1860s to the 1940s, often in cabarets and clubs, as well as theatres, and featured bawdy comedy and striptease as part of the show. Burlesque has historically been seen as a cheeky, low-brow and very bold form of adult-only theatre.  Performers draw from theatre, mime, improvisation, movement to music, as well as all forms of dance. They are also usually loaded with cultural reference and spoof.

There has been a resurgence of interest in classical Burlesque in the 1990s which quickly became popular in the US, the UK and the rest of Europe. This resurgence also birthed what is referred to as Neo-burlesque (see Hot Press this month for a very interesting round-up of Neo-Burlesque in Ireland). Neo-burlesque often removes the nostalgic aspect of burlesque and uses contemporary music and themes, so you may find yourself watching Jessica Fletcher do a striptease to Gothrock. The beauty of burlesque is that it can be anything and everything, as creative as your imagination and the boundaries you put on yourself as a performer.

A friend writing a blog on fashion and feminism recently described me as “someone who I imagine came into the world screaming ‘I am a feminist!’.” As a feminist-from-the-womb – or at least a young age, I was needless to say not immune to the impressions the media give out about burlesque, and my inner feminist was in twitch-overdrive when I went to my first ever burlesque show. My twitching quickly subsided – and not only was I completely hooked: I was fascinated, enthralled and excited, brimming over with ideas after it – I was convinced that in my eyes, burlesque was decidedly feminist.

As I wrote recently in a guest blog for Dr Sketchy’s,  decontextualised women’s bodies are everywhere in society.  Disembodied perfectly round arses in Reebok trainers, floating breasts selling car insurance…. our world is saturated with nudity, implied nudity and women’s body parts, exposed, scrutinised, made grotesque and vilified… or portrayed as perfection and symmetry and the ideal we should all strive for/compare ourselves to. Burlesque shows are one place where you get to see real women’s bodies… not on display for the sexualised gaze, nor for “auntie Gok” to truss up like some Christmas ham and stuff into magic knickers to try to fit into normative beauty standards, but just – celebrated.  Cheered.  Whooped at and hollered for.  Breasts, bellies, smiles of all ages and types, none of them detached from the woman they belong to.  In fact, firmly in context as the performer is not only showing off her body but her creativity… her body can be tattooed, pierced, decorated with body paint, breasts all different shapes and sizes adorned with nipple tassels; they have meaning, they have context.  These are real bodies, (ab)normal, individual, all appendix scars and jiggly bits.  In a society where nudity has become so… meaningless… here it is loaded with meaning.

Also, the burlesque scene in Ireland is decidedly radical. The performers are smart, creative and quite amazing men and women who do fantastical things with the medium. A great example is my friend and fellow fabulous feminist Emily. She is a stunning performer – she creates acts that are thought provoking, political, visually stunning, sometimes hyperfeminine, sometimes very masculine, always impeccably costumed and gripping from beginning to end. She tells a story and makes a statement in a way that is firmly tongue in cheek and yet quick off the mark and very intelligent.

Lilly DeValle's barbershop act gradually turns from cute to creepy

Another burlesque performer, Lilly DeValle, cuts a striking figure on stage, playing a cheesecake cutesy character who has a dark and evil side – for example her cute barber shop act which quickly transforms into a bloodbath as she hacks up the poor unsuspecting customer in her barbershop chair. She is a true storyteller and has impeccable comedic timing. One of Dublin’s queen’s of the burlesque scene Miss Bella A Go Go is one of the most creative people I know, sewing and handmaking all her costumes, her  incredible mind is full of fantasy which she expertly brings to life on stage with incredibly intricate themed shows, such as her recent Steampunk Cabaret.

So for those who may reduce burlesque to “stupid, middle class women stripping” – I’d like to extend an invitation to come and see a show. The scene here is vibrant and bristling with life and energy. The performers (male and female) are dedicated to making you smile, cringe, cower and giggle like a kid. I asked my friends when writing this why they attend these shows, and the consensus was strong – the striptease element is the last thing on the list. They come to find something different, something entertaining, to find like minded people and to have fun. The nudity in the shows is a great leveller. It’s an opportunity to dress up, to drink cocktails and smoke cigars, to travel to another world for one night only. And who among us doesn’t enjoy some escapism now and then?

If you think you’d like to give a show a go, then I would highly recommend any of the following nights:

The League of Decadent Bastards

This will be the show of the summer – an all male cast and an amazing line up including some of my favourite cabaret artists, a proper treat for the senses!

Burlesque and Cabaret Social Club

The mainstay of the Dublin scene, mostly classical and vintage burlesque and music, monthly, at the Sugar Club

The Love Cats Burlesque

Fabulous troupe of burlesque artists, comedians and musicians in Dublin

Dr Sketchy’s anti-art school – for the artists among us – where life drawing meets cabaret

AND watch out for shows from: Sedition Industries, AWOL tattoo studio Galway, The Pony Girls, Midnight Burlectro, Sideshow Cabaret and many more over 2011.

Ciara O’Connor is an avid amateur cook and veggie. She has been working in women’s health and education for many years. In her spare time she likes to read, cook, drink wine, and is a student homeopath, sometimes cabaret performer and occasional yogi.
Her twitter is ciara_oc

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A few years ago a good friend of mine talked me out of my customary sloth and into agreeing to run the mini marathon with her.  Seems a work colleague of hers was involved with a charity called Ruhama and was keen to raise much needed funds. I’d never heard of them but agreed to participate more for the laugh and the much needed exercise than for the worthiness of the cause. As it happens the cause is worthy in the extreme.

Along with tens of thousands of other women a small group of us donned the tee-shirts and took to the streets to raise what money we could whilst enjoying a really great day out. Later, as we rewarded ourselves with chilled white wine and barbequed food in Lynn’s back garden she chatted about her involvement as a volunteer with Ruhama (Hebrew for renewed life) and the practical, no-nonsense and dignified approach that this non-judgemental organisation takes to supporting women affected by prostitution and human trafficking in Ireland.

Lynn regularly volunteers with the Ruhama outreach service operating in Dublin city centre and the Dochas Centre and providing a safe haven for women working on the streets. A small group of women volunteers travel by dedicated bus offering their clients respect, cups of tea, advice and practical follow-up support. She herself has taken bewildered young Eastern European girls into her own home, providing them with shelter and safety as they tried to break free from the horrible, sinister situation they found themselves in whilst alone, far from home and often unable to speak English.

Although established in 1989 as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters (and I must admit that as a committed secularist I am deeply suspicious of and resistant to all things religious) the organisation appears to be not in any way proselytising in nature and in fact may well embody all that is good and laudable about a Christian ethos. As such it is a welcome antidote to the repugnant underbelly of organised religion that has been exposed here in recent years.

Taking the stance that prostitution and the social and cultural attitudes which sustain it are deeply rooted in gender inequality and social marginalisation, Ruhama unequivocally affirms that prostitution represents violence against women and a violation of human rights. On a macro level the organisation engages in vital advocacy work directed at legislators and brokers of change and also liaises with the various drug and housing services that their clients will come in contact with as they move towards a safe and stable life.

On an individual level the approach is more nuanced. Ruhama engages in befriending women involved in prostitution and supporting them practically and emotionally as they attempt to move on and reintegrate successfully and happily into mainstream society. Treating women with dignity and working with them in a way that best suits their personal circumstances is a core principle. For example Ruhama volunteers will often accompany their clients through our intimidating and adversarial courts system; offering them legal advice, friendship and solidarity as required.

Education is a cornerstone of their vital work and Ruhama offers classes ranging from basic literacy and English to financial support for those participating in third level education. Holistic therapies afforded to women including art therapy, stress management and relaxation.

In recent years this organisation has had to adapt to the changing nature of prostitution in Ireland, most notably the increase in the number of migrant women, most of them trafficked into prostitution. When my husband, inspired by my stroll around town, ran the marathon for Ruhama in 2005 he raised €2000 and received a lovely letter telling him that he had paid the bill for their vital interpreter services for that year. How wonderful to know that you have made a real, tangible difference to the betterment of people’s lives!

The roll-the-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in approach adopted by this organisation has impressed me greatly ever since I first encountered them almost a decade ago. However, they still have the capacity to stop me in my tracks. Just when I thought that they were doing all that is imaginably possible to help women caught in the mire of prostitution, including shaping government policy, they surprise me yet again.

“5th Year boys from Belvedere College visited Ruhama today. Great to see the men of the future interested in combating the sex trade”

Last week I received a tweet from @RuhamaAgency (I urge you all to follow them) outlining a new and incredibly laudable initiative. It read “5th Year boys from Belvedere College visited Ruhama today. Great to see the men of the future interested in combating the sex trade”. This represents yet another forward-thinking and utterly practical policy. In my experience the vast majority of young (and not so young) men are incredibly respectful towards women and have a strong sense of the injustice of discrimination. Helping women find their way out of prostitution in no way represents a battle of the sexes. More fundamentally it is a battle of the right thinking against those who would profit from the misery of others.

So if you’re looking for a cause to fund or even one to rally behind then don’t forget Ruhama. Every cent raised will be efficiantly and effectively used for the betterment of the lives of women who really need our help.

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Nescafe’s threesome

"Do you want to come up for some euphemistic coffee?"

I can see the ad pitch to Nescafe in my mind…

A pink balloon that looks suspiciously like a blown up condom skirts across the floor of a trendy loft flat.

A sexy scruffy looking man in his mid-twenties ambles down the  metal stairs. The morning light streams through an open plan kitchen window. He catches the eye of the bed headed beautiful brunette, who flicks up an eyebrow giving him a wanton “You’re a bad boy” grimace.

Another, more dozy, brunette who looks like she’s been shagged into the middle of next week, bumps up against the kitchen sink, turns and realises there are magic sachets sitting there.

Instant coffee. Instant absolution. Instant dissolve of granules and awkwardness.

Being a good, if slightly dumb, third wheel, she makes three mugs of the chemical concoction. They all drink it. Sheepish man makes beautiful brunette an origami bird (yes, an origami bird – it’s a bird that bends and folds easily).

Third wheel, watching this cardboard coupling display, chuckles as the natural chaste order of life returns. Her eyes say “Thank goodness he didn’t prefer drab old me to his stunning girlfriend. Now I can quietly go back to cutting my arms.”

The Voice Over flogs us the product “Nescafe, 3 in 1. White, coffee with sugar. In one.”

*Sigh*

What a long way we have come since the 1980′s Nescafe Gold Blend ad series starring Sharon Maughan and that bloke who went on to mentor Buffy.

Despite the power dressing, the romance was worthy of at least a BBC costume drama. There was even an attempt at purveying sophistication.

There was never the smutty suggestion that, once he got her up for coffee, he would get her up for a randy threesome with that other neighbour that adland keeps in the cupboard for just such occasions.

What amazes me is that everyone watches Mad Men and laughs at the suppression and treatment of women in it. Ha ha, thank goodness we live in a more enlightened society now. But adland is chock full of young men who have grown up on an almost pure diet of porn as their sex-and-relationships education.

A threesome, therefore, is as cool as…um… a cucumber?!

It’s just the way we swing now and then. No big deal. Have a coffee and get over the embarrassment of compromising yourself for someone else’s sexual gratification in the vain hope that he, or possibly she, might like you for it.

The idea of a threesome with two men and one woman wouldn’t appeal in adland. Sure, men can look stupid not knowing how to work a washing machine – there’s a secret badge of pride in that, even if he is a total dud of a human being – but two men naked together in any context other than a Daz ad, is simply unthinkable to that mindset.

It’s not that I mind porn with my coffee, I’d just rather it wasn’t so, winking,  desperate and depressing (yes, I demand happy, hopeful caffeinated porn with my coffee-Red Bull porn). And, like porn, this ad doesn’t leave me wondering, will they won’t they (kind of a given there), so I am less likely to think or talk about it for any length of time, hopefully.

Perhaps I am being obtuse. The romantic ads were for Nescafe Gold Blend. The threesome horror flogs a 3-in-1 sachet for losers who don’t even have fresh milk in the fridge. They are not going for the same market.

Still, it’s a shame. People that good-looking should drink fresh milk and not have such low self-esteem that they feel they have to share their boyfriend during a party. S’all I’m sayin’.

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I love sex. And I love lots of sex – morning, noon and night.

And this is precisely why I haven’t had it in years.

I haven’t taken a vow of celibacy, and I’m clearly not saving it for marriage (I’ve already been married – and divorced – twice, so that ship has sailed).  I’ve been on my own – yes, I do mean in the ‘Biblical sense’ – for seven and a half years. Simply because I’ve decided that, outside of a relationship, I’m not interested in having sex.

The reason is simple – I love great sex, and I can only have that if I’ve arrived at a level of intimacy with the other person.  Intimacy is what makes good sex great.  If food is analogous to sex, then I prefer proper, healthy, gourmet meals to fast food.  One night stands and other forms of ‘casual sex’ are sexual fast food meals – they fill a certain purpose, but the effect wears off really quickly. Then I’m left feeling very empty. Intimate sex is a gourmet meal – satisfying, fulfilling on more than one level, really enjoyable and best shared with someone who appreciates fine dining. Maybe I’m alone in this (though I doubt it), but I never fancy fast food, and I never fancy a quick fumble with a stranger or acquaintance, either.

Intimacy is arrived at when you spend quality time with the other person, when you feel you know them – and they know you. Intimacy is feeling safe and vulnerable with a person. It’s being open and honest with the other person about who you are, knowing that they are doing the same. That, sadly, cannot be achieved in the course of an evening – or even several evenings. Intimacy is both an investment and the return on that investment.

Interestingly, while I get very crabby when I’m in a relationship and not getting any sex, I find that I’ve become used to living without it. A bit like giving up sugar in your tea for Lent – I loved it when I had it, and giving it up was hard, but now that it’s been given up, I’m happy enough without it.

Occasionally, when talking to friends, I am grateful that I don’t have to negotiate bedroom etiquette: Who sleeps on which side of the bed; who sleeps in the wet patch; who puts on the condom; worrying about unwanted pregnancies; worrying about STDs; worrying because you haven’t managed to make it for a wax this week etc. etc. etc.

More seriously, I don’t need to be concerned with a man having a ‘sleep-over’ and being gone before my kids are up.

I miss sex, but I’d rather do without it altogether than have unfulfilling sex with people I hardly know. Maybe if I’m still a born again virgin in another year or two I might revise that statement; but for now, I’m happy enough to wait.

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Boardwalk Empire didn’t live up to the hype or the recent round of awards in our house.  We stopped watching after a few episodes because it was one of those productions that seemed too familiar and therefore lacklustre.  It didn’t help that whenever Michael Pitt appeared onscreen I wanted to glass him for unaccountable reasons other than the smug which emanated from him like cartoon stink lines.  The series was my introduction to Paz de la Huerta, an actor whom I now see getting lots of media coverage, based on her dedication to being the biggest sex bomb of the moment.

Now I am the first to arch an eyebrow when slut shaming occurs, a ritual more likely performed by women than men, in what must be an attempt to recalibrate the narrow margin of approbation on reserve for women.  Call it a survival tactic (if you want to be kind) when women find a reason to shout down or shut out other women for being too slutty, available sexually, scantily dressed.  Slut shaming is the way some women prove their bona fides as one of the ‘good ones,’ a way to say she follows the rules and deserves consideration over the other trampy bitch in question.  Culture tells women as knee highs that there are only a few contempt-free spots available for the ladies, so they better get busy trying to claim one.  And since culture’s invested in equating a woman’s worth in terms of sexual access, it’s a no-brainer that some women will use the double bind of sluttitude however they can.  The hoary ‘ol Madonna-Magdalene binary for women clings to pop culture as unpalatably as unsalted butter on toast.  Women charge another with the offence or else claim the slattern badge as modernity’s badge of honour.

The first two dozen shots I’ve encountered of Paz de la Huerta in textbook vampy poses are of a piece with the persona she cultivates in interviews.  Profiles in Paper and New York Magazine waste no time before announcing de la Huerta as a sexual tigress.  Both articles use the actor’s sexuality as the defining point of her person, and sadly, she makes it easy for the dudes and feeds right into it.

She’s reported in NY Mag as rubbing her breasts amid horny ogling dudes in a steam bath, or else in Paper she’s determining character through sex:

“Nudity is a non-issue for me. Sex is a huge part of life,” she explains with a slight, all-purpose Euro accent. “To pretend it’s not is being a liar, and people who are afraid of their sexuality are suffering.”

We get it, Paz.  You like the sex.  Other women are not sexy enough, not as sexy as your enlightened self.

As I live and breathe, is it too much to hope that we could graduate beyond this simplistic baseline of self-actualisation?  I become as weary after hearing the ladies crow about how in touch they are with their sexuality as I do with those who think vigilant hymen protection ranks a woman in the saintly league.  Sex is not the lynchpin of your moral compass or personal growth, whether you have no sex, sex with only your life partner, or sex as random and often as you can manage.  Sex is fun, feels great and all the rest, but trading upon your willingness to engage in it doesn’t translate into higher being status.  Stop defining yourself by how little or much sex you have.

One strain of culture, the flip side of the virgin fetish, renders ladies as the sex class, she’s not really espousing any radical sentiments in a quest to be Ms. Naked & Sexually Open 2011.  In fact, it’s a rather conservative stance to take in our pornified society.  One won’t get far with the sex kitten role when the window stays open for such a short time in a culture that adds a youth obsession on top of the s-e-x.  Also, notice how she qualifies sexual partners as potential husband and father of her children, among all the other warm fuzzy things in order to paint her sexuality inside a traditional and conventional frame.

So Paz: Give It a Rest.  Pick up a book.  And go watch Bette Davis in Mrs. Skeffington or another cautionary tale on film about the perils involved in putting all over your eggs in one beauty-sexy-times basket.

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Guest post: Punishment Porn

The first time I saw pornography, I was 14 years old. I was babysitting for a neighbor down the street and was looking for children’s videos for the kids when I came across a few unmarked tapes. I put one in and to my surprise, it was porn. Though I turned it off straight away (the kids were around but didn’t see it, thankfully), I went back to the videos after I’d put the children down for their naps. I was a teenager and I was curious.

In retrospect, the movies on the tapes were regular, “straight sex” porn. This was the 1980s and the women in the movies didn’t have fake breasts and were not shaved to an inch of their nether regions. The men were pretty hairy and lots of them had mustaches, a la Magnum P.I.’s Tom Selleck. The routines were fairly standard: Guy meets girl, have a bit of conversation, clothes come off and sex ensues (heavy petting, mutual oral sex, sex in various positions, The End). Nothing about it felt weird or unsavory and in fact, I revisited those tapes several times over the next few months as the babysitting jobs continued. Of course I was always careful to rewind the tape back to the exact spot and put the tape back on the exact shelf in the television console where I had found it.

I’ve watched porn here and there over the years and what I’ve noticed in recent years is how much fetish-oriented porn, specifically “punishment porn,” is starting to become mainstream. One quick browse at a handful of online porn sites reveals an overabundance of disturbing, graphic key words such as “GAGGING” and “ROUGH” and “PUNISHMENT” and “DRILLING” and “FORCED,” among other gems. Photos of women being dragged by the hair and seemingly forced to give oral sex to her “boss” or “landlord” or other “authority” figures abound. Storylines are focused on revenge and retribution; men are getting back at women for ignoring them or cheating on them or for screwing up a proposal at work. Finding a video showing a woman literally being slapped around while engaging in sex acts is easy to find; instead of being concealed within fetish-oriented porn sites they’re readily available on many mainsteam, free porn websites. It’s an unsettling trend.

Los Angeles-based sex educator, author and lecturer Jamye Waxman agrees that these types of porn films are on the rise. “I see an increase in finding the craziest things one can do in porn. That’s because the Internet has upped the ante, so to speak, regarding what it takes to get noticed. I find this type of porn a cry for attention and not necessarily a healthy outlet for sexual exploration. Of course if two people generally love being punished, beaten, whatever, who am I to stop it? But I ask this: If you love it, why? That’s what I want to know,” she says.

Physically, the actors in these videos and photos are getting more and more extreme as well. The women have bowling ball-sized breasts that leave the skin on their chests looking like it’s pulling at the seams OR they’re flat-chested and petite and “barely legal.” They are shaved completely bare and the skin down there is bleached (ouch!). The men, with their thick necks and bulging veins, look like they’re bursting with ‘roid rage, which I suppose suits since they’re always pissed off and looking for revenge! The thing is I do not know a single woman who finds this type of fury or crazed sex wrath appealing. Sure, some of us like a little smack on the bum sometimes. But find me a woman who enjoys having a man’s *meat* forcibly shoved into her mouth to the point of gagging and I’ll show you one who is nothing but a figment of a disturbed man’s twisted imagination.

Waxman, who has written and produced four erotic films for an adult entertainment company, believes that every individual has his/her own sexual fetishes and desires but that this type of physically-abusive porn is troubling.

“I can’t say what is sexy and arousing for every individual, but I do see sex as something pleasure based with a limited infusion of pain, and even that pain should be pleasurable,” says Waxman. “As someone who was spanked loads as a child, I don’t get off on being smacked around and honestly find it degrading. I’m curious if there’s a lot of this porn where she’s doing the slapping, but even when I have seen women emasculating men, it doesn’t work for me. Sex is a balance, and there’s no balance when someone takes away your power by such a jarring jolt of force. I prefer loving and sensual to this type of brute force. I got into the industry to make more of the types of erotica that I’d watch and learn from.”

I don’t want to speak for all women but most I know would agree with Waxman’s sentiments. Pornography is something I enjoy on occasion and I’m sure this is true for many women. But this popularization of “punishment porn” is something that I find alarming and, quite frankly, sickening. And because it seems so prevalent on mainstream porn sites, if I want to watch porn I’ll opt for websites that advertise “Classic Porn” — as it is so amusingly called. That would be porn from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the stuff from my babysitting days, where men and women could have sex without anyone being slapped. Call me a prude but that’s just how I like it.

Clare Kleinedler is an American freelance journalist whose work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Irish Times, People and WIRED. She currently resides in Ireland and chronicles living abroad on her blog, An American in Ireland. @clarekleinedler

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