Archive for September, 2012

What do Sex and Science Have in Common?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2012 by sanguinesnow

Among other things, it’s quite hard to write about either in a way that will satisfy me.

The title of this piece alone brings on the same reaction I have to bad porn:  I get all excited at first (“Oh, wow, sex?  Sexy sex?  I love sex!  BRING IT!”), and then I get into the actual meat of the writing and am disappointed. (“Oh.  Um.  That’s it?  Well, never mind then.”)  Sure, titles are hard.  You have to hook someone into reading what you have to offer, and then deliver on whatever clever hook you used.  I am very bad at titles, myself.  Everything in this blog might as well be called “That Thing I Wrote”, since my titles usually don’t do much.  But I’m not going to go and title something “BEST POST EVAR” and then have it be about how I went to a party once and it was kind of cool.  That’s what this article does.  Sex Can Make You Smarter.  Okay, well, what’s that about?  Even if you’re inclined to think the entire definition is “a penis going into a vagina = sex*” that’s not exactly what the studies mentioned in the article are talking about.  I know, I know, it’s sad.  I thought for a moment I was going to be able to fuck my way into MENSA by the end of this year, but not so.  And about that?  The definition of intelligence is itself difficult.  Basically, the studies mentioned in that bit have to do with people who are in sexually aroused states performing better in critical thinking problems.  I’m pretty solid on the idea of more intelligent people being better at critical thinking, but since the actual study doesn’t seem to be available for me to read for free, I have no idea if it controlled for non-lustful IQ.  Ideally, the way to look at this admittedly interesting proposition would be to take a group of subjects within an average IQ range and have them perform the same type of logic problem with the same level of difficulty when in an aroused state, and again when they are distinctly unaroused.

Then you get into the anatomical and biological questions raised (which I have no idea if the studies took into account).  Sexual arousal increases the heart rate and blood flow, so maybe there’s an oxygen boost going on.  Brains love oxygen, which is why another study should be done to see if people who are into breath play also get a cognitive boost while having sexy fun time.**  Also (and this is really a factor in the second idea spouted by this crap article – stay tuned), aroused states involve a whole fucking lot of chemicals.  Were the participants themselves reporting lustful feelings?  And even if they were, did anyone think to run a few simple blood tests to check hormone levels?  Well, that would give us a lot more information, right there.

Here we have a big problem with how science stories in general are reported in mainstream publications.  For one thing, most people have no idea how an experiment should be run.  How big should your sample size be?  What’s a valid control group?  How do you accurately measure what you’re looking for?  This is one of the things that annoys me greatly about scientific illiteracy; since so many people are unknowingly suffering from it, they read articles like this and either accept whatever’s being said at face value or reject it as being crap.  However, they usually don’t have the tools needed to accept or reject findings, and these articles rarely offer important details, so the acceptance vs. rejection often has more to do with the reader’s own beliefs than the study and its validity.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, the sorry state of science reporting.  When I was complaining about not being able to assess the “sex makes you smarter” claim?  It’s because I cannot see the actual reports the actual researchers published.  To be fair, I am not a Highly Educated Science Person myself.  But I would much rather be able to read what the actual studies found than rely on this article, since the information offered is dumbed down to the point that it sounds like me when I’m really drunk at a party trying to tell a story about something I didn’t really understand to begin with.

The next bit, about how “sex can make you less depressed”, as the title would have it, is another cheap thrill lacking substance.  The study this is referring to is actually available to read, probably since it’s now ten years old.  It has some interesting ideas to offer, but they’re interesting more in that they could give us ideas for further research and not because they actually give us any concrete answers.

A few of the problems I noticed right off were the sample population, the lack of actual hormonal data, and the already flawed assumptions around women and depression that are repeated here.  The study was done on 293 volunteer subjects, all of them women attending college at the time.  They filled out questionnaires regarding their sexual activity and condom use, and completed an inventory meant to measure depressive symptoms.  The really super-exciting thing here is that women who reported sexual activity without condoms consistently scored lower on the depression inventory than women who did regardless of relationship status or other birth control methods used. 

The obvious conclusion that the researcher and every silly article that mentions this study comes to is that semen cures depression.  Let me tell you about my sister.  She never uses condoms.  She’s probably having sex right now, as I type this, and probably as you’re reading it, too.  She has a LOT of sex as far as I know, and I’m sure she’s not using condoms.  She’s not depressed, which is cool, and would seem to be a good piece of anecdotal evidence that supports this study’s findings.  Oh, yeah, and also she’s a lesbian.  She’s having sex, without condoms, and it’s with another woman.  Were all of those 293 women having sex exclusively with men?   Who knows?  I don’t, since the report doesn’t say.  You guys know it’s the 21st century, right?  Maybe you should consider that first footnote I threw in.  Sometimes I do things that I would absolutely count as sex, and there is no penis involved.  Sometimes there’s a man involved, and penetration, and I have amazing orgasms, but there is no penis.

Before I go on and talk about my own experience (which could only be counted as “scientific” when I was studying for Anatomy exams and successfully listed all the bones of the skull while fucking), I want to comment on the very important point the semen study makes about women suffering higher rates of depression.  It’s true that women are more commonly diagnosed and treated for depression.  It’s also true that women generally have different levels of various hormones than men.  BUT!  I have serious issues with the idea of women being more depressed “naturally” independent of social influence.  It’s a complex issue, and since you can’t just raise a bunch of babies in Skinner boxes and see if they end up being depressed in a couple of decades (hint: they would be.  All of them.),  the difficulty of controlling for social influence makes it nearly impossibly to pick apart the causes in a truly meaningful way.  I bring this up not to shrug off the higher rates of depression in us ladies, but to point out that maybe this study should have also looked at rates of depression in lesbians vs. straight women, and especially in gay vs. straight men.  Oh, and an interesting thing there?  Someone already did.  What’s that about higher rates of major depression among gay man?  I guess they’re ALL using condoms ALL THE TIME.  Good for them.  Well, it’s either that or maybe something to do with social influences and such, but that would be a silly idea.  Also, what’s that about lesbians having “equally strong levels of mental health as their heterosexual sisters and higher self-esteem”, huh, APA?  Are they all sneaking semen on the side, just for its magical health benefits?  I’ll go ask my sister, hang on  . . . . okay, no.  No they are not.

That’s enough science for now!  It’s time for some anecdotal evidence!  All from me, because my sister’s probably already off getting fisted by now.

I already mentioned liking sex.  But there’s a catch there, so hang on – I like good sex, with people I at least care about, and also there has not been semen involved in . . . a while.  Because you know what would make me really depressed?  Nasty viruses.  Heck, even a nasty enough bacteria will ruin my day.  My rampant condom use should have me slitting my wrists by now, yet somehow I get all the benefits of good sex even though my reproductive tract has not had anyone else’s bodily fluids dropping by for a visit in AGES.  The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”, as I hope your mother taught you, but let’s scroll back to the last time I felt really seriously depressed.  I went for a seriously long time without sex, and boy was I depressed.  This may have more to do with the horrible relationship I let linger far too long (it does!) than anything else, but I probably also had a bit of a drop in cognitive function.  So . . . now that I’m having sex again I’m magically able to do amazingly well in school and also handle all the craziness life can throw at me and still be happy?  Or is it the other way around?  Am I having all these amazing effects because I’ve been out of a shitty relationship for a while and that’s allowed me to rebuild myself so I can be happier and push myself harder academically and the awesome sex is just caused by my feeling awesome?

See where it breaks down?  I generally do feel a “boost” after sex*** with my current partners, where I am ridiculously happy and feel like I am running stronger mentally and creatively.  The immediate high often gives way to long periods feeling content and satisfied, and ready to take on anything.  The “current partners” part of that is important.  I’ve written about a couple of people here who are not current partners for very good reason.  Sex with them made me miserable.  So for me, all those benefits only show up when I am happy about the encounter and the person it’s with.  If it’s bad, I’ll come on here and tell you all about it, but that’s it.  I’ve even had orgasms with those losers, but after the fun bit passes it’s all ruined by figuring out that a loser was involved.  (I’m screening people much more carefully these days!)

So, on the one hand I would say that for me, there is some chemical action going on there that makes sex generally beneficial.  On the other hand, it only works for me when I don’t find out the next day or week or month that the person I banged was a misogynist or a racist or has some Daddy thing going on or some shit.

Maybe that’s the missing key to a lot of these studies.  It could be that the way a person feels about any given encounter matters more than the mechanics.  And what makes someone feel amazing is so individual I can’t even begin to explain.  Things that make me feel incredible would be no fun at all to the next person, and things other people love leave me cold.

If it is all just chemicals, this would suggest to me that for myself, I get more long-term benefits from encounters with an emotional component.  A good one, I mean.  Maybe the nasty feelings that come on when I’ve just had some sort of sexy sex thing going on and then someone involved reveals something that’s a hard limit for me is my reptilian brain kicking in and going into protective mode.  Maybe that overpowers all the happy chemicals.  And then maybe, if nothing negative comes up, I’m able to bask in the happy chemicals longer since I’m not busy being squicked out.

All the research in the world won’t determine the exact combination of factors that make any given sexual thought or situation right or wrong, beneficial or not, to every single person.  The real key here is, as usual, knowing what it is that makes you tick and being able to share that.  If you have some quirk that seems to contradict a study, go with it.  You’re an outlier.  And for all of us, more research is always a good thing!

 

* Not true, by the way, and if that is your definition of sex you are either way too young to be reading this blog, or you have a woefully inadequate vision of what people get up to with one another and themselves.

** This would be a fairly niche study, but if anyone wants to kick me some funding I’ll get to work on it.

*** Here’s where I should mention that I’m using “sex” as a catchall term.  It’s a long list, and includes lots of things that are not PIV intercourse.  I would even include things that don’t look at all like sex, but are for me.  If you can handle a paddle or belt well, You know what I mean.

Objects In Mirror May Be More Mainstream Than They Appear

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2012 by sanguinesnow

Think about what makes you “different” for a moment.  It could be any trait you have, visible or not, but it should be something that brings up challenges.  Maybe it means that people will reject you, or make assumptions that aren’t true, or maybe it’s something that alienates you from your family or makes you bite your tongue in more situations than you’d like.

Now, imagine that there’s a sparkly magical wonderland out there that will fling its door open to whatever trait you have in mind, and tell you you’re special and fantastic because of it.  But then you get into the city and oh, crap, you just saw behind the curtain and that’s not really a wizard, is it?  It’s just some old man trying to pass himself off as one.

Maymay has plenty to say about this, and says it better than I do.  He seems to like pulling that curtain back, and then people sometimes get pissy because they don’t want anyone doing that.  The entry I just linked is what got me thinking about this post, since it’s about things that have been simmering in my mind for over a decade now.  And the main point of that entry was to give a “Hell Yeah!” to this.  It’s great, and if you have any interest at all in the BDSM “scene”, go read it and then I’ll tell you why I put sneering sarcastic quotation marks around the word “scene”.

To be totally honest, I should be more in the category of “people who perpetuate heteronormative standards when you see them at kinky events” and less in the category of “people who don’t feel at home in the kinky community and therefore stay away most of the time”.  I’m a white, fairly young and conventionally attractive-appearing woman who, although identifying as bisexual and a switch, is currently in a relationship with a man wherein she takes the s-type role.  I should be perfect for this, flaunting what is highly conventional within a group that likes to pretend not to be conventional at all!  What ruins it for me is my mind.  It’s sharp enough to see all the social norms that I dislike in “normal” spaces being enforced in “alternative” spaces.

Maymay says it better than me:   No matter what they say, the BDSM community does NOT hold a monopoly on your sex life nor on your ability to play safely, or to find partners who you love and who will love you.

I would love to see that printed on a large sign at the entrance to every event ever, and plastered on websites the way the Surgeon General’s warnings are on cigarette packs.  It sums up a big problem I have:

1) I often feel like my understanding of who I am and what I need and want is negated by the “rules” laid forth (usually implicitly) by “the scene”.

2) I get annoyed and don’t feel welcome, so I stay home and examine my feelings and needs on my own, then develop relationships that are healthy and satisfying to the people involved.

3) My lack of presence in the outside kinky world is taken as ignorance, so people assume such when I do go out.

4) The “rules”.  Again.  Repeat cycle.

And then the sarcastic quotation marks thing comes up.  I can learn a lot about specific techniques and make friends I can relate to and meet people I can talk with about things I can’t discuss with most people I know if I go out.  But everything I actually am and how well I know myself has very little to nothing to do with the “scene”.  That monopoly Maymay mentioned really doesn’t exist, but I have run into more people than I care to count who would have me believe it does.

Right now, things are wonderfully naughty in my personal life, and Sir and I have moved through more difficult communication and work than you’d expect after such a short time to get to the present stage in our relationship.  Which brings me to the True Story part of all this!

We went out this past weekend, and had a great time.  The night started with me getting restrained and then hit, a lot, with several different things.  This was the type of thing that looks totally normal at these events, but it’s not just for show when I’m the one up there.  I get so much out of it because all that hard work with trust and respect and understanding has been done.  It might make a good video, but it works for me when I’m with someone I feel safe with emotionally as well as physically.  That’s important, not just because it’s how I function (which I figured out on my own, thank you very much) but because all those warm fuzzy feelings are wrapped firmly in the D/s nature of our interactions:

After that part, I wanted to relax and have a few drinks and bask in the endorphin rush.  We ended up at a table where someone Sir knew and my old pal Jonathan joined us.  I struck up a conversation with Jonathan about books we’d read recently and what I’m studying in Microbiology right now.  The other guy stated flat out that I wasn’t “really” a submissive and Sir wasn’t “really” dominant in our relationship.  Then he pointed out, as if it proved anything, that after he’d joined our table he was able to talk to me directly.  (You can’t do that with a real submissive, as I’m sure you all know.  They all have shock collars preventing them from speaking, and they don’t read or go to school or anything, so they wouldn’t have anything to say anyway.  Eye roll.)

I hope everyone, even s-types reading this who actually do have public rules forbidding them to speak, is also rolling their eyes.  If anything, the fact that such rules don’t exist for me proves the OPPOSITE of what that guy was trying to say!  I’ll tell you why:

The person with the fancy title and capital letters is in charge, right?  He (or She, but I’m referring to Sir – see?  A capitalized title!) is the one who makes rules, and if I choose to accept His role I will follow them.  See that bit about how He gets to make rules?  If all His choices were based on some OTHER set of rules that some OTHER person handed Him, would He really be any kind of Dominant at all?  No, He’d just be a cardboard cutout controlled by a set of expectations He was blindly following.  Any person who can’t make their own choices based on what they desire and what brings out qualities they want in their partner is no kind of Dom at all, but a Scene Puppet.

How could I have a real relationship with someone who wasn’t strong enough to know Himself and understand His own needs?  If my Sir is pleased by my intelligence and education, isn’t it better that I show it all off in His presence, rather than conform to a set of expectations that He would never want?  I’m fulfilling my half of the relationship by recognizing Him, not some off-the-rack “scene”, but Him, as being the Serious Business One In Charge.

Every time I’m visiting the Emerald City (to get back to my earlier analogy) and some silly person makes an observation like this guy did, they’re pulling back the curtain for me.  I’m going to call that guy Toto from now on.  So how do you find that magical place, when your illusions regarding the wizard are long gone?  It’s not my favorite movie, but let’s finish this analogy by suggesting some heel-clicking and, “There’s no place like home”.

Lots of us will never really be “home” at events.  Personally, I enjoy them for the most part, but I am really at home when I’m, well, at home.  As an individual, examining your own mind and kinks and soul free of the conformity the “scene” has to offer is way more valuable than trying to fit into the norms offered there, which are often sexist, classist, racist, and tend to be very narrow.  Once you know what you’re about, maybe you can play with the community and get something out of it.  Just remember that you have to learn about your own sexuality and social needs first, since a lot of those “rules” people want to give you won’t work.  As far as relationships, or even casual encounters, are concerned, there is far more learning and growth to be had from finding people you actually match well with and talking and exploring together than there is from trying to make yourself fit into a predetermined role and then finding another person in a predetermined role to match it.

The parts of the “scene” that I sneer at the most are the ones that don’t recognize us all as individuals with our own desires and needs.  I never, ever, want some younger or newer-to-events girl to see me being handled the way I often am and assume that’s “how subs are”.  I would rather they see something that clashes with their own vision of things and decide they want something totally different.  That takes nothing away from my kink, and would enhance their own.  It would mean more to me to have someone watch me and realize they never want to even try impact play than it would to have a hundred “scene” people praise me for taking it the way I do.

At its best, sexuality of any kind can flourish in ways that make your entire life and sense of self stronger and better.  But sexuality is personal, and relationships are personal, and there is no way a real sense of self can happen if you’re just trying to express sexuality and develop relationships within a narrowly-defined set of rules you did not ask for or agree to.

And that, readers, is why I do not belong to the Scene.

 

 

 

Patient Readers? Still Patient?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2012 by sanguinesnow

I am seriously regretting my whingeing posts at the moment.  I could have used that time to write clever book reviews for you guys!  Also, I seriously misread a few things (again and again), and now I’m on the internet – THE INTERNET, people! – going on and on about little snags that have since been resolved.  A good example is all that I’ve said about my body vs. some imaginary ideal I thought was nestled in Poor Sir’s mind.  You know what I’m going to call that?  Preemptive rejection.  He never had a chance to say anything negative about me, ever, before I did it for Him (I like doing things for Him, remember?), and then He eventually gets all this from me and has to do all the work of telling me it’s not true.  I wonder how many other people have gotten on their “You don’t really find me attractive because X” rant trains just because they were so afraid it was true they wanted to hear themselves say it before their partner did.  Preemptive rejection.  Don’t let it fuck with your relationship.

I ran into a friend the other day, and during the course of our conversation two things came up:

1) “I’m in a great relationship, finally!  I’m so happy and also the communication is great!”

2) “Yes, I do write!  Here’s my blog address!”

So I may have a very confused friend right now.  *Waves*

Since my next entry (the one where I talk about Serious Social Things That I Care About and Amazing True Stories and they totally tie in together) involves a happy couple going out for fun times, I wanted to make sure I filled in the part where shit got fixed.  If I end up with too many continuity errors those guys from MST3K will show up and make fun of me.

Dear Patient Readers

Posted in Uncategorized on September 2, 2012 by sanguinesnow

My personal life is trudging on now.  Difficult conversations will happen again, and things will get sorted out one way or another, and maybe my next personal journal entry-type post will be fun and sexy.  I sometimes feel bad about using my small amount of writing time to talk about things that are probably not interesting or informative to anyone other than me.  On the other hand, I’m a strong believer in using one’s personal stories to illustrate a point or teach on a certain perspective, so for all I know these times when I pick apart my own angst could be fascinating or useful to someone else.  So I keep writing them.

For now, I am okay.  I promise my next post will be one of the many I’ve been meaning to get to where I talk about something bigger than my little kinky corner of life.  It’ll make me feel better to get back to broader topics, and hopefully will make for better reading.  I’ll still include personal stories, but 50% less whingeing.  Okay, 49% less.

Submission Hell (or at least Limbo)

Posted in Uncategorized on September 1, 2012 by sanguinesnow

I’m in a particularly weird and uncomfortable corner at the moment.  I’m having a miserable time, but trying to wring important lessons out of it.  Lately, I’ve been keeping a private (on paper) journal for things too rambling and incoherent to write over here, but this one is actually pretty well-defined so I’m going to see if I can lay it all out and look at where I went wrong.

Last time I was discussing submission and how it works for me, I briefly mentioned having assignments.  What I failed to mention was how that all came about.  This part is really important (especially to you, Future Sanguine, if you’re looking back on this trying to figure out How Not To Fuck Things Up) – I asked for them.  This was a bit of a process, since for a while, Sir would bring up things that He wanted me to work on but then never follow up.  I was feeling frustrated, since I function best with rules and clearly defined goals/expectations/roles.  I finally did bring up the importance of it, and we worked with that and He came up with two specific things for me to do each week.  Let’s call them A and B, since I don’t want to go into detail (and that isn’t important to the level of unhappiness I’m having right now).  A is something fairly easy that can fit into my schedule and can be done alone at any time.  B is one of the things from my personal list that I foresaw as being the most difficult and time-consuming, and knew I’d need help with.

The first week, I fell short on both.  Since I had said explicitly that I needed feedback and follow-up on everything, positive and negative, I did end up with a penalty.  It was a well-chosen one, and I was happy that my needs were being taken seriously.  There was a red flag in the middle of the discussion though: He didn’t remember the actual guidelines I’d been given by Him.  Fair enough, since I have memory holes myself.  I actually just got called out on one today, so I’m in no position to judge.  I brushed it off and listed everything as I remembered it, pointing out that He could always check my memory against the original document when He got home.  I was told that I was to check in on Friday, hopefully to end the penalty I was under.

It’s Friday right now.  I called to check in and had to admit that I had not done well this week either – only the second week, but I was so sure I could do better.  Instead, I managed all of A with no trouble at all, but knew that with only two days left I would never be able to complete B.  That’s got a lot of complicated reasons around it, but the relevant part is that I wasn’t going to be done by Sunday, the official end of the week.  I was told to do my official check in on Sunday, and we’d talk about it then.  No mention of the punishment I’d been waiting all week to have (hopefully) lifted, or extended.  I tried to suck it up after I got off the phone but didn’t last long and messaged saying I really DID need an answer one way or another.  Waiting two more days seemed cruel, rather than firm.

Now I have a couple of things worrying me.  Forgetting about His own instructions (or at least the details) is understandable on its own, but forgetting that I was supposed to be given further word on the penalty I’ve been under all week added to that makes this while thing look like something that’s being done half-heartedly for me, rather than an important project for us as a couple.  I suspect that I’ve gone and asked for too much again, which is something I’ve been writing about on my own in private.   There was an unpleasant incident at a club a while ago that was caused by me thinking that something I’d asked for was something we both wanted.  I didn’t see it that way at the time, since I was too upset to be able to sort it out.  Later, when I considered why I was so upset, and did sort it out, I could see that He didn’t understand what I was asking for.  I also saw that it was something that should only come about if He actually wanted it, and not just because I asked.

I feel bad about a lot of things – worse than I did earlier in the day when my only concern was that I’d not been able to finish out this week’s tasks.  Now, in addition to that I also feel bad about asking for too much, and I feel bad about having an agreed-upon time to discuss an agreed-upon topic ignored.  The importance of all this to me, and the reason I had brought it up in the first place, was as a tool to have an ongoing point of reference that would serve as a small way for me hand over some level of power during all the time in between visits that would ALSO enhance the time we did spend together.  Knowing that I might not manage everything I was handed, and that there would be repercussions if I didn’t, fit in with my needs.  Not having that honored makes me feel like my needs are only being looked at as a chore, and not honored as something that is offered with a high level of trust.  Even a “I need to reassess this and I want you to wait until Sunday for further instructions” would have worked, rather than neglecting the fact that I had just done something difficult and had been promised those further instructions at a particular time.

I’ve used the word “need” and variations on it quite a bit in trying to take all this apart.  And that seems to be the real problem underlying this: I need too much.  But then, given the importance put on communication and maintaining respect, I also need to just be told “No” sometimes.  Asking for something, thinking I’m getting it, and then being hurt by not getting it, is way worse than asking for something and being told No.  But if I ask for a definite “No” every time I push for more and can’t have it, I’m just adding another request that might be ignored later.