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  • The World AIDS Day Project: AIDS through My Days

    December 02, 2009
    The World AIDS Day Project: AIDS through My Days
    My first exposure to someone with AIDS happened in my late teens. My friend John, the man who both demystified gay male sexuality for me, and helped me understand what it was like to be a sexual minority, introduced me to a friend of his: a handsome young man who was in hospice care, waiting for the inevitable.

    AIDS through My Days

    You see, this ex-Marine had AIDS, and in his early 20s, was staring into the maw of death from an enemy that had taken over his body through sex, not war.

    John’s friend had been abandoned by his family after they found out he had AIDS. For those of you who weren’t around in the 1980s, you have to understand that prevailing belief was that if you had AIDS, it meant that you must be gay or, less often, a hemophiliac who had gotten some tainted blood. Since they knew he didn’t have hemophilia, it allowed them to cast him aside because of his homosexuality. Because the facts still weren’t widely known, he was shunned by many of his acquaintances, and found significant challenges with employment and housing, finally ending up in hospice care by one of the few forward-thinking AIDS service organizations at the time.

    AIDS was the “demon menace” of the gay community back then; the only visible, socially acceptable poster-child of the anti-AIDS movement at the time was Ryan White, a boy who contracted AIDS from Factor VIII, a hemophiliac treatment made from the plasma of numerous donors. The other celebrities that succumbed to AIDS before I learned more about it—Rock Hudson and Liberace, among others—were all gay and, therefore (according to popular anti-gay wisdom of the time) “deserved” to get it for their licentious, evil ways.

    What I saw, though, was a man stripped of his family’s love and support, without the ability to hold down a job or get anything other than the experimental and palliative care that medical science could provide, watching his life slip away. At 16, it was powerful enough for me to sit up and take notice, but not powerful enough for me to question whether I might be risking a similar fate.

    During college and into my 20s, safer sex became more of a heterosexually acceptable topic; condom distribution was slowly starting to filter into the post-secondary educational systems. Posters about how AIDS was transmitted started being papered on the walls of student health centers and on the bulletin boards of various university buildings. And yet, very few of us that were straight acting—and certainly none of the lesbian women that I knew—bothered to practice safer sex. After all, we weren’t gay, and we weren’t fucking IV drug users (the other main route of transmission), so why bother? The pill was all us girls who were having sex with guys needed. As for guys? Well, if you’re only getting busy with the girls, then as long as they don’t get pregnant, you’re safe.

    Even then, I knew that we were losing entire generations of people, mostly gay men who had the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    In the mid ’90s, I met my first straight man to openly admit that he was HIV positive. He willingly told me that he’d gotten it from a prostitute, and his sense of shame had been tempered by his acceptance of who he was and the addictions and the poor choices that led to his unsafe behavior. (He’d never used a condom with a prostitute, and he didn’t care about any potential consequences at the time.)

    I remember being aghast. This was a death sentence, wasn’t it? He was young—in his late 20s or early 30s—unmarried, with no children, and a good job. What kind of life would he have? Who would marry him? How long would he even live? After further study, I found that there were already, at that time, some long-term AIDS survivors; men (primarily) who had been HIV positive for over a dozen years, and were still living a reasonably healthy life, and who were powerful role models for a population who needed to know that there was hope.

    When I was in my early 30s, I met a wonderful man who was just starting his re-emergence into a social life through a club of which I was a member. He had essentially been in mourning for over a dozen years since the death of his long-time partner and lover from AIDS. It quite literally broke his heart, and changed his life forever. It took repeated encouragement from his friends to come out and rejoin the world—and he did do it, but he never quite totally shed the sense of grief that comes with losing the love of one’s life.

    Right now, I can easily count off a dozen people that I know of all genders who are HIV positive. Some of them are acquaintances, some of them are friends; a few are past play partners or lovers. I’m grateful that they’re able to control their illness with medication; too many lives have been lost to this damned virus already, and the loss to our society of their brilliance and talents and love is incalculable. But I’m also angry because people still die from AIDS, and many of us seem to have forgotten that.

    This past year, a tremendously talented man of my acquaintance passed away quietly in the arms of his husband, finally succumbing to AIDS. He was a creative designer, a teacher, a man who possessed one of the most gentle, helpful souls that I’ve ever known. He was in his early 50s—not an old man—and by all rights, should have had another few dozen years of vitality and love ahead of him. And yet, almost 30 years since AIDS was identified and given the name “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” death is still the eventual, inescapable outcome for this disease.

    Today, I’m proud to live in a time in which the medical understanding of HIV has grown and led to advances not only in treatment, but in the search for both a vaccine and a cure. I am proud to live in a country where our president doesn’t hesitate to actually say the word AIDS, unlike Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. I’m proud to know that so many organizations have put their political lives on the line to promote needle exchanges and condom use in both inner-city U.S.A. and Sub-Saharan Africa, even during times when it’s tantamount to waving a red flag in the face of the conservative bull.

    I’m saddened, though, at the behavior of our culture, overall. Millions of teenagers don’t ever hear about how to put on a condom, much less get an understanding of what safer sex is, because of the arguments about funding comprehensive sex education in schools. The question of whether it’s okay for porn stars to have sex without condoms brings up the issue of how we all model safer sex behavior based on others in our community.

    I’m almost 40 years old now. I’m damn grateful to have missed the initial flush of the epidemic. My first partnered sexual fumblings came around the same time that Rock Hudson died, and I had yet to understand the world around me. I’m grateful to have at least caught on to the need for safer sex practices before I could become infected with AIDS. But I’m still damned angry every time I see AIDS de-emphasized, described as simply “a treatable illness,” or lowered down the list of causes that donors canvas because it’s “not really a problem anymore.” I’m angry when I look around and see ribbons of every color but red. And I’m angry when I hear someone tell me that they don’t worry about getting HIV.

    Please don’t tell me that a generation died for nothing.

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  • Observations of a Sex Positive Gypsy: There’s no such thing as a stupid question

    September 11, 2009
    Observations of a Sex Positive Gypsy: There’s no such thing as a stupid question
    I get a lot of questions. Some are good, some are bad—some just get asked over and over and over. Let's run down the top five...

    There's No Such Thing as a Stupid Question...

    When you teach classes, people ask you questions—sometimes about the class you’re actually teaching, and sometimes not so pertinent to the subject at hand. But as someone who really does want to have a positive impact on the lives of the people who come to my presentations, I try to find the best way to answer—even if the questions are a bit difficult.

    Which is why I now humbly present to you but a few of the questions I hear most often:

    1. My wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t understand my needs for extracurricular activity, so I’m thinking about going outside the relationship. Where can I meet people?

    Alright, buddy. I get it. You’re horny, you’re needy, you’re a big bag of hormones on a rampage the likes of which make the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona look like a Sunday walk in the park. What’s your first step? Be honest with your partner. Even if you have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship, this isn’t the kind of thing that someone wants to find out months or years down the road. If you don’t know how to broach the subject, there are plenty of great books out there on how to talk to your partner about sexual interests and needs. If you’re scared that you’ll hurt their feelings, then imagine how much more they’ll be hurt when they found out you’ve lied to them. So—if it’s really that important to you, try to do it with their understanding, or compromise with them to get at least some of what you both want. And you never know—they may be interested in it, too!

    2. I’ve never had an orgasm with my current lover, and I don’t know how to tell them what I want. Help!

    Wow…I applaud you for taking control of your own pleasure! The first thing to do is to make sure they stop doing anything that is actively turning you off…for example, yanking on your clit or cock like it’s a pinball plunger, or playing “Come in, Radio Tokyo” with your nips. The challenge with a new partner—or a partner that we haven’t told about our wants—is breaking any habits they have picked up from other partners over the years. Nobody gets off the exact same way as someone else, and yet most of us make the assumption that our partner likes whatever it is that we’re doing.

    Once you start guiding them away from the negative, immediately point out the positive – and exclaim in delight when they do it! Tell them that you really love having your whatchamacallit stroked, and tell them when they’re doing it right. The key is to make sure that they’re drawing positive reinforcement from their actions so that they’ll be more likely to do it again in the future.

    And from now on? Stop faking orgasms. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for them, and it’s not good for their future partners. Because let me tell you—nothing is worse than someone who thinks they’re a great lover when they’re really in need of a double-semester at Remedial Fuck School. And if you think I’m just talking to the women—think again. I know some of you guys out there fake it, too.

    3. I can’t find my g-spot / prostate. I don’t think I have one.

    Trust me. You have one. Everyone does. You may not enjoy having it messed around with, and you may not even get much discernable feeling from fiddling with it, but it’s there. Remember what I said above—that not everyone gets off on the same things? Well, these aren’t any different. And yes, g- and p-spot play is all the rage to talk about now, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. If you want to try to find it, check out our guides, schedule a nice relaxing evening alone or with a partner, and get the right tools for the job. And trust me—even if you don’t’ find it, the exploring is a helluva lot of fun!

    4. Why can’t I put candy / soda / unwrapped fruit / caramel syrup in my partner’s vagina?

    Because if you do, she might get a yeast infection. And if she does, then she’ll be very unhappy. Her vagina will be unhappy. And that will make YOU unhappy. Trust us on this.

    And while you’re at it—don’t shove household objects in there. But I know some of you will, so at least wrap it up in a condom, ‘k? And keep the number to the nearest ER next to your phone, just in case.

    5. So, I like to do something that seems weird (putting a dildo in my butt, making out with my girlfriend while my husband watches, whacking off while listening to The Captain and Tennille)—am I normal? Is it okay???

    I promise you – whatever it is that you are into, someone else is, and they’ve got a website and sell photos of it, too. Seriously. Into wearing diapers? There are groups exclusively devoted to adult babies. Want to fuck guys dressed up in superhero costumes? Ditto.

    The questions to ask yourself are:
    • Am I doing this because it feels good (both physically and emotionally)?
    • Am I doing this with everyone involved fully consenting?
    • Is what I’m doing going to cause permanent harm to me or someone else?
    • Am I aware of the risks involved and willing to accept them?

    If you answered “yes”, chances are pretty good that what you’re doing is perfectly fine—a “no” means that it’s time to check your motives. Our sexuality—including who we do it with, what we do, and why we do it—should be about us giving & receiving pleasure, not about trying to keep up with the Joneses (unless of course, the Joneses are having amazing, varied sex, in which case, invite them over).

    So—if you have questions, should you ask them? Absolutely. Life is too short to have bad sex. And don’t think you can scare us. I haven’t even told you about the chick that asked me about Vienna Sausages and a full body neon green spandex suit…but that’s probably for the best. She seriously throws off the bell curve. But in my next column—I’ll spill the beans on the strangest, weirdest, most WTF questions I’ve heard. Just be sure to put your diapers on first…

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  • Observations of a Sex Positive Gypsy: Porn for the Jaded

    August 28, 2009
    Observations of a Sex Positive Gypsy: Porn for the Jaded
    One of the hazards of being a traveling sex educator is the creeping case of the hornies that just can’t be quelled, pilled, potioned, pricked, or new-aged away...which inevitably leads me to porn. Problem is, I think I qualify as “porn-jaded”, which makes it harder to find the stuff that gets my panties in a twist. What to do?


    Summer inevitably yields to fall, and fall brings with it a cool jetstream of sex educators in constant travel. Maybe it’s autumn’s falling leaves bringing back eager memories of going off to school; maybe it’s just that we hate the heat—either way, it means that I’m about to embark on a near-two month stretch of four-day-a-week road trips, most of them by myself. Such is the luck of the long-distance sex educator.

    One of the hazards of the job is the creeping case of the hornies that just can’t be quelled, pilled, potioned, pricked, or new-aged away. And since I talk, teach, and watch A LOT of sex, well...the hornies end up being my traveling companion. And when there isn’t always a lover around to tickle my fancy or drive me over the edge…well, a girl’s gotta take things into her own hands, right? Which inescapably leads to porn. There’s a problem, though—I think I qualify as “porn-jaded”, which makes it harder to find the stuff that gets my panties in a twist.

    In the twenty-something odd years since I found my first porn mags tucked away in the adult’s dressers, I think I’ve seen almost everything. I’ve seen big-haired blondes with perfectly manicured nails muff-dive other big-haired blondes in ways that no self-respecting lesbian would ever try. I’ve seen men with men, with women, with themselves, and with various edible objects. I’ve seen people dressed up as lobsters fuck on screen. I’ve even accidentally seen some bestiality-laden imagery—that visual is unfortunately burned on my retinas and will forever cripple me with an overriding sense of ugh.

    But the real reality of porn for the porn-jaded is that at the end of the day (or the start of the next feature), there are very few variations.

    Sure, the players change. The hairstyles change. So do the pubic hairstyles. The presence of condoms changes. The background music changes (thank God—a girl can only handle the “bow-chick-a-wow-wow” stuff for so long). But the constants? They stay in place. You’ve got your gonzo porn—no plot, no plan, just lots of fucking. You’ve got your faux-core porn—it looks like there’s a story, but really, it’s just Vaseline on the camera lens and a better class of between-screwage banter. And you’ve got your big-budget gems, where it looks like they actually paid more than a six-hour rental on a house in the Hollywood hills for the scenery. But in damn near all of the straight porn, there’s some cocksucking, maybe some pussy eating, then some fucking (one, maybe two holes), then cocksucking again until a load gets shot on some starlet’s face, thereby ruining her makeup and calling an end to the scene.

    So what am I looking for when I want to see some good ol’ adult entertainment? I’m turned on by watching orgasms, for one. Mind you, I’m not talking about the money shot—because by the time that happens, I’m usually bored out of my perverted little skull by the usual routine. Sorry, folks—if you think that your average porn movie has female orgasms—real, honest to god one, you’re sadly mistaken. Porn isn’t real sex, for the most part—it’s sex that’s been posed, processed, and produced to look like sex, but it really isn’t (kind of like chicken nuggets). So one thing I look for when I’m looking for some new divertissement is whether reviewers mention that the orgasms might possibly be real – this time!

    Another thing that gets me off is real women-on-women sex. Not the crap that’s called “lesbian” porn—porn made and marketed for male appetites—but real, messy, sexy, sensual sex between women. This is becoming easier to find—there are some great production companies out there that know the difference between women who will do other women if the money is right, and women who will do other women simply because they love it. And they’re filming it, and selling it, and more and more of us are watching and wanking to it.

    The other thing I love is kink. Well, obviously, but let me tell you—the majority of the kink in mainstream videos isn’t kink; it’s fetish-light. Some hot chicks in latex and boots with a collar and a leash and a whip that’s so awful I wouldn’t use it to try to hit a fly—these things make up a lot of what’s out there, but not what’s real. I’m a big authenticity whore—let me see real tears, real joy, real arousal, and my body will respond. Thankfully there are some fantastic sources out there for great kink and semi-kink films—both online and on DVD.

    And if you question why I’d want to watch porn, if I’ve seen so much of it? I’ll tell you—it’s still a turn on. I’ve occasionally used great porn to enhance foreplay with my partners; sometimes it’s even good for learning new techniques (you DO know there’s a growing number of sex + education titles out there, don’t you?). I love to think of it as inspiration, and in my case, it’s worked well—maybe too well. In fact, after watching Derrick Pierce and Penny Flame’s scene in Expert Guide to Rough Sex, one of my partners got up the encouragement to do a little face slapping and choking during sex; he said that watching my reactions to it told him more about how much I enjoyed it than my words could ever say.

    It’s okay if you don’t like porn—hell, I don’t like a lot of it, myself. But at this point in my life, I do love to watch some amazing sex between gorgeously hot people—and not have to leave my hotel room to do so. And even better? I don’t have to clean up after them. Those money shots and juicy ejaculations can be awfully messy. Though, hotel rooms do come with cleaning staff, don’t they?

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  • Observations of a Sex Positive Gypsy: Sex and Shame

    August 14, 2009
    Observations of a Sex Positive Gypsy: Sex and Shame
    Playing with fire, sex, and shame.

    The Question

    As with anyone who does what I do, it’s both occasionally and inevitably that I get The Question:

    So...why do you do what you do?

    And sometimes that’s an easy question to field: I do it because it’s fun, because I get a charge out of meeting other people, because I love being helpful. I am a sex educator, after all. I get to play with toys (and sometimes with really, really, really hot people). I get to stand up in front of a room full of people and talk about how it feels to have my hand inside someone’s butt. (Tell me how many jobs boast that kind of perk.) Hell, I talk about sex so much that it’s second nature—it’s almost as easy as eating and breathing, but far more stimulating.

    Sometimes, though, it’s not so easy to define it. Because when I look around, I don’t see that my work—and the work of other sex educators—is actually getting anything accomplished. It’s like we’re trying to encourage a bunch of salmon to swim upstream—over Niagara Falls. In winter, no less.

    Recently, I experienced one of the singularly most shaming experiences of my sex-positive life, at the hands of a paid healthcare professional. Now, I’ve learned over the past ten or fifteen years that I have to advocate for my own health care more vigorously than I’d ever anticipated, but even the years I’ve spent educating myself and others didn’t prepare me for the reaction I got to the statement, “I’m not monogamous.”

    “You’re playing with fire”, the clinician told me. “You shouldn’t be having sex with more than one person”.

    I could hear the shame and the blame, dripping from her voice and see the judgment in her eyes. After years of advocating for relationships that are consensual and that work for all involved, it still hit me square between the eyes—and yes, for a bit there, I felt ashamed of myself. Not in the “I’ve done something bad” way, but in the “I am something bad” way.

    No matter how much those of us who color outside of the lines counsel ourselves and each other, we all harbor a little of that shame inside, and admitting it takes balls (sparkly ones—like disco balls, maybe). A little voice that pops up each time we have a relationship that falters; a negative thought that rounds the bend right after a sexual failure. The feeling that we still need to hide things—not just big things, like the fact that we love someone of the same gender, but little things, like whether we actually admit to owning a sex toy.

    Sex, for most of us, was something that we were brought up to feel negative or guilty about; whether it was touching ourselves, or asking questions that “shouldn’t be asked”, or feeling unsure about our early experiences of sexuality and not being able to talk to anyone—sex was to be kept behind closed doors, and never talked about.

    That moment in the clinician’s office, the shame of not fitting in overwhelmed me. The shame of knowing that I would never be able to be the nice, conservative, under-sexed housewife that I once tried to be; the guilt over the relationships that ended because I couldn’t meet up to the standards that were implied, by society if not explicitly by my partner. And that feeling of shame and guilt?

    Well, that just pissed me off.

    I came home, ranting to anyone who would listen about how awful it was that this woman who didn’t even know me felt justified in commenting on my sex life because it was not healthy. I was furious that she said what she did. I was offended that she would have said it to me; after all, I have worked very hard for my sexual freedom, thankyouverymuch. And in the middle of all of this—I was grateful that it was me that she said that to, because at least I have enough self-awareness to know who I am, and I know what the facts about my real risks are. I have a community of sexuality and gender activists who affirm the rightness of my life, a life made by conscious choice. I got offended, yes, but I’m a big girl—I can take it.

    What about the people that can’t take it, that don’t know that it’s okay to be themselves? What about the people who still wonder if it’s bad that they want to try anal sex, or that they get into tying their partners up? How about people who love, and want to be involved with, multiple partners? Or the people that are afraid of what the reaction will be if someone finds out that their “best friend” of the same gender is really their lover?

    My job—my joy—is talking to people about sex without the shame and guilt that they’re used to. I talk about cunts, pussies, cooters, and snatches; I talk about front holes and back holes; I talk about cocks and dicks and wee-wees. I talk about how good it feels to play with our parts, and how much better it is when we tell our partners how we like them played with. I talk about how awesome it is that our bodies can bring us such varied sensations from such varied toys—our hands, a vibe, a flogger, a needle—and how any of those things that turns us on is a good thing. I talk about how there is an unlimited number of ways that relationships can work, and how if we find one that works for us and for our partner(s), and it makes the trust and intimacy so much stronger, we can embrace it and feel good that we’re doing what’s right for everyone involved.

    That’s why I do this.

    I really do believe that everyone has a right to the relationships that bring joy to their lives, to the sex life that feels right for them, to the expressions of their own gender and sexuality that feel authentic. And because I know that, for the most part, society’s unspoken expectations haven’t caught up to the words that we speak about sexual freedom. And because the more people that are out there, reminding people that a joyful sex life is their birthright, the less often any of us has to be ashamed about what we do—whether it’s fucking our partners behind closed doors, or simply living our lives the way we want to.

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