The thing is
I’m pretty sure
You could just pick
Patch of skin
With enough focused,
That bit of skin
Becomes my everything
The thing is
I’m pretty sure
You could just pick
Patch of skin
With enough focused,
That bit of skin
Becomes my everything
[CN: this post does talk about sex and kink, but largely in a non-explicit ways. Some specific discussions of D/s dynamics, no mention of specific sex acts]
I have been trying for years to write about my relationship to kink. It’s complicated, and I struggle to articulate it a lot of the time. I mean, I can say “I am kinky”. That is true. But actually unpacking the ways and means of how I prefer to engage in kink, and what makes it awesome for me, is much harder.
I think that part of the problem is that I feel like I am combating misperceptions a lot of the time. Like, I’m kinky, but I feel like I need to add a disclaimer that that doesn’t mean whatever just jumped into your head when you read that? Even though, actually, what you thought of probably did at least superficially resemble something I enjoy. It’s just what’s going on under the surface that gets misunderstood a lot.
For instance, I know the popular perception of what it means to be involved in a dom/sub dynamic is pretty narrow. One person gets to decide what they want and demand it of/inflict it on the other person, right?
Well, I mean, I guess? This is definitely a thing that happens, and it is a thing I have been involved in, kinda, to some extent. It is for sure a thing I am capable of plugging into, and enjoying. But it’s not my thing. Not really.
So, what do I mean when I say I am feeling submissive, or bottom-y? For me, the kind of submission that is really powerful, that sings from deep inside me and fulfills me, goes kind of like this: I am surrendering my body to another person, based on the fact that I trust them to value it, and to take good care of it. I want them to understand that my submission is both a privilege and, importantly, a responsibility. My body is there for them to explore (note: not to use, or whatever), and my responses to their explorations are their reward. I am giving them clean slate to learn about and play with me, to find out how my body responds to different things, in a way that allows me to stop thinking and making decisions and just ride the sensations and see where they take me.
I will only submit to people that I can trust to take impeccable care of me. It’s not just about trusting that they won’t harm or violate me or whatever. Among other things, it means that I’m really only interested in doing engaging in this kind of play with people that I already have a strong sexual rapport, who have demonstrated a good understanding of my body and a high skill level in making me feel awesome in a variety of ways.
It’s a wonderful thing, when it works.
And, generally speaking, if I am feeling like I want to top someone, (and this is more theoretical than my thoughts on being a bottom, but for sure this is how I fantasize about it), mostly what I want is to be on the other end of that same dynamic. I want to be in control of what my partner is feeling, to see how they respond and to gain deep knowledge about how their body works, what makes them tick, and to take them on a sort of journey through their ability to experience pleasure and orgasm.
And I mean, to be clear, these aren’t the only way I can (or do) engage with kink, and I am really happy to play with all kinds of dynamics. The thing I’ve described here is just sort of my personal core fantasy (er, at least among the fantasies that I want to enact), most of the time.
In writing this out, it is also blatantly obvious to me how closely related these desires are to the more general descriptions I made about the kinds of emotional textures I like sex to have. In “I want to have sex like…”, I wrote almost the same sorts of things in the ways I talked about wanting to feel cared for and express caring in a sexual context. Engaging with this aspect of my kinky self really just intensifies those totally everyday things I want from sex.
Which, now that I think of it, is a lot of what all kink does for me. I am a major sensation hound, and when I am in a safe emotional space, I love everything from the most subtle, painfully teasing whisper of a touch to really intense pain, and especially the juxtaposition of extremes. Changing the dynamic in which these sensations are occurring from vanilla to kink (especially if it resembles the bottoming I’ve described above) has the effect of expanding the range of sensation (both in intensity of denial/teasing, and intensity of infliction) that I can withstand, and lets me experience things I otherwise wouldn’t. And that is super cool.
So yeah, that’s the sort of big picture of me and kink. Details are reserved for people I actually have kinky sex with, sorry folks!
[This post is inspired by the “I want to have sex like…” series over at Demisexual and Proud, whose writing has been super instrumental in helping me understand myself well enough to even begin to write this. Content note: this post contains references to sexual dominance and submission, masochism, and masturbation]
I have been thinking *a lot* lately about what it is I get from having sex with other people. Or, rather, what I want to get from it, and why I do it at all.
The thing is that I really enjoy the experiences of sexual arousal and orgasm, but I can have those things just fine on my own, no need for anyone else to be involved. (For me) there isn’t some special level of physical pleasure that can only be achieved with other people – I can give myself the best possible orgasms just fine on my own.
But sex with other people is also important to me. When there are other people on my life that I am into in that way it is, anyway.
It is clear to me that there is something about the emotional texture of sexual encounters that is vitally important to me, something about the kinds of emotional expression and connection that can happen that is the key to the whole thing for me.
And it is hard to nail down precisely what I want from that, because it isn’t totally stable or always the same, but there are definitely some themes that it is worthwhile to tease out and identify in particular.
The thing about me is that sex is never really about “I want this particular kind of physical stimulation/this particular arrangement of bodies and parts”. It’s almost entirely an emotional/intellectual experience for me, and the physical combinations are just coincidental, almost.
Here goes nothing:
I want to feel desired. I want to feel like my partner’s/partners’ lust is specifically about me and not just a generalized horniness. I want my sexual encounters to be specifically about me and the people I have sex with. This is so, so important. I don’t want to understate it. But also I don’t think it is even remotely enough on its own.
I want to feel taken care of/cared for. Sex is one of many aspects in a relationship where a partner has an opportunity to make me feel special, and valuable, and worthy of effort and care, I really need that. I want my body to be played like a musical instrument, to produce amazing melodies of my pleasure. Though it is actually possible for me to have too much of this, because:
I want to reciprocate that caring. It is, similarly, very important to me to be able to figure out how to give specific pleasure to my partners, to feel a direct connection between what I am doing and their expressions of pleasure. It is such a powerful feeling, that experience. And that alone is often all I need, even, as long as it isn’t the only thing, all the time.
I want us to be in it together. For me, this is about more than just both of us being happily involved and enjoying ourselves, even. Ultimately, it is important for me to know that I and anyone I am having sex with have a similar understanding of the acts we are engaging in, and of their significations when we do them. This is important, and complicated, and difficult, because I will be the first to tell you that there are no acts in sex that have stable “meanings” or imply singular dynamics.
If a partner is hitting me, it could mean that I am being submissive, and I am just absorbing whatever sensations they are choosing to throw at me. It could also be that it is something I have demanded of them, and that they are doing as a form of submission to me. Or it could just be something I asked for from a peer as we collaborate in mutual pleasure. What’s important is that we both understand whichever instance in the same (or at least similarish) way.
I want to be able to explore the different social-emotional permutations of the same things. For me, this is really the heart of queer sex.
I want spontaneity and improvization. I want to throw out every script for what sex is or how it is supposed to work. I want to kill the entire concept of “foreplay” in the fire of a thousand suns. Touching me in ways that turn me on shouldn’t be about getting me aroused so that I can then move on “real” sex.
I want to take the scenic route, and I don’t care if we ever get to whatever destination other people think we should be aiming for. If a thing is working, that should be the thing we are doing, not a stepping stone to some other more expected thing. My positive responses are an encouragement to continue the thing you’re doing, not a magic signal that you get to level up now. There are few things more disappointing to me than having a partner react to my positive feedback by deciding it’s time to move on and try something else.
Really, though, there are really almost no set “rules” for how to make my body respond with arousal, pleasure and orgasm. Trying to set them based on past success and follow them will usually backfire, because the important thing is for things to not be the same all the time. I need spontaneity in order to actually be in the moment, really. And when I am fully present in that way, I am regularly surprised by how my body responds to new or uncommon stimuli, and that’s half the fun.
Like, there have been times when I have randomly been brought to (sometimes even multiple!) orgasm by having my head scratched, or my gums massaged, or just from holding my breath. I have even had empathy orgasms from seeing/perceiving/experiencing my partner’s approach to and experience of orgasm. Orgasming because of literally anything other than the expected things is pretty much my superpower. My body is fucking weird and unpredictable and I love it so much. And when someone is willing to really engage with it, to play and explore with me, we have so much fun together!
I want playfulness. All these things I say about deep feelings and intense connections don’t have to be serious business, ok? I am a person who is going to want to laugh when someone’s bodies (or the combination of bodies) makes funny noises. Because it’s funny. Because sex isn’t serious and we don’t need to pretend our bodies aren’t the weirdest frigging things in the world. They are. And the things people do with them in the name of sex are weird (like seriously, I’m gonna put this kinda dangly part of myself into some other part on you, mmmkay? And people like to act like that’s not the weirdest idea ever, but it is, ok?) We are doing weird shit with our bodies, and sometimes it is funny, and that is important to me, too.
Above all, I want sex to be deeply communicative. This sort of runs though all of my other points, too. I want our bodies to be able to converse and understand each other. I want to feel seen and understood, not just verbally, rationally, or intellectually, but viscerally, physically, emotionally and ultimately metaphorically, in ways I can only express non-verbally. And that is a very high bar to set, but it is so worth it when I get it.
And, ok, I mean, that is a *lot* of pressure to put on sex. And anyway, some of these emotional aspects are just generally important romantic relationship things (feeling cared for, desired, and valued; being able to collaborate in mutually pleasurable activities; and remaining spontaneous and continuing to discover new things about each other all have non-sexual relevance). I don’t need all of these things all of the time (I am, in fact, perfectly happy with a purely lustful quickie on occasion!), and some of them are preferences/ideals than requirements. The only things I absolutely need are points 1-3. And those can for the most part be established outside the sexual context.
Really, because I am demisexual, the emotional context of a relationship is where desire begins and ends for me. Loving and being loved are what desire is for me, they are the only way I understand it. The bottom line is that if I don’t feel love, and if I don’t feel *loved*, then I’m not going to be able to access any of the other stuff that makes sex awesome for me. The best I can do is go through the motions.
If I’ve learned one thing from my occasional attempts to have sex with people for whom I don’t feel that kind of desire, it’s that I’d usually much rather masturbate. So.
You move slowly, deliberately
Your touch is subtle and precise
You now me better than I know myself
I surrender to you, fully
I trust in you, wholly
And make no mistake
I’m not surrendering myself to your will
I’m surrendering myself to your care
I am beginning to realize that in some ways, I am genderfluid, moving among agender, genderqueer/genderfuck, and boyish identities. And part of what causes this sense of myself to shift around is the way I shift between contexts in my life, and in particular, how different contexts cause me to consider my body in different ways, depending on who is perceiving it.
It turns out that the ways in which I am comfortable talking about my body, and the ways in which I want it to be perceived, vary wildly based on context. Here, I’m just going to focus on three broad contexts to give a sense of what I mean.
My body in a medical context
As I’ve said before, in a medical context, I am generally comfortable identifying my body as “female”. My body has all of the physical characteristics communicated by the word female in that context; it is a short-hand that communicates a lot of information to doctors about what parts my body has, and so I use it as such, and I am mostly ok with it for myself.
I do wish that we had other terms for this – I don’t like that the male/female binary aligns linguistically with the masculine/feminine one. I hate any implication that my body is feminine, so much so that I don’t like selecting a box on forms which only specify ‘m’ or ‘f’, because it is less clear that I am only stipulating ‘femaleness’ in the medical sense.
The point for me here, really, is that my gender is not currently even remotely relevant to me in a medical context, so I just don’t sweat it too much.
My body in a public/social context
When I am in public, it is most comfortable for me to desexualize my body as much as possible. I feel this is strongly related to my demisexuality – because I just don’t ‘get’ primary/physical sexual attraction, it is confusing and troubling for me to deal with other people directing that sort of sexual attention toward me. I don’t know what it means, really, and particularly as a non-binary person, knowing that if someone who doesn’t know me is sexualizing me, they are probably sexualizing me *as a woman*, is deeply unsettling and inherently invalidating to me.
I don’t even want to be androgynous, as that suggests a mixture of binary genders – in a public context I strongly prefer to be read as agender, generally.
This is complicated, though. Because as I just said, I don’t equate my agender self with androgyny. I would honestly really love to be able to wear whatever the fuck I want without it making people think it means I have a fucking gender.
Really I want a body that can wear all kinds of clothes ambiguously. (I mean, really I want to live in a world where other people aren’t constantly making sexual judgments of each other, but y’know…) Mine, right now, doesn’t. I want to be able to feel more comfortable fucking around with my gender expression. In some ways, I want a body that is less clearly medically “female” probably (though really I just want people not to objectify my body). I don’t quite know yet how or if I’m going to go about that.
My body in a sexual context
[Content note: some explicit sexual language, but no references to specific sexual acts.]
A bunch of things here. In many ways I totally and unproblematically love my body in a sexual context. I love its capacity for for so many different kinds of pleasure, and when I am just just giving myself sexual pleasure, that is all there is to it. Gender doesn’t have anything to do with it.
But it’s not just me. I form sexual connections with other people sometimes, and that means contending with their understandings and perceptions of my body, and the way that is communicated in their interactions with me and my body.
And this is where the idea that my body can comfortably be described as ‘female’ goes out the window. What’s true medically, and I guess in some sort of rationally ‘real’ sense (whatever that means), is absolutely not the right way to approach my body sexually.
My sexual body is very explicitly and particularly a trans queer body and needs to be approached as such. Although there is a bunch of basic wisdom about cis women’s erogenous zones that can be transferred over onto my body, without being able to move past the basic physical facts of my body parts, it would be very easy for a sexual partner to seriously invalidate my own sense of myself as a sexual person, and the ways in which I relate to and perceive my body sexually. It’s… a hard thing for me to navigate effectively, but I’m doing ok.
In part, because I am actually a bit at a loss to describe my experience of gender in sex. More than anything, the way I identify as a sexual person is just “queer,” so I guess genderqueer is pretty ok, but really I want to go even further, I want to be queer *as fuck* y’all, which makes me feel really good about “genderfuck” which packs the kind of rhetorical punch I really want to express here. But then, sometimes I even slip into something that feels more solidly boyish. And also I think even just in writing this that a sense of myself as agender has maybe been sneaking in here for me, at other times. And then other times it’s really just extremely fluid and refuses to settle down into anything.
Fundamentally, the thing I think I need my sexual partners to understand is that despite all appearances, and even while I’m happy to own being a queer agender/genderfuck/boy (such as I am, when I am) with a vulva, my body is not just ‘female’, ever. And I crave engagement with all of me, engagement that understands that sometimes what looks like a vulva, isn’t. Sometimes it’s a cock. Sometimes it’s something else entirely.
I’m not going to explain here exactly what that means, or how that engagement manifests. I’m sure there’s literally a million different ways it can be done. My spouse-person and I are still finding new ways to mash up against each other, so.
And the other thing is, my genitals don’t necessarily matter all that much. When things are going really well for me, my pleasure isn’t located anywhere, it’s everything and everywhere; it’s my whole body, all the parts seen and unseen.
Sexually, my body is best understood outside of the male/female bullshit construct. My body is queer as fuck, and capable of so much more than the either the male or female sexual scripts allow for (which is not to say that this makes me special or whatever; lots of people of all genders benefit from ignoring these scripts and the “normal” ways on understanding, interpreting, and engaging with bodies of different types), and I want it treated as such.
My body and me
Fundamentally my relationship with my body is made problematic by the ways in which other people try to force their own perceptions/understandings/meanings onto it. My body is awesome, and other people so often want to limit its reach and its powers of signification. And my attempts to moderate this tension are what make my non-binary/genderfluid/genderqueer identity what it is, defined to a great extent by what I am not, and defined, ultimately, by the foundational importance of queerness to my politics, and to my aesthetics.
[I’ve been writing a bunch lately about me and sex, but I have this problem where when I step far enough away from the visceral experience, a lot of the most important things somehow fall through the cracks of what I’m able to express. So, I’m going to be posting some sort of attempts at talking about how sex works for me, and what I get out of it in the coming weeks. But also, I want to supplement it with some poetry (or something like it anyway). You’ll get a regular post on Wednesday!]
Face to face with you, I know we are going to kiss.
We’ve been here before, a thousand times and more. A thousand and more first kisses, and so many more to come.
I want it. I want it.
But I won’t kiss you yet. I love this moment too, too much. I wish I could live here forever.
Anticipation is the best part.
You don’t kiss me yet either. Do you feel it, too? Do you love this moment as much as I do?
I think you just love to watch me squirm. (I know you do).
I think you just know how important it is to me, this moment before.
And you show restraint so that I don’t have to, and somehow that makes it so much better.
You do it all for me, I think. And I love you for it.
Nothing satisfies me quite so much as being made to wait.
One of my husband’s friends has been asking him a lot about being poly, and how our relationship works, and such. Because I’m not directly involved in this conversation, and because I think a lot of the things that have come up in it are common questions and misconceptions about being poly, I kind of want to put forth my own take on it, with reference to the perspective of a non-poly person.
A brief note on language before I begin: Sex Geek recently posted a thorough take-down of the mainstream poly narrative, and while I have reservations about many of her criticisms, she did mirror my own concerns around the hierarchical primary/secondary etc. language so often used to talk about poly relationship structures. I might talk more about this at another time, but suffice to say that I will be using the term “domestic partner” to refer to my husband, who is the person I live with and share domestic chores and finances, and with whom I have committed to raising a family.
One of the questions that came up, which I think is a common way of framing poly hesitations is “isn’t your domestic partner enough for you?” I think this question sheds light on the primary misconception/bias that makes it difficult monogamously inclined people to wrap their heads around being poly.
Because it’s pretty rare that people get asked “aren’t your existing friends enough for you?” We are generally not discouraged from trying to make new friends lest we will no longer be able to maintain our existing friendships. And friends who get jealous of our new friends are generally considered to be overly controlling or unhealthily invested in the friendship.
Ok, but romantic relationships are romantic, and that makes them specialer than friendships and more of a finite resource, right? Well, no. And, no. And also, well, no, love is not a finite resource. Again, we generally don’t make this argument in any other context. People are not discouraged from having more than one child because it will prevent them from loving their first child properly, or fully. It certainly isn’t ever suggested that they are not fully committed to raising their first child. That would be silly.
Similarly, people with large numbers of siblings don’t love their siblings any less than people with only one – they may have individual and varying levels of closeness with each sibling, and they may relate in different ways or over different interests, but these relationships don’t devalue their other sibling-relationships.
And yes, there are some finite resources that affect poly relationships (time, emotional energy, etc). But these resources are necessary for all relationships of every kind, and still, we don’t discourage people from forming all kinds of relationships with all kinds of people.
Moreover, many people have friendships that can be as deep and meaningful and emotionally fulfilling as romantic relationships. It’s also true that monogamous people can be made very uncomfortable when their partners form this kind of friendship (and emotional infidelity is most definitely a real thing), but I also can’t help but notice that in the hetero world, this discomfort usually only arises when such a friendship is of the mixed-sex variety (i.e. we only tend to see emotional infidelity in relationships where the friends could conceivably be sexually attracted to one another). And this actually confuses me, because honestly, I don’t think adding sex to the equation in the kind of relationship demonstrated in the link above makes any big difference at all.
Because the thing is, sex? It’s not magic. It is wonderful and it can be a very powerful experience. But sex itself is not the thing that keeps relationships strong. That’s all your shared interests and emotional compatibility and other things that you have with all of your friends that does that.
All of those things, plus the actual magic ingredient, which is far more mundane than sex or love: commitment. What shapes my relationship with my domestic partner into something different than any other relationship of any kind that I have right now are the things I used to define it above. We share a living space. We share finances. We are actively and deliberately building a life together, and supporting each other in creating fulfilling lives for ourselves and each other in ways that go beyond (most) friendships. This is what makes our relationship meaningful to me. The sex is icing.
Honestly, as for as I see it, the main difference between a very close friendship and a romance is the expectations placed on that relationship. Most of us are more emotionally invested in our romantic partners than our friends, for approval, and for continued and (fairly) consistent emotional support. And I think that this is the main thing that makes people see romantic relationships as so different from other relationships, to the point of wanting some form of exclusivity.
Because I understand that most people have different/stronger feelings of jealousy with romantic partners than with friends – a lot of of this comes from the greater degree of dependence (emotional or otherwise) that we have on romantic partners relative to friends. But I also wonder at the idea that asking for a monogamous commitment makes your relationship inherently stronger or safer. If there’s structural problems in a relationship, it will crumble, monogamy or no. And if your partner is actually at risk of leaving you for someone else, they are still interacting with other people and forming new relationships and sharing different kinds of intimacies with other people every day. Regardless of whether they are allowed to actively seek out sexual relationships, they are at risk of finding someone better. You either trust that they are actually committed to you, or you don’t.
I do want to make it clear that I’m not against two people deciding together to be monogamous, if they’ll both be happier that way. I actually think there is something really beautiful about freely made monogamous sexual commitments. But that “freely made” bit there is a little slippery. So often, monogamy is presented as a natural and non-optional part of proving that you are truly committed to building a life with someone. Those two things are not connected, and we need to be able to untangle their threads in the way we talk about relationships and commitment.
It so often happens that a person who doesn’t want monogamy gets demonized or told that they don’t *really* love their partner(s) because if they did they would get the super-special kind of love that they wouldn’t want to share with anyone else ever. Or worse yet, that sex is only really special and good when it’s with your one twoo wuv. These myths devalue so very many functional and valuable relationships models, and not just poly ones. What about any relationship wherein the partners are sexually incompatible but still totally love each other? Companionate marriages, where people stay together over values that have nothing to do with sex, are wonderful things. What about people who just prefer to have their own space, and don’t want a live-in partner? Are they less capable of love? Are they less capable of commitment? Of course not, it’s just that their commitment looks different than the standard form of commitment.
The truth is that all of us juggle the relationship expectations and emotional needs of all kinds of different people in our lives, all the time. The only substantial difference is that poly people might have more relationships of the romantic variety, or all over the friendship-romance spectrum. All of us have many different people in our lives that we love in all kinds of different ways, with different expectations as to what each love means in our lives. And poly people are more likely to explicitly establish the expectations and boundaries around their relationships, which is a skill that everyone needs to have, regardless of whether poly is for them.
A big part of a lot of anti-oppression work, as I see it, is wrapped up in reframing or recreating the models of human interaction. In so very many ways, the interactions we, as people, have with other people, are influenced by the normative cultural scripts surrounding those interactions.
Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having cultural scripts for handling various interactions. These scripts can serve many purposes, including making interactions run smoothly, especially when dealing with awkward or hard-to-handle emotional situations. Ozy Frantz recently wrote about the value of having scripts around the mourning process that illustrates some of the value of having this kind of normative script.
But, as with any (formal or informal) cultural (or institutional) process, these scripts can easily be embedded with unspoken (or spoken) cultural biases and oppression. We can see how this can happen in the example of a man in Florida who ran afoul of institutional processes (for assuming the name of one’s spouse) when, in fact, it was a cultural script (that wives take their husbands last name, and not the other way around) that he had broken.
The script I’d like to examine today is based around the idea of vulnerability in sexual contexts. In the (usually) unspoken cultural script for hetero sexual intercourse it is the woman who is framed as the vulnerable party. We see this concept played out in a variety of ways.
For starters, there is a cultural expectation that parents (and especially fathers) must “protect” their daughters from sexual activity. As a corollary, teenage boys in this script are framed as predatory. But this also plays out in the general language we use to talk about sexual activities. I talked about this to some extent in my post on why I love the word ‘valprehension’. The woman in hetero sexual activities is framed as passive, while the man ‘hammers’, ‘screws’, ‘nails’ (are we sensing a pattern) ‘pounds’, ‘reams’, or otherwise commits physically forceful and painful-sounding acts on her body. Woman are conquests (and thus men are victors?) in sex. Women “give it away” while men “get some”. All sexuality is framed as being for men, and for the male gaze
And this script has all kinds of profound implications about the notions for the broader framing of women’s sexual agency and desire, but as those other smart people have covered that pretty well covered, it’s not quite what I want to talk about today.
Today, I want to talk about how limiting this framing can be to our actual expressions of sexual joy, to sexual exploration and to genuine, creative consensual sexual interactions.
Before I say that, though, I want to be very clear that I am not saying that women (or valprehending partners generally) are never, ever vulnerable. Of course being penetrated can be an intensely vulnerable experience, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s very important to point out and acknowledge the vulnerability that many people can and do experience when they are being penetrated.
One of the things that Dan Savage has started pointing out in some of his columns and podcasts in more recent years is the idea that part of the reason straight men seem to have more trouble getting laid when they’d like is the traditional hetero script, which includes the assumption of penetration. Dan intelligently points out that for many people, being horny or wanting sexual satisfaction does not automatically imply that a person’s body (or mind) can handle penetration, especially from a relative stranger.
And the thing is that, yes, penetrative sex is a thing that happens inside the body of the receptive partner. I’m going to say that again. It happens inside our bodies. It’s a very intimate (and often vulnerable) thing, this letting part of another human being inside your body business. If you’re talking about vaginal or anal penetration, the very core of person’s body is involved in the act. And I don’t think that this should be discounted.
What I’ve been working on reframing in my own head lately is the flip-side of this narrative. Because the implication of Dan’s advice here is that sexual activity is not experienced in as intimate or as vulnerable a way by the penetrating partner. And I do think this is true to some extent, (as reflected in our cultural scripts around sex.) In a penetrative sex act, the penetrating partner’s most involved body part is an appendage (whatever appendage you prefer, though usually in the mainstream hetero script, this will be a penis). The penetrating partner has the privilege(?) of having a certain physical distance (up to the full length of the appendage in question :P) from the act relative to the valprehending partner. And in reality, (fears of vagina dentata aside) there is generally less risk of injury to a penetrating partner. And all of this adds up to much less intimacy and vulnerability for penetrating partner.
But here’s the thing. If you really think about it, if someone is putting their appendage inside my body, that is a great show of trust that I will take care said appendage. Allowing part of oneself to be valprehended by another person can be an extremely vulnerable act of giving part of yourself to that person, in a far more literal way than such giving happens in the cultural script of women “giving it away”. Penetrating partners literally give their appendage to the body of their partner for a time. And valprehending partners can have a degree of control over that part while it is inside of them. And when the body part in question is the oh-so-highly-valued (and, let’s face it, physically vulnerable) phallus, this is a truly awe-inspiring act of trust and intimacy, don’t you think?
The thing is that both of these scripts are accurate and true. And neither of them are. It’s all in how you choose to put forth, talk about, experience, and interpret your own sexual interactions with others. I know that for me, suddenly seeing my own valprehensive experiences from this perspective was really enlightening and empowering! It can certainly be fun to play with what various sexual acts mean in the contexts of individual couples/groups of sexual partners and the way they experience their dynamics.
So, that big giant title up there? What’s that about, eh?
The short answer is that the story and significance of the word valprehension fill a very special place in my heart, because discussing this word involves all of the topics that I have the most to say about (language, privilege, sex, and gender). Allow me to demonstrate:
It’ll probably start becoming pretty apparent as this blog progresses (if the cat’s not already out of the bag) that language is an extremely important thing to me. And I actually honestly believe that exploring the limitations and boundaries of any given language can tell you an awful lot about the society/societies in which that language is prevalent.
Because the way language works is that it grows an changes through use, and to fulfill the functions that its users require of it. I think that language is one of those things that is often fallaciously conceptualized as this unchanging (or slow-changing) juggernaut of a thing that we have to try to filter our thoughts into if we want to communicate. But the rules of language (what is and is not a word, and also the rules of spelling and grammar) can be double-edged sword. A certain amount of standardization is necessary to allow communication between and among different social groups, and to increase the universality (or the universal potential) of a language. But at the same time, these rules can sometimes hamper clear communication.
For instance, I’ve been told numerous times that “impactful” is not, in fact, a word. But here’s the thing; if I use the word impactful, I think it’s fair to say that most an English speaker knows exactly what that word means. And every time that I have chosen to use it in my academic career, it has been because I could not find another word that adequately expressed the precise connotations of impactful. I actually developed a list of potential alternatives at some point, but none of them mean quite the same thing, and it seems pointless to tell people they can’t use the word that means the thing they want to say simply because no one’s incorporated it into a dictionary yet.
Regarding grammar, well, this was recently covered at great length over at Painting the Grey Area, so I’ll just say this: a whole lot of grammar doesn’t serve any real communicative function (i.e. rules about ending sentences in prepositions, which, if followed, can actually make sentences more awkward and harder to parse), and in practice only manage to serve as a barrier to marginalized groups’ participation in discussions that affect their lives.
Aaaaanyway, so what does this have to do with valprehension? Well, it’s not in any dictionaries yet, for one thing. Not even, sadly enough, urban dictionary. But it fills a very serious gap in the English language, one that caused it to be greeted with much fanfare among sex writers when it was coined.
Becca over at Becca’s Sex Blog originally coined the verb “valprehend,” from which I take the noun valprehension. The definition is “to actively grab or seize with the vagina or rectum.” This word is important because most (penetrative) sex acts are discussed solely from a perspective in which the penetrator is the active participant, and the person “being penetrated” is just that, passively being penetrated. Their participation is reduced to simply being present for the penetrator to penetrate.
Which is very often an inaccurate way of describing the involvement of the non-penetrating partner in a penetrative sex act. To make an extreme example, imagine someone with a penis in completely immobilizing bondage. Their partner is on top of them; the immobilized person’s penis is in their partner’s vagina (or rectum), and the mobile partner is moving around in ways that are pleasing to both people.
In this scenario, the person whose member is inside the other person can’t really be said to be penetrating the other person. Their participation is limited to being along for the ride, having the experience and emoting about it. And the mobile partner in this scene is certainly not “being penetrated,” they’re valprehending their partner, possibly vigorously. And hopefully they’re both having all kinds of fun, (although I think that a positive side effect of removing penetration from its pride of place in descriptions of sex acts is that is also makes it easier to conceptualize cases of rape wherein someone is “forced to penetrate” someone else; “forcibly valprehended” is a more illustrative phrase, I think, and one that will fight back against the idea that such a thing can’t happen, since we didn’t previously even have the language to talk about it.)
Of course, I don’t mean that penetration and valprehension are somehow mutually exclusive – it’s perfectly common to have two active participants in a penetrative/valprehensive sex act, and mutual penetration/valprehension is great fun!
Ok awesome, but I guess that still doesn’t actually tell you why it’s the title of this blog. To be perfectly honest, the name popped into my head and I loved it instinctively, but there are a number of reasons that I think I had that reaction to it.
Firstly, I like the idea of raising awareness of the word. It certainly has not yet reached a mainstream audience. I was disappointed to find that it hasn’t even reached parlance in academic circles, even in sexuality studies (i.e. the word hasn’t appeared in the title of any academic papers that I could find in my university’s online catalog). The more it gets used, the better. So there’s that.
But also, “valprehension” as a concept is important to me in reframing the way I think about my sexuality. In 2012, I came out to my friends as genderqueer/gender-fluid, and that’s just one component of my quest to understand my sexuality and gender expression from outside as many of the standard frameworks as I can. It is freeing for me to stop trying to conform with my birth gender, and to not feel like a failure for doing so. It’s also freeing to remember that just because I like to bottom sexually doesn’t mean I’m a passive figure in my on sexuality, even when I go through phases where being the penetrative partner is completely unappealing. But this is a topic that might need its on post. Let’s just say that I find the existence of the word valprehend to be somehow inherently empowering to valprehenders everywhere.
Edited to add: All right, this is relevant to today’s Daily Prompt