Why Don’t Men Get To Be Sexy?

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I was just recently watching a video of a dance competition in which the couple competing were dancing “sexy.” When the woman shook her hips, she got cheers. When the man did a little shimmy, the announcer said “that’s just wrong.”

People talk a lot about the expectations that are placed on women to look a certain way, and how those pressures negatively affect them. Nearly every woman I know has self esteem issues surrounding their body, has dieted or is dieting, worries about their weight, and is uncomfortable identifying themselves as beautiful. This seems to come about because women are hyper-sexualized and forced to be in the role of “sexually available” pretty much all the time. If you’re a woman, beauty is the price of admission for life. So when a woman acts sexy or dresses up or puts on new makeup, people cheer.

But there’s another element to the “women are the sexual objects” bullshit that doesn’t get much airtime and it’s one that pisses me off royally. Whenever I try to tell my boyfriend that he’s sexually attractive, he gets legitimately confused. It’s rare for men to be called sexy unless they’re movie stars. When your average man dresses up or tries to shake his booty, people laugh or shrug it off or say “you clean up good,” as if that’s all the validation that men need when they’re trying to present themselves nicely.

Why don’t men get to feel sexy too? Why don’t we treat men as attractive?

I’m a straight woman. I’m more likely to describe other women as hot or sexy than I am men. Isn’t that a little bit odd? Isn’t it likely that people are going to feel uncomfortable with their sexuality, their bodies, and their relationships if they’ve never been told they’re desirable, or never seen other people of their gender labeled desirable?

Here are some problems with men never thinking they’re attractive:

1. It’s considered weird if a woman initiates sex or intimacy

2. Men think that they must be the aggressors and feel a great deal of pressure to initiate

3. The idea that women must be convinced into sex makes more sense, because men are simply not attractive. Therefore no woman would ever want sex on her own, and so must be convinced/coerced/forced to have it.

4. Physical attractiveness and other positive traits get separated. Men see themselves as intelligent/funny/capable, but not attractive, whereas women are attractive and so cannot be those other things.

5. Men are more afraid of looking at their own bodies, being open to different sexual things, or seeing sex as a mutually pleasurable experience that they can approach in a variety of ways because they can’t conceive of their bodies as something sexy or interesting or attractive, but rather as a tool or instrument for doing things.

6. It just feels really awful to think you’re unattractive, and we’re teaching boys that their bodies will never be attractive.

We can do better. We can teach our kids that every body is attractive in some ways and to some people, and probably less attractive to other people. We can teach people that their bodies are desirable, that they’re desirable, and that they can both give and receive pleasure thanks to their bodies. Even men. We can teach each other that anyone is allowed to pursue a romantic interest (until that interest indicates they do not reciprocate the interest) and that there’s nothing creepy, weird, or wrong about women being the assertive ones or even about having a mutual relationship in which each partner initiates sometimes and some things.

I think men are sexy. I think my partner is sexy. And I want men to know that they are sexy.

The Transition: Finding and Keeping a New Therapist

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A few weeks ago, my therapist of many years retired from direct therapy and moved into a managerial role. That means that a few weeks ago, I not only lost a serious piece of my support system, a repository of a great deal of knowledge about my mental health and history, and someone who knew my coping techniques inside and out, but also someone that I would consider a friend or at the very least an ally.

I’d spent more time with Rebekah than I have with many people I today consider my friends. An hour once a week for over 4 years is a lot of time to invest in a relationship with someone. Add in the fact that those hours are times of serious emotional work, when you show your therapist a lot of vulnerabilities and work through the harder parts of your life, and this is someone that you have to trust in a serious way, not only to be good at their job but also to handle you and your feelings gently and respectfully. You have to learn that this is someone you can feel safe and comfortable with, maybe someone you can even enjoy your time with.

When most relationships end, it’s understood to be a time for some grieving, for some element of hurt and sadness. For some reason the therapist/patient relationship is still viewed pretty strictly in business terms, that they are providing a service and you are paying them. That’s strictly true, but it’s also true that there are many service providers that get close to their clients: massage therapists, manicurists, hair stylists…all sorts of people that you see on a regular basis will come to know you over time, and many people see those relationships as important in and of themselves, beyond the service that gets provided.

While finding a therapist that is a good fit for you is hard in any circumstance, it gets significantly harder when you’re comparing them to your old one, the one you liked so much, your friend. Trying to start fresh after having built up a level of understanding and history with someone is incredibly difficult.

Here’s what I’m telling myself:

This is hard. It gets to feel weird and uncomfortable. If the new therapist keeps feeling weird and uncomfortable in a month or two months, this might not be the right fit.

Finding a new therapist is a challenge no matter what, but finding one to fill the shoes of someone you thought was just about perfect is even harder.

No one has failed if you decide this isn’t right for you and move to a different person. No one will ever replace the therapist you liked so much. If you’re lucky you’ll get a new friend. If not, you got someone awesome to help you through some of the hardest times you’ve had so far.

It’s certainly weird to feel as if I need to grieve for the ending of a patient/provider relationship, but I do feel that way. I miss someone who knew me so well, someone I trusted. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the nature of the relationship between therapist and patient is a unique one. It would be nice to have an open discussion about the rules of the unique relationship.

My Body, My Mind

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When I feel overwhelmed I change my body.

I tattoo, I pierce, I dye or cut my hair. Sometimes I starve myself or hurt myself. In positive or negative ways, I change my body.

When I am overwhelmed, I feel as if my body isn’t my own. I feel as if I am performing, as if I cannot take a single iota of power from a larger system around me.

Today I want to take my body back from someone who claimed it as an excuse for murder.

“You rape our women. You’re taking over our country.”

That’s what he said before he killed them. Stephanie said that we, our bodies, are not yours. My body has never been anyone’s but my own, much less someone who will now become a figure for the medical and political institutions to talk about the ways they want to limit my freedom. Yes, you know where the conversation will go. He was mentally ill.

I’m sorry, but he doesn’t speak for my body and he doesn’t speak for my brain. My mental illness is not one of racism, and mental illness is not a catch all for murderers.

The media does not get to claim my mind for this racist system, just as this terrorist does not get to claim my body as his excuse.

I want to take my body back today. I want to shave my hair or emblazon my skin with a giant NO or punch holes in every place that the patriarchy says belong to white men.

There are no failsafes for marking myself out as ‘not yours.’ All I can do is say no. My body has not been harmed by the existence of blackness. My body is not in danger due to blackness. My mind is not the site of murderous racism because I have a diagnosis. That is something else entirely and I refuse to allow myself to be associated with it.

Not today.

 

Tattoos and Reminders

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Sometimes I have a hard time knowing who I am. This is pretty classic in Borderline Personality Disorder, and in that case it’s called Identity Disturbance. While I don’t have the same kind of flip flopping of actions, values, or thoughts that some people do, I often have a hard time figuring out what I care about, what I want, who I am, whether I’m good enough or not.

And sometimes it feels like I just forget myself, forget who I am or what I want. I flip flop between caring about my own health and wanting to self destruct. I forget my larger goals, or why I want to be healthy. I’ve gotten a little more stable, but there have been points in my life where I can flip from wanting to restrict for a week to feeling committed to putting food in my body in the course of a few hours.

In the movie Memento, the main character has amnesia and reminds himself of important facts about himself by tattooing them on himself. His name, phone numbers, facts about his life. All are branded on his skin as a way for him to learn about himself again each day, each time he comes back to consciousness with a blank slate.

Sometimes I feel like that’s how I remember who I am. My first tattoo was of music, a dotted sixteenth to remind me that I like to be unnecessarily different and a little offbeat. My second was the eating disorder recovery symbol, to remind me as often as possible that I am committed to recovery and that my health is important. My third was a compass to remind me that I can explore, but always find my way home. Each of these are things that I lose when I get too wrapped up in myself or stress or my to do lists. They’re things that I forget, or that I question, despite knowing that they’re important to me.

For people who easily have a strong sense of self it might seem ridiculous to brand your skin with your values or life choices. I know people who ask “but what if you don’t like it anymore in five years?” Well for your information I probably won’t like it in about five days, but that’s the point. The point is that I want to remember what it felt like when I got it, why I chose it, what was important to me in that moment so that I can come back to my values later in life, or later today, or whenever it is that I feel as if my mind has turned into a foreign influence that is pushing me in ways I don’t understand.

Sometimes I don’t know why I ever thought that being healthy was a good thing. I don’t remember that I did. It feels as if that was always some sort of outside influence that didn’t want what was best for me. Until I look at the tattoo of the recovery symbol on my hip. I chose to spend the time, money, and pain to have that inscribed on me. It was no one else’s decision but my own. I wanted to remind myself every day that recovery is one of my values.

It is proof that I thought differently, that I can think differently again. It’s proof that I have good days. It’s proof that I do value things that are not perfection or thinness or rules. The more reminders I have, the more stable I feel. It’s as if I’m building a new body for myself that tells me who I am.

The permanency is the point. It’s the only thing about me that seems to be permanent.

10 Real Reasons Not To Restrict

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One of the blog posts in my archive that most consistently gets hits is 10 Real Reasons Not to Self Harm. I’ve had multiple people tell me that it was a useful post for them in some way, and I’ve found myself referencing it when I’m feeling really crappy and I need some reminders from my slightly more stable mind about why I shouldn’t self harm.

Lately I’ve been feeling some urges to restrict again, and so in the spirit of 10 Real Reasons, I want remind myself and others what actually sucks about giving in to eating disorder temptations and restricting your food intake.

1. This might seem super obvious but it’s really easy to forget when you’re in a serious restricting place. Food tastes good. Not only that, but it’s hugely comforting to eat a warm meal or to have something that reminds you of childhood or a good time in your life. You’re denying yourself something that’s super fucking awesome by not eating. I know you probably know that, but I just thought I’d mention it.

2. Most people who restrict heavily like to try to convince themselves that not eating doesn’t actually affect their energy, mood, or thought process. Let me just take a moment to call bullshit on that because physiologically there’s really no way for you to have a good level of energy and clear thoughts when you aren’t giving your body and brain enough calories to fuel them. When you eat food you can do more stuff. Stuff like creating great art or being with the people you love or fighting the patriarchy or whatever the hell it is that makes you happy.

3. Do you know how painful it is to sit on things when your ass is bony? It’s very painful. See also: hugs, leaning against things, sex, cuddling, and interacting in any way with the world. Don’t starve yourself. You need the extra cushioning. It makes the world less hurty.

4. You can lie to me and tell me that you’ll feel worse after you eat. And yes, it’s true you might feel guilty or anxious. But there’s this thing called biology and that means that when you don’t eat your mood tanks. Have you ever seen a cranky toddler? Have you ever tried giving that toddler food and seen them suddenly become perfectly fine? We are all the cranky toddler. Eat the food. Feel better.

5. Do you know what people do when they want to be together? They eat. Food is social. Food connects people. Food is how many people express care and affection. When you don’t eat food, you are cutting yourself off from other people, whether you intend it to be that way or not. That is one of the suckiest things about restriction, and it leaves you feeling pretty shitty.

6. Here are some scary facts: when I stopped restricting my ring size, shoe size, and boobs all increased slightly. Do you know what kind of malnutrition it takes to shrink your feet? The kind that will eventually kill you. Keep your feets and hands the sizes they were meant to be. Don’t starve yourself.

7. Restricting may seem like it’s ignoring food, but it usually comes with obsessive thoughts around food. Your life shouldn’t revolve around food. There are a thousand other things you could be doing with your life than thinking about food and worrying about food. Even if you’re avoiding food, you’re still using up a lot of emotional energy and willpower, as well as causing some serious decision fatigue that will mean you’ve got less reserves for every other thing you need to do in your life.

8. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Do you think women should be equal to men, or shouldn’t have to feel all sorts of unnecessary pressures to be beautiful? I’ve noticed that the more the people around me buy into the ideas that they need to eat less, they should be quieter or prettier or more conventional, the more I feel pressure to do so. Even if you think that you’re only impacting yourself by restricting, you’re sending a tacit message to all your friends and acquaintances that you think you should be living by the patriarchal laws that tell women to be skinnier, quieter, less, smaller. You’re taking up less space when the strongest thing for a feminist to do is stretch out and take up as much space as possible.

9. I want you to imagine that your best friend wasn’t eating on a regular basis. Would you ever tell them that this was a good plan? No? Why are you treating yourself worse than other people? It can be incredibly hard to accept that you deserve the same care that other people do or that you’re allowed to take care of yourself (we’re all supposed to just self-sacrifice constantly and hope someone else takes care of us right??) but if you think extreme restriction is bad for the people you love then you gotta accept it’s bad for you (and also start including yourself in people you love).

10. It’s so fucking boring. Jesus christ is restriction boring. It’s lonely, it’s exhausting, and you end up sitting around just staring at walls for most of your life (with some extra crying jags for funsies). Planning your life around NOT doing something is actually the stupidest thing ever. Imagine instead planning what you DO want to do. It’s so much more interesting! You actually do things! You leave your room! You engage with the world! It’s great. I don’t think I’ve ever felt less interested in the world than when I was restricting because my world was entirely sitting around fighting with myself about whether or not to eat. Bo-ring.

Arousal and Consent, A Story of Compromise

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Heina wrote a great post the other day about the fact that genital arousal is not the same thing as consent, and that attraction is a very different question from arousal (this is something that gets talked about in the asexual community quite a bit: most asexuals can be aroused but don’t feel attraction, and are also capable of giving consent despite the fact that they don’t feel sexual attraction).

Heina uses a lot of great examples, like the fact that someone can be raped while aroused, or that some people may want to have sex but their parts just aren’t quite cooperating. I want to look at one other example here and in particular look at the conversations that surround a particular kind of sexual situation and its consent/ethical dimensions.

I have talked a lot about situations in which one partner has a higher sex drive than the other and the fact that no one owes sex to another person ever. One of the common responses I get from people when I say that I don’t want to have sex if I’m not aroused is that I need to compromise and if I just go with it then eventually I’ll get in the mood and it will feel good.

When someone is NOT aroused but is willing to compromise with their partner and engage in sex (consent, are attracted), most people are 100% able to understand that whether a person is hard or lubricated is not equivalent to whether or not they’re interested in having sex. It’s incredibly common wisdom (especially in conservative circles that often espouse the idea that men can’t be raped because if they’re hard they consented), it’s considered very normal advice to tell a woman to make herself available whether she wants sex or not.

This kind of situation sheds some light on the ways that we already recognize what Heina is talking about, but I think that what Heina is talking about can also be a helpful addition to how to handle differing sex drives and situations in which one partner is not immediately interested in sex. First, there are times when your body just isn’t going to respond in the ways you’d like it to. You might be distracted, anxious, sick, tipsy, or something else that means even if intellectually you really want to have sex, you just can’t quite make it happen. Heina brings up a specific example of not being to orgasm during certain times of the month. There’s nothing wrong with realizing that even if you love your partner and are willing to compromise about a lot of things, you don’t want to try to push your body when it really won’t respond.

But the second point that Heina really hits on that is an important addition to the conversation about differing sex drives is that communication is hugely important because each individual is the authority on their own body and what their responses mean. This is supposedly a very basic element of consent, but it seems to be overlooked fairly often.

A lot of people put different amounts of importance on what their body is doing, some people feel more capable of letting their body adjust to the situation. Everyone’s body is different and reacts to things differently and each person knows their body best. That means it’s part of the conversation and both you and your partner get to choose what your body’s behavior means to you. No one else gets to interpret it for you.

For me personally, trying to get in the mood to please a partner is a horribly anxiety ridden experience that usually results in resentment and a complete inability to get out of my own head. For other people it can be a great experience. But there is no right answer as to what “not turned on yet” means, just as “is physically aroused” doesn’t have a set meaning.

We all get to define our boundaries for ourselves.

Constancy and Mental Illness

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Human beings are creatures of habit. Obvious statement is obvious. But habit is important not just because it makes us feel safe and comfortable but because it means we don’t have to spend as much brain power on determining what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. Routine is like having a formula for integration instead of having to do it all by hand each time. You know what happens next.

I started a new job a couple months ago, and in that time I’ve started to build routines. I freelance at home a few days a week, and for the past two months I have been able to get about the same amount done each of those days. I haven’t had to struggle or fight myself for the motivation. This is normal for me. It’s routine.

Until last week at least. Last week I started to hit a little bump of depression. Suddenly every bit of work was like pulling teeth. I couldn’t wake up at my normal hour, could barely drag myself into the office on my days in, and fell asleep again a few hours after being awake. My habits were suddenly unsustainable. Things that were average to me became impossible.

Welcome to mental illness.

The inability to rely on certain things as normal, average, or constant is one of the more draining elements of mental illness, and it makes everyday functioning incredibly difficult. Not only is trying to maintain any sort of normal life while struggling with serious highs and lows really hard, but it also comes with the extra emotional tax of assessing where you are on each given day and then trying to understand how much you reasonably can get done as well as trying to psychically tell how you’ll feel tomorrow or the rest of the week.

It also adds an intense amount of guilt onto any day that already feels bad. When you have a down day in which you can’t force your brain to focus, you have no energy, your emotions are all over the place, or your anxiety is spiking, it doesn’t help that you’re also acutely aware of the fact that you’re not keeping up on all your obligations, or that you can barely make it through the bare minimum of tasks to get through the day.

As I’m trying to move further towards something like recovery and healthiness, this is one of the biggest struggles for me. When every day was awful, it was easy to rely on the knowledge that I would have to drag myself through the day. The days in which everything is a struggle are the ones in which it’s hardest to be gentle with myself, to remember that I won’t be stuck feeling like this forever, to know that not all of this needs to get done right now.

I forget sometimes that it’s normal to take a day off. I forget that it’s normal to have unproductive days, or days when you just want to put your feet up. I forget that I’ll be better off tomorrow if I listen when my body says it can’t keep up today. I suppose this is a good time to remind myself that self care is an accomplishment, something I work on and work on hard. It is not a cop out or a reason to be lazy. It is part of recognizing that having depression and anxiety mean there is no consistent baseline to my emotions and abilities, that some days I just can’t and some days I’m super kickass. Acceptance is an ok response.

Featured pic is my self care.