Sex on TV: The In-Depth Analysis of TLC Gypsy Programming You’ve Always Wanted
Some particularly flamboyant bridesmaid dresses.
So I fully admit that I watch (and love) TLC’s Gypsy Sisters. And not in the “Oh—if it’s on, I’ve watched it” way. No. I actively seek it out. And then I go on the internet to find out more. It’s tragic that the short first season is already over, but in the meantime I have season two of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding to look forward to. Yes, it’s a thing.
These gypsies rock a wardrobe I could only dream of pulling off—tube tops, hot pants, sky-high heels and bedazzles for everyone. Despite this sexy look, gypsies say these hot outfits mask some strict conservative morals. For instance, gypsy girls are taught to stay away from boys and remain virgins until marriage.
A sample gem of a quote from the show.
Maybe that’s why they get married SO YOUNG. Like 15 and 16 years old. It’s a norm in their community, but even many gypsy parents say that they wish their daughters would wait until 17 or 18. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of girls fall in “love” by 15 and threaten to run away with their man unless their parents allow them to marry. (Side note: the guys are always a few years older.)
In Gypsy Sisters, these strict rules for women don’t always work out. At least two of the girls on the show are divorced before age 20 to escape abusive husbands. Family Matriarch Nettie has 9 children, and her teen daughter Dallas has two of her own with an ex-husband and ex-boyfriend. Twenty-three-year-old black sheep Mellie is also divorced and was working as a stripper when she recently found out that she was pregnant. Although she married the father, the show made it look like the marriage lasted barely a week.
These stories demonstrate that restricting girls for the sake of innocence can sometimes have the opposite effect. These gypsy girls are so eager for freedom that they run off with the first boy they find, often experiencing the negative consequences we’ve seen on Gypsy Sisters.
If these shows are any indication, domestic violence is a big issue in the gypsy community. Gypsy girls are taught from a young age to be obedient housewives—that cooking, cleaning, looking good for their husbands, and having babies is their only worth. And since gypsy girls can’t date, they don’t get a chance to learn about healthy relationships or even try spending time with more than one man. In fact, as soon as a gypsy girl starts getting attention from a man, that is almost a guarantee marriage will follow.
In another vein, not ONCE on this show have I ever heard anyone mention birth control or condoms. Instead, when girls find someone they want to have sex with, they marry quickly so they can get down to the deed, and no one talks about the difference between love and lust.
I hope that some of the Gypsy Sisters talk to their daughters behind the scenes about birth control and healthy relationships. I haven’t seen this happen on the show yet, but a lot of these girls could use a dose of reality before diving into marriage and children of their own.
And tell me what you think in the comments!
Kate Meroski is an administrative assistant at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. She enjoys puppies, French fries, and the seal exhibit at the National Zoo.
Sex and Song: Prince, “Strange Relationship”
You don’t need to be a musician to appreciate the connection between sex and music. Still, we thought it would be fun to hear what they have to say about it. In our “Sex and Song” series, curated by drummer and producer Katy Otto, musicians share a song about sex, love, or both, and what it means to them.
TRIGGER WARNING: This piece discusses abuse within the context of partner violence.
Prince tends to threaten lawsuits on anybody who posts his original music, so Andy decided to record her own version of “Strange Relationship.”
Prince has made a lot of different types of love songs through the years. Two were based on driving-as-sex metaphors (“Dirty Mind” and “Little Red Corvette”), one (“Darling Nikki”) outraged Tipper Gore and led to the advent of Parental Advisory labels, and one explored the possibilities of sexiness while keeping one’s pants on (“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”). Then there are the love songs that Prince sang as a woman named Camille.
My Minnesotan queer friends tell me Prince is something of a gay-hater these days, but he can’t take back the queerness of those days in ‘86 and ‘87 when he sped up his vocals, took on the persona of Camille, and sang a handful of smart, gender-bending songs. Singing as Camille, Prince arguably wrote the most prescient, subtle love songs of his career. As if to balance out all of the reckless, fun sex jams of his wonder years, “Strange Relationship” is a downer, taking on the decidedly un-sexy but super-important subject of emotional abuse.
“I know you know me well, I don’t like winter,” Camille begins, “but I seem to get a kick out of doin’ ya cold.” Let’s parse what’s going on here: Camille says that she is the abuser; she’s intentional about it. She could stop it. And she continues: “Oh what the hell, you always surrender.” And in one verse, Camille has unfolded two key, interlocking elements of abuse: that it’s the abuser’s fault, and still the abuser will blame the surviving partner.
The chorus takes us through the whole cycle, from the obvious abuse—“Baby, I just can’t stand to see you happy”—to pleading and maybe reconciliation—“more than that, I hate to see you sad”—to more victim blaming: “Baby, if you let me I just might do something rash.” Terrifying. Stark. Vital. “Strange Relationship” teaches the listener about the psychology of a victimizer in three minutes.
Earlier recordings of this song feature Prince—the non-Camille version—singing the song (prominently, with a sitar and slightly different lyrics; I used these earlier lyrics in my cover version posted above). That Prince made “Strange Relationship” into a Camille song is also notable and thought-provoking: the Camille vocal drives home the point that abusive behavior can come from people of multiple genders.
Prince has touched on many aspects of love throughout his career, but his true measure as an artist is that he has written about the joy and the pain with equal amounts of intelligence, efficiency, and attention to detail. Romance can yield both wonder and evil, and there’s justice—especially in our era of short attention spans—that someone spent time making that point into something radio-friendly.
Andy Bowen is an organizer and artist. She plays bass for the DC punk band Southern Problems; is Social Policy Organizer for DC Trans Coalition, a transgender activist organization; and is releasing her first solo album, the 26th Anniversary Edition, in May. You can hear her music and follow her etherized presence at andymbowen.com.
Seriously, who wouldn’t want to get this for Valentine’s Day?
Don’t get us wrong—we love chocolate (and champagne… and flowers…). But a donation to stop abuse strikes us as a much more interesting way to impress a valentine.
For Valentine’s Day, the Stop Abuse Campaign will send a cute card like the one above to someone special when you donate as little as $10 to the cause. Want to know more about it? Here’s the Stop Abuse Campaign’s CEO talking about their campaign. We say: get involved, then celebrate your contribution to a worthy cause over a glass of champagne with your sweetheart.
Red Alert: 5 Ways Your Dating Life May Be Driving Your Friends Crazy
Originally published on SexReally.com on June 6, 2011.
Friends are forever, but we often put more attention toward romantic relationships. Maybe you found the perfect guy—handsome, smart, funny, and everything you hoped he would be. Or, maybe you haven’t found a partner yet, but you are having a fabulous time flitting from date to date, then dishing to your gal pals about every glorious moment. Maybe you are starting to notice that your girls are acting a bit odd every time you start chatting about romance. What’s going on? Why are they tuning you out? Isn’t the point of having a group of girlfriends that they listen to every story about your dating life? You may be committing one (or more!) of the 5 rookie mistakes of the romance-friendship balance. Read on and, if you realize you’re doing any of this, get back on track before it’s too late!
1. You drop your friends.
You are in love, with a capital “L”, and want to spend every waking moment with your significant other. You are so smitten that your calendar soon fills up with movie nights, reality-TV evenings, and romantic day trips. Your friends don’t even have a chance to respond to your dating life anymore because you aren’t around to tell them about it.
If this is you: The e-card above was popular when the first Sex and the City movie came out. I got such a chuckle out of it because it exactly described what I observed happening to some of the women in my life. The ones who had completely abandoned their friends didn’t have anyone to see the movie with when their husbands/boyfriends/fiancés wouldn’t go.
It’s hard not to get sucked into the Love Bubble*, especially if you are experiencing your first taste of a real relationship. But always, always remember your roots. It’s important to keep up with the people you had in your life BPC (before Prince Charming). For one thing, if your relationship blows up, you will need those people. Otherwise you will be without your guy and without your old group of friends because they moved on when you weren’t paying attention.
Even if the relationship is The One and you will be with this person Forever and Ever, it’s still incredibly important to have a variety of people in your life. Friends enrich your life, bring you fresh perspective, and keep you true to who you are.
*Love Bubble [luhv buhb-uh l] noun, Invisible force field around two people who are in love that keeps them focused only on each other. Signs include spending countless days/nights together, googly eyes, pet nicknames, and inside jokes.
How to get things back on track: Your friends are your friends for a reason. Chances are they are wonderful, kind people who will forgive and forget, especially if you acknowledge your mistakes. Depending on how much time has been spent away, it may take some effort to rebuild bridges, but get started right away. Invite one of them out for coffee. Spend an evening just chatting. And shut up about Prince Charming—ask your friend how she is doing.
Also, in the future, make time for your friendships even if you are in the best relationship of your life. You had people you cared about before your significant other came along and a couple hours apart are not going to kill either one of you. It actually might help your relationship!
2. You are always scouting.
You are out with your wonderful gal pals having a night on the town. Or, maybe you are doing something tame, like having brunch on the weekend. No matter the location, you are always looking around for people you’re attracted to. Now, there’s nothing wrong with checking out a little eye candy. If you are out and the group goal is to meet as many attractive people as possible, that’s one thing. But using your friends as a means to continually scout potential partners is not only rude, it can be extremely frustrating to the people you are out with.
If this is you: This was the case with a friend of mine. Every time we went out together, while she pretended to listen she was actually looking around for her next boyfriend. It went a little further than that—she would pick tables, events, and places to stand and talk based on the proximity of an available man. I didn’t pick up on it at first, but it became more and more obvious based on how she was dressed. When we were out she was all dolled up. On the trip back she would put her hair in a ponytail, put on her glasses, and actually make conversation with me. It’s as if she switched on and off her persona. It’s okay if you want to get all divalicious, then relax when the night comes to a close. But if you are becoming two separate people within the course of one evening, something is wrong.
How to get things back on track: If you are going out with your friends, go out with your friends. It’s okay to run into someone new along the way or start a conversation with an attractive person, but don’t use your friends as a means to meet other people because you are insecure. Go out, have a great time, listen to your friends, and become engaged with their lives. Confidence and actually having a life will always be sexy.
3. You talk non-stop about your significant other.
Your significant other is amazing. He does 100 cute things a day, and you want to list them one by one to anyone who will listen. Here’s the big news flash: no one really cares. Okay, that sounds harsh, and it isn’t 100% true. Your friends do care about your relationships and they do want to know what’s going on in your life. But they don’t want to know Every. Single. Detail. The only person who has that minutia level of interest in your daily relationship life is you. That doesn’t mean you have to keep mum all the time. It just means keep things in check.
If this is you: If you are happy, chances are your friends are happy for you. Every now and then it’s okay to gush about the latest romantic thing your partner did, or a funny story about his work. Remember, though, that the world doesn’t revolve around your relationship. Your friends have stories they want to tell, too.
How to get things back on track: Ask your friends questions. It’s as simple as that. Every now and then the topic of conversation will be all about you, but make sure there’s a balance. It’s wonderful that you are happy! Don’t feel the need to hide that feeling, but take an active interest in other people. And don’t just wait for a pause in the conversation to make it all about you once more.
4. When you talk about your relationship, you only talk about the bad stuff.
No matter how much we love our partners, chances are one day they are going to do or say something really stupid. Or, the two of you are going to get in a fight…or fight about the same thing for the 300th time. When those things happen, you are going to want to talk about it. But if all you are doing is telling friends awful things about your significant other, guess what? They aren’t going to like him.
If this is you: Again, wanting to vent about your guy is natural and it happens to everyone. Check yourself, though. Are you only telling your girls the bad things? Your friends love you and want you to be safe and happy, so if the only thing you are telling them is that he’s the scum of the earth, they are going to believe (surprise!) he is the scum of the earth.
How to get things back on track: You have three choices. You can a) admit that even though your guy might drive you crazy sometimes, really the good things outweigh the bad. Tell your friends about the good stuff, too. Or, you can b) realize that you spend a lot of time complaining, regardless of subject, and make an effort to start watching what you say about other people in general. Or, c) if your stories are really bad, it might be because you are in a bad relationship. If so, get out. Life is too short and there are too many wonderful people out there to be miserable all the time.
5. You make stupid decisions without thinking about how they affect the people around you.
You had unprotected sex. Or are in a relationship with someone who is married. Or are dating someone who is actually dangerous. It is your life and you can make any decision you want, but remember your actions affect those around you.
If this is you: Everyone makes stupid decisions every now and then. Part of growing up is learning how to take responsibility for those actions. Your body is your body, and you really can do anything you want. But, people are invested in you and your life, so if you put yourself in a dangerous or difficult situation, it can influence their lives as well.
How to get things back on track: If you have had unprotected sex , get tested for STIs and pregnancy (and if it’s been less than 5 days, use emergency contraception). Then learn about your contraceptive options and invest in some condoms for STI prevention. If you are in a relationship with someone who is married , get out as soon as possible. If you are dating someone who is threatening you physically and/or emotionally, get help and get out. Basically, love yourself as much as your friends love you. You don’t always have to agree them, but if they are worried about you, listen to what they are saying. They may have a point.
Life is all about balance, and balancing work, love, and friendship will always be a bit tricky. But it is possible to have a solid relationship while cultivating your friendships at the same time. What are some of your strategies for balancing relationships and friendships? Have you ever had a friend do one of the above things to you? How did you deal with it?
Kaarin Moore is the owner of Closet Caucus, a fashion consulting company located in Washington, DC. Her goal is to help clients express who they are through the medium of clothing. You can reach her at www.closetcaucus.com or on twitter (@closetcaucus).
If your partner is controlling your birth control, it is a sign of a larger relationship problem. All women should be able to protect their bodies from an unwanted pregnancy without threats or sabotage. You deserve to be with someone who respects you and your plans for the future—including when or whether you want to have a baby.
Guys like Alice’s boyfriend hide birth control pills or flush them down the toilet; they sweet-talk, threaten, even rape. Why? Not because they’re dreaming of booties, blankets, and Daddy-baby yoga. ‘It’s about one person controlling another,’ says Leslie Walker, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Talk about control: experts say some men force their girlfriends to get pregnant—and to have abortions.) It’s the ultimate form of control: of your body itself and—if you have a baby, or get an STI, some of which cause infertility—of the rest of your life.
Lynn Harris, from “15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices.”
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is coming to an end, but birth control sabotage continues to be a very scary, very real form of abuse. This post by Lynn Harris was first published way back in 2011, but the tips on recognizing reproductive coercion and taking action to protect yourself are as relevant as ever.
15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices
Originally published on January 6, 2011, on SexReally.com.
Alice’s boyfriend really didn’t want to wear a condom. “You don’t know how good it feels without one,” he’d say—over and over—or “I can’t come with one,” recalls Alice, 23, of Seattle. “He’d been able to before, so I should have realized that was bullsh*t. But he’d slowly talked me into it.” When she finally let him go without, she says, “I was like, ‘Fine, if it makes you shut up about it, go ahead.’”
That was the day Alice conceived her son, now 4. But don’t call it an “unplanned pregnancy.” It wasn’t just that Alice’s boyfriend liked the feel of condomless sex. He wasn’t in denial about the consequences. Alice hadn’t planned the pregnancy, but her boyfriend had. Guys like him want to get girls pregnant. As Alice now knows: “He really wanted a son.”
As I noted in a previous article for The Nation, and as others have noted, stereotypes about women being the ones to “trick” their partner into pregnancy are extremely misleading and potentially destructive. Experts have put a name to the phenomenon of reproductive coercion, where it’s men who force women into sex without contraception. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), one in five young women say they’ve experienced pregnancy coercion; one in seven say a guy has sabotaged her contraception. Though other abuse may not be occurring, it sure as heck might: women who have been abused by a boyfriend are five times as likely to be forced into not using a condom and eight times more likely to be pressured to get pregnant.
Guys like Alice’s boyfriend hide birth control pills or flush them down the toilet; they sweet-talk, threaten, even rape. Why? Not because they’re dreaming of booties, blankets, and Daddy-baby yoga. “It’s about one person controlling another,” says Leslie Walker, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Talk about control: experts say some men force their girlfriends to get pregnant—and to have abortions.) It’s the ultimate form of control: of your body itself and—if you have a baby, or get an STI, some of which cause infertility—of the rest of your life.
Reproductive coercion happens to teens and adults, rich, poor and average; any race or religion; women in long-term relationships, hookups, and in-between; women like Anya Alvarez, 21, who was having sex with a guy she’d just started seeing when she spotted her NuvaRing on her rug—which, needless to say, was not where she had put it. Yep: he’d yanked it out. “He said he’d done it to other women and they didn’t mind,” she says. Even in a new relationship, or something you wouldn’t call a relationship at all, you need to be careful.
One clear warning sign: a partner who doesn’t support your using whatever contraception you want,” says FVPF senior policy director Rebecca Levenson. “Even if it’s subtle, like weird-supportive, it still gets him what he wants.”
- Does he refuse to wear a condom? “That’s near-universal with reproductive coercion, and can start on sexual-date-one,” says Heather Corinna, founder and director of Scarleteen and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.
- Does he equate birth control with cheating? As one woman (“Erika”) reported to the FVPF: “He said the pill made women want to have sex all the time, and that I’d cheat because I wouldn’t need to use a condom.”
- Do you go behind his back to get contraception? “Erika” snuck to a clinic for the pill. “For a year, I made sure he never saw them,” she says.
- Does he say things about hormonal birth control (Pills, implants, IUDs) like (MYTH ALERT!!!!), “Those make you gain weight, which you struggle with. I love you so much I wouldn’t want you to do that”?
- Does he threaten to hurt you if you use contraception—or consider abortion?
There’s also sweeter-sounding baby-making talk. “It can seem like he’s trying to express commitment or get serious,” says Corinna. “Only people who love you want to make babies with you, right? Wrong. Some people want to create a family for the best reasons. Others want to control you, make it harder for you to leave, or create new, smaller people to control. The folks with the good motives will not ever pressure or trick you.” Does he:
- Say things like “If you have a baby we’ll always be connected” or “If you really loved me you’d have my baby”?
- Refer to sperm as mini-hims? Alice: “My boyfriend would congratulate himself for sending in his buddies to get the job done.”
- Say someone who uses contraception doesn’t love their partner? Or contraception keeps people from being close?
- Talk about pregnancy or parenthood without including your needs or your body?
New guys may deploy all sorts of lines. Check your gut; don’t take a chance. If something sounds off to you—like “I had a vasectomy” or “I smoke pot so I’m infertile”—it probably is.
And some actions say it all:
- Do your pills keep disappearing?
- Does the condom keep “breaking”? The third time this happened to “Libby” in Illinois, her boyfriend admitted he’d removed it. After that, he began raping her without one.
- Have you caught him messing with your birth control or poking holes in condoms?
- Does he break his promise to “pull out”?
- Does he sneak off the condom (NuvaRing, etc.) during intercourse?
- Does he physically force you to have sex without protection?
What to do?
If even one of the above sounds familiar to you…one is too many. Steps to take to protect your health:
- If on date one refuses a condom—“ground zero for safer sex,” says Corinna—kick him out.
- If sex suddenly feels different, check the condom.
- Consider contraception you can hide, or that’s tough to sabotage, like Depo-Provera or IUD. (Note: This alone does not prevent STIs.)
- Get tested for STIs. Some are symptomless, but can do future damage.
- Talk to a healthcare provider. If it doesn’t make sense for you to leave the relationship now, you can at least try to prevent STIs or pregnancies.
- Imagine a healthy relationship. No pressure, no tricks; just love, support—and, if you’re ready, sex that feels right. “If a female patient whose partner refuses condoms says, ‘They don’t feel good for me, either,’ I say, ‘That’s because he’s not sharing a real, intimate relationship with you,” Dr. Walker explains. “It’s not about the condom.”
Lynn Harris is an author, essayist, commentator, and award-winning journalist. Her most recent book is the satirical novel Death By Chick Lit, which New York Magazine called “brilliant.” She is also co-creator—with supergenius Chris Kalb—of the award-winning website BreakupGirl.net, online headquarters of the only superhero who rescues men and women from romantic emergencies.
Standing Up to Idiots: Responses and Reflections
Originally published on May 15, 2010 on SexReally.com.
Ever since I came out with my story about Mr. Idiot thinking he had the right to take off his condom and pull out my NuvaRing without consulting me, I have received numerous responses, all expressing varying degrees of disgust and disbelief that this kind of stuff does actually happen. The most interesting thing, however, is who I have been receiving responses from. A number of men have written me apologizing for their gender, asking me if I’m okay, and if there is anything they can do for me.
A few examples of responses I have gotten from men:
Good for you for writing about it and sharing it. A lot of women will learn something about those idiots out there and maybe find a way to protect themselves from it. Yes, I know the law doesn’t make this a crime, but in my mind you are right to see this as a form of assault. —John
OMFG! I cannot believe this happened to you (or to anybody)! As a male, this is embarrassing and disgusting. I know I can’t apologize for my gender and/or stop my fellow men from doing terrible things, but, wow. What an outrage. In my book, this is absolutely a form of rape. I’m so sorry this happened to you, Anya. I absolutely support you and commend you speaking out about it. —-Paul
Unacceptable behavior. In my mind, removing protection without consent is a horrible invasion of privacy, as bad as rape. There need to be laws to protect both men and women who are taken advantage of like this. — Drew
These impassioned responses from men lead me to believe that men can help make a change concerning this issue. If men continue to stand up against such repulsive behavior and vocalize their opinions on birth control sabotage, awareness of this issue will increase significantly. After all, this issue doesn’t just affect women, it affects men as well. Men need to hold themselves and other men accountable for their actions towards women. One of the best ways we can ensure a decrease in sexual assault is to make it known within male culture that a majority of men do not condone or accept it.
Of course men can also be victims of birth control sabotage. Women have been known to lie about birth control in order to get pregnant without their partner’s consent. And what about gay men whose partners slip off the condom, increasing the chances of passing a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
But where do we go from here? What steps do we take to ensure that we’re all protected from Idiots such as this one?
First, we need to understand and truly believe that birth control sabotage is a form of assault.
Second, in order for change to happen, there needs to be a united front. While the response from women to my facebook post has been minimal, I truly believe that women would support a law that would protect them from this sort of abuse if given the choice. I also believe women would not be afraid to vocalize their opinions if they knew a majority of men do not condone this type of repulsive behavior.
I had someone write to me and ask why it is that strong, independent women allow men to continuously abuse them. He was referring to a friend of his whose ex-boyfriend always slipped off his condom during sex without asking. She, a local community leader, a business owner, and an educated woman, never said anything to get him to stop. I believe that while women are strong and independent in many ways, we are still taught to be feeble and are often reminded to act “like a lady.” The message constantly espoused is for women to keep silent and women are shamed into believing that the reason why they are getting abused is because they made bad choices and didn’t have more discernment when it came to men. They shouldn’t have slept with that guy or they should have seen the signs. But how often do we find that people are not what they seemed after we get to know them? Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to assume that a woman will know immediately if a guy is a jerk?
On a related note, I also believe many women don’t have high enough standards for themselves. We’ve made behavior acceptable in our minds because we are afraid to expect something more from someone, afraid to ask too much. So we keep finding ourselves in abusive relationships.
I encourage women (and men) who have similar occurrences—whether it was a hole poked in the condom or removed without you knowing, or sabotage of another birth control method—to speak up and tell your story. You have a right to your body and when someone takes it in their own hands to endanger your sexual health, you have the right to be protected by law. The more we make it known that we expect to have complete control over our sexual health, the less likely it is that others will try to tamper with it.
If we decide to become sexually active we must clearly communicate our needs when it comes to contraception use, what we expect from our partners, and how we want to be treated in any type of sexual relationship. It’s our responsibility to take a proactive role in our own well-being.
To personalize this story more and to help you understand why I feel so strongly about this issue, when I was 16 I was raped. I never pressed charges because I was afraid of what my rapist might do to my family and to me. To this day I regret not taking action and wonder whether he has done this to other women or if he will. I made a promise to myself never again to sit back and allow someone to get away with putting my sexual health in danger. That is why I feel passionately about this and I hope people will support me and other women and men who have experienced birth control sabotage.
Anya Alvarez, from Gallup, NM, is studying political science and history at the University of Washington. She plays on the university’s golf team and hopes to one day (soon!) combine her interests in public policy and writing.