Extreme cases, although more complex, include women that have been detained at customs or arrested on suspicion of prostitution for simply carrying condoms. Yes, that’s in the U.S. While several laws have only recently been passed to prevent such groundless arrests in the first place, the mainstream social and cultural stigma of a woman carrying condoms is thriving, very real, and it’s total bullshit. The answer is not to tell women to not carry condoms, it’s to encourage more women to carry condoms.
They were artists, entertainers, and sometimes concubines. Fashion leaders and highly educated conversationalists. They knew how to cultivate desire and provide pleasure a thousand different ways.
And it’s all about our response, as the audience — as if the only possible reason a woman would show her body was because she expects praise for it, and not because it functions in the service of a story she is acting in, or simply because she individually likes the way she looks without pants.
For the boys, carrying a condom is a right of passage. Hell, your school (or maybe even your parent) provided you with this latex token of sexual freedom. If you’re a woman and you are carrying a condom, it’s assumed that you’ve come to this rooftop party to sleep with all the men present and perhaps even the rest of Brooklyn, too.
As a culture, we have at some point lost the knack for being able to see diversity of shape and form as anything other than a series of mistakes that need to be edited in Photoshop.
A Vindication of Love: Just How Much Should Love Hurt?
Originally published on SexReally.com on June 24, 2009.
An assistant writing professor at George Washington University taught a course a couple of years ago called “Love, American Style.” To her surprise, her students (all female) enjoyed discussing “chick lit” books like Bridget Jones’ Diary but were not inspired by deeply romantic novels such as Jane Eyre. Quick flings were okay with students, this professor told me, “but love was rarely mentioned. They were not that interested in it as a concept for their lives.”
Of all the readings she assigned, their favorite was an anthology of poetry entitled The Hell with Love.
Love is not an easy emotion for anyone to live with. For those of you who work hard and play hard, it can embrace you in what can seem a paralyzing squeeze. In the eyes of your friends, colleagues, parents, and/or teachers, love is a nice but muddy-headed emotion that you just have to get over if you want to be taken seriously as a student, a professional, a thinker.
So you’re tempted to tell yourself, “I’m not ready for love,” even as you try to fight off the feelings you’re starting to have for the soccer player you met or the colleague with whom you’ve shared a couple of drinks after work.
Essayist Cristina Nehring might advise you to stop fighting and give in to those instincts.
In her new book, A Vindication of Love, Nehring comes to love’s rescue. But the emotion she describes and defends in her romp through Western literature and poetry is not necessarily the love that many of us would want as a regular diet. In fact, it’s a dangerous kind of love that could lead some women and men to make exceedingly bad choices. (She opens with the passion-story of 18th-century author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who twice attempted suicide over a man.)
But it is romantic love, all the same—the love, for example, of Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet for Fitzwilliam Darcy, or of Emily Dickinson’s letters to her “Master.” And, to Nehring’s credit, she is not afraid to defend it. Nehring never actually tells us what love is, but she has quite a bit to say about what love is not.
It is not, for example, “sex-on-tap,” or “the relentless emphasis on sexual climax that…has a largely depleting effect on the life of the emotions.” “When erotic intimacy is available at the tap of a mouse,” she writes, “or, indeed, at the amiable request of one’s household partner (“what about a quickie before lunch, dear?”); when magazines nudge us to “claim” orgasms as we do receipts at the end of our transactions at Starbucks; when Broadway hits like Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues have women hollering the names of their genitals and baking cakes in their shape, then sex has simply become too available.”
This availability makes romance impossible, she says, because romance depends on “other-ness, tension, and reserve.” Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
Love is also not an equal partnership, in her view. It is the ardor of a college student for her professor, a young man for an older man. It is frequently not sanctioned – bravo the adulterer! – and even forbidden, as in “Don’t go near that player. He’s only using you.”
Hers is not a pretty love. She writes: “I bear the bodily scars of a loss or two in love. I have been derailed by love, hospitalized by love, flung around five continents, shaken, overjoyed, inspired and unsettled by love.”
Such words may comfort those who have pursued a love affair that was as exhausting as it was exhilarating, that threatened one’s mental, and even physical, health. It may also encourage some girls to ask what they’ve missed.
And it may provoke readers such as Anne Kubitsky, a 26-year-old designer and writer, to say, “Been there, done that, not going there again.” Nehring’s description of love, says Anne, “sounds a lot like what I thought love was in high school and college, and this led to extreme emotions and behaviors that were not good.” True love, she says, is not needy, and comes only after you know you are “whole, complete, and have everything you need to be happy, fulfilled, and satisfied.”
Anne provides a clue as to why the students of “Love, American Style” so appreciated The Hell with Love, which is described as “a one-of-a-kind collection that helps you through the classic stages of heartbreak.” Perhaps they too had been there and done that.
Those who value the secure, companionable love that Anne describes may wish for another book to sit beside The Hell with Love and A Vindication – a book that tells stories of compassion, as well as passion, and the sweet splendor of everyday love.
Have you ever experienced the kind of love Christina Nehring describes?
Would you want to experience it (again)?
Laura Sessions Stepp is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, formerly with The Washington Post, who specializes in the coverage of young people. She has written two books: “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both,” and “Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children through Early Adolescence.” She is a consultant to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Lest we forget, women were once criticized and even punished for wearing pants. It was considered something that only men did, and simply improper for women. But more and more women started to wear them, and now we live in a world of unisex jorts … See where I’m going here? The point: put a condom in your pocket. That’s right, your pants pocket. If you don’t rely on condoms as a form of birth control, do it anyways! Wait, why?
Aside from the glaringly obvious point that a friend may find herself in need, it deconstructs the belief that women shouldn’t carry condoms or that if they do, there’s an overwhelming or even prosecutable level of promiscuity going on. Carry a condom—because if we all do, maybe we can start to normalize it.
From “Changing Condom Culture,” Boinkology 101, July 31, 2013.
Carry a condom, ladies! (And read the rest of the article.)
Bay Area Lessons: How to tell if a white guy is flirting?
Recently, I went west to research and film Love in the Bay Area (Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco), and found it to be the PERFECT place to report on dating, relationships, and sex. These topics are already being discussed in great detail out there—seemingly at all times—at least among the folks I encountered. I spent five glorious days talking to literally everyone I made eye contact with about their love lives.
My biggest take-away: Whatever you’re into romantically, you can find it in the Bay Area. And whether it’s an unusual fetish or an odd-to-most relationship dynamic, there will be very little (if any) shaming involved as you search for your ideal partner(s).
Realizing all this, I couldn’t help but wonder what growing up in one of these cities would be like. Would I have made different decisions? How much more successful would I be in getting what my heart desires? Would I have been in an interracial relationship by now?
I asked Asha Richardson—a 21-year-old African-American woman who was born and raised in Oakland—that last question. And despite Oakland being named as one of the Top 12 U.S. cities for interracial relationships in, “Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race, Culture and Creed,” Asha has the exact same issue I have—not always knowing when a non-black guy is flirting.
While hanging out in Awaken Cafe (a very cute, hipster spot with free wi-fi) in Oakland, Asha asked Jack, her white guy friend: How do I know if a white guy is flirting with me?
Okay. If a guy literally poked me, the way Jack described, I’d know he was flirting! Proving once again that no one group is monolithic and there are exceptions to every rule. Or maybe the “Jacks” of the world are more likely to move to the The Bay?
Are Asha and I the only ones who have asked this question? Have you found it more difficult to pick up on some folks’ ways of flirting? Inquiring minds want to know!
Veralyn Williams is a Multimedia Freelance Journalist currently working in New York City. She has spent 4 years at WNYC Radio working with various departments including: Radio Rookies, Culture, News, and Freakonomics. She also freelances for Black Enterprise, BronxNet Television, Bedsider, and The Museum for African Art. Her independent work is featured on her website VeralynMedia.com. Through all of her endeavors she aims to give a voice to perspectives that are often forgotten in the media.