Tag Archive | Sex

Twelve Conclusions From Reading Paul’s Epistles in Full

Hypatia of Alexandria - SmithsonianToday I read all of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament from start to finish, something I never did when I was a Christian. No, I haven’t “seen the error of my ways” and converted back to that religion.  Rather this is part of my ongoing research into the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria, the gifted astronomer and philosopher murdered in 415 CE by a mob of Christians in Alexandria.  I am seeking for the roots of her murder. Why was she considered a threat to the Christian community and why did that community believe it was morally justifiable to murder her so viciously when Exodus 20:13 is so explicit on the matter?

My reading of the epistles is first and foremost looking for bias — a critical job for any historian.  Who was Paul? What did he believe? What biases and bigotries did he possess? Here are my opening conclusions and impressions from reading the epistles as a whole:

1) Paul genuinely had one or more visions that affected him profoundly.
2) Paul’s legalism from his time as a pharisee did not go away. He believes in the written “word of God” as he experienced it as a pharisee.
3) Paul believes God has inspired him to write down what God wants for everyone. Because it comes from God, it must absolutely be obeyed without question or intellectual scrutiny.
4) Paul did not believe in individual liberty.
5) Paul believed in absolute obedience to authority without question. Especially slaves must obey masters. Women must obey men. Neither groups are persons with their own human rights.
6) Philosophy (the educational systems of his time) is bad. It leads you away from God and into sexual perversions.
7) Anything that takes you away from his view of Truth and God is bad and must be avoided at all costs. That includes people who do not believe or live as you do (though Paul contradicts himself on this point at times, depending on the letter).
8) God made women and slaves inherently inferior.
9) Women are innately perverse, sinful, lusty creatures.
10) Women need men as masters in order to be saved from Satan and hell.
11) Women lack the innate morality to lead men, especially in religious matters.
12) Sex and sexual desire, especially for a woman’s pleasure or between two men is gravely sinful.
cross 3
The final point about sex is especially important. Paul spends probably more time on sex and sexual mores than any other specific topic he covers.  It is almost an obsession for him.
For example, 1 Timothy 5 verses 11 and 12 says, “11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry.12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge.”

This theme continues in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 when he writes regarding all people, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.”

Paul sees sexual pleasure as a perversion that keeps men (males) from holiness and living godly lives. Women, seducers that they are, must therefore be tightly controlled and silenced because they through their sexuality are Satan’s tools who will sabotage men at every turn.

The birth of Pandora

This belief that women are seducers and Paul’s incessant missives to control women, to keep them away from places of influence and power, may be at the core of why church leaders in Alexandria were able to ignore Exodus 20:13 and command Hypatia’s murder.

It was not the first time the Bible was used to kill an innocent.  It was not the last.  But perhaps we can chart a different future, one where religion is no longer the excuse for the inexcusable.  Perhaps then we shall have peace.

En Garde: sexual expectations and rape culture

Last night I was casually watching re-runs of The Big Bang Theory on my local NBC station.  It was one of the episodes where newly wed Howard was still on the International Space Station and having difficulties dealing with the closed quarters of life in space.

At the very end of that episode Howard has just been given an anti-anxiety drug and decides to strip down to his pants (underwear) on a video call to his wife.  For several seconds we see the contours of the actor’s man parts under that minimal clothing.  Instead of being turned on  I found I was absolutely revulsed.  No, I really DON’T want see a man’s parts on television like that, not even indirectly through his clothing.

Thinking about my feelings and sharing them with my best friend my contemplative nature found itself exploring the deeper aspects to my gut reaction to this very quick final scene to the show.  Why are women expected to enjoy the public display of a man’s sexual features?  Why are we supposed to be turned on by every man and want sex any time anyone expresses the slightest interest?

Looking back at my past I noticed a pattern:  flirting with someone not because I wanted sex with him but too often to distract him from abusive impulses that might suddenly explode and endanger my safety.  I also realized that there is an unconscious pressure and expectation put upon me as a woman that I should be sexually ready and interested in the men in my life and consent to their advances any time and any where they might occur.  The second half to this is more frightening still:  failure to be  whatever a man wants or expects of me sexually means that he is likely to simply impose himself on me in the form of sexual assault.

Or thought of another way:  I either force myself to say yes or I will suffer a more violent response from him that still results in sex anyway.  Hence the forced flirtations as a defense strategy.

Though we tend to deny it to ourselves and those close to us, women too often have to live in a sexual minefield where the potential for sexual assault is everywhere.  So we engage in unconscious defensive behaviours.  We flirt.  We pretend to like people we don’t.  We smile at people behind gritted teeth.  We pretend to be okay with behaviours we find uncomfortable. We play act, concealing our real opinions and emotions in an effort to keep unwanted advances at bay.  There’s a mind game to this, even when we are not aware of it.  We even convince ourselves that we find something sexually appealing when it really frightens or repels us.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Nowhere is this mind game more evident than the infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” where main character Anastasia Steele forces herself to consent to sexually abusive and highly controlling behaviours from Christian Grey, often making excuses for him.

Like Anastasia, we too often pretend to like things sexually that we do not.  We pretend interest we lack.  Society tells us that the way a woman is supposed to express her romantic love is sex.  And not just sex but the any time, any where, any way that the man wants.  To love is to become his sexual servant.  Add in religion to the mix and women are told that our needs do not matter.  We are inferior.  God made man in His image–but women are the source of evil in this world, born flawed and incapable of Goodness on our own without a man directing us and telling us who to be and what to do.  So it is only right that men should rule over us; we women are not capable of making our own choices, especially when it comes to our bodies.  Especially when it comes to sex.  Can it be any wonder then that so many male politicians feel duty-bound to regulate the intimate affairs of women?  How can they trust women to make their own choices?

Sex is something I want in my life — but not just sex.  I want a healthy sexuality.  I want to express myself sexually from a genuine place of love and devotion.  Yet who can do that when we must continually and often unconsciously living our lives defensively?  When the world around us is so unsafe and sexual assault persists as a constant danger?  How can any woman feel truly at ease even in her own home with those she loves?

These are very real questions that must be addressed by our society.  We must stop making excuses and fight against both institutional sexism and rape culture.  As women we need to learn how to say “no” and be true to our actual feelings.  We need to be okay inside ourselves and with those we love with expressing love in many different ways instead of tightly correlating love and sex.  Because they are genuinely not the same thing.  Not all acts of sex come from love and not all acts of love are sex — even in romantic relationships, even in our marriages.

Love can take many forms.  We need to embrace that.  We need to stop pressuring ourselves and others into this very unhealthy idea that sex and romantic love are one and the same.  Just because I love you does not mean I want to have sex with you or sex with you right now.  Love is not a blank cheque to sex.  Saying no to sex is not a rejection of the other person.  As a matter of fact, it takes courage to say no to sex when you love someone, to love yourself and respect your partner enough to only be sexual with her or him when you really truly feel you want to be.  The easy road, the one drilled into women from a very early age, is that we shouldn’t say no when we don’t want sex — just lay there and take it because it will soon be over.

That’s no way to live.  That is no way to love.

 

 

 

 

Ghosts of the Past: the Dark Side of Medieval politics

Ghost of the Past Chinese webLast week the Ghosts of the Past debuted in Chinese language edition thanks to the careful work of some of the best translators in all of Beijing.  One measure of feedback I received from my editor was just how dark and sexy the book was.  Given my well deserved scholarly reputation as a historian, Ghosts of the Past and its equally saucy sequel Princess Anyu Returns might seem out of place from the rest of my work.  Out of place until you look deeper into history and explore the treacherous realm of sexual politics that was the experience for most medieval noble and royal women.

Life for women has always been somewhat of a treacherous experience filled with dangers.  With few or no legal rights or protections, women rarely decided for themselves who to have sex with, let alone marry.  Instead the men in their families, their governments, and their religions held almost complete control over their bodies.  Among women of high social status this meant that women’s bodies were tools for gaining wealth, power, and social status by those in position to use them.

Ghosts of the Past cover webThis social and political reality for women underscores the sometimes brutally dark sides to Beinarian society.  Sex and childbearing are tools the villains (both female and male) use at their leisure to impose their will on others, advancing mysterious agendas that only become clear after Princess Anyu Returns from her exile.   These agendas add spice to both Ghosts of the Past and Princess Anyu Returns with twists and turns around every corner.  Villains use sex and violence freely to achieve their goals, predating on the innocent and using every method at their disposal to thwart the heroes and heroines.  They are just as likely to kill as seduce and use offspring created at the expense of their enemies as weapons against them.

It is a dark, dystopic realm where only the bravest dare tread.

Are you brave enough to travel there?

 

Find the Ghosts of the Past in English on Amazon, Barnes/Noble, Smashwords, and iTunes or in Chinese on Amazon, Chinese Amazon, and Douban.

Cut the blarney, guys; we’ve heard it all before

Today I am going to deviate from my normal topics and touch upon that age old subject of women, men, and romance.  The catalyst for this is a recent series of Facebook interactions where, once again, a complete stranger messaged me telling me:

Laurel i really don’t know you, but looking at your profile and picture, I must say your the most beautiful woman i have ever seen and you also remind me of my ex who passed away peacefully from cancer…… Hope we could be friends if you don’t mind…you must be as young as 28 don’t know but if am wrong, please tell me. What’s the secret to your beauty?

Twenty years after airing on the BBC, women still love Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austin, a novel where good manners and integrity win out over flattery and deceit.

Twenty years after airing on the BBC, women still love Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austin, a novel where good manners and integrity win out over flattery and deceit.

In essence, this is a variation on a tried and true pickup line routine.  Tell a woman she’s beautiful, tell her she looks younger than she obviously is, and abracadabra you’ve just had a magical night of hot and heavy sex rivaling the contents of a best selling erotica novel and with absolutely no obligation to see her after breakfast.

For some reason that escapes me, men actually think this works.  It’s a routine I hear at least four times per month on social media and (for some bizare reason) on skype, usually from men serving in one of the branches of the US armed forces.

There is nothing of course in this that gives a woman ANY reason to respond.  Okay, you gave a generic complement that may or may not be sincere and you are actually delusional enough to think it’s flattery.  The sheer fact you exist and said the words “pretty,” “beautiful,” “young,” or “sexy” is supposed to be enough for us to 1) want to talk to you, 2) be massively interested in everything about you, and 3) immediately do for you a strip tease resulting in a nice one night stand.

Really?  And you expect women to take you seriously? This is egotism and it’s based apparently on the fantasy that anyone with a functioning penis is good enough for a woman, that she owes you sex any time you want just because you can get blood flowing down there.

Newsflash guys:  you are not the only male with a functioning penis. The fact you have one (every male does) is not a reason to interact with you for five seconds, let alone have sex with you, especially if you are a stranger.  Furthermore, every woman over the age of 25 has heard this lame blarney before, perhaps even fallen for it when she was too young to know better, especially if she came from a conservative family where her parents and her religious community treated the proper functioning of the human body as dirty and taboo.

In my 20s I fell for the blarney, in large part because I received no guidance growing up beyond "don't have sex before marriage."

In my 20s I fell for the blarney, in large part because I received no guidance growing up beyond “don’t have sex before marriage.”

Indeed, I will affirm that women from conservative backgrounds are more vulnerable to sexual manipulation from men simply because our parents don’t offer constructive guidance beyond “don’t have sex until you are married.”  No wonder lazy men target American women; women in America are so much less likely to be provided with proper sex education and proper guidance on how to spot blarney and predatory sexual conduct.

But past a certain age women, even American women, learn to spot the blarney.  We learn that flattery has but one purpose:  exploitation.  We learn to be skeptical of any man offering a complement, especially when it is about our bodies.  We have difficulty enough believing we are beautiful.  So when you tell us, as the chap this week did, that we are the most beautiful woman you have ever seen, we know at once you are lying.  Very few of us look like the standard of beauty we are given in the media.  So don’t tell us we meet that standard; we don’t.  We’re real women, not photo-shopped fantasies.

But let us suppose for a moment that you really do find someone attractive.  You genuinely want to get to know her — not just how she feels naked in the dark.  What should you do?

RESEARCH HER.  Approach her from a stance of common ground. Find something on social media that is genuinely a common interest and start by asking her about it.  For example, “what do you think about the latest poll numbers showing Bernie Sanders surging ahead of Hillary Clinton in (insert state name here)?” or “what do you think about the latest film starring (insert favourite actor here)?”

When you approach her from a stand point of common interest you are showing 1) you like her enough to spend a few minutes learning about her on your own time and 2) you are interested in who she actually is and what she actually thinks.

Gone are the days when “hey baby, you’re hot; let’s have sex” will work with grown women.  Women are more intelligent, better educated, and much more civilized than that.  Despite what you might have seen in the entertainment industry, women are actually quite picky about sexual partners — as females across nature tend to be.  Just look at what most male birds have to go through in order to woo their way into relationships!  It’s lady’s choice, guys and you have to offer more to us than simply a functioning penis.  Because we really don’t care yours work, especially if you are a rude, egotistical bore.  Given the choice between your egotism and a man of good manners and courtesy, we will take the well mannered and humble gentleman every time.

Reblog: Should Authors Stop Their Characters At First Base?

Today’s reblog is a post by J. Boyce Gleason entitled “Should Authors Stop Their Characters at First Base.”

 

Here is Mr. Gleason’s post in full.  What do you think?  Let’s talk about sex in books!

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Why Not “Fade to Black?”

Authors make lots of choices. How much of the plot do we reveal? How soon do we reveal it? Should we follow one narrative point of view or many?

And then there is sex. How far do we let the characters go? Do we stop them at first base and fade to black? Second? Third? Is it necessary for the reader to watch them go all the way? How much detail is too much detail?

The choice I made was to be “all in.”

One of the reasons we read fiction is that it gives us the unique opportunity to delve inside a character’s persona. We see their thoughts and emotions. We know what drives them to make the choices they make. Like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, fiction allows us to pull aside the curtain to see what levers are being manipulated.

Sex (or the abstinence of sex) is an integral part of who we are. It shapes our personalities, our choices, our self-esteem. We may choose to keep the details private, but it shapes us nonetheless. Why should literature be any different?

The trick is to make sure you are writing it for the right purpose.

“If you are writing to titillate the reader – or yourself – you are writing for the wrong reason,” author Barbara Dimmick (In the Presence of Horses, Heart-Side Up) warns. “There are no generic sex scenes. Sex is so intimate that it changes with each partner. Couples create their own language for sex; they have their own signals for intimacy, their own rituals for foreplay. To be credible, a sex scene must reflect that level intimacy. It should give your readers insights into your characters, not into you.”

My first novel, Anvil of God, is a sweeping tale that chronicles the struggles that the family of Charles the Hammer (Charlemagne’s grandfather) face in the wake of his death. Based on a true story, it is a whirlwind of love, honor, sacrifice, and betrayal. It offers readers far more than a sex. But the sex scenes in it, hit that high standard. They present a unique window into each character’s identity. For Trudi, sex is an act of independence; for Carloman it is a counterpoint to the rigidity of his religious beliefs, for Pippin an expression of joy and respite from the violence of his life. The scenes advance the story in a way no other scene could.

About the Author:
J. Boyce Gleason With an AB in history from Dartmouth College, J. Boyce Gleason brings a strong understanding of what events shaped history. He says he writes historical-fiction to discover why. Gleason lives in Virginia with his wife Mary Margaret. They have three sons.

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Do you agree with Mr. Gleason?  Post your remarks below!

Poverty and the Perception of “Blurred” Sexual Lines

Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video glorifies rape.

In 2013, Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” highlighted American rape culture with its message that when a woman says “no” to something, she does not really mean it.  The naked women parading across his video made it perfectly clear where the lines, to him, are most blurred.

 

It is easy to look at the song — and all the controversy it created — and chalk it up to a mediocre “musician” playing a publicity stunt, a stunt that had Mr. Thicke laughing all the way to the bank.

 

Except I’m not laughing and nor should any woman anywhere in the world.

 

The problem is not the video, of course, but what it represents:  a culture where women do not need to be respected, where men believe “no” means “not yet,” and where that “not yet” is easily changed to “yes” if the man simply pursues aggressively enough.

 

Among the affluent, this culture has very little meaning.  With enough wealth and power, a woman can live her life feeling reasonably safe because she can hire protection for every aspect of her life.  While we do hear of celebrity stalkings, they are rarely fatal.  Money can buy safety and security.

 

But what about the rest of us, especially the poor?  What about the millions of impoverished women who are struggling just to buy food and pay rent?  Especially in low income housing where crime rates are higher, women find themselves vulnerable.  Police department budgets are strained; they don’t have the money or manpower to truly “serve and protect” as they are mandated.  Sexual harassment, rape, and so forth are just not worth responding to in the minds and budgets of the police when there are drug offenses, murders, and so forth to respond to.

 

In our predatory sexual culture poor women are forced to fend for themselves.  Like when a simple act of politeness to a neighbor is taken as an invitation for sex.  Say no, I am not interested and the advances do not go away.  Why should they?  If women do not actually mean “no” when they say it, it becomes in the interest of the man to keep pushing — to force his way into her life, into her mind.  That these advances obviously frighten her is not important.  No where in American culture are such obvious communications actually deterrent.  American culture says that women ALWAYS WANT IT — FROM ANYONE WHO SEEKS IT.  And worst of all:  there is no perception that there are any negative consequences.  Not to sexual harassment.  Not to rape.  After all, who cares if a poor woman is violated?  Ignore the crime and nothing bad will happen — to criminal or to law enforcement.  And when (not if) a predatory man with a mind that says “you have nothing to lose” violates a woman’s dignity, it remains easier for all involved or near the woman to simply claim “she had it coming to her.”

 

Because for the poor, there is no such thing as “no,” no right to refusal.  No human dignity.

 

We must stop tolerating this.  Men must stand up and start caring again about the dignity of women, to stop being predators and become protectors — not in the sense that women are objects to be own (that itself is predatory), but in the sense that human life has value — rich or poor.

 

Old Fashioned respect needs to return.  For every person deserves respect.  Every life is sacred.

 

Shock Fiction: What Popularity of Horror and Erotica Genres Say About Our Culture

Next up is my look at why sex and violence seem to outsell more conservative fare.

 

cover art to Fifty Shades of Grey -- one of the worst written and most poorly edited bestsellers of all time

cover art to Fifty Shades of Grey — one of the worst written and most poorly edited bestsellers of all time

Shock Fiction: What Popularity of Horror and Erotica Genres Say About Our Culture

A Look at the Popularity of Sex and Violence in the Media

 February 8th, 2014

Sex and violence sell. For decades we’ve seen the connection between book/movie/music popularity and graphic violence/graphic sex. Can it be any wonder why Miley Cyrus bares all or why a song implying that women don’t mean “no” to sex when they say it topped the charts in 2013? We relish in treating women as bodies for male gratification; it’s shocking and therefore appealing to us, like some sort of dark sexual fantasy.

Except the fantasy does not match with our experiences. Rape is not fun. It’s not sexy. It’s an act of brutal violence that stays with us, often for the rest of our lives. Rape is about power, control and domination over another living being. In the real world, there is nothing fun about being on the receiving end of it.

Violence too is also not the fantasy the media we consume tells us it is. Speak to any woman or child in a battered woman’s shelter and ask her how “fun” it was to be beaten, raped, intimidated, controlled, or worse. Violence may be entertaining to hear about, read about, or watch on the big screen, but the actual experience is far from something you want for yourself. If it were, post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) would be as rare to psychotherapists as smallpox to American hospitals.

Given this disconnect, why do we need to consume these fantasy experiences that, ultimately, further callous us against the suffering of others? Why do we buy the sexually violent and poorly written “Fifty Shades of Grey” over better written books modeling healthy relationships between women and men?

Perhaps we have closed ourselves off to our emotions, to our ability to feel in our own lives, let alone sympathize and empathize with others. Rather than face the challenges in our own lives, we find it easier to wall our emotions away – much as the fictional Vulcans repress their emotions. Once repressed, our own emotions become difficult to access. We lose touch with those things that bring meaning to our lives and no longer remember how to relate the experiences of others to our own lives – a critical form of learning that other primates find exceedingly difficult if not impossible to attain.

If we cannot see ourselves reflected in other living beings, it becomes easy to ignore experiences we would never wish for ourselves. In essence, we de-humanize everyone else. Others have no real value. It is profoundly selfish of us.

We become completely emotionally disconnected. Can it be any wonder we seek to fill this void with whatever excitement we can find – sexual or violent?

But we can do better than this. We can embrace our feelings better and learn how to deal with life’s challenges in ways that keep us connected and related to other people. One simple way to do that is to turn off our electronics and return our focus to attentive in-person and voice-telephone contact. Yes, this means we need to learn to listen again instead of constantly broadcasting everything in our heads. Yes, this involves more self-control. Rather than bullying from afar, we have to re-learn the humanity of others by keeping our remarks civil if not kind and spoken from much closer physical distances.

Once we achieve this we will find ourselves able to respond not only to the breadth that literature has to offer us, but the breadth and depth of the human experience. We will not need cheap and shallow thrills or instant fame anymore. We will grow to appreciate the subtleties in humor and plot. We will come alive once more.