Compulsory heterosexuality

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence is an essay by Adrienne Rich published in 1980 that challenges the assumption that women’s innate sexual orientation is toward men, points out how heterosexuality is institutionalized, and presents lesbianism as a challenge to this institution. This essay is a part of the ‘lesbian feminist’ theory that lesbianism is a political choice made by women to challenge patriarchy. Although it is true that heterosexuality is institutionalized, and although many of the points made within the body of the essay are true, the basic premise that sisterhood between women is a part of lesbianism is incorrect.

My blog post is written with the assumption that you have read Adrienne Rich’s essay. If you haven’t, the full text can be found online.

Heterosexuality is institutionalized, but it’s also a real sexual orientation. We can separate the institution from the sexual orientation by separating aspects of culture from people’s personal feelings. The institution of heterosexuality can be found in religion, law, language, and the arts; it’s located in many patriarchal institutions that give men power over women, such as forced marriage, prostitution, and the lower wages given to women for paid labor. These are some of the things Adrienne Rich gets right. However, the romantic and sexual feelings that straight women feel towards men are real feelings, they are not mere products of socialization. Socialization influences our behavior but it cannot construct a sexual orientation. Neither can women construct a sexual orientation by changing their politics. Most women are indeed heterosexual; homosexuals are a minority group. Stating this fact does not limit straight women to a life of being abused by men; male violence against women is a product of patriarchy, not a product of legitimate human sexual orientation. After the feminist revolution, women and men will likely still bond together in love relationships, but they will do so on equal footing.

For most of the history of marriage, divorce was rare. A woman was literally a man’s property and the way he treated her was considered his private business. Women were strongly encouraged to marry men by everyone in their community, and they were stigmatized and discriminated against if they remained unmarried. Marriage itself is an institution; it is maintained by both government and religion, it is celebrated by entire communities and entire industries have developed around it (the wedding dress industry, the wedding cake industry, wedding planners, florists, etc). Until very recently, marriage was only for heterosexuals. The fact that heterosexual marriage is presented culturally as one of the most significant achievements of a person’s life, that their church, their government, and their community have an interest in validating, is part of the institution of heterosexuality.

When I attend a heterosexual wedding, I am amazed at how institutionalized it all is. The tradition of the white dress, walking down an aisle, formal dress, expensive flowers and decorations, and endless pomp and display, all seem to say “Look at us. We are heterosexual. Everyone celebrate and validate our relationship!” I find weddings pointless and frivolous. I have never expected nor asked for validation from my community for who I love; I don’t care what people think and I don’t need their opinion. My partner and I are legally considered common-law spouses; this is an arrangement that works for us because we are considered a couple when it comes to financial arrangements such as health benefits, but without engaging in the tradition of marriage. Thank you Canada for progressive laws recognizing same-sex partnerships! I have attended one lesbian love ceremony; it was more creative and individual and it didn’t follow the heterosexual traditions. I am guessing a lot of lesbian love ceremonies are conducted that way. Our love is not institutionalized, and our culture is created from scratch.

Women have traditionally been either kept out of the workplace, or paid lower wages for the same work, or kept in low-paying service positions (secretaries, waitresses, etc) because society as a whole regards women as wives for men, and therefore we do not need good wages or careers of our own. Our role is to be wives and mothers and any paid employment is seen as secondary to that role. This economic situation is oppressive to all women; it keeps heterosexual women dependent on men, which leads to their abuse, and it makes life difficult for lesbians, who do not marry men and instead support ourselves.

Not only does this economic structure presume that lesbians either don’t exist or don’t matter, but heterosexuality is often one of the requirements for female workers. Women have often been required to dress in a feminine manner, where the requirements for what ‘feminine’ means are dictated by men. Compulsory dress codes for female workers have often included high heels, skirts, and makeup, all designed to mark us as man’s “other” and to market us as sexually attractive to men. Thanks to the feminist movement, dress codes have been relaxed and many workplaces allow women to wear pants and comfortable shoes and to skip the makeup. Nevertheless, some workplaces still have such dress codes and women often feel obligated to dress ‘feminine’ at work as a part of a professional appearance.

When women are working in low paid service jobs, such as receptionists, secretaries, store clerks, waitresses, and the like, they are expected to behave in a pleasing manner at all times, they are expected to put up with sexual harassment, and flirting with male bosses and customers often results in advantages such as more tips or not getting fired. Sometimes women in higher-up positions are also subject to sexual harassment, and they are often expected to put up with it silently and are discouraged from fighting back. Women in the workplace will often have to behave as if they are heterosexual in order to get by.

Compulsory heterosexuality can be found in the arts. About 99.99999% of all popular songs are about heterosexual love; characters in books and TV shows are nearly always heterosexual, and often when homosexuality is mentioned in popular culture it’s mentioned as the punch line of a joke. The end result of being socialized in our culture is a belief that normal people are heterosexual and that homosexuality is just something weird to joke about. This has been changing in recent years, but even TV shows such as The L Word present a view of lesbians that appeals to the male gaze and does not reflect lesbian reality.

Sexual slavery is an institution of compulsory heterosexuality. There is a global epidemic of female sexual slavery which is more obvious in some places than in others. Groups such as Isis and Boko Haram kidnap women and force them into sexual slavery; these men do not care about the feelings, sexual orientation, or humanity of the women they enslave; for them, anyone with a vagina is seen as a sexual servant for men, both for the sexual pleasure and the babies that she provides to her male captors. Female sexual slavery is present in rich countries too; in the form of prostitution (whether filmed or not), incest, rape, and wife-abuse.

All the above points are made in Adrienne Rich’s essay, and this is all true and expertly explained, with citations from other prominent feminists. These cultural factors all add up to heterosexuality being compulsory for women. Compulsory heterosexuality is real; it’s located in the way girls are socialized to believe that we will all grow up to be heterosexual, the way heterosexual love is romanticized but homosexual love is ridiculed and punished, the way heterosexual relationships are validated by religion and the state, the way heterosexual intercourse is considered the only kind of sex that is ‘real,’ the way lesbians are misrepresented in culture (either as objects of sexual titillation for men or as deviant, grotesque, and predatory) and because, in many countries, it is still illegal to be a lesbian. Attempts by transgenderists to enforce their belief that lesbians should be attracted to men who “feel female” is more compulsory heterosexuality.

Adrienne Rich makes a good point about the ideology of heterosexual romance being taught to girls as a form of grooming to prepare them for compulsory heterosexuality. This grooming is given to all girls; in straight women it can cause them to overemphasize the importance of male approval and relationships with men, leading them to put their own aspirations on hold in order to prioritize getting a husband. It also might make them vulnerable to abuse; because they are so eager for male attention, they are vulnerable to predatory men. In lesbian women it can cause them to doubt their own feelings for women, to push their feelings aside in an attempt to be ‘normal,’ and attempt heterosexuality even though they do not enjoy it.

Rich attempted to draw a parallel between women who refuse sexual slavery and institutions of male dominance with women who are homosexually oriented. This is a mistake. Women of any sexual orientation can refuse male domination and fight patriarchy. The sisterhood felt by women who are fighting for women’s rights is not homosexual in nature.

Rich describes women who are mistreated in sexual relationships with men who care for each other as sisters and provide each other the support they don’t get from men.

“It is the women who make life endurable for each other, give physical affection without causing pain, share, advise, and stick by each other.”

This sisterhood between heterosexual women is positioned as being a part of a ‘lesbian continuum.’

“If we consider the possibility that all women–from the infant suckling her mother’s breast, to the grown woman experiencing orgasmic sensations while suckling her own child, perhaps recalling her mother’s milk-smell in her own; to two women, like Virginia Woolf’s Chloe and Olivia, who share a laboratory; to the woman dying at ninety, touched and handled by women–exist on a lesbian continuum, we can see ourselves as moving in and out of this continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not.”

There is no such thing as a ‘lesbian continuum.’ Straight women who support each other are not in any way engaging in lesbianism, because lesbianism is the state of having a homosexual orientation, not the practice of supporting women. A political lesbian is defined as “a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men,” and actually having sexual desire for women is not required. Rich’s ‘lesbian continuum’ theory only fits into the theory of political lesbianism, it is not relevant to female homosexuals.

Those of us who feel romantic and sexual desire for women do not experience friendships or political alliances with straight women as being points on a lesbian continuum. Only romantic and sexual love between women who are attracted to women is lesbianism. Heterosexual women do not experience lesbianism because they do not experience romantic and sexual attraction for women. This theory that presents bonding between straight women as being ‘lesbian’ in nature disappears actual lesbians. It is ironic that in an essay where the author laments the erasure of lesbians from feminist theory, she promotes a feminist theory that erases lesbians.

A critique of the institution of heterosexuality is important for both lesbian and straight women. For lesbians, this critique names the systems that enforce homophobia and that limit or destroy lesbian lives. For straight women, this critique lets them see how they’ve been groomed to put men first, and challenges them to put more emphasis on sisterhood and female friendship. This critique can be made without erasing the reality of sexual orientation.

The idea that heterosexuality is being imposed upon women by men is a misleading way to explain that men have created power structures that oppress women. Heterosexuality is the romantic and sexual attraction that women feel for men, it is not the name of the power structures that oppress us. The power structures of patriarchy such as the institution of marriage, female sexual slavery, and the wage gap, put women in a position of servitude, but any number of these women in a position of servitude might have a true sexual orientation toward males. These women deserve to be liberated from systems of power and so they may experience their attraction to men as men’s equals and form healthy relationships with them. It is not an innate sexual and romantic attraction that is being imposed upon women—one cannot possibly impose a sexual orientation on people—it is the power relations between the sexes that are being imposed.

It’s in our best interest to describe compulsory heterosexuality accurately. There are social institutions that make women dependent on men and influence women to overemphasize the importance of their romantic attachments to men, and these institutions need to be named and dismantled, in order for heterosexual women to able to have healthy romantic relationships. There are social institutions that celebrate heterosexuality while erasing or belittling homosexuality, and that force lesbians into the closet, or cause violence against us, and they need to be named and dismantled, so that lesbians can live our lives as lesbians.

The process of becoming woman-identified, that is, putting women first in our lives and our politics, is a good thing for women of all sexual orientations, but woman-identification is not the same thing as sexual orientation. There are straight women who work tirelessly for women’s rights, but this does not make them homosexual. There are homosexual women who work against women’s rights, and they are not woman-identified.

It is important for feminist theory to accurately reflect the reality of women’s lives. Feminist theory is the way that women make sense of their situation so they can work on changing it. Disappearing sexual orientation is not compatible with good feminist theorizing.


Femininity is a multifaceted concept. We use this word often without always talking about what we mean by it, and sometimes this leads to misunderstandings. You can say the same thing about masculinity too, but here I’m going to explore the multiple meanings of femininity.

From the Critical Dictionary of Feminism and Postfeminism:

Female: In a literal context, a word which refers to an individual who possesses a particular set of biological characteristics, including the ability to give birth. It is this to be differentiated from ‘femininity,’ which describes a socially-constructed image of femaleness.

Femininity: One of Simone de Beauvoir’s most famous aphorisms is ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ (The Second Sex.) It is an apt summary of the feminist claim that, while femaleness is a consequence of biology, femininity originates from within societal structures. Femininity is thus a set of rules governing female behavior and appearance, the ultimate aim of which is to make women conform to a male ideal of sexual attractiveness. Masquerading as ‘natural’ womanhood, it is actually something imposed upon the female subject, in spite of the fact that the pressure to conform to the culturally dominant feminine ideal is internalized to the extent that women effectively tailor themselves to fit it—hence the existence of an immensely profitable fashion and beauty industry.

(Emphasis mine.)

Feminists also identify femininity as a set of behaviors that result from women’s oppression by men and that sometimes overlap with PTSD symptoms:

“Masculinity is simply a conglomeration of the personality traits necessary for the patriarchal soldier-rapist: physically strong, emotionally cauterized, rational, domineering, cruel. All of this is supposed to add up to “handsome” as well. Likewise femininity is ultimately a description of the personality that results from trauma and powerlessness: weak, passive, yielding, emotional, hyper-vigilant to the needs of the dominators and desperate for the dominator’s attention.” —Lierre Keith

If we look in the regular dictionary, we find more definitions, such as:

  • The quality or condition of being feminine.
  • A characteristic or trait traditionally held to be female.
  • The sum of all attributes that convey (or are perceived to convey) womanhood.
  • The quality or nature of the female sex; womanliness.
  • The trait of behaving in ways considered typical for women

The regular dictionary identifies that femininity can be socially constructed (“ways considered typical for women”) but also leaves room for femininity to mean traits that are intrinsic to females (“the quality or nature of the female sex”).

The ‘quality or nature of the female sex’ could be interpreted to mean such physical features as breasts and vaginas, things that women truly do have, in addition to cultural ideas about what women are like, which may be incorrect. According to this definition, we could call things like menstruation or XX chromosomes feminine. This isn’t the way that feminists use the word, but it is possible for an English speaker to use it this way.

Where femininity does mean socially-constructed ideas, what those ideas are can vary widely according to who is constructing them. Here I propose several different ideas of femininity constructed by different sources, and this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Femininity is motherhood and obedience to a husband, nurturing of children, soft-spoken, caring, and sensitive.

Femininity is an obsession with shoes, purses, and makeup, a love for inane conversation or gossip, being overly excited about silly things, being primarily concerned with physical appearance and being beautiful to men.

Femininity is sexual submission, a love for being degraded and abused, a desire to be constantly used as a receptacle, and appearance-wise, is a set of physical attributes such as long hair, large breasts, a youthful appearance, no body hair and minimal labia.

Marketing/consumer products geared to youth:
Femininity is a love for all things cute and sparkly, the color pink, gentle and cooperative activities, dresses, bows, ribbons, princesses, and dolls.

Anti-feminism/male chauvinism:
Femininity is women being too weak, timid, and emotional to do serious jobs, being only suited for home and family life, being naturally better at taking care of children and doing housework, and existing to serve men in sexual and domestic duties.

The above are cultural ideas that were deliberately invented and promoted for specific purposes. For example, the idea that women are all obsessed with shoes and makeup is deliberately constructed by advertisers to sell shoes and makeup. The idea that women are too weak and emotional to work outside the home is deliberately constructed by men to keep women out of the workplace and financially dependent on men. But there are also aspects of femininity that are real human personality traits. These are the traits that have become associated with femininity because all women are assumed to have them and men are assumed not to have them. Personality traits such as gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, compassion, softness, and nurturing are assumed to be feminine traits. Truly, men and women could both have these traits, but boys are discouraged from displaying them while girls are encouraged to.

I have said before that I am not completely social constructionist; although I mostly am. There may be some truth to the idea that women are more likely to be caring and nurturing because we are the ones who give birth to babies. However, even if that is true, that doesn’t mean that all women are caring and nurturing and it doesn’t mean that men can’t be. Even if there is a high correlation between being one particular sex and having particular personality traits, that doesn’t mean we can generalize those traits across all people of that sex, and it doesn’t mean we should force them to act that way if they aren’t.

Sometimes when feminists talk about rejecting or abolishing femininity, other women feel insulted, confused or attacked because they believe we are trying to abolish their personalities or prevent them from wearing the clothes they want to wear. I think this is coming from a misunderstanding of what we mean by femininity. Feminists want to abolish harmful stereotypes, such as women being obsessed with shoes and makeup and being too emotional to work outside the home. We want to abolish the idea that some personality traits are only for women or for men. We also identify that the behaviors that result from being traumatized, as in the Lierre Keith quote above, will be gone when women are liberated from oppression. This does not mean that we want to forbid women from expressing their natural personality traits or to forbid women from wearing anything that is pink.

On this blog I have written many times about not being feminine and rejecting femininity, and I have been struggling to reconcile this against a growing certainty that I am a femme lesbian. What I finally figured out is that my natural personality traits are those traits considered feminine, and what I reject is the silly stereotypes about women that are presented in sit-coms and advertising. That is, I am caring and sensitive by nature, but I don’t obsess over my appearance or squeal over shoe sales.

I was just reading a post on Big Boo Butch asking whether it’s possible to be butch and gender critical. (She says yes—so do I.) I think the reason this is a question is that some gender critical feminists assume that butch is another “gender” or identity label belonging to identity politics and that it’s something along the same lines as calling yourself non-binary or genderqueer. This is why I think it’s different.

The idea of labelling yourself non-binary and getting people to call you “they” is rooted in a belief that your feelings about yourself, your personality, and your appearance make you inherently not female. However, females can have any sort of personality or appearance or feelings; any feelings felt by a woman are female feelings. The idea that certain personalities or appearances do not belong to women is not true and it’s sexism. In identity politics, the purpose of a gender identity is to deny biological sex and label the self as the opposite sex or neither sex based on internal feelings, personality, or appearance. I don’t agree with doing that, because it’s a denial of the reality of the body, but that doesn’t mean I disagree with identifying our personalities. People are welcome to label their personalities, using words such as masculine, feminine, or genderqueer; or other words such as introvert/extrovert, outgoing, shy, analytical, creative, or any number of things. These are just some of the things people say to describe who they are, and I’m certainly not trying to outlaw describing ourselves.

Where I disagree with the identity politics crowd is that they want other people to recognize and validate their chosen personality labels and use special language to refer to them. This is entirely unnecessary and can be downright narcissistic. I don’t care whether complete strangers feel that they are masculine or feminine any more than I care whether they feel they are analytical or creative. However, if I interact with someone on a regular basis, I will be able to tell what their personality is like, and if they are extroverted or genderqueer that will be obvious. There is no need for anyone to validate your personality—your personality is real and it comes through to people who interact with you, and they’ll be able to tell who you are even in the absence of a label. It’s not the label that’s important.

The reason I say I’m a femme lesbian is because I have the personality traits that are considered feminine, and I also have a particular fondness for butches—they have effects on me that other women, even other lesbians, don’t have. I think this is perfectly obvious (at least to other lesbians) and I don’t need anyone to validate it. If you know me then you know that I am compassionate and sensitive, and that I swoon over lesbians who are strong women and who don’t look or feel right in a dress. I don’t give a shit if people call me a femme or not, it’s not the label that is important, and there is no reason why complete strangers or even casual acquaintances need to know this or call me this.

Butch and femme are not ‘genders’ in the sense of labels meant to replace the person’s biological sex, they are just personality types. Both of these personality types belong to women, and we should just be referred to as women.

I think it’s wrong to deliberately perform a personality, behavior, or appearance that is not natural to you, which is why I don’t think women should try to adhere to stereotypes about women by performing artificial aspects of femininity. This goes both ways—women shouldn’t feel forced to perform aspects of femininity that don’t feel natural to them, and they also shouldn’t be forced to deliberately become more masculine through transition in an attempt to legitimate the masculine parts of their personalities. Either way they are not being themselves. Women should be able to express their personality traits and wear the clothing they like no matter where that happens to fall on the femininity–masculinity continuum, without having to call themselves anything other than women.

Sometimes I read complaints that I shouldn’t call women ‘masculine.’ If we define femininity as the ‘quality or nature of the female sex’ then anything a woman does is ‘feminine.’ So if a woman wears short hair and likes fixing cars, then that is feminine. I understand this line of thinking, because I too believe that anything a woman is interested in is a female interest and anything a woman wears is women’s clothing, and any feeling a woman has is a female feeling. However I think people who make this particular complaint are being pedantic, because it’s obvious that when I call a woman feminine or masculine I am situating her personality in relation to what society expects from women, and it’s obvious why I’m doing that—because my primary concern in writing this blog is to explore the differences between who women are and how women are treated and viewed by society. If I define femininity as anything any woman does, then I lose the language to talk about the difference between reality versus expectations when it comes to female appearance, behavior and mannerisms.

When I use the word femininity, you can usually assume that I’m talking about a set of cultural expectations placed on women that do not reflect the reality of who women are. If I am talking about real human personality traits that are considered feminine, I will specify that. If I call a woman masculine it’s not because I think her personality traits belong to men, it’s because that’s what society thinks, and it’s in our interest to point this out.

Emma’s labiaplasty

Meet Emma, who got a labiaplasty to give her the confidence to get out of an abusive relationship. This is a perfect example of someone who develops a hatred of her body as a result of being bullied and living in a misogynist culture and who got surgery rather than accepting her body.

“My name is Emma*, I’m 23 years-old and labiaplasty has changed my life.

When I was younger I lived with my father, my step-mother and two step-sisters. As we were only little, we used to have baths together. When I was seven years old I noticed that my inner labia started to stick out a little, and unfortunately my step-mother noticed too, and pointed it out in front of my step-sisters who laughed at me for it. The next time we had a bath together I tried to tuck myself in before they saw me but it didn’t work and I was once again teased for the way my labia poked out.

After that I decided to no longer have baths with my step-sisters. I vowed to never let anyone see me naked again – and I didn’t. I made sure that I always dressed myself and bathed alone.

As I grew older my labia grew longer and began to protrude even more. I was horrified and constantly thought there was something terribly wrong with me. From the age of 12 I considered surgery but I got to the point where I was so frustrated that I wasn’t normal that I almost went to cut them off myself with a pair of scissors.”

I can’t believe a mother made a negative comment about her 7-year-old’s labia! What on earth was she thinking? I don’t know why anyone would comment on a child’s genitals at all, and I especially don’t understand why anyone would want to give a child a sense of shame about her body. But shame she did. This girl was so ashamed of herself she wanted to cut herself with scissors, and all for no reason. There is nothing wrong with labia that stick out. Labia come in all different shapes and sizes and none of them are wrong. It is so, so important that women and girls learn to criticize the messages that tell us our bodies are wrong and reassure each other that despite what we may have heard, our natural bodies are acceptable and beautiful.

“I was too scared to talk to anyone about it, not even a doctor. When it came to sex education in school and all the books just showed this smooth clean vagina with nothing hanging out, I believed even more that I was abnormal. I was too scared to get changed in the high school locker rooms for fear that someone would see the bulge in my underwear, I never went swimming without wearing board shorts and there was no way I could get away with wearing yoga pants.”

I cringe when I see the words “smooth clean vagina.” She’s most likely talking about the vulva, not the vagina, and calling a vulva with no visible labia “clean” implies that labia are dirty. It’s clear that she’s learned to value a vulva with no visible labia. It’s sad that her sex education materials presented female genitals as just being a hole. Too often, sex education is just about how to prevent pregnancy, and the focus is entirely on the vagina, and the clitoris and labia are disappeared. Girls should have the opportunity to learn to value their real bodies and their capacity for sexual pleasure when they learn about sexuality. We should learn that vulvas are all unique and all beautiful. We certainly should not learn that vulvas are supposed to be hairless and flat like a Barbie doll.

There is an obvious cultural factor behind her body shame. The tendency to see women’s sexuality as being only receptive (that we exist for penetration) leads people to make sex education material that de-emphasizes those parts of women that exist for our sexual pleasure and that don’t exist for the purposes of procreation. It’s important to teach teens how to prevent pregnancy, but it’s also important to teach things like body-positivity and enthusiastic consent. Both men and women need to value and respect female sexual subjectivity and female pleasure.

The other cultural factor that contributes to women’s shame is pornography, which is not mentioned in the article, but is still the elephant in the room. Large numbers of people are getting their sex education from pornography, and it is teaching that vulvas are all hairless and have small labia.

“At 16 I got my first real boyfriend and it took me 6 months to even let him touch my vagina and when he finally did, he made an offhand comment that I was ‘weird and different’. This scarred me so deeply. He was the only person to have seen me naked since I was 7 years old (other than my regular female doctor). I ended up staying with him for 6 and a half years as I was so terrified that I wasn’t good enough for anyone else.”

Boy, do I have a rant about this asshole boyfriend! How on earth can anyone tell their romantic partner that their genitals are “weird and different?” That is so fucked.

Anyone who tells you that your labia are weird doesn’t actually like you, and should be dumped immediately. I don’t think this asshole boyfriend liked her or was even attracted to her. What’s up with “heterosexual” men who aren’t attracted to women? I actually am attracted to women, so let me explain some things.

When I’m attracted to a woman, she is special and magical to me. Her mere presence in the world makes the world seem like a better place. I get a smile on my face and a spring in my step just from interacting with her. Being close to her feels amazing, even if it’s just for a hug. When I see her naked, I’m in absolute heaven. The precise size and shape of her labia are irrelevent, just the fact that they’re hers makes them beautiful and sexy. I feel lucky and privileged when I get to see them and touch them. It’s completely impossible that I could feel these feelings for a woman and then call her labia “weird.” Partly because there’s no such thing as labia being weird—all of them are beautiful!—and partly because I would never want to hurt the woman I love.

This asshole boyfriend couldn’t possibly have felt romantic feelings for her, because if he did, he wouldn’t have said this. People who feel warm and happy in the presence of their beloved don’t make negative comments about their bodies. I think this dude had the idea of women that is taught to men through toxic masculinity and pornography—that women are not people to relate to and love, but are objects for men’s use, that their worth lies in how “sexy” they look according to some fucked-up standards, and that their bodies are supposed to be smooth and hairless.

Emma thought she didn’t deserve a better boyfriend, but the opposite was true—her boyfriend didn’t deserve her. Women need to learn how to love and respect themselves and require the men in their lives to respect them. We should have zero tolerance for these stupid misogynist turds. Any dude who wants a Barbie doll with no hair and no labia should be told to fuck off and die. You don’t like female genitals? Then don’t get into bed with a woman!

“I later discovered that he was a very emotionally abusive partner; he manipulated me and isolated me from all of my friends and family. When it got to the point that I realised it wasn’t a healthy relationship, I tried to leave him but I was so insecure that when he said ‘no one would want you the way you are’, I believed him.

I had spoken to him about the surgery and he had told me that he loved me exactly the way I was, but if it was something I wanted to do for myself, then go for it. I researched all about it for years but it wasn’t until I realised that the only way I was going to feel confident enough to break away from him was to go ahead with the surgery. That’s when I decided it was time to get serious and get a consultation.”

How incredibly sad that she didn’t feel like she was worth loving because of a perceived problem with her labia. There was never anything wrong with her in the first place, but because of being bullied and living in a misogynist culture she came to hate her genitals so much that the only thing she felt she could do was have them surgically altered.

“I did more research and that’s the first time I came across a website called the Labia Library where I discovered that women come in all different shapes and sizes too. I had no idea my whole life because everything I saw while growing up only showed this perfect smooth look. My mum has a bad back so I used to help her get in and out of the bath sometimes and so I had seen her naked plenty of times and she was the same as everything else I saw, just this normal looking vagina with nothing hanging out. Even though discovering this gave me a little relief, it was too late to heal me completely, the damage had been done over a number of years and I knew that deep down, I would never truly love myself the way I was.”

This is a really interesting (and sad) observation. As a young adult, she finally saw a variety of vulvas and sizes of labia, and realized that women aren’t as homogenous as she previously thought. But this still wasn’t enough to make her feel better because her years of body shame had crystallized into an intense hatred that she could not easily shake off. Shame about one’s body that originates in childhood can become very serious and difficult to recover from. However, although it may be difficult, it is possible to recover from it. I think that getting surgery to change the perceived problem is the wrong approach. Getting surgery means agreeing with the bully’s wrongful accusation that there is something wrong with a normal, healthy body part. It’s succumbing to shame instead of overcoming it. It’s letting the bully win. I believe the right approach is to name the bully as the problem and retrain the mind to see the body part as normal. Of course, identifying misogyny in the culture is important too.

Why? Because any surgery comes with possible complications, and one of the risks of labiaplasty is a loss of feeling in the remaining tissue. Because women shouldn’t have to change our bodies to accommodate other people’s misogyny. Because we should value our own sexual response enough to not want to risk losing it in order to meet someone else’s idea of what we should look like. Because being in a healthy, fully functioning body is way more important than looking the way misogynists want us to look. Because women are people, not sex objects. Arbitrarily deciding that some labia don’t look right and bullying women into believing that they should cut their labia off is woman abuse.

A small note on the topic of the agency of the individual: I am not going to start standing outside plastic surgery clinics and stopping women from getting surgeries. Feminism is not about policing individual women’s choices. What we need to do as feminists is name misogyny when we see it, name violence against women, raise consciousness about it, and collectively change the culture from a woman-hating culture to a woman-affirming one, so that fewer women will develop hatred toward themselves. Women modifying their bodies to meet ideas about how we should look is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. The problem is misogyny, and we need to attack it at the root.

Recognizing yourself

In her graphic novel Fun Home, Alison Bechdel recalls being in a diner with her father when she was a kid and seeing a butch lesbian for the first time. She says she didn’t know that there were women who wore men’s clothes and had men’s haircuts. I love the way she describes her feelings about this. She says “like a traveler in a foreign country who runs into someone from home—someone they’ve never spoken to, but know by sight—I recognized her with a surge of joy.” (p118.)

bechdel 1039

The phrase “like a traveler in a foreign country” speaks to how it feels to be a gender-defiant kid surrounded by people who seem to be comfortable with the expectations placed on them. It’s like everyone seems to naturally understand a social system that doesn’t make any sense to you. When you’re just a kid and you understand that you’re different you can’t really articulate why. You just have a vague feeling that something about you is wrong and that you don’t fit. Then when you see someone for the first time who looks the way you feel you should be, all of a sudden you have this moment, “Ah! That’s what I am!” It’s not possible to articulate something as sophisticated as “I don’t identify with the social construct of femininity” when you’re only 8 or 10 years old. But if you see someone who embodies your feelings, you recognize yourself for the first time—like looking into a mirror.

Alison Bechdel was a kid who loved masculinity—she loved men’s clothes and drew pictures of men because she liked the way they looked. She didn’t have an erotic interest in men—she just had an appreciation for the masculine look. Bechdel also recalls being called “butch” by her older cousins, and although no one explained what the word meant, she instinctively knew it described her because it was “the opposite of sissy.” (p96-97) None of the other women around her were the same way, and when she finally saw a real live masculine woman she “recognized her with a surge of joy.”

Her dad noticed her noticing the woman and said “Is that what you want to look like?” (p118) His words told her that the correct answer to the question was no. To avoid embarrassment, she told him no, but the real answer was yes. It’s obvious why this was a defining moment for her. In the span of a few seconds she realized what her future would hold and also that her dad was disapproving of it. This is a pretty normal experience for a kid who is going to grow up to be gay.

I’ve been watching a lot of “How I knew I was FtM” videos on YouTube. Nearly 100% of them are attracted to women (homosexual!) and they describe vague feelings of “feeling like a boy” or “not being comfortable” with who they are. Usually they also talk about sex stereotypes like “I didn’t like wearing dresses.” Then they describe going on YouTube and finding FtM videos and recognizing themselves for the first time. Just like when Bechdel’s vague feelings about herself crystallized when she saw a butch lesbian, these women’s vague feelings crystallize when they see FtM videos. What FtMs describe feeling is indistinguishable from the feelings of other gender defiant lesbians. The only difference is the belief system—the interpretation. “These feelings mean I’m an lesbian” has turned into “these feelings mean I’m trans.”

In an interview with the New York Times magazine, Bechdel was asked about the transgender question:

“In “Fun Home,” you wrote about becoming a connoisseur of masculinity at a young age. Today a young person like you would be more likely to identify as transgender than gay. Is the butch lesbian endangered?”

She answered:

“I think the way I first understood my lesbianism, before I had more of a political awareness of it, was like: Oh, I’m a man trapped in a female body. I would’ve just gone down that road if it had been there. But I’m so glad it wasn’t, because I really like being this kind of unusual woman. I like making this new space in the world.”

The idea of being a “man trapped in a woman’s body” is an oversimplification of a feeling that is common to lesbians. It’s also a rather sexist and homophobic way of looking at it. To suggest that being “not a sissy” and wanting a female partner makes you intrinsically male is to suggest that these are qualities that cannot exist on women. It’s to suggest that woman are all sissies, therefore if you’re not a sissy, you’re not a woman.

Sissy means sister, effeminate, timid, and cowardly. This is a sexist word that implies that women are timid and cowardly. Women aren’t cowardly at all—we withstand abuse and sexism all day long and we tough it out and keep going. If you want to know who is cowardly—just take a look at who is having tears and tantrums over the slightest thing not going their way, and getting all butthurt and angry when their privilege and entitlement are threatened. That would be men.

Note that Bechdel understood her lesbianism as being “a man trapped in a female body” only before she had “more of a political awareness.” Women come to understand their feelings as lesbian, rather than male, when they interact with the lesbian community and see themselves reflected in other lesbians.

This post wouldn’t be complete without addressing the issue of “men’s clothing” and “men’s haircuts.” The reason there are clothing and haircuts that are considered masculine is because our culture assigns certain things to men and women. This is called gender role—the collection of social signals that people give to signify their femininity or masculinity. Without a collective understanding of what femininity and masculinity are, we couldn’t give these social signals. Gender role doesn’t exist without stereotypes. We are taught our gender role through socialization and culture and if we deviate from the norm someone will punish us in order to make us get back in line.

I use the word “masculine” to describe butch women because our language is limited and that is the only way I can describe the butch personality in a simple, recognizable word. But truthfully, any look or personality a woman has is a woman’s look or personality. If a woman likes to wear short hair and suits, then short hair is a woman’s haircut and suits are a woman’s clothing. Butch women are women, with female personalities, even though their personalities are considered “masculine” by our sexist culture. Any personality a woman has is a woman’s personality.

Some people define “butch” as a woman who can’t hide her nonconformity. If you did manage to somehow wrestle her into a dress, (which is unlikely), she’d look like she was in drag. This doesn’t mean she’s not a woman. When a woman can’t perform femininity, that’s not proof that she’s not a woman, it’s proof that femininity is a bullshit concept that doesn’t apply to real women. Femininity is a cultural construct that is enforced on women to keep them pretty and pleasing and caring for men and children so that men can be free to run the world and enjoy their privilege. Of course lesbians aren’t going to identify with a concept that reinforces heterosexuality and women’s place as men’s subordinate. DUH.

Women need to be able to recognize themselves in the world. When women can only see themselves presented as one-dimensional Barbie dolls, that is gas-lighting abuse. The representation of women in Western popular culture is damaging to all women, but it particularly hurts gender-defiant lesbians because they are farthest away from what the culture tells us women are. They don’t see themselves anywhere so they feel like “travelers in a foreign country.” (It doesn’t help either when women are wondering whether they are lesbians and the only “lesbians” they can find in popular culture are straight women who kiss each other to amuse their boyfriends.)

The only way women can truly recognize themselves is by telling each other the truth about who we are, and projecting that truth in our own ways. Women are brave, strong, powerful, creative, and intelligent. We are not the sex dolls that men imagine us to be.

So what happened to Alison Bechdel, the kid who felt like a boy and would have gone down the transgender route if it had been available? Did she die of suicide because she couldn’t transition? Hell no! She became a happy butch lesbian, followed her passion for cartooning and writing, became a huge success, and even won a genius grant, all while being herself and dressing how she pleases.

“I would’ve just gone down that road if it had been there. But I’m so glad it wasn’t, because I really like being this kind of unusual woman. I like making this new space in the world.”

Smart, strong, successful, and inspiring—as women are.


Demisexuality and You

According to the Demisexuality Resource Center, demisexuality is:

“a sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Most demisexuals feel sexual attraction rarely compared to the general population, and some have little to no interest in sexual activity.”

So, like most people, demisexuals need to get to know a person before feeling sexual attraction to them, rather than just dropping their pants the second they’ve been introduced.

“Emotional intimacy is a main component, usually, so some demisexuals find themselves attracted to close friends or romantic partners. Other components may include familiarity with the person and knowledge about them (ex: learning about aspects of their personality).”

How unusual! Feeling attracted to one’s romantic partner, and needing to know aspects of someone’s personality before feeling attracted!

“Most people on the non-asexual side of the spectrum feel sexual attraction regardless of whether or not they have a close emotional bond with someone. They may have sexual feelings for attractive people on the street, classmates or coworkers they’ve barely spoken to, or celebrities. However, they may choose to wait to have sex for a variety of reasons: it might not be feasible or appropriate, they want to make sure the person is respectful and kind, it’s against their religious beliefs, they only want to have sex in a romantic relationship, etc.”

Okay, this website is definitely describing everybody. Of course you don’t have sex with every single person you like the looks of! People only have sex when it’s “feasible and appropriate,” as noted above by the Demisexuals.

The reason why perfectly normal people are having to label their perfectly normal feelings as “demisexual” is because the way they are expected to behave otherwise is fucked up, and they need an excuse to opt out of it. The way they are expected to behave is like they are in a porn movie. Due to both porn itself and a porn-soaked culture that turns every last bit of popular culture into a promotional ad for porn, people are going around thinking that they need to dress like a porn star, take off their clothes at random, have sex as an ice-breaker activity, and say yes to any sexual act all the time no matter what. Take for example, this situation witnessed at the University of California-Berkeley campus:

“Groups of girls were clacking along the street in their party uniforms: short skirts, bare midriffs, five-inch heels. One of them stopped and lifted her skirt above her waist, revealing a tiny thong, a flat belly, and some righteously toned glutes. She looked happy and strong, laughing, surrounded by friends, having fun. Then she turned toward a building where two bros, appraising the relative “hotness” of those trying to gain entrée to their party, were posted by the door.”

As Gail Dines always says, you can either be fuckable or invisible. If you’re a woman who doesn’t want to lift up your mini-skirt and show off your thong in order for frat boys to rate your “hotness,” then you’re a boring, old-fashioned, anti-sex prude. Hence women having to label themselves “demisexual” in order to convey to people that they actually want to have a conversation with a guy and determine that he has at least two brain cells and isn’t an asshole before her skirt comes off.

The culture young people are growing up in is a porn culture. Not only are youth watching actual porn starting at age 11, they are also witnessing a consumerist, individualist pro-capitalist culture that sells women and girls as consumer products at every turn. Even before the Internet, young people tended to believe that everyone was having sex but them; now the problem is certainly worse. After spending hours online watching videos in which every woman says “yes” and sex occurs anytime, anywhere, between anybody, at the drop of a hat, anyone who attempts to assert boundaries and pursue a healthy and rewarding sexual and romantic life will feel like a deviant.

Let’s take at look at 17 Confessions From People Who Identify as Demisexual, posted on

  1. It is so hard to explain to people that I don’t feel arousal unless there is a very close bond (I’m demisexual) but am still a very sexual person.
  2. I’m demisexual, but I’m scared people will judge me because I don’t want to have sex with them straight away or have a one night stand.
  3. I’m demisexual and it’s a little frustrating. When I’m with my friends they’ll say “omg he’s so hot” meanwhile I’m thinking “I wonder if he has a good personality.”
  4. I hate being demisexual. Crushes are either extremely rare or they last for way too long. I wish I was normal.
  5. I question every part of who I am. When men find out I’m demisexual, they usually stop talking to me.
  6. I am demisexual and I feel like no one understands that I can’t just give you a try and love you, I really can’t.
  7. As a demisexual, if you ask for sex on the first date, you have no chance with me.
  8. I’m demisexual and an introvert, so casual dating isn’t an option for me…I wish I could be like everyone else.
  9. Dating woes: Being demisexual. Maybe one day I’ll find a guy who understands and respects what I cannot change.
  10. I’m demisexual. All the people I’ve slept with I wasn’t attracted to, they just got me aroused and I’m too shy to say no so I went with it.
  11. Just because I’m demisexual doesn’t mean I don’t want a serious, loving relationship.
  12. I’m demisexual. When I admitted that to someone I thought was my friend, they laughed in my face. I just want to be accepted for being me.
  13. I’m demisexual. Always have been, but when I was younger I felt bad for the guys so I would pretend I wasn’t.
  14. Being a demisexual female in a world where all guys seem to want is sex is really discouraging.
  15. The problem with being demisexual is that I can’t relate when people talk about stuff like dates with random people. I feel like I’m the odd one out and sometimes it feels like I’m the only one.
  16. I’m Demisexual and I love sex with my boyfriend but I don’t NEED it. He just doesn’t seem to understand.
  17. I’m finally being honest about myself. I’m demisexual. I’m done pretending to have sexual desire before I’m ready. If guys can’t handle that, they don’t deserve me.

This article doesn’t name the sex of the writers, but judging by what they’re writing I’d say they’re all female. I say that because they’re writing about the standard experience of being female in a porn-soaked patriarchy. These women think that everyone around them finds fulfillment in jumping into bed with random people they don’t even know. Nope. Even the people doing that aren’t finding fulfillment from it, or at least, the women aren’t. I did the whole casual sex thing when I was younger, and at the time I would have told you that it was fun, but I’m older and more mature now. I know that good sex isn’t based on the “hotness” of the participants, or how “extreme” the performance is. (Speaking of “hotness,” I’m going to quote this article again where the author quotes Ariel Levy:

“As journalist Ariel Levy pointed out in her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, “hot” is not the same as “beautiful” or “attractive”: It is a narrow, commercialized vision of sexiness that, when applied to women, can be reduced to two words: “fuckable” and “sellable.”

Like I was saying, good sex is not based on being “hot,” it’s based on connection and chemistry. It’s good when you really want each other, because you know each other and you have developed feelings for each other, and when you’re feeling sexual tension because of your mutual attraction, and when you are excited to know that your partner wants you as much as you want them. This sort of connection cannot happen instantly—that’s impossible. (It can’t be bought or sold, either.) Chemistry and attraction are things people develop gradually through interaction with each other.

What these “demisexual” women don’t realize is that, despite feeling like they’re abnormal, they have actually figured out the secret to good sex ahead of their peers. They are on the path to have satisfying sex, while their porn-addicted peers are going to have to unlearn a whole bunch of harmful beliefs and habits before they can actually enjoy themselves in bed. Getting validation that you are “fuckable” only feels good in a superficial, fleeting way. After putting up with a bunch of disrespectful and ineffective lovers, even the “fuckable” women will get tired of the whole charade and want to find the same sort of relationship the demisexuals are looking for.

Demisexuals aren’t missing out on anything if misogynist sleazebags stop talking to them upon finding out they are demisexual. They should actually breathe a sigh of relief because they have dodged a bullet.

It’s interesting to note that “demi” means half. Does demisexual mean half sexual? It’s like these people believe that they’re missing something or they aren’t sexual enough. This belief is not just limited to the Tumblr Speshul Snowflake community, it’s everywhere else too. There is a thing called “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder,” which is a medical euphemism for “bitches not putting out enough,” and apparently around one third of women have this “condition.” But if that many people have “low desire,” can that even be called “low”? Perhaps the bar is being set too high. Low desire in comparison to what, exactly?

What women need to learn is that whatever their sexual interest level is, that is the normal level. There is no such thing as being “half sexual” or “hyposexual” because there is no universal measuring stick that everyone has to meet. Women are not responsible for providing their bodies to men to use. Men have their hands and they have tube socks—they are going to be just fine. Women are allowed to decide when and how and with whom to have sex, and we’re also allowed to not want it at all, and this doesn’t require an excuse, a label, or an explanation.

Patriarchy and female sexuality, Part 2

In Patriarchy and Female Sexuality Part 1, I talked about how when women do not want to have heterosexual intercourse, they are thought of as disordered by the male-run medical establishment. In Part 2 I will talk about how female sexuality is actually active, not passive.

A conversation over on Hot Flanks’ WordPress blog illustrates how women with an active sexuality come to believe they have a “male sexuality.” Hot Flanks is a lesbian detransitioner. (There’s starting to be a lot of those women around, isn’t there?) Here are some important quotes, but reading the whole post is a good idea.

“The way that I relate to my genitals and the way I want my body interacted with intimately is something that I have experienced as being the “active” or “insertive” partner and have therefore drawn the easy connections to male sexuality in the past.”

“The more I realize that experiencing my Clit as an active participant and driving force behind intimacy is a healthy female experience, the less disconnect I feel from it. The more I internalize the idea that I am far from the first Lesbian in the world to desire and derive my primary pleasure from interacting with my genitals in the way that I do, the less I want to describe these feelings as “dysphoria” because it has stopped feeling like a “non-female” or disconnected way of expressing myself. If I can wrap my head around the idea of the Clit as an active player in both giving AND receiving pleasure, then I can more easily come to accept the way I relate to my Clit as a healthy way to relate intimately with my female body.”

“I threw out the idea that I was “stone” early in my social transition when I realized I wanted to be touched and to be intimate, but “not in the way that one touches or is intimate with women.”

Another lesbian with dysphoria who commented on 4thwavenow posted this:

“What if the sexual preference for a natal female is for a female, but only if the natal female were male? That is, what if the natal female does not self-identify as lesbian, could not conceive of being a female having an intimate sexual relationship with a female, but desires an intimate sexual relationship with a female as a male? I’ve yet to see this addressed by critics of “transition,” and yet I have seen this expressed by those considering FtM transition. Perhaps this is generally dismissed as “oh this person is just a ‘closet lesbian/gay,’ and therefore it’s not actually examined. But if it is a real issue for someone who identifies in anyway as having difficulty with their birth assigned sex, and such a person does indeed express desire for intimate sexual relationship (not homosexual), then what is a compassionate and logically sound response to such a person?”

The main problem with a female human wanting to have sex as a male is that it’s impossible. I’m not saying so because I’m an “evil transphobic TERF who wants people to die,” I’m saying it because a surgeon cannot construct a fully functioning penis on a female human. The only one who can construct a penis is Mother Nature. I think the “compassionate and logically sound response” to a female who wants to be an active partner in sex with another female is not to perform surgery on her to construct a pseudo-penis, but to help her to become a happy lesbian. As a lesbian, she can be honest about her sex instead of pretending to be male, she can have the sexual relationships she wants (provided she finds compatible partners of course), and she can live her life in her natural body without being made into an artificially constructed member of the opposite sex who is dependent on a lifetime of cross-sex hormones.

Take a look at these two sentences from the above quotes. “I wanted to be touched and to be intimate, but not in the way that one touches or is intimate with women,” and “what if the natal female . . . desires an intimate sexual relationship with a female as a male?”

These quotes reveal some underlying beliefs about female sexuality. These women want to be an active or insertive partner and they cannot reconcile these feelings with the genitals they have. That’s because they’ve been taught that only men are active/insertive partners, and that one must have a penis in order to have this role. This is not true—you can be a woman who enjoys being on “top,” and no male genitals are required.

Our friend This Soft Space commented on the post by Hot Flanks, and said that when her friend found out she was a lesbian, she immediately told her to buy a dildo, but she wasn’t interested in that at all. Her friend likely made this suggestion due to the belief that all women enjoy being penetrated and that female orgasm is universally experienced in the vagina. It will be further assumed that lesbians necessarily have to use a dildo since they are not using a penis. Since humans living in this particular era are primarily learning about sex from porn, it seems likely that they believe “lesbian sex” means two women stuffing each other with silicone dongs. Although it’s possible that somebody out there is doing that—there’s somebody in the world doing just about anything you can think of—that has never been my experience of lesbian sex.

Commenter Kat Outta The Bag wrote, on Hot Flanks’ post:

“I remember reading a forum for trans men where the people there were talking about just this sort of thing, how they had a “male sexuality” and “male sexual responses” because they wanted to penetrate, because they thrusted/humped during sex, because they didn’t have a desire or propensity to arch their back and wiggle around… I think I ate this stuff up totally, hook, line, and sinker, because I became neurotic about it. I believed my desires to do these things were proof of some innate tendency in me that made me less female, and I also started being frightened that any tendency to do the opposite, the so-called “feminine” thing, secretly meant I was a straight girly-girl underneath it all. I couldn’t enjoy solo sexual activities anymore because I developed a self-monitoring problem where I was constantly wondering about the gendered implications of what I was doing.”

Oh, my! This is where endless navel-gazing and gender scrutiny leads us. Its leads to people being unable to even masturbate without considering the gendered implication of their sexual response and whether they wiggle or thrust. But anyway, what I want to highlight here is that groups of dysphoric women are convincing each other that they’re men because they like humping and thrusting and want to penetrate. You can do all these things as a woman.

It’s not just porn that teaches people that female sexuality means being a passive receptacle. Regular sex education materials designed for youth present sex as a mechanical activity where the man is active and the woman passive. This Soft Space made this comment on Hot Flanks’ post:

“When I was a kid my parents had this set of medical encyclopedias, and being a curious twelve-year-old I received a good portion of my sex education from a cross-section diagram within. The accompanying text stated factually “During sexual intercourse the man inserts his penis in the woman’s vagina” and there it was in a detailed black and white drawing. That was how it was done, apparently. That was sex.”

I remember that diagram too. It’s legitimate to show this diagram to young adolescents in the context of talking about how to prevent pregnancy, but this is a very limited idea of what sex is. First of all, homosexuals have sex all the time and it doesn’t look like that at all, and second of all, heterosexuals do a lot more than just that and some heterosexual women don’t enjoy penetration and prefer other activities.

The quote by radical feminist Catherine MacKinnon illustrates that diagram perfectly: “Man fucks woman; subject verb object.” We are never taught anything other than this narrative, unless we are lucky enough to encounter some good quality comprehensive sex education that presents sex as being an activity between two subjects neither of whom is objectified.

Female humans are not passive receptacles—and that includes females of all sexual orientations. We have our own organ of sexual pleasure and we have our own desires and preferences. I will refer you to The Internal Clitoris, published by the Museum of Sex, which I have linked to before, because it provides everything you need to know about the clitoris. The only part of it we can see and feel is the glans—which is the outer button with 8,000 nerve fibers, and is so sensitive some woman cannot touch it directly. The clitoris continues inward where we cannot see it, and it contains erectile tissue that fills with blood during arousal, and it wraps around the vagina.

In my blog post about lesbian lust I quoted a YouTube commenter who said the following:

“When you dont have a dick but you feel like you have an erection (?) Like literal. I’m so serious. Is this almost what you mean. Cause I swear everytime I read porn I feel my no dick rise. I kid you not knowing that I will never get a blow job upsets me.”

This woman has learned that what she feels when aroused is a “male” feeling, but that’s not true. The clitoris has erectile tissue and it fills with blood during arousal. This woman does have an erection, in fact—an erection of the clitoris. This doesn’t mean she is male. She is a normal female. She doesn’t have to lament not getting a “blow job.” She could accept oral sex from a partner who wants to give it and it will feel good on her female genitals. Having her female genitals surgically modified to resemble a penis is not the way to have a satisfying orgasm.

Also worth noting is that the clitoris wraps around the vagina. It’s entirely possible that women who enjoy vaginal penetration are getting extra stimulation to their clitoris that way. Different people’s bodies respond in different ways to stimulation. Some women might only enjoy stimulation of the outer clitoris and some might enjoy stimulation of the internal clitoris. Women can have an orgasm without any penetration, and some women can orgasm without directly touching their genitals, by doing things like crossing their legs or activating their pelvic muscles.

There is no way to experience sexual arousal of the clitoris that is wrong for a female or that indicates that one is supposed to be male. Any sexual arousal a female feels is a female feeling. If her arousal makes her want to thrust or hump or be on top, that is a female feeling. And this is not just for lesbians, heterosexual women can feel this way too.

It’s heartbreaking that women are going around believing that the sexual feelings they get from their female bodies is an indication that they are “male.” The reason women are convinced of this is because our culture is patriarchal, and women are supposed to be sex objects for men. Human sexuality is constructed as men being active and women being passive. A woman’s role in sex is presented as being nothing more than looking pretty and spreading her legs. This is nowhere near what female sexuality is actually like. The fundamental reason that sexuality is constructed in this way is to preserve men’s dominance over women.

Bonus material: An adorable YouTube video of a woman drawing the internal clitoris:

Patriarchy and female sexuality, Part 1

It was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday, so naturally I was deep in the reference section of the library reading the DSM-IV-TR,* as you do, and I happened to come across the section on vaginismus. (*The newest one is the DSM-5, but it wasn’t available while I was there.)

“Vaginismus is an involuntary spasm of the musculature of the outer third layer of the vagina, which makes penile penetration difficult or impossible. The diagnosis is not made if an organic cause is known. Although a woman with vaginismus may wish to have intercourse, her symptom prevents the penis from entering her body. It is as though her vagina says, “No!” In lifelong vaginismus, the anticipation of pain at the first intercourse causes muscle spasm. Pain reinforces the fear and on occasion, the partner’s response gives her good reason to dread a second opportunity to have intercourse. Early episodic vaginismus may be common among women, but most of the cases that are brought to medical attention are chronic. Lifelong vaginismus is relatively rare. The clinician needs to focus attention on what may have made the idea of intercourse so overwhelming to her: parental intrusiveness, sexual trauma, childhood genital injury, illnesses whose therapy involved orifice penetration, and surgery.” DSM-IV-TR, p 1074, 2004.

Emphasis mine.

This is absolutely shocking. I can’t believe they acknowledge that vaginismus is the vagina saying “no,” but they classify this as a disorder! That is a blatant example of rape culture. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of the misogynists who create this book that the vagina has a right to say no and that this is completely normal and acceptable behavior, since heterosexual intercourse is not necessary and is unpleasant to some women.

This week I also read a conversation between some lesbian detransitioners about how they didn’t know how to relate to their genitals and their sexuality because their sexual feelings didn’t match what they were taught about female sexuality. (More on this later.) This all makes it clear to me that we aren’t done talking about female sexuality, particularly lesbian sexuality, because people are still going around thinking that women are receptacles for male sperm, and that any women who don’t like being treated this way either have a disorder or aren’t real women. This is ancient fucking misogyny and I am really pissed that this is sticking around.

(It’s too bad we don’t have a feminist sex-positive movement that tells the truth about female sexuality and fights against rape culture, so that women can enjoy sex safely and in ways that work for us. Instead, we have a bunch of fucking idiots going around calling themselves “sex-positive” while promoting pornography, prostitution, and BDSM, all institutions which exist for the benefit of male abusers and to the detriment of women. That shit is abuse-positive, not sex-positive.)

PIV sex is culturally forced on all women–it has reached the status of institution and is expected of every woman whether she wants it or not. I’ve also written before about how lesbians are being taught to interpret their natural sexual desires as evidence of maleness in this post. I’m going to be repeating myself a bit here, but that’s okay. Since saying no to dick is still considered a disorder, and since lesbians still believe they’re men, I figure this is worth repeating. Besides, as a radical man-hating lesbian feminist blogger, writing against PIV is literally my job.

*rolls up sleeves*

Let’s start with vaginismus. This condition is generally caused by fear of intercourse and previous trauma. The involuntary spasm of the muscles is obviously a defensive reaction against something the body fears. Why does this even need to be treated? Why would you try to remove a defensive reaction from a traumatized woman in order to subject her to the same incident that traumatized her before? (Answer: misogyny.) This is so hateful it’s amazing that anyone can suggest it with a straight face. The treatment for vaginismus is, of course, more penetration. If we lived in a woman-friendly culture, the cure for not wanting to have sex would just be not having sex. The DSM-IV-TR mentions “pairing relaxation techniques with progressively larger vaginal dilators (p1075).” That sounds a lot like “Close your eyes and think of England.” Just relax, ladies, and accept the exact same penetration that caused you fear and pain in the first place, until you finally learn to enjoy it, or at least fake enjoying it. Because it doesn’t matter what women want, it just matters that men can continue to dominate us.

The website, which exists in order to sell a book and kit to women in an attempt to cure them of their bodies’ legitimate defensive reactions, has some more shocking information about this “disorder.”

Some non-physical causes of vaginismus, according to

“Fear or anticipation of intercourse pain, fear of not being completely physically healed following pelvic trauma, fear of tissue damage (i.e. “being torn”), fear of getting pregnant, concern that a pelvic medical problem may reoccur, etc.”

These are all legitimate reasons not to have intercourse.

“General anxiety, performance pressures, previous unpleasant sexual experiences, negativity toward sex, guilt, emotional traumas, or other unhealthy sexual emotions.”

Why is negativity toward sex an “unhealthy sexual emotion”?? It is entirely reasonable to feel negatively toward sex, especially when you are female. The risk of pregnancy and infection are always there, plus in this culture, sex for women often means being disrespected and abused by partners who are addicted to porn and full of male entitlement. Why on Earth would women who feel negatively toward sex be encouraged to have more sex? This is rape culture.

“Partner issues : Abuse, emotional detachment, fear of commitment, distrust, anxiety about being vulnerable, losing control, etc.”

If you are having relationship issues such as abuse and distrust, then dump the boyfriend, don’t buy a vaginal dilator!

“Past emotional/sexual abuse, witness of violence or abuse, repressed memories.”

Once again, why should abuse survivors have to repeat the incident that traumatized them?

There are also physical causes, such as medical problems, results of recent childbirth, surgery, vaginal dryness, or insufficient foreplay. All very good reasons not to have intercourse. has a page devoted to treatment. This page sells you their book and kit which takes you through everything you need to know about how to override your body’s reactions and submit to your husband or boyfriend who wants to penetrate you against your will. Their ten-step program makes tiny mentions of relationship issues and prior trauma, but it mostly talks about how a woman can relax her pelvic floor muscles and practice inserting objects into her vagina despite the pain it causes. It uses rapey language such as “how to override involuntary contractions, relaxing the pelvic floor so it responds correctly to sexual penetration.” BARF!

That sentence from the DSM-IV-TR is still haunting me. It is as though her vagina says “No!” The medical establishment has been considering a woman’s “no” to be a problem for decades, and of course, the capitalist patriarchy is going to benefit from the gas-lighting of the medical community in order to sell us products that “cure” our legitimate need to say “no.”

One of the reasons why this particular sentence is haunting me is because I remember a time when I attempted intercourse and my vagina said “No.” (Actually, I think her exact words were, “No way dude, get the fuck out.”) At age 18, when I was in deep denial that I actually preferred women, I had sex with my friend who we’ll call “Joe.” I believed I wanted to, and I was happy while driving to his place, and we did the things I believed I wanted to do, but my body didn’t respond. I barely got wet at all, and I ended up drying out completely when he penetrated me. I dried up enough that we couldn’t continue. We awkwardly stopped trying and neither of us were satisfied. At the time I had no idea what was wrong. Despite years of finding female friends attractive, I believed that my body would respond to heterosexual intercourse. I believed this because of the strong heteronormativity in society—every bit of culture I was exposed to told me that all people were heterosexual, and when I learned about sex from books and sex ed classes I saw the diagram and the explanation of what sex is—“when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina.” I was taught to believe that this was the most important and enjoyable sex act humans can partake in, and I was baffled as to why it didn’t work for me. I tried it again multiple times, believing I’d figure out how to make it work someday, but it never did. In university I was sleeping with a guy regularly and using artificial lube because I wasn’t wet enough. I was discussing this with a female friend and she had to sit me down one day and explain to me that it’s not normal for a horny 21-year-old to be dry during sex. She helped me to realize that I actually wasn’t enjoying it because I wasn’t excited by men. I couldn’t escape the denial anymore—I knew it was true.

Look at what the medical establishment suggests for someone like me, whose vagina said “No” to heterosexual intercourse even though in my mind I believed I wanted to. Neither the DSM nor the vaginismus website mentions the possibility that the woman could be homosexual. Nor do they mention that a heterosexual woman might not want intercourse and might prefer other forms of sexual activity. Their suggestion is getting over the fear and pain and doing it anyway. Women have the right to listen to their bodies and go with what feels good and avoid what doesn’t feel good. Instead of being taught a sexuality that suits men, women should be taught to trust their bodies and pay attention to their own reactions.

If I was creating a book for women with vaginismus, it would be very short. In fact, I’ll publish the whole thing right here for you to read:

Purple Sage’s Radical Feminist Cure for Vaginismus:

Step 1: Don’t have heterosexual intercourse.

Step 2: Tell your boyfriend or husband to fuck off.

Step 3: Consider becoming a spinster.

Done! Problem solved, and no dilators needed.

So what did we learn from this study of vaginismus? I didn’t write about this topic to shed light on an involuntary muscular contraction. The point here, of course, is that female sexuality is constructed by patriarchy. The male-run medical establishment creates propaganda in the form of medical textbooks teaching women that our sexuality is to be a passive receptacle. Popular culture, including pornography, also churns out propaganda teaching women the same thing. Religion teaches us that our role in life is to be married heterosexual wives who produce children. Absolutely nothing in our culture teaches us the truth about female sexuality—that we have an active sexual desire of our own that comes from our organ of sexual pleasure, the clitoris, and that the emotions, desires and preferences that live in our brains determine what the clitoris will respond to. The clitoris will not respond to people who aren’t pleasing to her or to situations she doesn’t like.

This concludes part 1, and in part 2 I will finally get back to that conversation I mentioned between detransitioners who thought they were male because they had a normal, active, clit-centered, female sexuality.

The marketing of gender roles

Photographer JeongMee Yoon did an excellent photo project where she photographed children with their toys and accessories to show how striking the pink and blue contrast is between girls’ and boys’ things. It’s called The Pink and Blue project and you can see it here.

blue and pink

Yoon writes an excellent analysis of what is happening in these photos on her site:

“My current work, The Pink and Blue Projects are the topic of my thesis. This project explores the trends in cultural preferences and the differences in the tastes of children (and their parents) from diverse cultures, ethnic groups as well as gender socialization and identity. The work also raises other issues, such as the relationship between gender and consumerism, urbanization, the globalization of consumerism and the new capitalism.

The Pink and Blue Projects were initiated by my five-year-old daughter, who loves the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects. I discovered that my daughter’s case was not unusual. In the United States, South Korea and elsewhere, most young girls love pink clothing, accessories and toys. This phenomenon is widespread among children of various ethnic groups regardless of their cultural backgrounds. Perhaps it is the influence of pervasive commercial advertisements aimed at little girls and their parents, such as the universally popular Barbie and Hello Kitty merchandise that has developed into a modern trend. Girls train subconsciously and unconsciously to wear the color pink in order to look feminine.”

She goes on from there and also analyzes the change in colours during the 20th century. Before World War II, the colours were pink for boys and blue for girls. It’s obvious these colours are an arbitrary social construction and not an innate preference when you consider that the colours used to be exactly the opposite. She also talks about how the manufacturers of children’s toys teach girls to develop an interest in makeup, beauty and domestic chores and teach boys to develop an interest in science, robots and industry.

Her analysis is spot-on. She identifies that gender roles are being taught by marketing and consumer products, which are coming from globalized capitalism, and that they are successfully teaching young people their “gender,” right from the early years. She identifies that many children will grow out of wanting everything pink or blue as they get older, although a few of them keep this preference.

This all seems very obvious to me. As I write this blog post I’m thinking that I’m really not saying anything new and I’m probably beating a dead horse. But there are people out there who think that a little girl’s love for pink is an innate preference that has nothing to do with socialization, and that a little girl’s love for blue and science/sports toys makes her innately a boy. These people have obviously had their brains completely swallowed up by marketing. Any adult should have the media literacy skills to realize when they’re being marketed to, and to resist the messages coming from capitalism to buy more stuff. Responsible adults should know that buying stuff is not the key to happiness and that marketers will sell you a pack of lies to get you to buy their stuff. It seems to me this is really basic knowledge that everyone needs to exist in the world. The fact that people cannot see through a marketing campaign and cannot name it as capitalist propaganda designed to sell stuff means that neo-liberalism and capitalism are indeed winning. (Of course, we already knew that.) I try to analyze culture a lot on this blog, because that’s one of the things we have to do as lefties is analyze the culture that capitalism is creating. Step one in fighting back is analyzing the situation. Unfortunately, we never seem to get beyond step one, because so many people are invested in the notion of consumer choice as a path to liberation.

Children’s play doesn’t actually have to involve consumer products. I can’t believe that even needs explaining, but it does. There are tons of games and activities that don’t require any stuff at all, like tag, hide-and-go-seek, climbing a tree, or looking for insects in the yard. There are many games to be played with ordinary household objects, like building forts, or playing “school” or “house.” Kids have excellent imaginations and can turn anything into anything. A cardboard box can be a space ship that you can use to travel through space, and a couch can be a pirate ship under siege. Tables and chairs can be buildings and a living room can be an entire city. The fewer consumer products kids are playing with, the better. Consumer products kill the imagination because they tell you exactly how you should play.

I still have some photos of when I was ten and we had the best day ever flooding the backyard garden. It was a warm day in early spring and there was nothing planted yet, and we were allowed to put water in the dirt pile to make mud. We built little islands out of mud and brought out plastic toy boats and we drove the boats through the muddy water around the islands. Two girls and two boys did this and we had a great time and got all muddy. It would have been incomprehensible to me to call this a “boys’ activity.” It’s just an activity.

These kids with their rigid gender roles and “innate” love of certain consumer products would really benefit from being allowed to go outside and play.

How women are brought into the porn industry

This is the second post that talks about the information presented in the documentary Hot Girls Wanted. This is not exactly a film review; I have added information from other sources as well. The first post was about how pornography largely presents pedophilia and this post is about how women are groomed and recruited into the porn industry. Information for this post is also taken from Female Sexual Slavery by Kathleen Barry, an excellent book that I recommend reading.

In her book Female Sexual Slavery, one of the things Kathleen Barry describes is the strategies of procuring and pimping, two distinct but closely related activities that bring women into the prostitution industry and keep them there.

“Together, pimping and procuring are perhaps the most ruthless displays of male power and sexual dominance. As practices they go far beyond the merchandising of women’s bodies for the market that demands them. Pimping and procuring are the crystallization of misogyny; they rank among the most complete expressions of male hatred for femaleness. Procuring is a strategy, a tactic for acquiring women and turning them into prostitution; pimping keeps them there.” Barry, p.73.

As she describes in her book, the methods of procuring are the following:

  1. Befriending or love: Procurers find teenage girls who are naïve and seeking love and attention from men and they act as a boyfriend toward these girls. They particularly use this method on girls who are runaways or who are bored and looking for excitement. They make the girl feel like she is in a romantic relationship even though it is really just a business strategy for him.
  2. Actions of gangs, syndicates, and organized crime: these organizations will often procure girls and women into prostitution as a part of their gang activities.
  3. Recruiting women under false pretenses by offering them a job such as dancing or modelling, or by offering them marriage, and turning them to prostitution when they arrive.
  4. Purchasing women and girls from other male “owners”
  5. Outright kidnapping

In the film Hot Girls Wanted, a procurer for the porn industry is interviewed. His name is given as “Riley” and at the time of the filming he is only 23 years old. He is living in a five bedroom house in Miami Beach. His job is to place ads on Craigslist enticing young women to join the porn industry and the women who answer his ads come to live in his house and pay him rent. In addition to providing living accommodations, he drives them to their shoots. He calls himself a “talent manager” and calls the women living in his house “my girls.” His method of procurement falls into the category of recruiting women by offering them modelling jobs, which is number three above. Unlike in the past, he is not pretending that the jobs he offers are straight up modelling. He is fairly honest that this is for pornography. He can be honest about this since all girls are groomed to accept porn and so there is less trickery to be done than there used to be. However there is still some trickery involved, because he presents these “modelling” jobs as if they are glamorous and lucrative and fails to mention that the work the young women will have to perform will involve physical abuse such as “forced blow jobs” and that they will not come out of this with much money.

Riley is shown creating an ad on Craigslist advertising for young, hot women and offering them free flights to Miami. He explains that it’s very easy to recruit girls because new girls are turning 18 all the time and lots of them want to do porn. He simply creates the ad and “Voilà,” he says, “that’s all you gotta do. I should have like 5 responses within 12 hours.”

Modern procurers for the porn industry don’t have much work to do. That is because girls are socialized to accept pornography as normal during their entire lives. Once they’ve turned 18 they have likely been watching porn for several years already. Porn star Belle Knox watched porn since age 12. That means during a large portion of her formative years she was taught to sexualize her own degradation and accept physical and sexual abuse as normal.

To review a bit about female socialization, which I have discussed in previous blog posts (check the “female socialization” tags and categories) girls are taught certain lessons right from early childhood as a part of their journey to become women. They are taught that their worth is based on being pretty and pleasing to men, that they can evaluate their self-worth based on how much boys and men like them, and that their ultimate failure as a woman is being unattractive or “unfuckable.” Entire industries–beauty, makeup, fashion and dieting—encourage girls to see themselves as ugly in an attempt to sell them products to “fix” their perceived ugliness. All this advertising reinforces the idea that women’s worth is based on their appearance. Toys for little girls teach them femininity. Dolls have makeup on their faces and sometimes appear downright pornified. Characters in movies for kids present feminine girls often wearing sexy outfits; magazine covers that they see at the supermarket present airbrushed, “perfect-looking” women who are often scantily-clad and being presented for the evaluation of their appearance. These magazines are becoming increasingly pornified. The social media sites that teens use contain soft-core pornography on a regular basis—Twitter and Tumblr are full of porn, and even Facebook allows images of “sexy” women as long as there is no explicit nudity. The films and sitcoms that preteens and teens watch often have characters in them that take a casual view of pornography, mentioning it as something people do, and sometimes characters actually make pornography of their own as a part of the storyline. Porn stars are starting to be featured in non-porn TV shows and are interviewed on the news. Unless a child is raised in a religious tradition that stays completely away from modern civilization, he or she is aware of pornography as a preteen or younger, and is groomed to accept it as normal for many years before the age of 18.

The procurer from Hot Girls Wanted, Riley, has lots of help in doing his job. All he has to do is post an ad on Craigslist because a lot of other work has been done for him by our culture in general. Our pornified culture serves as a large grooming session to prepare girls for sexual abuse so that actual abusers don’t have to work very hard to get a girl to comply.

When the girls living in Riley’s house get interviewed, it’s really obvious how they have been groomed. They talk about inadequate sex education in schools and the bizarre, nonsensical things teachers have said about sex. They view porn as better, more accurate sex education. One young woman, Karly, says “…there’s all these people in porn having sex and nothing’s going wrong and everybody’s happy.” She has watched porn before and believed that what is happening is consensual sex. She has believed the lie. She’s never heard of the pain and damage to women’s bodies, the STIs, the PTSD, the discomfort and the feeling of dehumanization. Those things are carefully concealed by the industry. She doesn’t have the media literacy skills or the knowledge of women’s oppression that would allow her to see what’s really going on. There should be comprehensive sex education and women’s studies courses taught in high schools for the sake of our safety.

After a photo shoot, a young woman named Michelle says “Today boosted my confidence more than anything. When he says you look hot I’m like damn!” Another young woman, Tressa, continues: “Some guy is going to see that picture, guys jack off to you!” Michelle again: “Even when I’m making my weird ugly faces and I just look weird guys are like ‘you’re so sexy I just wanna fuck you.’ And that’s, like, it’s a boost of confidence to know that you’re wanted, like, that much you know.” These young women have come to believe that their worth is based on whether men want to fuck them and they are feeling exhilarated because their sexiness has been validated.

The Latina woman, Jade, talks about doing the “Latina abuse” scenes, in which she is physically tortured and called racist and sexist names. She has found a way to believe this is acceptable even though it is painful and dehumanizing for her. She says, “I don’t look at this stuff like that really black and white, good and bad. Good and bad is what your opinion is at the moment. Because X amount of time ago, I thought certain things were bad that I don’t think are bad now.” She has learned to accept what is happening to her by modifying her own values and morality to fit what the sadistic men want to do to her.

When you hear all the things these women say, it becomes clear that they have believed for a long time that pornography is normal and that they have allowed it to affect what they think sex is and what they think is acceptable behavior.

The procurer, Riley, is aware that the average time a new girl will stay in the porn industry is only about three months. He knows that she will be discarded after that and that the only way to keep getting work will be to do more abusive acts. He does not warn girls of this even when they come to him excited and believing they will get rich and famous and be in porn for many years. He takes their money to use to pay his mortgage and when they quit porn he recruits new girls. If he cared even a little bit about these young women he would give them a realistic idea of what they are getting into before they start and correct their misconceptions. But he does not care about them as people, he cares about using them to fund his own lifestyle. Many years down the road he will pay off his mortgage and be a homeowner while hundreds of girls will be hurt, discarded, and trying to rebuild their lives after abuse, without any equity of their own. Porn star Tressa earned $25,000 in four months but after she got out of porn she had $2,000 left since there are so many expenses when you are a woman in porn (rent, makeup, travel, clothes, drugs). It is not a lucrative money-making strategy for women—the people who earn the real money are male profiteers such as procurers, pimps, and pornographers.

Riley can tell himself that his behavior is acceptable because the young women are choosing this out of their own free will. One of his privileges as a man is to be able to ignore the grooming system that is bringing girls to him and just sit back and benefit from it without analyzing it or challenging it. This brings us to the next topic, the idea of the women’s choice to enter the porn industry and the nature and context of that choice. Stay tuned!