Within Ourselves

June 10th, 2011

My academic pursuit this month, otherwise known as “I’m tired of packing project,” (unfortunately, yesterday, when I got tired, of packing I fell asleep instead of posting) is The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt, which I posted about the first time I read it. This week, I read Part 1: Within Ourselves, and took down quotes I found pertinent or important to me. So, I thought I’d make this week’s post a discussion of those quotes. I divided them into five categories: Sex, Poly, Social Programming, Communication and Internal Struggles.

Let’s start with Social Programming. This group is about overcoming our social programming so we can live the life we want to live and be true to oneself. “Our programming is changeable.” “You are already whole.” “ Great sluts are made, not born.” “People… free of shame, would trust their own sense of right and wrong.” (pp. 6, 34, 59, 71) So, what do all these quotes mean to me?

I grew up in a religiously based household, taught ‘how things ought to be’ from a young age. One husband, one wife, kids, and pets. Sex inside marriage only. And no kinky stuff. So, the first quote, of programming being changeable. I don’t have to live with the programming my parents gave me. It worked for them, but it does not have to be mine as well. If it doesn’t work for me, then I can change it to fit myself. The third quote goes along with that. It takes work to overcome social programming, to make myself into what I want to be. I cannot just assume I have all the skills and understanding to live the way I want to live. I have to learn and grow and create my life.

The second quote. Being whole. Society likes to push marriage and kids onto us. You aren’t a grown up, until you’re married. You aren’t fulfilling your purpose until you have kids. And on and on. Not everyone wants to be married, not everyone wants to have kids. There is nothing wrong with either of these things. You are a whole person, in and of yourself, without the need for a relationship or offspring to validate your existence.

The final quote, came from Wilhelm Reich’s speeches to young Communists in Germany in 1936. He was speaking against free expression and sexuality, because this would prevent an authoritarian government. I think it is a good point, though. Without social programming telling us that what we feel is wrong and dirty, we would be free to trust our own judgment, our own selves, about what was good and right for us, and what was wrong. That would certainly reduce our unnecessary guilt and self-recriminations.

So, on that note, let’s move on to Internal Struggles, a lot of which come from Social Programming. “Each person owns her own feelings. No one ‘makes’ me feel jealous, or insecure – the person who makes me feel that way is me.” “Knowing, loving and respecting yourself is an absolute prerequisite to knowing, loving and respecting someone else.” “You must speak truth, first to yourself, then to those around you.” “Shame, and beliefs we were taught that our bodies, desires and sex are dirty and wrong, make it very hard to develop a healthy self-esteem.” “Do remember: your sexiness is about how you feel, not how you look.” (pp. 65, 67, 67, 93, 94)

To live this life, I have had to look inside me, to consider myself and my truth a lot more than I ever did before. I have to take responsibility for myself, my feelings, and my actions, something that in today’s society it seems to be more popular to blame others for. Yes, things people say or do upset me, but it is me choosing to react that way. Me choosing to let it bother me. Me choosing whether to talk to them about it, or brood silently. My choice to let negativity fester or toss it out into the light to die. To be in control of my emotions and my reactions, I have to know myself, love myself and respect myself enough to look for the truth in myself. I have to figure out what’s really going on inside me, so I can share it with those that matter.

A wonderful side effect of this lifestyle I have chosen, has been a much better body image and self-esteem. I grew up hiding my body, wearing baggy shirts and jeans year round. Boys hardly every looked at me before college, and I never gave them a reason to. One day in high school, my mother must have been having a bad day, because she told me I was fat. I took this to mean she thought I was ugly and unattractive. Just one stray comment and I held onto it for years. I didn’t believe that I weighed too much, but unattractive, absolutely.

Then I started dating, but I was still hiding in my clothes. Boys were interested in me, some told me I was attractive. But I didn’t believe them. I started having sex and doing kinky things. Boys didn’t run screaming from my body. That seemed like a good thing. My dad once told me I should get sexy underwear so I’d feel better about myself. That was strange. Dated some more, here and there and around the world. Still hiding. Got married, continued to hide, though I got cuter clothes from hubby and his mom. Other men were still attracted to me. That was strange to me. Why would they look at me? Talk to me sure, I’m bright and fun, but look at me?

We swung a bit and then became poly. We joined a few groups, and started going to events. I got more and more compliments, and people appreciating my body, my energy, my sexiness. I was encouraged to wear cuter (and shorter) outfits. I gained confidence in not just my body, but myself. The community is full of so many people of different body types, and people are attracted to them all. People are attracted to skin, to body parts, to men, to women, to everything and everyone. I learned that you don’t have to be perfect, or a certain size, shape, or height. You just have to comfortable and happy in your own skin. If you feel sexy(and sometimes even when you don’t), you are sexy.

Next, let’s explore Poly. “We tend to like our lives complicated, with lots of stuff going on to keep us interested and engaged.” “Is there some virtue in being difficult?” “The human capacity for sex and love and intimacy is far greater than most people think.” “What rewards can you foresee that will compensate you for doing the hard work of learning to be secure in a world of shifting relationships?” “I don’t have to fulfill every single thing my partner needs or wants.” “Faithfulness is about honoring your commitments and respecting your friends and lovers.” “You don’t have to force anyone into a mold that doesn’t fit: all you have to do is enjoy how you do fit together, and let go of the rest.” (pp. 7, 29, 36, 59, 59, 63, 73)

I’ll start at the top. Complicated lives. I’ve always kept busy. Band, theater, gaming, volunteering, writing, working, studying. My love life was often complicated, even before I came out as poly. I spent time with multiple guys, or with guys who had girlfriends elsewhere, or with different guys in different countries. I flirted online a lot, with men, women and couples. The first time hubby proposed to me, he was already engaged to someone else. I love order and organizing, but my life has always been fairly complicated. It’s not that I’m easy, I have standards, but I agree with Dossie and Catherine, why be intentionally difficult?

Our capacity for love and intimacy is huge. We love family, friends, lovers, pets, people we see on TV, even characters in books or shows. All in different ways, perhaps, but that’s a lot of love, and we always have more for new people coming into our lives. Why should romantic love be different? If everyone is honest and respectful, then, to me, everyone is being faithful. I always did like the song from Kiss Me, Kate with the chorus “Always true to you baby, in my fashion. I’m always true to you baby, in my way.”

Then we get to the rewards for all this learning and growing into the people we want to be. And the remaining two quotes answer that one. In poly, thanks to poly, I don’t have to try and be everything, and do everything, and fit into a mold of the “perfect partner.” I can be me, and they can be themselves, and we find out what needs we can fulfill for each other, and enjoy those things together.

This leads right into Communication, the most important thing, for me, in poly. “Consent – an active collaboration for the benefit, well-being and pleasure of all persons concerned.” “They may be shy in the seductive stages, and bolder once welcome has been secured. Women tend to want explicit permission, and for each specific act.” “Talk clearly and listen effectively.” “Being able to ask for and receive reassurance and support is extremely important.” “It’s vital to be able to give reassurance and support.” “Lots of hugging, touching, verbal affection, sincere flattery.” “You need to know how and when to say no.” “The historical censorship of discussion about sex has left us with another disability: the act of talking about sex… has become difficult and embarrassing.” “What you can’t talk about, you can hardly think about.” “Most of us have been struck dumb by the scariest communication task of all – asking for what we want.” “If you are not free to say ‘no,’ you can’t really say ‘yes.’” “You have a right to your limits and it is totally okay to say no to [anything] you don’t like or are not comfortable with.” (pp. 21-2, 49, 61, 61, 62, 62, 63, 95, 95, 101, 103, 106)

Several different subcategories here. Staring with general communication – being able to speak clearly as well as listen. I have learned, over the last few years, that what one person says and the other person hears, are not always the same thing. I have learned the importance of restating what I think the other person is trying to communicate, so he can agree, or try another way of explaining.

Being able to communicate needs and wants (as well as knowing the difference), and being able to hear the same from my partners has been vital to our relationships. I still have trouble taking about sex out loud, and am sometimes embarrassed to write about it. But we work together, and talk together, and we open with each other and I am more and more able to talk about it. It’s still not perfect, nothing ever is. But I am learning and growing, and overcoming the embarrassment and shame of my social programming.

Being able to ask for and receive reassurance and support, in any number of ways, can be hard. Why should I have doubts and need reassurance after all this time? Well, because I’m human, and imperfect and the little devil on my shoulder, or the little voice in my head gets too loud sometimes, and I need help shouting him down. And it has been very important to me, that my partners have been there to give me that. Even if all I need is a hug, or the words I love you, to calm me down, and even more so, when I’ve wanted a flogging or tight rope bondage.

Then there is consent. I like their definition: “an active collaboration for the benefit, well-being and pleasure of all persons concerned.” We want to have fun, be safe and healthy and work together for these things. Consent is for everyone, tops, bottoms, masters, slaves, doms, subs, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends. It is not just one person consenting to the other, it is both(or more) people consenting to each other. And being able to say no, is just as important as being able to say yes. You have to be able to say no, or yes doesn’t mean anything. There’s consensual non-consent, and there are no-limit slaves, but in the end, if you cannot ultimately turn and walk away, then you are not really consenting to be there.

On to happier topics – Sex. “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.” “We have never met anyone who has low self-esteem at the moment of orgasm.” “The existence of her clitoris was proof positive that God loved her.” “Sex is whatever the people engaging in it think it is… if you… feel sexual… that’s sex, for you.” “Sex is a healthy force in our lives.” “We like to think that all sensual stimulation is sexual, from a shared emotion to a shared orgasm.” “When sex becomes goal-oriented, we may focus on what gets us to orgasm to the exclusion of enjoying all the nifty sensations that come before (and, for that matter, after).” “Sexually successful people masturbate.” (pp. 4, 19, 27, 39. 40, 92, 96, 98)

We live in a culture of double standards. Sex sells – well, everything. But we are taught to avoid it, that it’s dangerous, that it’s only for marriage, that touching ourselves is disgusting. We are taught to be embarrassed by sexuality. But sex is wonderful, and it’s not just about intercourse, or orgasms. Being a kinky person, there are so many different ways that I find sensual and sexual pleasure. Being poly, hubby and I have a very strict definition of what sex is, in regards to our rules about who we can “have” it with. But that is about intercourse and sexual//reproductive health. We give and receive sensual and sexual stimulation with a lot of different people, in a lot of different ways, including our own selves. Intercourse is great, orgasms are great, but they are not the end all and be all of our sexual lives. We like things complicated, remember? I really enjoy the sex-positive nature of this book and the confidence it reminds me to have about myself and my desires in a culture that tells me I am wrong and disgusting in so many ways. I love my life, and I am happy with who I am.

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2 Responses to “Within Ourselves”

  1. […] been a long time since I posted my reflection on the first section of The Ethical Slut, but I finally made it back to Part Two. It’s been a busy week, so I […]

  2. […] been a long time since I posted my reflection on the first section of The Ethical Slut, but I finally made it back to Part Two. It’s been a busy week, so I […]