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Vol. 4, No. 6, 2005
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Robert J. Lewis
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Josey Vogels is the author of the nationally syndicated sex and relationships column My Messy Bedroom and the dating advice column Dating Girl . She has published five books on sex and relationships – the most recent is entitled Bedside Manners: Sex Etiquette Made Easy.



A & O: Living as we do in the information age where almost everyone has access to explicit images and information about whatever kind of sex he or she is interested in or curious about, do you think we're more happy and comfortable in our sexual skins than, let's say, people a century ago?

JOSEY VOGELS: I guess it's a bit like saying, now that we have a plethora of commercial products available and you can buy any good or service and technically, go anywhere we want in the world and have access to all the media and information we can handle, do we live more fulfilled, happier lives? Not necessarily, right? Just having an abundance of sexual material and sexual information and opportunities doesn't automatically change our sexual practices. It depends on your personality and if, and, or how you use the material. So, I think if you're a sexually unimaginative person or simply someone who doesn't care for a lot of bells and whistles with sex, you'll probably remain so. That said, if you're a more sexually adventurous person who seeks out new ideas, new ways to enjoy sex, then yes, you have a lot more opportunity to explore that. Also, if you're someone who has always engaged in what are considered marginalized sexual practices -- BDSM, ponyplay, balloon popping, for example -- the fact that you can now find similarly minded folks out there validates your tastes and gives you more opportunity to engage in it. Think about it: If you were a furby -- someone who gets off on stuffed animals -- living in a small town in the Prairies, you're probably not going to find too many people in your community you could come out to, never mind swap teddies with.

A & O: Has the information age made us too self-conscious about our sexual selves as it concerns appearances (which concerns mostly women), and performance (which concerns mostly men)?

JOSEY VOGELS: I think sexuality and beauty have long been tied. The Egyptians were obsessed with beauty and the women did all kinds of things to make themselves beautiful -- many of the make-up and beauty practices we use today come from them. Beauty has always been desirable -- some would say it's a biological imperative: to find the most perfect partner specimen with whom to procreate in order to propagate the most fit species -- and actually, yes, our obsession with youth and beauty is at an all time high with some disturbing consequences. Extreme Makeover, anyone -- but, at the same time, we are probably more critical and analytical about this ideal than other societies before us -- look at the recent ‘real beauty’ Dove campaign and the constant push from many groups, women and media to challenge the constant tyranny of beauty in our culture.

A & O: We know what we mean when we note that someone is eating better than before: less junk food, more fruits and veggies. Besides the obvious safe sex, what do we mean when we’re having better sex than before? If men have always enjoyed good sex (orgasm), isn't better sex code for 'women' are having better sex?

JOSEY VOGELS: I think you're right that most of the focus in the last couple of decades has been about female sexual empowerment and getting women to a point where they can actually admit they, gasp, like sex. But part of the reason for that was that sex was such a dreary prospect for women for so long, it's not surprising we were the first ones to complain, and complain loudly about it. After all, "Not tonight, I've got a headache" wasn't getting us anywhere. So yes, women piped up and started gathering in groups and looking at their vaginas and awakening their inner sexual goddesses, while guys have pretty much stuck with the, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to their sexuality.

Though I think we're starting to see that change a little. Viagra has done a lot to get the dialogue going about men's sexuality but it has also opened up the debate about whether his ability to "get a good stiffie" was all there was to it. Men are starting to wonder if maybe there's a little more to it and their wives are dragging them to Tantric Sex workshops and going to Blowjob workshops themselves because we're starting to realize that better sex is about both partners being aware, more communicative, being present and exploring their sexuality beyond, "get it up, get it in, get it out."

A & O: Left to their natural rhythms, men are biologically wired to finish faster than women. But objectively speaking, there's no reason not to conclude that men don't finish too quickly, but women finish too slowly. Is the glass half full or half empty? Despite the fact that throughout history men have always wielded power and set the agendas, as it concerns sex, women have successfully established the terms of the debate: that men are the fast finishers, the onus (I'm resisting word play here) is on them to do something about it? How did this happen and is it fair?

JOSEY VOGELS: Well, some would argue that there is actually a biological reason for this difference: that is, women don't take longer if they do the deed themselves. It generally only becomes a problem -- with a guy. The theory goes that the reason for this is that women have a vested biological interest in finding a guy who will stick around and take the time to figure out how to please her because this is also an indication that he'll also be the type of guy who will stick around to help support offspring, at least until they are more self-sufficient.

That said, I do agree that the idea that guys have to last all night and women are somehow orgasmically more complicated, and thus sexually more sophisticated, is unfair to both men and women. Women are stuck with guys thrusting away because they think that's what makes them a good lover, while she's practically chafing and feeling inferior she can't come in the time it takes her guy to pop. But the culture perpetuates this. Again, while Viagra may be opening up the dialogue, it's also perpetuating the idea that as long as a guy can get it up and keep it up, he's sexually virile. Trust me, there are a lot more women who would be happy to have a guy get off quickly and then focus on her pleasure, which may mean encouraging her to take things into her own hands. Many women avoid taking this initiative because they feel it will be too hard on her guy's ego.

A & O: You don't sound very optimistic about 'the twain meeting' -- at least as it pertains to conventional sex? In the sports page of our local paper, there's an ad promising men the means to delay their ejaculation. Sexologists and tantric devotees believe the mind can be trained (mind over pleasure) to delay orgasm. In other words, perhaps unfairly assuming total responsibility, men, in consideration of their partner's pleasure, are definitely concerned and are taking steps to narrow the gender-pleasure gap. Why haven't I come cross ads encouraging women to adjust? Once the sex act is on its way, is there anything women can do to hasten their orgasm, i.e. meet men half way?

JOSEY VOGELS: Have you read Cosmopolitan lately?! My goodness, they are always on about how women can come, faster, harder, more easily. I think women have taken the lead for a long time in terms of exploring ways to improve things -- that don't always have to do with men taking all the responsibility. It's not men who are buying the self-help books in the sexuality section. Where it does falter, however, is that I think while women do their homework, they still have difficulty owning their own pleasure and still rely on men to read their minds or somehow get it without us having to explain it. We do still live in a culture where a woman who is too sexually aggressive or who enjoys sex too much is suspect.

As for not being optimistic, actually, that's not true. I think we live in a very interesting time in which women are starting to own their sexuality -- or at least explore the concept thoroughly -- and men, are finally admitting they might want a little complexity in their sex that goes beyond how long he can or can't last.

A & O: In respect to the biology that in part determines how quickly or slowly it takes men and women to reach orgasm, someone proposed that if during sex a man allows his mind to wander, he'll lose his erection, i.e. he'll be punished for not concentrating on what he's doing; but women can allow their minds to wander with impunity. Therefore, men are naturally more concentrated on sex because they have to be. Should women be sensitized to the fact that they aren't as mentally strong (that is concentrated) as men during sex and this might explain, in part, why they are slower to come?

JOSEY VOGELS: Actually, I beg to differ. What many women tell me, and, being a woman myself, many of us have to concentrate very intensely in order to be able to come. If we let our minds wander, we tend to lose the moment (our erection, if you will) as well. In fact, some have said this is part of the problem. Women are so concentrated on trying to come that they shut out the experience and ironically, it makes it harder to come. They are so focused on coming, in part, for their own satisfaction, but also, to please their partner and give him the satisfaction that he can make you come that we don't allow ourselves to just get lost in the moment, relax and let things happen. I think both men and woman could stand to lose some of this intense focus on the goal of orgasm and enjoy the journey a little more. Unfortunately, we tend to rely on orgasm as proof we've had good, ‘successful’ sex.

A & O: Based on your columns (Hour, The Gazette) and TV appearances, you strike me as someone who has 'almost' seen and done it all. The same cannot be said for some of your colleagues (fellow sexperts). How important is first-hand sexual experience in respect to the quality of advice you dispense?

JOSEY VOGELS: My background is in journalism and not sociology. I am not a therapist or sexologist so I have always written from experience and first-hand observation. I have never enjoyed a clinical approach to sex though there is a time and place for that in our society as well. I think of myself more as a big sister or good friend dispensing advice in a way everyone can relate to. I've seen a little more, done a little more, researched, thought and written about it a little more than your average person so I can bring that added knowledge base to what I do. But I try to never lose my own curiosity so that I can ask the questions everyone wants to but never gets the chance or is too embarrassed to.

A & O: In consideration of your profession and the importance you attach to first hand experience, have you ever experimented and regretted it later, or the opposite, found it to your pleasant surprise? Is there a good case to be made for experimentation, for especially people who are very judgmental, who feel it their duty to universalize their 'personal' (often narrow) views on what constitutes normal, healthy sex?

JOSEY VOGELS: I'm not a big fan of regrets and don't have much use for them. There may be things I wouldn't necessarily repeat but only because I'm no longer at that place in my life. I believe every experience is a learning one and I try to enjoy the moments as I experience them and learn and grow from them, even the ones I don't enjoy. I think experimentation is good but not for everyone. I think some people could stand to expand their sexual horizons before passing judgment but I also don't think people should feel like they have to have had wild, sexual experiences to make them sexually whole. That is a very personal journey, even though there are universal experiences to learn from along the way. When I universalize my personal experiences, I make sure they're of greater value. I don't really need to know the nitty, gritty details of anyone's sex life and I'm pretty sure my readers don't want or, for that matter, need to know mine . . . though a few probably think they do.

A & O: Why are we so curious about everybody's sex life (and sex in general)? Why do we have to know if someone is straight, or gay, or bi, or having an affair, or likes to do it this way, or that way, in trios, or groups?

JOSEY VOGELS: I think human beings are naturally curious about sex. It is a mysterious, cloaked, often taboo subject which, of course, makes us even more curious about it. Also, I think we are, in varying degrees, sexually insecure (partly because we're not supposed to talk about it which makes it harder to get honest information) so we want to hear about other people’s sex lives, sexual identities and sexual practices so we can compare them to our own, so we can decide if we're ‘normal,’ so we can categorize people which in turn helps us make sense of the world. Sadly, in some cases, we need to categorize people so we can scorn them, judge them and ridicule them.

A & O: Throughout history, and in most parts of the world, men have systematically and institutionally subjugated and derogated women. Some have argued that the root cause of this (the imposition of clitorectomy, denying women their rights) is men's deep-seated envy and resentment of women's sexual superiority, which is five-fold: (1) the clitoris is 8 times more sensitive than the penis (2) women's orgasms last longer (3) their orgasms can come in multiples (4) the intensity of the female orgasm doesn't diminish with age (5) and finally, and most importantly, women can do it all day long and men cannot -- a power denied for which men have never forgiven women. Your comments?

JOSEY VOGELS: That whole baby making thing kinda freaks the boys out as well. And the fact that women can fuck whomever they want and get pregnant and the guy can't know for sure if it's his or not (paternity tests exist now but back then, who knew right?) so better control female sexuality to keep her in line. If she's labelled and scorned for being sexually promiscuous, she's less likely to be so. So yes, there have been many reason for men (and society) to fear and therefore want to control female sexuality and prevent it from being the extraordinary force it can potentially be. Witch burning anyone?

A & O: Your views on sex work? Should it be legalized? Should a women be able to say: I'm a teacher, I'm a dental assistant, I'm a sex worker all in the same breath? To make this a legitimate societal goal is tantamount to saying that it's a career choice like any other. Is this desirable?

JOSEY VOGELS: There is a growing trend among women (especially students) choosing this work to get them through school as it is more flexible and more lucrative than say, telemarketing, plus, because it is online, they don't have to actually see the guys in the flesh so to speak so it feels safer.

I do think sex work should be treated like a real job and decriminalized. It is already technically legal, but the activities necessary to actually practice it -- communicating, for example -- are not. I liken it going to McDonalds where you could eat the food but you couldn’t actually order nor could they ask if you wanted, “Fries with that?” Much of the illegal behaviour that happens within the industry can be handled through existing criminal and public disturbance laws. When it comes to dealing with ‘sexual procurement of children and youth’ we could draw up laws surrounding ‘abuse of power’ that don’t have to be tied to the buying of sexual services of children because it’s just as offensive if you’re not paying for it.

I think the industry should be regulated, just as with other service industries. Even the concerns about the ‘trafficking of women’ into the sex trade are misunderstood in terms of its legality. Domestic labor and agricultural workers are also often brought in from abroad under false pretenses and end up working in unregulated work conditions. But because it's sex, we treat it differently when really, they should be treated under the same umbrella so we could lose the stigma that is attached to sex work. We know it's one of the oldest institutions alive and there will always be a market for men (and more and more women) who are willing to pay for sex for whatever reason: they are lonely, horny, don't like sex with their wives, are widowed, disabled etc. Keeping sex work criminal won't make it go away and only makes things more dangerous and problematic for the women working it. And, shocking as it may seem, some women actually like the work! All the stereotypes about prostitutes -- that they are all drug addicted, broken souls -- are simply not true. Yes, there is some of this -- in part because of the stigma and the criminalization of the activity, just as keeping drugs illegal attracts illegal activity in the drug trade -- but for the most part we're talking about the trading of sex between two consenting adults.

A & O: A while back, on one of the French language channels, a mix of six guys and girls in their early 20s were discussing their masturbation methods and techniques. I was of course taken aback, but not so much by the subject matter as by their frankness and total unselfconsciousness. Somewhere else, I read an account of a young couple in the context of group sex discussing the merits and demerits of snowballing (the passing of ejaculate from mouth to mouth). Thanks to the Internet, by the time kids reach 13 or 14, they have seen it all, every manner of sexual coupling and congress you can imagine. Are these positive developments?

JOSEY VOGELS: I think that the Internet is connecting people who might not otherwise connect or who might be awkward about connecting with people in real life. I also think the Internet has brought together those with more marginalized sexualities who might not have otherwise met. I mean, how did a balloon popping fetishist from Smalltown, Canada deal with his fetish before the Internet? Now, he has an entire community on line to share with and lots of resources to feed his fetish.

A & O: Thanks to the Internet, sex, for the up and coming generation, will be completely demystified, regarded as an appetite like any other. In terms of their sexual liberation, is the next generation already light years ahead of us? Will they emerge as the least sexually hung up generation ever? Is there a Golden Age of sex on the horizon?

JOSEY VOGELS: The Internet has proven to be a great source for sexual information, especially for young people who are often too embarrassed to ask questions or don't have anyone to ask. So despite all the concern about how evil and full of smut the Internet is and teenage girls running around giving guys blow jobs -- I think its is creating a more sophisticated sexual youth.

A & O: Is virtual (Internet) sex impacting positively on real sex?

JOSEY VOGELS: For most people, the Internet doesn't really affect their real sex, unless they are already curious and want to expand their sexual horizons. For them, the Internet is an easily accessible, anonymous resource that saves them having to visit a sex shop or find other sources for ideas. In some cases, where the partner is unhappy, he or she might end up using the Internet to escape the real relationship. We refer to his as cyber-cheating, but the person would probably cheat in real life if the opportunity were there.

A & O: Thank you, Josey.

Related articles:
Prostitution: Gender-based Income Redistribution with Honour and Dignity
All Abored the Porn Express
Sex Traders in the Material World
Pop Divas, Pantydom and 3-Chord Ditties
The Triumph of the Pornographic Imagination


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