21st CENTURY SEX
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.
* * * * * * * * * *
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
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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’
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
O: Thank you, Josey.
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