In & Out
TOC's sexpert tackles your most penetrating questions.
Q I have been getting TOC for the past year and have loved it; I always enjoy In & Out as icing on the cake. However, a comment in last week’s edition [In & Out, TOC 112] got my attention. In answering a reader’s question concerning the trends of pubic hair, you wrote, “I imagine the trend will reverse—not completely, to bushy Macy Gray proportions….” No matter how glowing your opinion of pubic hair, comparing it to a black woman’s hair is never appropriate; it is racist. I am writing because, as a white woman, I too need to be held accountable when my own words and actions have harmful effects, even when unintended. I hope that I can, in good conscience, continue to subscribe to TOC, and I would appreciate a response to this concern.
A Thank you for your e-mail, for reading TOC and for taking time to write. In using the description “Macy Gray proportions,” I was trying to allude to very bushy pubic hair and Macy Gray had a well-known bushy hairdo (on her head) that was one of her trademarks, much like Cindy Crawford’s mole. In the previous week’s column [In & Out, TOC 111], I wrote, “People do everything under the sun to their pubic hair, from the Bald Britney look to burly natural hippie style to neatly trimmed or even shaped.” In that case, I used the description “Bald Britney look” (given her very public head shaving) to allude to bald styles that some call Brazilians. I used “burly natural hippie style” to refer to as-nature-gave-you pubic hair. In two cases I used a female celebrity’s hairdo (or lack of hair) as a description for pubic-hair styles. Both were just that: descriptions. Neither was a judgment of bushy or bald pubic areas being good or bad. I meant no disrespect to either black women or white women (or to hippies; and I don’t think salons or those who use the term Brazilian mean offense toward people from Brazil). Why is it okay to refer to Britney’s lack of hair but not Macy Gray’s presence of hair? What makes one comment racist and the other doesn’t get noticed? I sincerely welcome any comments, as certainly no harm was intended. I trust that you will be able to look at the broader context, including the previous week’s column, and take a second look at what may have originally appeared awkward (at best) or offensive (at worst) to you. You mentioned that, as a white woman, you feel it is important to be conscientious regarding issues of race. As such, you may be interested in reading the well-regarded book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity (Basic Books, $15.95). Also, Early to Bed (5232 N Sheridan Rd, 773-271-1219) recently held a Salon Series lecture titled “The Politics of Lust,” about how sexuality intersects with politically charged issues of race, gender, power and more (visit early2bed.com for info). It certainly is important, I think, to have these types of conversations about race, gender, sex and more so that we can hopefully better develop comfort and sensitivity in dealing with what are often challenging topics. Thanks again for your e-mail.
Q I’m writing in response to your request for more information on genital piercing. My boyfriend and I decided to get piercings together, and I’m still shocked at what a difference it has made! One body part he pierced was his frenulum [a membrane attaching the foreskin to the glans and shaft]. In the beginning we had careful sex, not because it hurt him, but because it was catching on parts of my body. However, soon enough that went away. I used to need oral sex, a dildo or his hands in order to climax (and rarely during sex). Since getting pierced I can have an orgasm almost immediately into sex, and just last night had three within ten minutes! Yes, the piercing hurt (but only for a second) and yes, there was some serious discomfort for a couple of weeks, but now I cannot imagine myself without it.
A There is little research about sex and genital piercing, and we therefore have no idea how few or how many men and women feel like their sensations or sexual experiences change for the better (or worse) postpiercing. It is hard to know, for example, if you would have eventually found it easy to orgasm quickly (and several times within minutes) even without a genital piercing, as many women simply find that practice makes perfect. But it certainly is intriguing that whereas you used to rely on oral sex, dildos or hands for orgasms, now you can rely solely on sex. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing.
Q What are the pros and cons of having sex while a girl is on her period, if there are any? Is this just a personal thing (if the guy or girl want to do it or not)? Are there any hygiene issues for both parties?
A Given the taboos around menstrual periods, people often wonder whether period sex is kosher. Although it is relatively rare for young women (i.e., teenagers) to try mid-flow cunnilingus or vaginal intercourse, as women get older (into their twenties and beyond), women and men apparently develop more comfort with their own bodies and their partners’ bodies, and periods are less often like stoplights and more often like “proceed with caution” yellow lights. The pros, as I see them: Some women feel like period sex (especially orgasmic period sex) reduces cramps or other period-associated discomfort during sex (sexual excitement and orgasm tend to raise a woman’s threshold for pain, and also chemicals that promote relaxation are released during partner sex and masturbation). Even when sex doesn’t make cramps disappear, it can still take a woman’s mind off of any discomfort as something fun to do for a while. Plus, some women actuallysay that their desire is increased during their period. Another pro is that some women worry that men think they are gross while on their period, so having period sex is sometimes a sexy feeling of acceptance. And finally, a woman is unlikely to get pregnant during her period (that said, it is still possible, so always be careful and use contraception unless you want to be a parent). The cons: Things can get tricky. You may want to use darker sheets or lay a towel down before sex, in case things get messy—that can detract from the spontaneity. If you go for period sex, don’t make icky faces if or when blood gets on the condom or penis; if you worry you’ll make a face, dim the lights or turn them off altogether. The main health issue, however, has to do with infection—blood is a convenient way to transmit infection. If you’re worried that you or she has an infection, then having sex while she is bleeding may be an easier route of transmission (either her blood coming into contact with your body, or your sexual fluids coming into contact with parts of her body that are now more vulnerable to infection). But if you’re both certain that you’re infection-free, or you are using condoms, that’s less of an issue (though I still encourage testing and treatment for infections).
Send letters to Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., c/o Time Out Chicago, 247 South State Street, 17th floor, Chicago, IL 60604, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.