Dear Swarthmore student body,
Salutations! We are pleased to introduce ourselves as your newest sex columnists, Marianne and Ginger. We’re two heterosexual, twenty-something, intrepid sexual adventurers and friends with a love of all things Swarthmore (and all things sex). Despite the defining influence that sex has on our identities and our lives, we find that this large part of our identity can exist, even on this very liberal campus, only in a few highly specified spheres—hushed brunch conversation at Sharples being one of them. Thus, the birth of this column. Here, we claim a new space to express our sexual selves, to share our insights and mishaps with you, and to spark a too often muted dialogue.
A little bit about us: The two of us bring to the table two very different perspectives. Marianne’s our booksmarts girl. She’s well versed in sexual trivia and trained in sex education. Years before she found herself exploring sex with a partner, she could comfortably rattle off statistics about teen pregnancy and was regularly reciting an elevator speech explaining the difference between a kink and a fetish. (Kinks are additive components of a sex life, whereas a fetishist requires his or her fetish to be involved in the sex act in order to achieve orgasm, thank you very much.) By the time late adolescence rolled around, Marianne began the demanding process of complementing her practical knowledge with much-enjoyed, though sometimes hilarious, firsthand experience. She has been avidly pursuing her field studies since.
Ginger, on the other hand, was more of an experiential learner. Intrigued by sex from a young age (she would use the word “vagina” correctly in everyday conversation at age four, was an avid clandestine reader of various sex-related LiveJournal communities at age 12, and found herself waking up in a few strange bedrooms—with stories to tell—by the time high school rolled around), Ginger found herself constantly on the lookout for new ways to explore her body, and those of others. This led to quite a few one-night stands and several regrets, as well as scandalous anecdotes and many tricks to tuck up her sleeve. As it happens, at this juncture in our lives, our paths have harmoniously merged. On a good week, we both have a lot of and talk a lot about sex—its mechanics, emotions, politics, and proclivities. From the union of our collective knowledge, experience, curiosities, and kinks, we bring you “Friends with Benefits,” so we can talk about it with you, too!
Recently, the two of us met over some typical, overly acidic Kohlberg coffee to discuss how exactly we wanted to introduce ourselves to you. One of us tossed out the idea of outlining just how one might find oneself on an amorous trajectory with one of us (read: into our respective pants). After an initial wave of excitement over the sheer brilliance of this concept, silence washed over us. What exactly are our standards? Aside from the obvious (mutual attraction, mutual consent, and mutual respect as peers and as sexual partners), we realized that we really didn’t have very many. After several minutes of scrambling, we assembled the following list of Pre-Coital Commandments:
1) [This one is M’s] Thou shalt not be both anti-choice and pro-getting-in-my-pants. Or, if you you are, tough cookies. No getting in my pants for you!
2) [Offered by M, agreed upon by G] Thou shalt not exchange non-salivary fluids with me without a clean bill of sexual health. Condoms stay on and safer-sex practices will be adhered to until test results are offered.
3) [G’s rule, laughed at but understood by M] Thou shalt not be simultaneously over-muscled and short shorn. ‘Nuff said.
These may be few in number and a tad frivolous in content (ahem, #3), but they are mighty and inviolable. It should be said that they are also ridiculously specific to our sexual tastes. By no means do we offer our list as sexual rules to live by. Consider this a template of sorts. After all, someone sleeps with the cast of Jersey Shore, and probably enjoys it. More power to them. We’re sure they have a powerful gate-keeping list of their own. Perhaps more revealing and more universally applicable than our rules themselves, then, are the motivations behind them.
As far as Rule #1 is concerned, for M, it’s all about respect and boundaries. Aside from the practical (were I to get pregnant, choices would have to be made), this rule acts as a sort of short hand for parsing out partners. Implicit in a pro-choice viewpoint is an acknowledgment of my sexual, individual, and decision-making autonomy and capability. For me (M) feeling secure in this respect provides a basis for feeling secure in the sex act that, if you’re lucky, is impending. Secure sex is, in turn, a basis for hot sex (G agrees!). This feeling of security could attained in any number of other ways. Heck, maybe you’ve been blown away by your classmate’s uncanny ability to dissect the many layers of Foucault’s Panopticon. And, maybe, knowing her intellectual prowess gives you the warm-fuzzies because you know that she’ll know that your awkwardness is really just a product of cruel societal discourse. Whatever floats your boat.
Rule #2, however, is far less subjective. In fact, we feel this should be everybody’s rule. Protection and safer-sex are important for a million reasons that we we would all do well to remember a little better. If you’re confused by this statement, sex-education has failed you, and now’s the time to schedule a pow-wow with your friendly neighborhood Sexual Health Counselor. However, the demand that you “wear your rubbers” not only protects you from the microscopic creepy-crawlies that can sometimes accompany a good (or bad) get-down, but—BONUS!—it also serves as an easy, socially acceptable way to introduce your sexual and personal boundaries and preferences early in a relationship. This early assertion — or, ideally, agreement — may act as an initial place to state what you want from your illicit engagement. “Get a condom!” is great practice for “Touch me there!” and “Have you been tested?” can lend you the gumption to ask “Have you ever tried…?”
There is even value to be found in Rule #3. Sometimes, we have boundaries that may seem capricious or silly to an outside party, but they’re valid simply by nature of being yours. You are the ultimate gatekeeper to your fly. You get to decide you crosses south of the border. There’s a lot of power in that. There is a lot to be gained from wielding the power of erotic encounters; you are entirely in control (unless you want to be dominated, but that’s another column)—embrace it! Power like that doesn’t come along very often in this life.
Once you’ve established laws, the next logical step is the consideration of law enforcement and its logistics. Some of your requirements may be easier to enforce than others. Simply put, it’s easier to spot a musclebound crew-cut coifed courter and thwart his advances than it is to detect a partner potentially harboring nasty germs. It’s easier to ask a guy for a condom or a girl for a dental dam than it is to pull away mid sloppy-drunk make out and inquire about your lip-lockee’s stance on a woman’s right to choose. But we find it’s always easier to feel secure in your decision to go into a hookup than it is to multitask fellatio and a burgeoning guilty-conscious. In my (M’s) experience, it is sometimes incredibly awkward to ascertain a stance on abortion in the moments leading up to a one-night stand or a first sexual encounter. But, in that same wealth of experience, discerning that information has never brought action to a screeching halt. If the rule is important enough to you to be a rule, voice it early. If the awkwardness that ensues deters your partner from proceeding, he or she was not the right partner to begin with.
Ultimately, we offer the following: Know and share your boundaries before pants come off. Because, well, sex should be fun. Sex shouldn’t be regrettable. Knowing your 3 or 15 or 53 standards can help ensure an enjoyable sexual experience. While your rules might not be able to protect you from an awkward Sharples encounter, an uncomfortable sexual request, blatantly bad sex, or being called the wrong name in bed, your copulatory regulations can help protect you from STIs and help ease your mind enough that your focus can be on the feeling (that oh-so-good feeling) rather than worrying about whether Mr./Ms./Mz. Right-Now is a definite Mr./Ms./ Mz. Wrong.
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