Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference
A Feminist and Gender Studies Course
Bryn Mawr College, Fall, 2002

Archive 6: Sex Across the Life Span

Name:  Anne
Subject:  Gayle Rubin/Oral Sex
Date:  2002-09-06 16:46:20
Message Id:  2535
The scribes for our Thursday afternoon role plays about middle school oral sex were also asked to record here what happened and what you learned in your discussions. This is also a place for all of us to record, more generally, any of our reactions to Gayle Rubin's essay on "Thinking Sex."

The three articles I quoted from in class were

You can also find some recent conversations, in which Rubin has participated, about cross-generational sex at

Name:  Chelsea
Username:  clphilli
Subject:  Role playing
Date:  2002-09-08 21:38:33
Message Id:  2558
Hi everybody! Here are some comments/observations that we discussed in our role-playing exercise...first the cast: Tommy (the boy, hereafter T), Jenny (the girl, hereafter J), Mrs. Potter (the mother...for BOTH, hereafter MP), Ms. Senorita Margarita (the counselor, hereafter SM). The situation: Tommy and Jenny found having oral sex in the middle of gym...

First observations are that SM has J explain to her mother, not T and that she merely prods J toward a full explaination, rather than doing any explaining herself. MP takes this very calmly- wanting to discuss any actions with the father before speaking to the children. SM then speaks first with MP, then with J by herself, trying to find out why this happened. J is asked if she ever feels neglected at home, if her father has ever done anything to her (touching her, etc) that made her feel unsafe or bad about herself. J says that she doesn't really know why, but that a lot of her friends were also doing this, so it didn't seem like a big deal. SM then asked if she were aware of STD's, consequences, etc, which J says she was not.

Biggest questions: Why did no one ever speak with Tommy? It was assumed that he initiated all of the behavior, though he was never asked why. They never focused on him, he is ignored, almost as if this situation doesn't really involve him- he is incidental, not actaully a part of what happened. We also discussed the debate about how detailed do you get when you explain sex to a young person? Do you leave things like oral sex out, placing the real focus on avoiding an unwanted pregnancy? Why is this? Do we assume that once it's out of your mouth, they've done it? But if knowledge is power, than we should explain all that we can so they can make the most informed and adult decision and we've done everything we can to make them safe. The point is, if they really want to have sex (oral or otherwise) they will, no matter what you do, and your job should be one of informing rather than yelling or scaring.

Name:  Maggie
Username:  mscottwe
Subject:  Role-Playing observations
Date:  2002-09-08 23:21:45
Message Id:  2563
The actual conversation that we had between the boy, the girl, themother of the boy, and the guidance counselor wasn't that revealing. Mostly, the adults asked questions and the children were pretty reticent. One interesting twist that we added to our situation was that they had used a condom. So while a focus may have been that the children weren't aware that oral sex could still give them diseases, now it was turned into a more moral situation. If the adults were mad at the kids now, it was because they were judging that they were too young to be having oral sex, instead of being able to hide that anger behind concern about them getting a disease. If the kids were safe about it, and both willing to do it, then should the adults be allowed to punish them for it?

One piece of information I picked up while talking to a friend about this class... The girl who she baby-sits goes to a private Episcopalian school for upper-middle class to wealthy kids, and there was a out break of gonorrhea of the throat in the fifth grade.

Name:  Anne
Subject:  Sex in Old Age
Date:  2002-09-09 10:02:40
Message Id:  2566
The experience of a friend of a friend... has gotten me thinking about sexual experience @ the OTHER end of the life span from the middle school experiences we were discussing in class on Thursday. I've got the (belated) notion that an excellent praxis site for us would be a home for the aged. What sex happens there and how is it talked about? If you'd like to be thinking about this (and perhaps have your eyes opened to some aspects of experience you haven't yet thought about....?) check out At Elders' Home, Each Day Is Valentine's Day and Sexually disinhibited Behavior in the cognitively Impaird Elderly ...and let us know what you think....
Name:  Lauren Friedman
Subject:  the "role play" with oral sex among middle schoolers
Date:  2002-09-09 20:25:18
Message Id:  2571
In my group, we put first put a twist on the situation by deciding that the oral sex would take place between two girls, therefore somehow doing away with any implied or assumed power dynamics in the boy-girl oral sex situations. When they speak individually with the "school therapist" each girl makes excuses for the sex. The first girl claims that she did it because the other one encouraged her to do it if she wanted to make varsity soccer. But the second girl insists that the first girl threatened that she would beat her up if she didn't partake. When the second girl speaks to her very open-minded, level-headed mother about the situation, it becomes clear that both girls were lying. She admits to her mother that they're "buds," and that it wasn't the first time they'd had oral sex. In the end, it seemed that both girls felt that there was not necessarily something inherently wrong with the sex act, but rather with the fact that they were only doing it because it was fun, or pleasurable. They both lied to the school because they thought it would be less bad if they pretended their motives were anything other than purely erotic.
Name:  2002 TS student
Username:  2002 TS student
Subject:  Rubin
Date:  2002-09-10 02:21:46
Message Id:  2582
Comments: this is a little late...but i was re-reading Rubin this evening...and thinking about oral sex and stuff...thus i find myself on this tangent.. mostly string of conciousness i suppose.

In the beginning of her piece, Rubin discusses, the "educational and political campaigns to encourage chastity, to eliminate prostitution, and to discourage masturbation, especially among the young." (p4) she goes on to talk about the consequences of such educational campaigns: "The consequences of these great nineteenth-century moral paroxysms are still with us. They have left a deep imprint on attitudes about sex, medical practice, child-rearing, parental anxieties, police conduct, and sex law." (p4).

This is exactly what we were talking about in class last thursday. The fact that so many children are growing up under black and white definitions of what "sex" is, and more importantly what "virginity" is, is probably one of the single contributing factors to why children are giving each other meaningless blow jobs in the locker room and such.

The idea that oral sex, is not real sex, is something that is perpetuated throughout society via the media and politicians, though i am sure the list could go on. By disregarding oral sex in the safe sex lectures, we are basically punishing ourselves in the long run. Uneducated teenagers, grow up into uneducated adults, spreading STI's and not even realizing it. There is no reason why my 24, 25, 26 year old friends, should be ignorant to the idea that they need to use a condom when going down on his/her boyfriend/fling or visa versa that their girlfriend/boyfriend should be using a dental dam on them. By holding onto the notion that people aren't having oral sex or that we might be corrupting our children, we instead are letting them learn for themselves by dr. diagnoses that oral sex is SEX and that it does have its consequences.

On the flip side, a sex education focusing on preservation of virginity also leads to those who do know about oral sex, to think that it is perfectly ok, becuase it is in no way "breaking the hymen," thus they will still be a virgin. I think most of us can recall a Cosmo or two reading something like this: "dear i still a virgin?" Such an emphasis is placed on virginity as being something only taken during heterosexual vaginal intercourse, that all of a sudden oral sex, and sometimes even what we may label as "homosexual acts" are all thrown out as not being legitimate forms of sex. While as adults we might be able to argue that the whole concept of what is sex is perhaps more fluid, leading us to our own definitions, for the sake of education we have to have some common definition of what sex is, if we are going to be teaching children/teens anything about it.

Rubin had commented earlier on children's first impressions of sex and how we introduce children to it. Some have argued the harshness of male circumcision, because in order to perform the operation the boy has to be erect, thus is first "sexual" experience is one of pain rather then pleasure. A common feture among 4(and sometimes 11) year olds is to find their hands in their pants, how do we as a society interepret this behavior? react to it? is the child reprimanded and given a smack on the hand, or told that this is something that they do in private? What messages are we sending our youth about pleasure? pain? sex? what mixed messages are they getting from us? role models? ect. When "Two-thirds of all prisoners [1996, state prisons]convicted of rape or sexual assault had committed their crime against a child," [Available: ] it is not shocking to hear that for many children sexual violence is their introduction to what can be a beautiful in addition to educating our children, we need to find out better ways to protect them as well.

Thus the comment Rubin makes about us condeming that which we have helped to create comes full circle. Now we are trying to point the finger at our children sexual acts, when we are at fault for the most part by not educating them and more so educating them in a negative, unproductive manner.

Name:  Sarah Hesson
Subject:  Role Playing In Class
Date:  2002-09-10 12:30:44
Message Id:  2586
In the role playing we did in class last Thursday, unlike other groups, our group stuck with the original plan of having a parent, counselour and 2 children, one of each sex. Interestingly, Monica, the parent, chose to be the parent of the female child. The counselor, Jessica, started off the conversation by making a general comment about wanting to talk. However, the conversation became increasingly specific as the questions became more focused on HY, playing the girl. She was asked questions in an accusatory manner that implied guilt on her part, such as "Are you aware of teh consequences of your actions?" and "Why did you do this?" The boy, Lindsay, sat silently for most of the discussion. The parent and teacher had a conflict over who should be responsible for regulating the behavior of the children, of which no resolution was reached. Finally, the boy was confronted with a question by the counselor: "Doy ou think its ok to do this?" He responds yes, adn nothing more is said of it. The last question is about STDs, directed at both children, of which the girl claims complete ignorance of. Neither the parent nor the counselor asks the boy where his parent(s) are. The children are not asked about how their relationship escalated to this point, or if either felt pressured into it. Sex was never mentioned in a positive light during the conversation either, only in this context which was perceived as bad by both counselor and parent. The children were not told whether they would discuss the matter again, or if asked if they would like to discuss it privately, without the presence of the other. These seem to be just a few points of the conversation that were missing and may have been beneficial had they been present.
Name:  Kathryn McMahon
Subject:  What's the reason that we don't view children and older people as sexual beings?
Date:  2002-09-10 15:40:11
Message Id:  2600
Anyone who has ever read the book, "Cunt," by Inga Muscio, might remember her writing about an old Japanese print titled "A Family at Home." It depicted children playing a game while their parents had sex in the background. In this culture at that time it was typical for children to witness their parents' sexual acts and to learn by their example. This occurs in cultures where family members all sleep in the same room. Sex is literally out in the open rather than behind closed doors. It isn't a secret and children aren't kept or assumed to be na´ve.
In our culture and many others, sex has traditionally only been acceptable for married heterosexual adult couples who want to have children. This sexual ideal limits the adult population to those of childbearing age. This means that children should not be involved in sexual activity (or witness to it) and neither should people of an older generation who are past the age when they can reproduce. One group is too young compared to the sexual ideal, while the other is too old. When young children engage in sexual activity, such as "playing doctor" (really, did anyone ever call it that?!), it might not be sexual intercourse, but it is still sexual. If these children are discovered, then their budding libidos are ignored, laughed off, or punished and stifled.
In our culture older adults who are past the age of the sexual ideal are assumed to no longer be of use to society (ie the perpetuation of it), and therefore have to reason to procreate. And so we (try to) deny them the wish to do so. We have been socialized to fear the aging process and to fear the stereotypes that accompany it, such as having sexual desire denied to us. The sentiment is being old is bad, sex is bad, and old people having sex is REALLY bad.
As far as children are concerned, they are deemed too innocent to know what they are doing, or to know what their sexual body parts are even for. While this could certainly be true of some children, to assume it implies that children who do understand that they are sexual beings (however unconsciously) are therefore abnormal. It is safer to delegate the possibilities of sexual desire only to the group who is socialized to be prepared for it: married heterosexual adult couples of childbearing age. If anyone is going to have sex, it should be them.
Username:  jawade
Subject:  Role Playing Activity
Date:  2002-09-11 17:02:18
Message Id:  2627
In my group for the role play investing oral sex among middle scholars, I found the responses of the boy and girl extremely interesting when the school psychologist asked, "What exactly is the relationship between the two of you?" Although both pre-teens admitted to acting in a drunken state of mind while engaging in oral sex on the playground, the girl referred to it very casually, as an experience to satisfy curiosity, investigate "maturity", and follow the "norm" while the boy referred to it as communication of his deeply intense feelings for the girl. While the boy thought he was in love, the girl did not even consider the two of them to be in any relationship at all. Although the girl did not express regret, she admitted to wanting to express herself freely and that she was frustrated that her mother was never around due to her busy schedule. For the girl, the topic of oral sex was not the focus in the larger scheme of things. On the other hand, the boy's view varied greatly from the stereotypical idea that a male pre-teen is not emotionally mature and aware of the full responsibilities and experience (in every dimension: emotional, physical, etc.) of oral sex (or any other sex). Furthermore, the boy referred to the experience as "a mark of friendship", comfortable about characterizing it as artistic and completely unashamed of the great pleasure it brought him. The individual viewpoints of the boy and girl (and contrasts between both their two views and between stories in the media) illustrated an entirely new dimension and scenario, revealing the importance of the public to not make assumptions as to the role, reasons, etc. for middle scholars (and the individual's personal reason) for engaging in oral sex (or any other sexual activity for that matter).
Name:  Jess T.
Subject:  Sex in the classroom...
Date:  2002-09-21 00:22:30
Message Id:  2820
Interestingly this week I came accross an article on the Detroit Free Press' website about limiting sex education in public schools. I thought it was quite timely that while we're reading fines article about the inadequacies of the language of sex in sex education (in Fine's article), in Michigan steps are being made to limit that language.

"Parents lobby for less sex in sex ed" explains the tendency towards abstinence in sex ed and that the possiblity of what these conservative parents want is not what's best for the kids or what the majority of the parents want. (I feel that this sentiment is supported in Fine's article with the statistics on the lack of parents pulling their children from sex ed classes.)

It seems as though, even in this time when middle schoolers engaging in oral sex as safe sex and in some schools its almost popular to get pregnant. That sex language is being narrowed even further.
Name:  sheri
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  readings
Date:  2002-09-25 21:16:06
Message Id:  2899
Did anyone else have trouble with the Inquirer Article? It was not very two-sided. It simply said why some teens chose to be abstinent, not why it should be taught in high schools. We heard only why sex ed should be taught. I would have liked to hear what the kinds had to say about that form of education.
Name:  LH
Subject:  heavy petting
Date:  2002-09-25 22:09:22
Message Id:  2902
This week's readings have made me think about my sex life quite a bit. So I want to share some stories that came to my mind when I was reading.

Story #1... I remember playing doctor... with my cousin. I have always thought that was perfectly normal, but I remember telling my mom I played doctor with him and suddenly he was not allowed to come over anymore. Now that we are all grown and I see him, he always brings up how he was not allowed to come over. On a side note... His girlfriend's name is Lauren. Coincidence?

Story #2... My mom used to baby-sit a little boy named Danny. Once we were in the kitchen eating macaroni and cheese (by the way I now hate mac and cheese) and Danny said he had to go to the bathroom. And then he looked at me and said, "you can watch if you want to." My mom said I couldn't watch. Strangely, she left the room and Danny left the door open. Danny went to an all male private high school and is now a marine.

What's odd to me is that my mom seemed to allow me to experiment with Danny but not my cousin. In both instances she said I wasn't allowed to participate, but with Danny she kind of let it happen. I'm not really sure if she did it on purpose though. My mom is a little scattered so maybe she didn't realize she was condoning my actions.

The Levine article is the one that brought a lot out for me when I was reading it. I dated this guy who used to take naps and cuddle with his mom when he was little. When he was 6 his mom died. I always wondered why he was so damn cuddly with me until he told me about his naps with his mom. I didn't know him well at all, ok so I didn't know him, when we got physical and I got very comfortable with him very quickly because we were so physically affectionate. Someone told me recently that when you cuddle with a person you release endorphins, which make you more attached to the person. Anyone know if this is true???

"Many women, and most teenage girls, don't get enough touching, kissing, or time to feel ready for intercourse, much less have an orgasm that way." Levine, 197... I think many women do not climax during sex because they aren't being caressed or touched enough. Touch is what makes you feel comfortable. Its what turns you on. Everyone wants to be touched (at least in bed). What ever happened to foreplay?

I think we need to hold a sex workshop at the end of this class for people who haven't gotten to talk about sex in a classroom setting for 3 hours a week. Anyone interested??

On a side note, I am pretty bothered that the sex ed curriculum we had to read had a grade on it as well as names of the students. And what is a "Vignette?" It is on page 3 of Amanda and Julia's project.

Name:  Nancy
Subject:  Fairy Tale
Date:  2002-09-26 17:35:16
Message Id:  2914
Once upon a time there was a Twibble and a Tweeble. They liked each other very much. They also looked very different, but they had a lot of fun together.

Whenever they played together, they were very careful not to hurt each other; they believed in safety first! For example, whenever it rained, they made sure to put on their raincoats before going outside. Sometimes, Twibble wanted to play but Tweeble didn't. And sometimes, Tweeble wanted to play but Twibble didn't. This was okay'; and lots of times, they just played alone.

One day, a new Twibble moved to town. This Twibble wanted to play with the other Twibble. But the first Twibble didn't know if they could play, because they looked so much alike. But they did play, and the first Twibble discovered she liked playing with a Twibble just as much as she like playing with a Tweeble.

The Tweeble saw how much fun the two Twibbles had playing together and wanted to play too, but the second Twibble didn't want to play with the Tweeble. This confused the first Twibble- she had fun no matter who she was playing with. But she was somehow able to reconcile this with herself and she had fun playing with whoever was most convenient!

(or they all played together if you have a penchant for a happy ending- or if you're just that kinky)

Name:  Kathryn McMahon
Subject:  sex-ed for kids
Date:  2002-09-27 00:51:27
Message Id:  2925
For the fairytale, we didn't get much beyond a title and focus for the story. We were going to call it "Goldilocks and the Three Hairs." We decided we wanted to show the changes that occur during puberty, which is happening in children at younger and younger ages. And we can't decide where to go from here!
Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Combining Colors
Date:  2002-09-28 11:57:33
Message Id:  2961
The presentation of the kindergarten class in sex ed in which "red" and "yellow" learned to play together, to mix their colors into new combinations, put me in mind of another of Sharon Burgmayer's paintings, in which she put blue and yellow together to make white. The painting was inspired a passage from a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in the grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase `each other'
don't make any sense.

The painting is called "In the field beyond." Anne

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Fewer High School Students Having Sex
Date:  2002-09-28 12:29:25
Message Id:  2962
The Philadelphia Inquirer had an article in Friday's (Sept. 27, 02) edition entitled "Fewer high school students having sex, CDC survey finds":

"Sexual intercourse among high school students has dropped significantly in the last decade, a federal health survey reported yesterday. The number of teens who remained virgins rose 16 percent in the last decade. In 2001, virgins outnumbered those who say they have had intercourse, 54 to 46 percent. In 1991, the results were just the opposite."

For more details go to

Name:  Sarah H.
Subject:  Fairytale Story
Date:  2002-09-29 14:50:29
Message Id:  2992
Once upon a box, there were two crayons, red and yellow, who loved coloring. They loved the colors and the pictures there bodies were able to make. Then one day, the crayons discovered each other's pictures and really liked the other's work and colors. THey became good friends and loved to spend time with each other. One day, as they were drawing side by side, red got caught up in watching yellow color, and accidentally fell over onto yellow's paper! Red left a big mark on yellow's drawing. Red said sorry, but yellow liked the mark, and got an idea. "Let's draw one picture using both of our colors!" yellow said. Red liked that idea, so red and yellow used both of their colors to make one beautiful picture.
Name:  lindsay u
Subject:  Fairy tale
Date:  2002-09-29 22:34:21
Message Id:  3009
Once upon a time there was a very nice, intelligent little boy named Bob, who happened to be overweight. On his first day of kindergarten, he asked a little girl to play with him.
"No!" she responded. "You're fat."
Her friends laughed at Bob and made fun of him. The next day, he asked the little girl to play with him again, and once again she and her friends said that they would not. That night, Bob went home and told his parents about his problems. They reminded him of his good qualities, and that he should only play with friends who liked him for his personality. He fell asleep peacefully between them. The next day, the little girl's friends were nowhere to be found, and she asked Bob if he would play with her.
"No, you didn't want to play with me yesterday," Bob replied. Besides, you make me feel bad about myself--I can find someone else to play with."
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