Why is Monogamy the Default?

I don’t have an end game when dating.

I enjoy it and like meeting new people and learning different perspectives. I’m open to different dynamics and connections. Often times, however, I question what I’m looking for when I go on dates. I don’t see myself abiding to the institution of marriage. Similarly, I don’t have a desire to have children. I’ve found comfort in my independence. I’m financially stable with a full-time job. I masturbate regularly. I have a plethora of hobbies and an active social life that fill up my calendar. I have endless amounts of love and support from my family and friends. There’s not much a romantic partner could give me that I already don’t have. So when the guy I’m dating asks me, “what are you looking for?”

I often say, “nothing at all.”

Kevin told me, “I’m not looking for anything serious,” after we hooked up the first night we met. It was nothing of real concern to me. I was seeing multiple guys at the time — fucking some, dating some, talking with some. All different dynamics, but all equally valuable to me. All deserving of my respect and kindness. It was comforting to know they were all humans looking for connection. Just like me. I gave each and every one of them my honesty. I made my intentions clear and was receptive to their thoughts and feelings. I genuinely cared about their health and happiness. 

One night after a few drinks and a night in my bed, Kevin admitted to liking me. I had to confess I was into him, too. We were always on the same wavelength, he made me laugh, and the sex was great. It felt easy and light-hearted. Our mutual emotions were an added benefit, but it was clear from the beginning that neither of us were looking for a serious romantic relationship.

When Kevin and I decided to only see each other, I thought it was out of convenience. Dating multiple people, while fun and insightful, was exhausting. I was tired of coordinating my schedule, spreading my attention, and constantly managing my sex health (condoms and clinic visits are expensive). I wasn’t opposed to investing my energy into one person. After all, I liked Kevin. I enjoyed his company and the way he touched me. That was enough for me. 

Our monogamy lasted less than two weeks. He drunk dialed me one night in distress, claiming he liked me but wasn’t “ready for a relationship.”

I was confused. I didn’t think we were in a “relationship.” I didn’t see him as my “boyfriend.” I didn’t think about our future together. I just liked spending time with him. Here and now.

I told him this over and over again. For me, being monogamous only meant we were loyal to each other. Choosing to be exclusive was more an action of logistics rather than love. I had only known him for a couple of months and felt we were still trying to figure out what was between us. I cared about him. I wanted to hear about his day. I wanted to add ease and relief to his work week. I wanted to include him in my fun and loving friend group. It’s in my nature to give anyone I care about those things; it didn’t mean anything more than that. I had done this with a handful of other guys I was non-exclusively seeing. Being kind and nurturing automatically meant something real and serious to him.

Kevin is not the first guy to mistake my openness for romance. A majority of my dating life has been this way. When I’m into someone, I want to give them my affection and attention. And it comes effortlessly to me because I want them to be happy and appreciated. I’m not thinking long-term about what it means to give someone my intimacy because I’m not looking for a partner. But it is consistently misinterpreted that way.

As a heterosexual woman in our heternormative society, it is expected of me to want a long-term monogamous relationship. I don’t. I like intimacy. I like connection. I’m willing to invest in people without the expectation of an outcome because I just enjoy spending time with them. And I’m accepting of the end when our time together reaches its limit. I recognize that people’s paths divide most of the time. That’s life. 

I don’t believe I’m an anomaly. As our culture becomes more socially aware and strives for gender equality, women are allowed to want more than a husband and a family in life. Our culture claims to welcome women to deprioritize motherhood and marriage, but there’s still a disconnect in our dating culture.

Women are allowed to want more than a husband and a family in life.

Stepping out of that gender expectation is confusing to the guys I date. Even when I tell them I’m not looking for a long-term serious relationship, they still assume my actions are leaning towards one. I’m left with frustration because expectations and assumptions are made about relationships before they organically form. 

In a way, I get it. As much as humans crave love, we’re more afraid of getting hurt than being open to others. Sometimes we want to categorize people to protect ourselves. These roles are so deeply embedded in our head. We’re so used to these gender scripts that we hold them to be true. It takes work to unlearn and most people aren’t willing to take the time to do it.

But I won’t minimize my heart to fit into the social norm. I won’t make myself smaller to get people to understand me. Caring is the foundation in all of my connections. It makes me vulnerable and takes energy, but it’s worth it because it leads me to authentic and genuine people.

I won’t reserve that for monogamous relationships. 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Nikki Burnett, Dariana Portes, and Alyse Mazyck. 

 

The Point of Painful Things

The following may be triggering to those affected by assault. 

 

The rape is not the point of this story. 

You will read that word, what it means, all its weight and history and implications and you will miss the point. Don’t do that. Focus instead on the before and after, as I’ve done my best to do over the past month, and perhaps this will not go down as another assault lost to the wind.

The stranger who stole my dress in the nighttime is not the star of this story. He is nameless, though his face manifests itself everywhere and women find themselves having to burn bloody underwear to forget. I watched the sunny, yellow cotton turn a violent red; a broken honey pot turned artifact of war. I was returned to the doorstep of my host family unceremoniously by someone who didn’t even know he’d just won a battle.

Flight. Fight. Freeze. Perhaps my stillness conveyed something sexy. My screams conveyed that I did not want to die. They rang clearly, uninhibited by alcohol and fueled by fear. That broke the sexy spell of an unmoving body, and suddenly his dick was inside of a someone, not a something. 

The feeling was not once but always. It is when I get grabbed on the train and drugged at the party. It’s my ex boyfriend throwing me around and my friends hiding embarrassing things under concealer. I think our quiet has convinced the world that we are a bunch of some bodies not somebodys. The difference is harrowing.

It took me ten minutes to start screaming. I have yet to stop. The doctors handed me a rape kit and some Xanax and told me to calm down. The world handed me Black skin and a vagina and told me to cover up.

I hand you this story and I am telling you to scream. 

I keep thinking, I can’t believe I didn’t die. They do that out here in South Africa — and everywhere. It was dark that night because there were no stars in the sky. I think of that minute detail often.

I believed, in a sweaty, scathing stupor, that I must ask — are you going to kill me?

Both he and the world looked at me with eyes that said, of course, he’s already done exactly that.

I shook with anger and fear and a thirst for blood and felt with complete certainty that both he and the world were sorely mistaken. 

The HIV prophylactics the paramedics gave me made me loopy. The anti-anxiety meds made me stop shaking. Their questions make me angry. Why didn’t YOU fight back? 

I had to call my mom.

My brother is going to read this. He’s twelve. 

Mom told dad because she had to. I’m telling you because I can. Do not question for a moment, it was violent. You needn’t hypothesize how horrible it must be. I am here to tell you.

I had to call my boyfriend.

I moved across the world and found what I worried may exist everywhere. Now I know, for certain, it does. The rape is not the point. The bruising and lacerations and potential exposure to HIV is not the point. The shaky fingers are not the point. They are all repercussions of a fact which I will beat to death until the same is done to me: the world for women and children is violently unsafe. 

I am a journalist by trade, by passion, by the things I’m good at. I like stories, so let me tell another. 

Once upon a time, on a night like any other, Uyinene Mrwetyana was being raped and murdered in a post office. 

And another. An average of 110 women were experiencing something similar in this country. I got to wake up the next morning. That makes me a special statistic.

I know hopelessness as the feeling of relief when your rapist doesn’t kill you. What pitiless joy I felt at being alive. How clear my defenselessness became in the wake of my entry into adulthood. Black girls don’t grow up, we are robbed and told that we’re being gifted reality. 

You are so beautiful, the world says. Let me tear you in half. 

I literally dare you. 

Let’s not talk about the frivolous stuff. Let’s talk about the small spaces, like the car. And strange men, like the driver. Let’s talk about tough talks, like with my mother. Or rough looks, from my host sister. We can discuss and reiterate and rearticulate and go through all the proper revisions and the fact remains the same. The test results do not change. My heart does not lighten. 

I write to you with the intention of telling the truth, especially when it hurts. I am a journalist, that is what we do. I take this story and I gift it to you all, a nasty present that proves the injustice of the world we’ve been thrust into. If there is no autonomy offered to my body then my brain will take it from here. 

I write to you because I believe in the fundamental change occurring publicly. I want the world to know that even its most protected — the sweet children they place in ivory towers and convince to change the world — even we are unsafe. I want the world to know that my suffering will be very loud. It will be shared and dissected and used for scientific research. I didn’t consent but I’ll give my body up to science, if it helps. 

I write to you because it’ll happen again. And again and again and again, and I’ll be damned if I’m not screaming through the whole thing.

Remember, the rape is not the point. 

It is a repercussion. Not for my actions, but for what we’ve decided to tolerate. The aftermath has lasted exponentially longer than the attack. It has been painful in a way which makes one want to die. It is the most regular I’ve felt in a long time. That’s the point. In all my grace and grandeur — in all my brilliance and beauty and perceived importance, I was assaulted. 

There is no safety net. That is the point. 

I wished someone had told me sooner before I realized it is displayed everywhere before me. The ugly truth exists twofold: I can neither pretend this didn’t happen, nor bring myself from putting it to paper. It must be documented. It will not be a secret between me, my rapist, and a God who failed to protect me. It will be another story, another byline, another injury sustained in the name of being alive. 

My new therapist says I must give myself time. He says not to intellectualize my experience. You’re traumatized, he says.

Yes, I reply. I’ve been traumatized. 

You’re in pain, he says.

Yes, I reply. I am in excruciating pain.

Heal how you see fit, he says.

So, I take a deep breath and scream.

 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Jamaica Ponder, STAA Collective, and Kathy Fernandez. 

If you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted, you can call the RAINN hotline for free, 24-hour advice at 1-800-656-4673.

 

My Boyfriend Sexually Assaulted Me

The following content may be triggering to those affected by assault.

 

The fact that I had been raped took months to sink in. As ignorant and naive as it may sound, I never thought a significant other could sexually assault me. My definition of rape back then was that it had to be outwardly violent, and that it happened between a stranger and their victim. My assault was passive-aggressive, it was manipulative, and believe it or not, it was soft. 

I remember saying no both times. He was only aggressive the second time around, but it was something I was used to — so it never alarmed me. I found temporary comfort in the thought that we had been consensually rough in the bedroom before, so that moment wasn’t any different.

What confused me the most is how he would ask and beg, but he’d still do whatever he wanted halfway through my responses. 

I loved him and I didn’t have the strength to stop him. Deep down, I knew it was wrong but I perceived him like a beam of light. He had my mom’s phone number, he watched movies with my brother, he went out with me and my friends, he even told me he loved me. So there was no way he had the heart to hurt me like that, right?

I buried both of those experiences in the back of my head for what felt like forever. I was too ashamed to bring it up to him, and even when I found the courage to leave him, too much time had passed. I felt as if there was no point in me confronting him. Not only because it felt like I was re-opening an old wound, but also because I had naturally fallen out of love. I began to build sexual relationships outside of the one I once had with him, so the last thing I wanted to do was think about it. 

Little by little, I began to realize what he had done to me.

Soon after cutting things off with him, I went home with someone I had known for two days. I remember teasing him for asking for my permission to do the smallest of things. From holding my hand to kissing me. I found it sickly sweet, but deep down it comforted me. For the entirety of our night, he’d ask for reassurance on everything he wanted to do, followed by a whisper, “Just let me know if you want to stop.” I loved it, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened at how someone I had dated for nearly two years couldn’t compare to someone I had known for barely two days. 

Even though my assault did not necessarily affect my sex life, it wrecked me in other areas. I have been working on my commitment issues that are tied to long-term emotional trauma in therapy for almost a year now. I’m proud to say that I’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but I definitely haven’t seen the “other side.”

My confidence and self-worth fluctuate at a comical rate. There are days where I am filled with guilt and I bombard myself with questions like how could you let this happen to you? I know now that I am not at fault for what I went through, but some days it’s just harder to remember that than others. 

When I say my relationship was tainted by two unfortunate events, I don’t ask for pity. It’s simply a fact. I’ve had the hardest time coming clean about this particular issue, mostly because it’s not a pill that’s easy to swallow. To be quite honest, I believe I’ve only told three or four people, one of them being my therapist. I’m a lot stronger and healthier than I was two years ago, but most importantly, I’m educated. 

Any sort of unwanted sexual act that violates consent is considered assault.

It doesn’t matter if the culprit is a stranger, a friend, a family member, or even your partner. Like I mentioned before, I loved my ex-boyfriend with every fiber of my being.

Despite no longer being together, I’m still carrying an array of moments we  shared — both positive and negative. If someone mentions something that reminds me of a date we went on or an inside joke we had, I’m not afraid to mention him in conversation. It’s hard for me to hate him, but I am also not too keen on his memory. 

Would I like to speak to him again? I don’t think so. Part of me feels like we’ve grown too far apart, but aside from that, I’m slowly finding closure within myself, and I am perfectly fine with that. 

 

If you feel as though your boundaries have been crossed, call the RAINN Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.For more information on what consent looks and feels like, click here. 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Willow Gray, Dariana Portes, and Juliet Denbaugh. 

Summer in New York

To whomever it concerns,

Bittersweet. That was the way my friend Christopher had described it to me as we sat in the middle of New York City. Bryant Park, specifically. He defined what I had been talking about and wondering myself. He asked me why I loved the person I did when it brought me both joy and sadness.

“Something to wallow in,” I said.

I loved him. More than I could say, more than I can even write about now. I thought I had fallen in love before — but not in this way. I’d fall for cities and people.

I’m originally from Los Angeles, but New York City has always been my dream. I graduated college and planned on moving to a different area code. In the middle of June, I landed in Manhattan.

In college, I had one serious relationship. That relationship consumed most of my undergrad years and taught me what I did not want in a relationship or partner. It also brought me the most defining heartbreak I had up until that point — until the following year.

I dated a little, as in by the third date we would fuck then never speak again. It was hard for me to find intimate moments with people I had no attraction to beyond their exterior. It’s also very hard for me to want to continue seeing one person, as I’m easily distracted and have what you may call a terrible case of what if there’s someone better out there? syndrome.

Later in that same year of the disastrous heartbreak with my long-term college boyfriend, I tried to be more open to dating. During that time, I found someone — or rather they found me and everything changed.

I actually had met him before, but unfortunately, we didn’t have much time together; he was only visiting New York. I wouldn’t see him again until the next fall. Unlike most sudden affinities, this did not go away. Immediately after our initial interaction, I realized how much I liked this person. And for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t because I wanted to fill my empty spaces of time with someone. It wasn’t about their appearance, but because of them. Their entirety. It felt too good to be true.

But by the time we started talking frequently again and became physical with one another, I began to realize that I was falling deeply in love with a person who would never feel the same way. By December, I finally admitted the way I had been feeling after too many tequila shots in a bar far away from him.

I was told, “I’m not looking for anything right now.”

He had missed the point completely. My expression of love for him was not to convince him that I should be his girlfriend. In fact, I didn’t even want to be his girlfriend. It was to tell him, “You’re something so important to me and losing you in any way at this point would absolutely tear me apart.” In other words, I can’t stop thinking about you and I don’t even want to try not to and I just want you to know that.

But he didn’t understand, and I’m not mad about it.

I fell madly in love with someone who I can now call one of my dearest friends. I could barely keep eye contact — if he ever looked at me the same time I looked at him I couldn’t linger on for more than ten seconds. I would be swallowed by what was between the two of us.

I felt as though I could be around him forever; never tire of seeing him, hearing him, or feeling him. I still can recall exactly what his hair would smell like after he showered and the way his skin felt in the sun. He was always so warm. And if he walked into the same room as me, the Frank Ocean’s line “Wish we grew up on the same advice and our time was right,” would play in my head.

We graduated from our university and as we separated I left him with a three-page long letter confessing my love. Not because he hadn’t heard it before, but because I wanted him to have it in writing.

Then, I started to look for new cities to live in. I spend the beginning of June in Spain contemplating my future. I then end up across the Atlantic back in the states in New York. I go there to meet up with my possible Brooklyn roommate. I always loved the East Coast, so I figured to try it out for a bit. While I was in the city, the boy who I had fallen so in love with was also there. Perhaps against my better judgement, we decided to meet in Lower Manhattan.

We spent the entire day and then the following evening together. I had never felt so deeply for someone as I looked over my shoulder to him lying in Central Park next to me. He was so close yet so far away. Although everything seemed perfect in that moment I knew as soon as I would
leave the city, it would all be gone.

I’ll never forget our night in Brooklyn, and I’ll return to this memory for the rest of my life. We shared a few drinks, some more of our thoughts on similar interests, and then we walked in Domino Park for most of the evening. It was so warm, around 75 degrees at midnight. The clouds had slowly rolled in from the south and as we looked up at the Williamsburg Bridge and over the water onto the Manhattan skyline. It was beginning to drizzle but we didn’t mind. We continued to walk along the river and share the evening. I remember slowly reaching for his hand as we stood side by side gazing at the traffic. It was the hum on the water that consisted of a few boats and the ferry that takes you back and forth from the city to the quieter streets of Brooklyn. I remember the way he grabbed my hand back and as we started to kiss in the summer rain, my heart swelled and sank even more.

I never wanted it to end. In the separated seconds of pressing our mouths to one another, I felt the sadness of everything when we stopped. As he looked at me and as I saw the lights of Manhattan behind him, I wanted to scream at him, “How can you not feel the same way?”

I mean, we were in New York, it was summer, it was raining, and we were kissing. If this wasn’t enough of a magical package of the best feelings to convince him we should be together, then I knew there was no convincing that could work. It was the way he felt. And although I respected it, I didn’t understand the way he could compartmentalize his feelings and moments with me into categories labeled “platonic.”

A few days later, I left New York. I haven’t seen him since.

But before that, I met with Christopher to have coffee after a morning of suffering a serious hangover. As we sat in Bryant Park, he asked me about this person and the past two nights we spent together. He asked me why I let myself fall in love with someone who showed no real want for me.

I couldn’t explain it. It was like I was addicted to it. I was so in love with him but also okay with the pain it brought me. I knew that no matter what I did or said, I would never be to him what he is to me. Once again he described our latest interaction as “bittersweet” because despite the happiness, it did not come alone. The sadness still lingered as I recalled his words of disbelief for my feelings for him and unreciprocated actions and words of affirmation.

That last night with him in Brooklyn was the closure I needed; he could only give me these small doses of intimacy that were not consistent with the rest of our interactions.

Although I have never stopped loving him, I have finally stopped wishing things would change. He still hinders my ability to want or try to be with other people — that’s not anyone’s fault but mine. I don’t want to see another sunset without him, I don’t want to go back to the city and know he is not there. But I will. It’s the only way I can go on without feeling as if I was carrying a brick on my chest.

I still haven’t spent a full summer in New York, but the days I visited in June felt like an entire summer wrapped up into one. Although I am still in my early 20s and have so much life ahead of me, I can’t help but think I will not feel this way about another person for a long time. As I try to date even now, I subconsciously look for him in other people. I wonder if he is doing okay. I’m not sure if he’ll ever read this, and even if he does I still don’t know if he would fully grasp it. But this was something I wanted to share. An open letter, an opening heart.

I wonder if I open it enough this love will pour out of me as easily at it seeped in. Maybe it’s to share with others that it’s okay to fall in love and be sad about it. Maybe it’s to finally put it in writing. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was all real and it was all on purpose and that’s the best thing I could have asked for.

 

Love,

Dev

 

All photos by Willow Gray. 

 

Sex is Supposed to be Fun for Women – Who Knew?

 

I didn’t know sex wasn’t supposed to hurt as much as the first time every time you had it until two years after the fact. Up until my revelation that sex could and should be enjoyable for women, I was satisfied in my dissatisfaction with sex.

For a while, whenever I would retrospectively wonder why I had put up with so much bad sex, I’d end up blaming myself. I felt responsible for my own complacency with sup-par dick. I explicitly told the men I’d slept with — time and time again — that the sex was great, that I enjoyed myself, that orgasm was completely authentic. And yes, it is so wonderful that we came at the same time. And so on and so forth. 

What a liar!

Why, if the sex sucked, was I sucking dick? Even then in my teenage naivete, I felt a distrust and disliking towards straight men. Yet, I fell into some sort of reversal when naked and attempting to reach some sort of climax — an effort often thwarted by my partners’ inability to locate anything with a nerve ending. 

I noticed my yielding toward the will of gendered power structures I so actively hated outside of the bedroom. And that behavior was rewarded. Or, reinforced with what I’m sure the men I was sleeping with perceived to be positive affirmation. Later into my sexual life, I found the forms of communication used through sex which I had become accustomed were kinda fucked up. Both verbal and non-verbal, were oftentimes completely dependent and in response to whatever my partner was communicating. 

That looked like: 

Him: I want head.

Me: Okay I will give you head. 

Him: You want to give me head, right?

Me: Yes, I want to give you head. 

I actually hate giving head. I hated then and I hate it still, but I’d do it anyway. Me just doing the damn thing wasn’t ever sufficient though. I had to want to do it. At the least, I had to make it seem like I wanted to do it. If my enthusiasm was not where it needed to be, I’d be asking a rhetorical question, to which the answer was already scripted. It never felt as though I could say, “No, I don’t want to do this sexual thing because we did it before and you’re bad at it.” Often, I felt that to be the only truthful response. So I would lie. 

Lying while laying. More focus applied to my moans than anything else. After a while, I decided that I hated sex and began to see it as a tool more than anything else. I rarely finished sex, because I rarely finished during sex. It became clear that once sex had started, to an extent, we’d done the deed regardless of if we came. Ta-da! Done. 

I got very good at faking fatigue from over exertion, exhaustion from lust, electrolyte depletion from sweating — I could find any way to get out of a fuck. It is to this phase in my life which I attribute my theater prowess. 

This happened so often and became so normalized that I wasn’t displeased or even deprived. I didn’t know what I didn’t have. I had never felt properly touched before, and therefore never longed for it nor suffered in its absence. 

Actually, I thought I had the whole sex thing pretty down. Guys loved sleeping with me and frequently wanted to do so more than once. I usually declined, opting instead to find more bad dick elsewhere. Neither party seemed to be aware that the sex was good for one person, since we both actively expressed a singular, male viewpoint. I call this bedroom hegemony. It’s like regular hegemony in the way that we’re convinced the unequal distribution of power is normal when really, it’s not. 

For example, I don’t particularly enjoy having a penis rammed down my throat. I don’t like having my head pushed in any direction. I like being choked, but you’re supposed to squeeze the sides of the throat, not the windpipe — that is how you kill someone. I don’t mind having my ass slapped, but I will be upset if I can’t sit down the next day. None of these are outlandishly deviant preferences. Though, I realized these were things I didn’t like because men kept doing them to me without asking. 

I would say nothing. Actually, I would pad my silence with a bunch of well rehearsed “oohs” and “ahhs”, not that anyone was listening anyway. In my mind, since everyone was doing it, that was just sex, right? 

It wasn’t until I started watching porn that I realized why all these men fuck like they’re trying to hammer a nail into a cement wall. The prevalence and seemingly formulaic incorporation of violence into mainstream porn fascinated me. The women, to whom I naturally  paid the most attention, rarely looked pleased. When they did I instantly questioned if it was as performative as I myself had grown to be. Porn is graphic, you can see everything. What I was seeing looked painful. I then understood, men are being taught that violence is sexy. Yuck.

There is an overbearing theme of domination and objectification of women in porn. This isn’t necessarily a nuance, but when applied to the behavior I experienced in the bedroom, the themes transfer over. I see the unrealistic expectations and understandings of sex bleed from the internet into my actual bedroom. Sometimes that’s in the uncomfortably rough way men have handled my body. Often times, it’s in the overwhelmingly male focus and narrative of our sex. We’re done when he’s done. White flag means game over.  

I notice the confidence in men who have bad sex. Clearly they don’t know they’re bad, and they’ve been bad for so long, they think they’re good. To which I say, we need to stop lying to men about their pipe game. 

We’re doing ourselves a disservice, sure. But it’s easy to walk away from bad sex with a smile and never look back. I used to pull that all the time. Though, what we’re also doing is reinforcing male delusions of grandeur in the bedroom. Do not let the age old myth that he who fucks the hardest and fastest wins the race. He who comes first does not actually win. In the name of vaginas, anuses and orifices otherwise used in sexual activity, tell guys what they’re doing wrong. If not for yourself than for their next partner. Consider it as passing it forward. 

Once I made the connections between my own displeasure and the looks of boredom on porn stars’ faces, I started speaking the hell up. “I don’t like this,” “touch me here,” “do not even think about it.” I wasn’t a dick about it, but if the service wasn’t up to par, I dismounted, packed my things up and took my butt home. 

I had to explain to a lot of guys that no, that wasn’t how you did that. And they listened. If we needed to, we stopped. When I wanted to, I took the time to explain what I liked and how they could improve. It made my sex longer, better, and hotter. The active dismantling of male dominance in my bedroom made me love my bedroom a lot more. Made me love sex a lot more. Made a lot of guys into the men they are today. 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Francesca Iacono, Tamara Chapman, and Dakota Varney. 

 

Thank God Pride Month is Over

I won’t beat around the bush — as a queer identifying woman in 2019, I felt immense relief when June 30th turned into July 1st. Pride Month was officially over.

My first experience with the phenomenon was the first time I went to San Francisco Pride in 2016. I was in the weird half-closet space I’m sure most queer people are familiar with — I didn’t resonate with any of the indicators “gay”, “lesbian”, “pansexual”, or “queer” — but I definitely wasn’t straight.

I had had the most intense romantic feelings for a girl in my after school theater program, and had even “dated” another girl for about two months (well, dated her as much as you can when you are both in tenth grade and live 20 minutes away from each other). I wasn’t straight, I wasn’t gay, and most of all, I wasn’t “proud.” 

Although it may not seem it, in 2015 — when I first begin to accept my non-straight identity — it was a very different social landscape than it is today.

Most straight people, at least from my semi-rural high school, didn’t go to the Pride parade. There were two, maybe three out gay people at my school, and even fewer lesbians. Our production of Romeo and Juliet, with both title roles played by women, was mired in controversy. Multiple parents disapproved and said it made them “uncomfortable.” It wasn’t uncommon to hear the word “faggot” tossed around as a casual insult, and even less common that someone would speak up about it.

Living and going to school in such an environment made me miserable. I wasn’t a complete social outcast because of my sexuality, but that’s because I made such an effort to conceal and brush over the fact that I wasn’t straight, even when I was relatively “out” (i.e. dating a girl).

Many months into my relationship with a girl who went to school in a far more diverse and accepting community, I had to think of reasons to convince her to not come to my prom. I

had avoided introducing her to my friends at all costs. Maybe this was partially because she was not a good person and it was a vastly unhappy relationship, but it more likely stemmed from my fear that if people knew I was dating a girl, or worse — saw me being intimate with her, it would change their opinion of me. 

I don’t think my sexuality was the only thing that differentiated me from my high school peers — we were different in many other regards, too. From having the financial necessity to actually get a job in high school instead of being gifted a Lexus, to a desire to escape the suburban bubble we grew up in, etc… but I would be lying if I said my identity didn’t play a major role in my feelings of alienation and isolation throughout high school.

For the better part of those four years, I was made to feel — by family, “friends”, the school community, and popular culture — broken, wrong, disgusting, unwanted, and completely alone. I compensated heavily, trying to be “straight” in every other regard besides my actual sexuality. If I had to pinpoint one word to describe my coming-of-age, coming-of-queer experience, the word shame is much more accurate than the word pride. 

For the better part of four years, I was made to feel wrong, disgusting, unwanted, and alone.

This is why, several years later, seeing the same straight people from my school post pictures of themselves at the SF Pride made me so angry. Why I didn’t even want to attend the parade the past few years. Rather, I’d opt for chilling in Dolores Park with my friends, miles away from the festivities at Civic Center. Nonetheless, it’s not easy to escape the “iconic” parade made up almost entirely of corporate floats, straight girls in cheap butterfly wings (bound to be discarded almost immediately), and straight guys who would leer at a real lesbian couple in any other situation. To really complete the experience there are huge lines, crowds of chaotic drunk people, a handful of semi-predatory men, and a police presence to rival a riot. 

While queer people do show up to Pride, their presence is usurped by the hordes of straight people attempting to cash out on a tradition that has historically been about opposing their oppression. To steal from the “Queer Nation Manifesto” — a manifesto passed out by people marching with the ACT UP contingent in the New York Gay Pride Parade, “It is easier to fight when you know who your enemy is. Straight people are your enemy. They are your enemy when they don’t acknowledge your invisibility and continue to live in and contribute to a culture that kills you.”

It’s true that straight people took part in Pride celebrations in the past. They were the cops who were beating and bashing “out” queer people, notably trans women of color, who have always been a target of immense violence but are still some of the most silenced members of the “community.”

One of my most defined memories of my first Pride was not celebrating my burgeoning sexuality with my friends and reveling in how loved, accepted, and equal I was made to feel — as I’m supposed to believe Pride is all about — but watching an actual queer couple be shoved into the door of a crowded Bart train by a group of belligerent straight people.

Straight people are trying to cash out on a tradition which, historically, is about rejecting their oppression.

This year, when a large group of straight high-schoolers came into my train car identically dressed in shorts and rainbow crop tops for the girls and basketball jerseys for the boys, I yelled something along the lines of, “It’s so brave of you to come out and support the community. I love seeing queer people at Pride.” I hope I helped them feel some of the same sense of humiliation and alienation that is integral to the experience of growing up queer when I did and even now, in 2019 (as much help as the occasional Target ad feauturing lesbians provides). 

I don’t think yelling at some asshole kids on the BART makes me an activist. For all I know, some of them might actually have been LGBTQ. I’m not even writing this to help convince straight people to not go to Pride, or queer people to boycott it as an act of “resistance” and “praxis.” I acknowledge that for some queer people, Pride is a positive and necessary experience. However, I want people to acknowledge the strangeness of corporate Pride, which exists as an isolated day of “support” by pandering companies that contribute greatly to a culture that wants to minimize or silence voices of opposition– radical voices, anticapitalist voices, queer voices — every other day of the year. The cognitive dissonance of the event happening in SF and other city centers with a malignant culture of displacement, homelessness, and gentrification, blows my mind. 

Despite my position of relative privilege, as a white, able-bodied, educated woman who has the ability to choose the physical safety and normalcy of a straight relationship (and be satisfied with it), I cannot just shake off the sense of shame inherent to my relationship to my queerness for one day, and no part of me wishes to.

Pride, as it exists today, wishes to make us forget our queerness and assimilate into a society that hasn’t valued us until it realized it could exploit our identities to turn a profit. I am as attached to my shame as straight people are to going on dates in Target, or having bad trips at music festivals, or streaming Ed Sheeran. My shame kept me company at a time when I felt I had almost no one who would accept me as I am, and I refuse to abandon it to assimilate into a culture that is built on values of hatred, fear, division, and self-interest — values that are antithetical to queerness as I have come to know it.
Photos (in order of appearance) by Daniela Guevara, Francesca Iacono, and Disco Duckie. 

 

How I Discovered I’m a Love Addict

 

“Hi, my name is Ana. I am a 21-year-old junior in college, and I’m pretty sure I struggle with love addiction,” were the first words to come out of my mouth during my first Sex Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) meeting. 

Realizing that I was love addict was a lengthy process, but finding what triggered it was almost instantaneous.

For almost two years now, I have been conducting a strict, solo-polyamorous lifestyle. Which, simply put, just means “single with multiple partners.” Most of the relationships I am currently in are nothing but casual, and they are based on both sex and friendship. In my head, this pattern seems ideal. I mean, I’m getting all the perks of being in a relationship without having to worry about commitment, having to introduce someone to my family, or wanting to be intimate with someone new.

So why does it hurt so much?

I began to suspect I had some addictive tendencies whenever I would find myself mistaking sexual encounters with a new romantic opportunity. To this day, I crave emotional connection, non-sexual affection, and the feeling of falling for someone. All because it temporarily boosts my perception of self-worth. Unfortunately for me, I oftentimes find myself having sex in order to obtain all of those things. Mostly because it seems to be the easiest and quickest method. Unsurprisingly, all this does is put me in the perfect position to get constantly burned. 

I frequently catch myself putting other people’s needs, specifically those of my sexual partners, before my own.

Although I can admit this is a nice gesture, it is definitely an unnecessary one. I begin to act like “the perfect girlfriend” in order for me to get a glimpse of the perfect boyfriend. Deep down, I’m aware that I could never really hold a genuine romantic relationship with a lot of the men I’m involved with. Yet my mind never fails to overwhelm me with negative emotion whenever these men don’t treat me how I dream of being treated. In the past, I caught myself defending this behavior with “the golden rule” — but I recently discovered it’s rightfully inapplicable in this scenario. 

So, what exactly is love addiction? To be quite frank, I found out about it less than a month ago. In fact, it was hard for me to believe it was a real thing. However, that thought quickly changed after going on an hour-long Google binge which ended on the SLAA website. 

While The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not officially recognize love addiction as a real disorder within the manual, it is considered a behavioral addiction amongst many psychiatrists. Like any other addiction, this particular one provokes compulsive behavior that can lead to self-destructive tendencies: practicing unhealthy habits, having falling-outs with friends and family, and even developing new addictions. 

In my case, I am severely addicted to the rush I get from the disingenuous relationships I’ve developed over the past two years. My symptoms are merely focused around the dependency within romance. My coping mechanisms include finding new partners or contacting old ones, fantasizing about love, restricting my eating, and of course, having sex. 

Though I’m still unsure from where exactly my addiction stems, I am confident that the absent relationship I had with my father growing up, the highly manipulative, age-gap relationship I had with my first love at sixteen, and the sexually and emotionally abusive relationship I had with my most recent ex boyfriend are all contributors. I will not go into detail about what exactly happened in each of those chapters of my life, but I am grateful to be at a place where I am comfortable enough to admit that they happened and that these events still haunt me. 

I’m still having a hard time trying not to blame the people I mentioned before for my current struggle with love addiction. I understand that being angry at them is acceptable, but at the end of the day I know I’m the only one who can improve my life.

In other news, I also have a hard time staying away from sex and the habits that come with my addiction. For example, I only ate one meal yesterday and I spent the entire day crying because I told myself I should try and limit how much I communicate with my current partners.

All I want is the constant reassurance and happiness that stems from a romantic relationship. It makes me feel confident, it makes me feel wanted, and unfortunately, it makes me feel good enough for everyone.I’m still confused as to why I seem to need it from a man I find attractive. But I’m proud to have been brave enough to come to terms with my ongoing problem.

 

 

For more information about sex and love addiction, you can visit Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

Photos (in order of appearance) by STAA Collective and Francesca Iacono.

 

An Audience with the Dildo Duchess, Zoë Ligon

 

RoleModel is an interview series highlighting badass individuals. 

 

Zoë Ligon is changing the world one dildo at a time. 

For those who don’t know, ZoĂ« is the CEO of Spectrum Boutique, an inclusive, online sex-positive adult toy store operated out of Detroit. In addition to being a businesswoman, writer, and sexual educator — she also hosts a podcast called Hot Brain, in which she discusses everything from sex to memes to intimacy.

Whether you know her as ZoĂ«, the dildo duchesss, or @thongria, there is no denying that she’s a renaissance woman. Zoë’s shop is online so we decided to chat with her — online. The following is a transcript of our conversation. 

 

Where did the name Thongria come from?

I used to be a moderator for OkCupid in 2014. Essentially, I reviewed user reports as well as flagged content and made decisions on who stays and who gets banned. I came across an account that was clearly a scammer, but before I slapped ’em with a ban, I noticed their username was “Thongria” — and thought it was cute.

Soon after, my original instagram account @poopexplosion was banned from Instagram because… dildos. When I needed a new name, I thought, thongria! [@Poopexplosion] had about 1,000 followers and was by no means visible on social media, so I had no idea that it would literally become known as “me” as time went on.

Recently I learned that “Thongrian” is a common name in other parts of the world, so I have no idea if that scammer meant to write that name and it was a typo, or whether it was really someone being like “thong + sangria = thongria” (which is how I interpreted it). 

 

Spectrum is so welcoming and helpful, an insanely different experience to my first time in a sex shop and I’m assuming many other peoples’. Do you remember your first time in a sex shop? 

I most certainly do! I went into Tic-Tac-Toe (now closed) in Greenwich Village to get a gag gift for my roommate freshman year in college. I also picked up some metal handcuffs (truly the worst restraint ever) and some very toxic butt plugs that were part of an “anal training kit.” I was uncomfortable, but I acted on my discomfort by being like LOL cool LOOK AT THIS!! While my friend who joined me was a bit more quiet and shy.

Like many people, I got insertable things before I got a vibrating thing. When you’re taught that sex equals penetration, you don’t realize that dildos and butt plugs are best paired with external stimulation (for many of us)! I mainly used those butt plugs to send sexy pictures to guys I was into, it wasn’t even for me, really. 

 

Your first vibrator? 

Ah, the original Lelo Liv. In navy blue! I still have it. I got that thing, and it sat in a drawer for weeks, maybe months, before I used it. I didn’t know it at the time, but the vibrations were far too gentle for me. I used it, felt pretty meh about it, and finally connected the dots that I needed something stronger, so I got a wand and the rest is history! The Liv ended up being a prop for me to shove in my ass during sex with partners — and no that is not an anal safe vibrator. I cringe thinking about it, and how it too became a prop for others’ enjoyment more than my own. It’s not that I dislike anal, I just did anal play performatively for others at the time, and I like reflecting on that.

 

Imagine yourself seeing Spectrum online through the lens of a young adult. It seems like a super informational and inclusive place for everyone. Was this the intention?

Oh wow — heck yes! The fact that Spectrum is nearly four years old and growing each day blows my mind, so much so that I almost compartmentalize it. It feels too good to be true. I can’t even absorb how fucking cool it is that I have grown, learned, and healed through creating this platform that also helps other people, too.

Ultimately, the viewers teach me more than I could ever teach myself. The education goes both ways, and I’m excited to make Spectrum a place where the users have even more input and ability to share their thoughts!

 

We are exposed to so much sexual content and have it available at our fingertips thanks to the internet. With that, information about Sex Ed has become more accessible. Your personal approach is very humorous and candid. How did you settle on your educational voice? 

I really think it’s just who I am. I recently watched videos from my childhood, and couldn’t get over how I have always had the same vibe (minus sex toys of course).

Pleasure is an amazing and beautiful thing, but there are many difficult aspects of pleasure, especially in our society today. I can only speak from my personal experience, and there is a lot of pain and trauma in my personal experience. So in order to approach my pleasure and take it back and make it mine, I need to make it funny. Humor is the only way I can authentically navigate the darkness in order to get back to pleasure. It’s not a deflection or glossing-over, it’s the way I can transform pain into pleasure. Humor is the change agent for me. 

 

From an online/IRL lens, have you seen attitudes towards sex changed since opening your shop?

Absolutely. People are much more aware of sexual trauma, specifically. The most frequently asked questions have always involved people with vulvas and their inability to orgasm, but people phrase it differently now.

Questions, in general, are worded in ways that are more aware of things like dissociation and physical pain that manifests from trauma. Instead of “why am I this way?” It’s now more so, “how do I move past this?”

 

What goes into being @thongria? Your internet presence is incredible, and I’m sure the trolls are unforgiving. Have you ever had to deal with online harassment? 

What goes into being Thongria? A lot of haphazard selfie taking that is utterly ridiculous. I have no content calendar, I just impulsively create based off of ideas that float through my brain. I think relative to my reach, I have been pretty lucky with trolls.

The things that cause me to get dragged the hardest are the things that strike a nerve with people and cut to the core of an issue that brings out intense feelings from people. I can’t say that my tolerance for harassment is healthy or natural, but after years of it, I do feel that online harassment over something I am standing up for is far better than no reaction whatsoever.

I just want people to self-reflect. If people follow me just to report me or troll me, maybe one day that ideology will unravel a bit. People who harass others online are making a bigger statement about themselves than the person they’re harassing.

 

Has IG ever removed your content in the name of censorship?

Yes, constantly. Just got notified of something being taken down within the past hour. Twitter is better about not censoring me. I respect the concept of community guidelines, but it’s clear that the guidelines are subjective, selective, and reflect many disturbing double standards in society.

 

If you could snap your fingers and erase a taboo about sex or a false belief/misconception, what would it be?

The belief that you can be entitled to sex or intimacy from someone else.

 

Do you think we will ever ‘free the nipple’? 

I am genuinely unsure, but I am hopeful. As we all begin to understand the fluidity of gender, and we see that reflected within the structure of society — maybe.

 

What’s something about you we couldn’t learn from googling you?

I had two pet snakes growing up. One was a large bull snake named Bullet, and one was a ribbon snake that I named Birthday because I got it on my birthday and I am terrible at naming pets. 

 

What’s your sign and do you think astrology influences your sex life at all? 

I’m a Taurus sun, Gemini rising, Aquarius moon… yes I know all that, yet I don’t think that astrology influences anything in my life, period.

I do appreciate that it is a way we can discuss personality traits and relationships, however! I have found far more personal insight from things like Enneagrams (I’m a 6.) I don’t have any issue with astrology, but I am bothered by people using it to manipulate other people (i.e. you can’t do X today, mercury is in retrograde!) as well as people who use it as a scapegoat for their shitty behavior.

But having said that, my Venus is Aries so I’m terrible to date!

 

What’s a toy from spectrum that my boyfriend and I should try?

This is a question I receive often, and the answer is… that’s up to both of you! There isn’t one specific thing that I think all people or couples should try. There are definitely things that can be helpful for couples, like sex positioners which help you get better angles, but nothing is “just for couples.”

But in the spirit of answering this question, even though it isn’t a toy, get a sex wedge! You can always just use it as a back pillow for eating snacks in bed. 

 

You can follow ZoĂ«’s hilarious and thoughtful Instagram account here, and be sure to check out her podcast Hot Brain — currently streaming on Apple and Spotify. 

Article photos (in order of appearance) by Chloe Sells, Megan Lovallo, and Maizy Shepherd.

Wanna Have a Threesome?

Threesome almost feels like a bad word at this point. At worst, the experience can be disorganized and over-performative, but at best — when you’ve perfected the art of communicatively taking turns — it truly is the more the merrier.

I find that one of the most unappealing aspect of threesomes is that it’s an infamous facet of straight boy dreams, but I want to advocate for the group setting. Here are a few of my personal tips that may help enhance your ménage à trois!

 

Who to ask.

Some enjoy the novelty of a stranger, while others find comfort in the familiarity of a friend or acquaintance. Inviting a stranger into the mix can be ideal for those who want to avoid potentially shifting the nature of their current intimate relationships.

However, friends can be preferable for those who seek familiarity. Before you and and your partner bring others into bed, ask yourselves: what would best enrich my experience?

 

Initiate the conversation.

Introducing your desires may take your partner(s) by surprise, which is fair enough! Endeavoring into new sexual territory requires a lot of trust. Be open to answering all of their questions — before, during, and after. Your partner(s) may experience internal conflicts and express insecurities about their performance in bed, hold space for their concerns. Communicate why you’d think a threesome may be fun for you both and how it’s an interest not borne from boredom in your shared sex life. 

Remember that it is a conversation, be as open-minded as you would want in return. 

 

Vocalize fears and concerns beforehand.

Be open about your own and your partner(s)’ expectations. Discuss specifically what you are and are not comfortable with. Is something about the deed making you nervous? Are you concerned with the aftermath? 

Talking about your desires and fears beforehand will also ensure that every participant is prepared. If you all aren’t familiar with each others sexual wants, be honest about what gets you going. Don’t worry about ruining the spontaneity, life has its way of slipping surprises in no matter what. 

Set your boundaries.

Decide what is off-limits. If kissing isn’t in the cards — be vocal about it! No anal? Perfectly fine. Similarly, advocate for what you do want to try. Threesomes also don’t have to be treated as a singular occasion. Sex in general requires a lot of practice to familiarize yourself with others bodily preferences. No decisions have to be made immediately, but extend the idea of giving each other the chance to practice. 

 

Be prepared with condoms and lube.

What’s a bigger buzzkill than scrambling for that one condom you are SO sure you have under your bed somewhere? Nothing is hotter than being prepared. Also, don’t forget the toys! Throwing in a gadget or two may ensure that no one feels left out.

 

Don’t use porn as a guide.

Sexual navigation is more complicated than pornography can prepare you for. You and your partner likely don’t behave like pornstars in bed, so why reference it? Although, it can be a hot tool to utilize during the real life thing, if you’re into that. 

There is no singular or right way to have a threesome!

 

It’s OK to change your mind.

You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. If your partners give you a hard time about it then it just validates your decision even more.

 

Have fun and roll with the punches (metaphorically)!

Sex is messy. We, ourselves, are subject to being messy. Be confident in yourself and follow your gut. Nothing that you do for the first or hundredth time has to go off without a hitch. Don’t be overcritical of your own performance. 

 

It’s all right if everything doesn’t go “back to normal” afterwards. 

Don’t feel pressured to achieve normalcy. Maybe it’s better if your relationships with your partner(s) take a different shape rather than squeezing into socially acceptable and formal boxes. You’re in charge of the relationships you want and the sex you want. 

 

Be safe, be confident, and be kind! 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Sweet Suezy, Dariana Portes, and Francesca Iacono. 

 

Dear Deadname

Deadname, 

Sometimes I miss your face. Your long hair, and your wild tendencies. For most of my life you were all I knew, you were my only option. But you were never at home in me. For 20 years you sat and festered like an open wound, rotting my sense of self away. I tried to make myself one with you. After all, you were put upon me at birth, and who was I to say that my parents were wrong in giving you to me?

It took me years of discomfort and shame for me to get fed up with you. Removing you has given me so much freedom, it has given me the chance to live authentically. Most of the time I can say I do not miss you at all. 

You inhabited this body with me for 20 years, you dominated the space while I was curled in the corner, letting you have the reins. You repressed me for years, and when I started to take up space it still took me a long time to eliminate you. I had to have no mercy for you in order to reclaim my body and brain. I had to be unforgiving and brutal so that I could transition and live a genuine life. 

Now that I have the opportunity to explore myself, I’d like to extend a hand to you. I want to say that I see you. I understand that you weren’t trying to hurt me, you were just pressure from the outside world. You were just a child, unaware of the other options out there.

We were called a girl, given your name, and it never felt right to me, so I resented you. My insistent gender defying thoughts were a constant source of guilt and fear. I was so ashamed and afraid of what people might think of me. So I kept myself hidden.

I still resent you a little bit, because you are more easily digestible for people. They struggle with me, they can’t swallow that this is who I am, that you were a parasite in my body, sucking me dry.

I know it’s not your fault, it’s the world around us that told me you had to be the one that was seen. That I was broken, a mutant, a deviant.

But I still felt hurt by you. I still feel hurt by you. So much of my life was given to you, and I just had to wait my turn, hoping that someday the world would be ready enough for me. I wouldn’t say that they were ready, but I got tired of waiting. I was done with your facade. Even though you were just a little girl in the wrong body and mind. You were probably just as hurt and confused as I was. But it’s my body and mind, and it was given to you.

You embodied this being for so many years, and you ran us into the mud.

I know it wasn’t completely your fault — you had trauma, a load of mental illness, and substance abuse issues to deal with. You were trying to find yourself, but you were never really meant to be there. But I’m still truly hurt and scarred by those years of self destruction. You could never accept me, so you tried to drown me out with whatever you could. Whatever substance, sexual partner, or shitty coping mechanism you could get your hands on.

Without you I’m taking care of myself.

I’m transitioning, taking my meds, I’m sober, and I choose relationships that fulfill me and take care of me. I couldn’t have done those things with you steering the ship. I’m sorry I had to kill you. I know you were innocent, but in order for me to thrive there was only room for one of us in this body and mind. The two of us were not fitting well in here, and I couldn’t take anymore time being silenced and beaten down. I don’t regret doing what I did, but I thought you should know that I see you.

You’re in a better place now, this wasn’t home for you. Rest easy. 

 

Love, 

Bobbi 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Dakota Varney, Nikki Burnett, and Kathy Fernandez.