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Beyond the Shadow Feminine


Photo by Eric Francis Coppolino.
  • Photo by Eric Francis Coppolino.

It’s been easy to notice the misogynist rampage of the Republicans lately. Watch cable news for 20 minutes and you get inundated with it.

Last month, for example, the Republican-controlled Senate in Utah successfully pushed through a law effectively banning sex education courses from covering the subjects of contraception, premarital sex, and homosexuality, forcing schools to teach only abstinence and heterosexuality or not have any sex education program. Note, this crap has been going on since 1981, costing American kids worlds of pain and costing the taxpayers billions of dollars.

In South Carolina, some politicians tried to make a rule that nobody who has had premarital sex can run for office. This is the kind of thing I would think of for an April Fool’s Day prank and be rather pleased with myself; but it seems like many politicians are hell-bent on outdoing the cartoonists who ridicule them.

Given that spring is the season of Beltane, when passionate lovemaking and sex out in the fields is an offering to the Earth in the spirit of planting the seeds of abundance, it’s little wonder that we’re having economic problems. Humans are part of the natural cycle of fecundity, which means fruitfulness. Sexuality is not only natural; it’s related to everything we do and in some way soaks into or sweats out of every relationship we have, particularly to life itself. Unless you’re Dolly the Sheep, you’ve been sexed into existence. OMG.
It would seem that by banning most forms of sex, information about sex, discussion of sex, health services related to sex, choices about sex, and feelings about sex, the goal is to cut people off from their potential, the expression of their natural feelings, and from abundance.

And you might think: Men! Leave it to men! This is misogyny! Women are being oppressed!

Except for one thing. In the politics of love, the “male party” has been cast as the one that is pro-promiscuity and against marriage, and the “female party” is the one that’s supposedly pro-marriage and against dallying around. These, of course, are the official party lines, and now they seem to be reversing: It seems to be predominantly men advocating for the marriage-only option. That said, I know very few men who pressure their peers into marriage, and many, many women who succeed in pressuring their female peers into marriage—no matter how miserable they think it’s made so many people around them.

Now a contingency of men is trying to enforce codes of morality and bodily control over everyone, but it seems that the female body is the specific target of the attack. We might say that’s because it’s the one where pregnancy happens, but I’ve also heard that people think that the men in question are intimidated by female sexual power.

Men Embodying Female Shadow
I have another theory: The men involved are providing a voice and a projection screen for women’s denial of their own sexual power. The attempt by men to ban the discussion may be a reflection of women’s refusal to take up the discussion, to educate themselves and one another, to educate their children, and to insist on honest sex education in schools.

It is girls and women, after all, who actually get pregnant—they have the most at stake. I am aware that there are some enlightened women who really give their children the tools they need. But I know too many young women whose mothers refused to give them any tools at all, who turned them against sex and their bodies, and who indoctrinated them into compulsory heterosexual monogamy. Then there are those who allow their daughters to be injected with Gardasil, which is a neurotoxin and poses the risk of sterility.

My theory is that these Republican dudes who want to probe female bodies with ultrasound devices and ban contraception and sex education and force women to carry the child of their rapist, well, they’re just expressing a much deeper level of misgiving and ignorance. They’re acting out the drama for us; they’re our elected oppressors because that’s what you need if you’re going to be oppressed. Basically, I’m saying we let these ugly people do the dirty work for us.

If many—indeed, most—of the secrets of fertility and childbirth are contained in the female body, and we now have this voice trying to enforce ignorance, and a ban on pleasure, freedom of choice, and self-determination (including the ongoing war against midwives), maybe these men are acting out the shadow feminine—the attributes of femaleness that many women themselves tend to deny. It’s easy to say, “Men are afraid of female power and mystery,” but that begs the question—how do women feel about these things?

If, as seems to be the case, men are trying to say that women must exist within a universe of no sexual choices whatsoever except (perhaps) whom to marry, what is the other side of the discussion? Obviously, sexual autonomy goes a lot further than the right to birth control and abortion—but the discussion rarely goes any further. It’s as if all women can do is defend their right to these two basic choices—however meekly that’s happening—but outwardly expressing the right to pleasure and sexual choices is still considered slutty, pervy, or subject to shame.

I recognize that we have all been subjected to the guilt and shame campaign (and we still are). Yet just like the feminists I knew as a teenager explaining to me that the opposite of anti-abortion is not pro-abortion, it’s pro-choice, the opposite of guilt is not being anti-guilt—it’s affirming freedom and pleasure.

Why Masturbation Is Still Taboo—and What That Reveals
Before I embark on the taboo side of this subject, I want to acknowledge the progress that has been made on masturbation and, in particular, female masturbation, the past 40 years. The world has had a lot of help from one person—Betty Dodson—who was the first person to come out publicly as a masturbator and advocate of self-given orgasm. She did not do this to teach “sexual technique.” She has been clear that this is about your holistic relationship to your body and to existence. Betty teaches masturbation as the core component in a holistic vision of life.

Anyone concerned that pornography is violent or demeaning should be gratified by the honoring (indeed, reverence) for female masturbation in contemporary pornography. Websites like and honor both men and women, though on many “traditional” porno sites you could watch women masturbate nonstop for months, until your computer eventually needs to be restarted.

There is a proliferation of woman-centered sex toy stores, including Babeland and Good Vibrations, with many independently owned “sexuality boutiques” getting started as well.

Yet despite the emergence of a masturbation subculture, I believe the taboo is still going strong—embodied in abstinence-only indoctrination of teenagers, and all of the religious philosophies at its core. The obsession with marriage that we all see is an attempt to teach young people that masturbation is wrong and that it’s not “real sex”—the kind you supposedly have when you’re married. This also includes the indoctrination that every other form of sexual exploration (especially same-sex play) is wrong. Anti-sex crusaders understand that masturbation is same-sex play, and therefore (in their minds) it must be just one little shade away from being queer.

Now, the truth is that you can’t prevent people from masturbating, but you can do your best to make them feel guilty about it, and that in turn associates all sex with shame. This “teaching” has made its way into public schools in 49 states in the form of abstinence indoctrination, which our society has sponsored since 1981, when Ronald Reagan put it through Congress.

Yet note that when anti-sex forces want to go for the jugular, they go for masturbation. It’s not just the Mormons, but they are famous for their vicious abuses of children and teens on this topic. In fact, with rare exceptions, nearly all branches of Christianity wage open war on masturbation, as do many other religious sects. Masturbation is the conservative nightmare of sex. You don’t need anyone else to do it. It exists far outside the health care system; it’s inherently disease and pregnancy proof; there is no way to tax, prosecute, or regulate it. It’s nice to have a vibrator, but God-given fingers work just as well.
There are three reasons I believe that masturbation presents a persistent controversy. And these are the same three reasons that I believe masturbation must be at the heart of any sex education program, or any attempt at sexual enlightenment by anyone at any age.

Reason One. Masturbation leads to self-knowledge. It starts with knowledge of what makes you feel good, and how your body works, as well as what you want. If you know what makes you feel good, you’re less likely to do what hurts. If you can take care of yourself, you’re less likely to need someone else to take care of you. Yet if approached consciously, masturbation also leads to a depth of self-awareness that is essential for navigating life. Part of the self-knowledge offered by masturbation is what happens in the unspeakable cosmic self-communion of orgasm.

Reason Two. Masturbation is impossible to regulate. This is true of the physical experience; at least in Western society, it’s possible to find some time alone every now and then. But it’s especially true for the mental and emotional aspects of the experience, which as you know are total, unmitigated anarchy. Within your own mind, you can do anything you want to, with or for anyone you want. This includes people of any sex, gender, or species, such as trisexual space alien fantasies or the little hottie who works next to you. Obviously, this universe of imagination is not constrained by availability, appropriateness, whether anyone might reciprocate, or whether other intelligent life exists in the universe.

Reason Three. Masturbation subverts marriage and encourages independence. It doesn’t prevent marriage—it opens up your relationship to yourself, and then points to the existence of every form of sexual expression other than what is allowed under the terms of the marital sex license. By giving anyone control over their orgasm, it subverts all forms of codependent relationships. Christine O’Donnell, the former senatorial candidate from Delaware, was onto this one in that famous MTV video when she said, “The reason you don’t tell them that masturbation is the answer to AIDS and all these other problems that come with sex outside of marriage is because, again, it is not addressing the issue. You’re going to be pleasing each other. And if he already knows what pleases him, and if he can please himself, then why am I in the picture?” Exactly! She gets it!

You would think that if the problem is premarital sex, overuse of birth control pills, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and too many abortions, the solution would be teaching young people about masturbation—and proposing that it’s a viable option. But the fact that masturbation is considered as damnable as any other form of sex reveals the true agenda.

We seem to have no problem asserting that men are terrified of women being sexually free. But I would ask women: How do you feel about being sexually free? How do you feel about the men in your life being sexually free? How do you feel about your fellow women being sexually free? Unless you’re willing to stand up for the people you love, your choices on your own behalf will have little positive energy behind them. When you assert your freedom, and power of choice, you also assert the freedom of others.

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