I’m not a big fan of portmanteau words and I have to say that cisheteronormative is a spectacularly ugly word. Nonetheless it is a necessary one if we are to have any kind of inclusive definition of sex and sexual activity. For, as Meg John Barker and Justin Hancock point out in their book Enjoying Sex, standard sex advice is precisely that, centred on PIV sex and technique and performance. They, instead, focus on the individual and their needs. These include the need to be freed from the dead hand of social norms.
The cisheteronormative is pervasive and influences so much that we think about sex, even those of us who like to identify as sex positive, who live alternative sexualities, and who blog about these things. Two excellent Smutathon posts by Coffee and Kink and The Other Livvy deconstruct the concepts of foreplay and virginity.
If PIV sex is privileged and defines as normal or, worse, the only “proper sex”, the question arises of where this leaves LGBT people, disabled people, even people who simply don’t enjoy penetration? Then there are those who do not have sexual partners and have solo sex. This particularly has been the target of stigma, shaming, religious taboos and, inevitably, medical pseudo-science. I looked at some of these issues in this post. Rereading it I can see that I, too, fell into the trap of seeing masturbation predominantly as a means to an end rather than as a legitimate and enjoyable activity in its own right.
For the elimination of shame and stigma requires the idea of “normal” sex to be challenged. And, as the authors point out, this perceived normality is actually an ideological construct rather than something objectively rooted in biology. For there is always more than one way of looking at the same thing. A penis, for example, can be seen as both a complement to a vagina (emphasising the difference) or as a male equivalent of the clitoris (and, up to a relatively stage in the development of a foetus, they are the same thing.
The problem for most of us, I suppose, is that the cultural and social norms we grew with are so pervasive that it takes real effort to get outside their boundaries to think things new. That, or life changing experiences. In truth even gender transition or the discovery of BDSM only took me part of the way.
I will talk in a forthcoming post about the different ways in which I interact with male and female sexual partners. For now I want to say a little about what I have learnt about sex from two and a half years of living as a bisexual transgender woman.
I had fondly imagined that, being bi, I would see no difference, that I would carry on with the same lovers, in the same beds, that……yet the first time with a woman was very different to what I had expected, and set me off on a wonderful journey of discovery. Having decided that, pre-op, I did not want to penetrate sexual partners, I was prepared for difference but not the total delight of exploring a woman’s body for its own sake rather than as a build up to the “main” event, feeling her engage with my trans body in new ways, and finding new ways of giving me pleasure.
Sex had become for me something amorphous, or a journey without a destination. This is how I experience sex with women. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no linear progression. Sit jist is. And when I am having sex with a woman, I am, to draw on another theme of the book, in the moment.
I actually relate sexually to men and women in very different ways, and I will say a little more about this in a forthcoming post. But with my male partners I am still not quite getting there. I think I will give them the book to read. It will help us both to break the boundaries that still constrain our thinking.
Of course, none of this implies that there is anything wrong with penis in vagina sex. I have had a lot in my time and enjoyed it. The problem is when it is seen as a norm.
Another theme of this book is consent. The authors define this in ways that go beyond conventional definitions, and suggest that non-consensual sex can include making assumptions about what partner enjoys, lack of communication, a lack of care. As a BDSM practitioner I thought I had a relatively sophisticated understanding of consent but this gave me food for thought. I need to write about consent too, as way of gathering my own thoughts.
This, then, is a book with important messages, messages that I could relate to my own experience and which helped draw together threads from ideas I had forming in my head from other bloggers’ writing. It has helped me to understand myself, to accept myself. It has empowered me. And I loved the idea that by, for example, pleasuring yourself as you read a smutty story you are engaging sexually with the author. Because this means I have engaged with some awesome, awesome people.