In the digital era, we’re lucky enough to have access to an infinite amount of forums, video channels, social media platforms and podcasts to explore research, varying perceptions, theories and tips on sexuality. Below, we’ve profiled three women who are using unique methods to improve our understanding about it all.
Odile Fillod is a sociologist who studies science with a specialization in sexuality and gender. Fillod created a printable, full-size 3D model of the clitoris, exhibited at the Fab Lab in the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris last year. Fillod developed the model after working with the creators of a sex education video series, when she realized that “the clitoris was never presented correctly in school textbooks.”
Why you should pay attention:
The goal of the printable clitoris is to have it distributed around schools in France to improve sex education in the country, “the ability to print a 3D clitoris will help teachers and educators struggling to talk to students about sexuality."
“It’s important that women have a mental image of what is actually happening in their body when they’re stimulated. In understanding the key role of the clitoris, a woman can stop feeling shame, or [that she’s] abnormal if penile-vaginal intercourse doesn’t do the trick for her – given the anatomical data, that is the case for most women.”
Elle Stanger is a feminist writer, sex and dating columnist for Thrillist.com, blogs on Suicidegirls.com as "Casper", co-organizer of "Portland Slutwalk” and podcast host based in Portland, Oregon. Stanger is viciously active in her journalism pursuits and consistently unveiling confusing topics within sexuality and humanity in general. Although her experience could be intimidating, her voice and presence are relatable; followers can take comfort in this.
Why you should pay attention:
Progress and understanding comes through effective communication. Stanger facilitates and provides a safe platform for questions and topics to be broken down into a language that’s easy to digest. Because she’s so active, topics and information stay relevant and up-to-date. She is, without a doubt, our #1 columnist and blogger to follow.
Nadiah Mohajir is the co-founder and Executive Director for HEART Women & Girls. For the last five years, she has led the organization to provide health education programming to over 5000 Muslim women and girls in the US.
Why you should pay attention:
Mohajir’s organization and involvement within the Muslim community is helping to break cultural barriers while simultaneously raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, sexual violence and media literacy.
Mohajir states “Islam as a faith is sex-positive—sex is considered to be a sacred act of worship and the right to mutual pleasure is at the forefront—but cultural baggage and patriarchy has perpetuated attitudes of shame, stigma, and silence about sexuality.”
Photo credit: Akila Fields
Meggyn Pomerleau is a graphic designer, illustrator and blogger based in Portland, Oregon. She’s designed shelves full of books. She’s illustrated tons of printed books and zines. She’s written and photographed hundreds of shows. She founded and manages the media collective FOUND. During the few spare moments she’s had left to breathe, we caught up with the local creative to discuss her recent projects involving body and sex positivity.
What inspired your recent projects, the Post-Structuralist Vulva coloring book and the Beard coloring book?
I was prompted by Microcosm Publishing to fully dive into illustrating what I love- BEARDS! I talked about them so much that, embarrassingly enough, they thought something good could come out of it. They came up with the brilliant idea for combining post-structuralism and vulvas upon hearing about the Cunt Coloring book maybe going out of print. Shortly after that, I dedicated my life for the next year or so to scribbling as many ideas as I could. Some were more far-fetched than others. I'm still very happy with the outcome and where it's lead me.
from the Post-Structuralist Vulva coloring book
How do you promote body positivity within yourself and your community?
I think that acknowledging there are more beautiful body types than your standard skinny, muscular, fit, what-have-you body.
Every body is different, and once you understand that the media isn't accurate on what is beautiful, you are in complete control of your own insecurities.
It took me a long time to realize that, and I am still figuring things out. I love that my books promote the diverse imagery of beauty and hope that more people can pick up on that.
What were the last ideas you scribbled - digitally or on a piece of paper?
I scribbled details about Lauren, the owner, and her history, story, and approach to matcha.
What motivates you right now? Latest inspirations?
I'm motivated by small businesses and stories about connecting to community.
Portland is a large hub of craft and I am constantly being inspired by everyone around me.
What are you working on now? What are recent goals with your career?
I'm focusing more on nonprofit things and sketching politically, but sometimes I am way too overwhelmed with how much great illustrations are out there in response to the current political and social climate. I'm still photographing at shows and tip toeing in music journalism. Just like everyone says, I'm not active enough.
Some current career goals include designing an unifying typeface, integrating community with user experience, and honing in on my technical illustration craft.
What would you like to see happen in the Portland community that you haven't seen yet?
I want to see more people stepping out of their comfort zone and connecting with each other. It's really easy to get locked in the idea that the rain is terrible and staying in the best option. The weather here is mild and the people that live here are amazing.Go outside, meet someone new, and create stories together.
Last month, I attended Science on Tap’s for a lecture called “The Neuroscience of Pleasure and Love”. Dr. Larry Sherman, a neuroscientist at OHSU and president of the Oregon Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, promised to reveal more information about how we love, what we love, and who we love.
Dr. Sherman was quick to point something out to all of us.
“I am not Dr. Love.”
To prepare for this lecture, he read up on essays and studies and books regarding the brain and our responses to pleasure, love and commitment. Dr. Sherman introduced his finished presentation as, “Lust, Chocolate and Prairie Voles.” Dr. Sherman asked us all to consider our ideas of pleasure. I stared at the wall in front of me, gaze directed away from the speaker and thought about my perception of sex, beauty and people and things I love to be around. Dr. Sherman organized his presentation into three phases: lust, romance and commitment or rejection.
I learned more than a handful of things that opened up my ways of thinking related to pleasure. Take aspirin when I feel heartache. Ocytocin plays a hell of a role in relationships. Our attraction to more feminine or masculine faces are associated with our estrogen and testosterone levels.
Dr. Sherman briefly touched on Hedonia and Eudaimonia. Hedonia is pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction and the absence of distress. Eudaimonia, more complex in it's nature, is authenticity, understanding the bigger picture, striving for higher higher standards in one’s behavior, and self-actualization. Dr. Sherman pointed out a few categories in the higher level of pleasures: money, art, giving and music. There are studies that dissect how humans are wired to find things pleasurable, and one involves looking at the process of eating. Through functional MRI testing, studies show that men and women experience pleasure differently through differentiating protein receptors.
Ultimately, I learned that there is so much more to it all than I had previously imagined. Science on Tap did an incredible job of hosting and Dr. Sherman presented complex information in an unintimidating and relatable way.
You can listen to the entire lecture here:
Photo credit: Via Productions
Sex in Portlandia
Having casual sex in Portland is like being trapped on a brightly colored tire-swing while blindfolded; exhilarating and strange, but mostly an exhausting way to get sick. After only living here for four years, I can say my sex life has exploded like a Mid-Century Modern travel-bag, filled with a plethora of Mary Poppins’ scarves. And while I’ve discovered so much about myself here--my sexuality and my identity as a sexual subject for starters--I’m still generally feeling pretty *blah* about the sex I’ve been having. As I talk to more and more people about this issue, it seems to be not just mine, but Portland’s quiet crisis: people in Portland are having sex, but so many of us are still disappointed.
So my question is: does having more sex equal having good sex?
Does the ‘buzzing’ sex scene in Portland make us more liberated, educated, inspired, orgasmed? Or does in reality does it just make us burnt out, lazy, under-stimulated, and hungover? And where are the sexually satisfied single people in this city that I hear so much about? They have become like unicorns of the Pacific Northwest to me. I’m a bit exhausted--sure, I might be a little bitter, even. But I know that I know good sex when I have it. I’m someone who’s pretty adventurous and impulsive (remember when I called being trapped on the tire swing ‘fun’?) but nine times out of ten the stuff I’m experiencing in Portland is mega blah and actually a bit depressing.
When I recently asked a group of close friends about their sex-lives as singles here, most of them rolled their eyes or sighed. The most common word used to describe the scene here is: incestuous. “Having sex in Portland is like hopping over a dirty puddle in the street only to discover that all your lovers are tadpoles in there having sex with each other already!,” a good friend of mine, SN, was obviously on the same page as me. “Everybody has slept with everybody else”. This is certainly plausible considering Portland has been polled as the most sexually promiscuous metropolitan area in America for years now, and the city’s population is still so small. The odds of the PNW sex-partner crossover are now trackable stats.
I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t happened to me. As someone involved in the arts my scene here is pretty small, and I’ve made an effort not to sleep with people in my peer group. But still, the Portland air gets me everytime. I once went to a gallery opening where there were three people I had slept with in the same room. A scorpio I dated one summer was selling jewelry and pretended she didn’t see me at an after-work function I attended. I got off the bus one morning to discover that a person who had given me really great head in my dorm room Freshman year was riding three seats behind me the entire time. This is a risk any Portlander takes each time they leave the house.
Seeing people you have slept with after it didn't end well is awkward--especially if it doesn’t really “end” at all. What I’m referring to is how most cases of sex end in this city: Ghosting. A common practice typically exhibited through device-oriented styles of communication, Ghosting involves slowly and gracefully withdrawing from a person while somehow engaging in literally no communication at all. Eventually both parties just pretend it never happened. This does not lend itself to comfort and freedom (unless it is for safety or wellbeing of course), and may even ruin the sex in this city for some entirely. For others, this might be what they enjoy most about their sex lives: anonymity and an easy exit.
The most critical piece to remember is that everybody’s definition of good sex is different.
If we are to engage in partnered sex that is good, fair and casual, we owe it to each other to talk about where each party is coming from ;) . Portlanders seem to be a little shy about being direct with what they want. Where this kind of attitude is only slightly annoying in 5 o’clock traffic, when having sex with another person passivity is awkward, inconsiderate, and actually may cause harm.
This is where I take issue most, being a twenty-five year old femme in a city that loves to fuck; I want personal autonomy, which for me means respect and communication from my partners always, regardless of whether or not we’re “dating” or intend to. I found that the culture here makes that seemingly impossible, and at times I wonder if we view the people we sleep with like aliens from another planet. I want a city where we can show up as ourselves and be comfortable with that. A city where casual sex is beneficial and safe for both parties. A city where orgasms abound in fountains of rainbows and the fluttering of birds and open dialogue shines through forest floors. This city is not intangible, but right now it seems to be hard to find. My colorful scarves of sexual freedom have faded to melancholy shades of Portland grey.
But not all hope is lost, folks. I figure, if Portland is as sex-positive as it claims to be, maybe we can find a common ground through practicing talking about it more openly. Not on Tinder, not through text, but through actual conversations face to face with those we are going to sleep with. Make it something fun and do it naked. Or, maybe turn it into a song you can play at your next house show to break the ice and then talk about it afterwards. If nothing else, keep talking to your friends--like me--who genuinely want to get you through the struggle, remind you of your autonomy, and then can have some fun writing about it later.
Signing off for now...