Monday, December 10, 2012

Everyone else is doing it... right?

Now someone, somewhere, thinks it's
normal to slut-shame a steak.
Rowdy and I watched porn together last night.  Because Rowdy is a gentle soul in ways I am not, I tend to watch hardcore kinky porn and he tends to watch porn of real couples having sweet lovey sex.  We were watching his porn.

The woman in the video had sex the way I do.  When she was on top, she didn't pump her whole body up and down, she just moved her hips rhythmically.  And she didn't stay on top forever going poundpoundpound like a champ; she did it for a few minutes and then switched positions.  I think that's the first time I've seen a woman in porn do that.

The part that blew my mind: the guy in the video was way into that.  And Rowdy was way into that. And it was in porn, which gave it the official stamp of People Think This Is A Sexy Thing.  I was astonished, because I always thought wiggling my hips on top meant I was incompetent at sex.  I thought you were supposed to bounce full-length on a guy until he came, and since my thigh muscles can't do that, I thought I was too weak to do me-on-top sex correctly.  It was amazing to see people accepting a less athletic method as a totally valid, hot way to have sex.  Hell, it was amazing just to find out that I wasn't the only person on Earth who has sex that way.

It was also amazing, although it probably shouldn't have been, to voice these thoughts to Rowdy and have him reply basically "you think there's a wrong way to ride my dick? and you've been doing it less because of this?" *facepalm* (He was more polite than that.)  A few minutes later, we were having delightful sex with considerably better understanding of each other.



The point of this story is not "if you see something in porn then it's good sex."  Oh god no.  The point is that it's easy-- especially in areas as private and emotionally loaded as sex--to have a totally skewed idea of what everyone else is doing, and to try to conform to that skewed idea.  (Not that conformity is a great thing.  But being able to make realistic comparisons to others, then decide whether you want to emulate them or not, is still useful.)




And I'm probably going to make a whole post about this so I won't belabor the point right now, but this is why feminists care about media and memes that normalize rape.  (Or that stigmatize the words "rape" and "rapist," but enthusiastically normalize the act of forcing sex on people, as long as you don't call it that.)  Because it tells people that rape  is normal, that it's a popular and accepted way to express romance and/or dominance, and we can't assume that everyone absorbing this culture knows "of course that's not how it really works."



It's easy to look around your little corner of the world, and the bits of patchy evidence you get from other places, and think that you know how the world is.  It's easy to conclude on the most threadbare evidence that you're hideously abnormal or that the suffering you're enduring or causing is normal.  The ultimate solution to this is to transcend "normal" and replace it with "good."  But the proximate solution is to be conscious and careful of what we normalize.

Being imperfect is normal.  Being miserable is not.  Being a predator is not.  As long as "normal" is a thing that people care about, we need to get this news out.

117 comments:

  1. As someone who doesn't watch much porn, I didn't realize the bouncing up and down thing was the norm. Of course, it doesn't surprise me since the vast majority of porn positions are ones where it's all but impossible for the woman to get any pleasure.

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    1. It's not (for me) impossible to get pleasure, it's just impossible to do. I have a newfound respect for porn actresses as athletes, because holy crap is it hard to do squats that fast for that long. But it turns out that they're really strong (and probably benefitting from editing), not that I'm really weak.

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    2. *Most* of the PiV I see in porn makes me go "holy crap those people are all amazing athletes." I'm actually surprised this isn't brought up more often as a counter to the "the only qualification for doing porn is being emotionally damaged enough to be willing" narrative.

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    3. I can't do it either, so this reassured me too. Yay!

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    4. It's not really all-but-impossible to get pleasure in that position -- if it weren't for the legs thing (I, too, lack strength there) it'd be a great way to get my clit-his pubic bone contract. And I've done positions like that for other reasons too, mostly around kink (in either me or him dominant configurations).

      While I'm not asserting that the porn is 100% full of women getting off and doing the most fun things for them all the time, that doesn't mean everything in it is not worth doing by any women.

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  2. Oh Cliff, my heart goes out to you. I was also abused as a child - constantly berated and frequently hit. My abuse was pretty extreme, so I figured out that something was wildly wrong by the time I hit high school, but I didn't feel comfortable, or even safe in some cases, around my friends' parents until I was well into my 20's. I also got a vague invitation to talk to a teacher if there was something I needed to talk about, but I was only 12 at the time and was too afraid of the consequences.

    ALSO, I can totally relate to feeling inadequate about girl-on-top! I had the same exact worry and hesitance until recently. There are few things that really make me feel silly anymore, but this was one of them. Thanks for making me feel less alone in this!

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  3. I honestly never understood the bouncing thing in porn... It doesn't do anything and feels kinda awkward (also, ow, thighs) but the rocking motion hits ALL the right spots and is SO GOOD. (I've been with guys who were like "the rocking doesn't do anything for me" and I was just like "well the bouncing doesn't do anything for ME, so switch positions entirely, kthx").

    "It's easy to look around your little corner of the world, and the bits of patchy evidence you get from other places, and think that you know how the world is. " This. So much this. Although, does anyone else get that shock where you spend all your time in a community you build and then wander to work/school/whatever and realize that people slut-shame/pressure people into drinking/make racist jokes/etc and it's just such a shock and so depressing at the same time?

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    1. Yep, sooo much. I've been catching up with some old friends lately, and wondering when I got so sensitive about rape jokes/calling people 'faggot' or 'bitch'/general sexism and homophobia. Also they've all started using all these MRA key words like alpha and white knight, and oh god I'm terrified it's going to turn out they believe in all that toxic crap. I can't even bring myself to ask.

      Whew, thank you for letting me vent, internets.

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    2. I love drinking, and I hate people who try to pressure others into it. I'm so sick of this culture that says that everyone must conform to a certain idea of what is fun, and that you're broken if you don't.

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    3. "Although, does anyone else get that shock where you spend all your time in a community you build and then wander to work/school/whatever and realize that people slut-shame/pressure people into drinking/make racist jokes/etc and it's just such a shock and so depressing at the same time?"

      When I realized that atheists and other non-conservative-Christians were not the freakish strawmen I'd been told to believe they were, it terrified me. It was like, if my old school was wrong about all these people, what else was it wrong about? (Answer: everything pertaining to evolution, prehistory, why we read literature, and "American values.")

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    4. Um... Please tell me that was a regrettable grammar snafu, and that you realize that atheists are NOT a subgroup of "non-conservative Christians"? The distinction is fairly massive.
      That said, I appreciate your sentiment. It's not an easy thing to reevaluate what you've been told your entire life. I'm glad to know there's one more person out there who doesn't think I'm scary!
      Also, YES to grinding hips when on top! I always thought I was just horrible at being on top (and avoided it because of it), until my bf guided me through the non-athletic way! It's better for both of us, it's more intimate, and let's be honest, it's WAY more attractive to look at than someone furiously squatting above you! I love you Cliff, you always make me feel normal. No wait... Good :)

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  4. SO hate that the athletic, full-bounce, porn sex is what my partner learned and lives and can apparently only get off with. It's exhausting, painful, and my orgasm is just a thing that happens in the middle of all the pounding, and not something anyone really experiences in the delights of sex. Hate it. Dread sex and avoid it now, which is so horribly sad. Hate it. Hate hating sex.

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    1. Ugh. I'm sorry. :(

      I can understand "can only get off on it" (although that still doesn't oblige you to play along), but if he wants you to do it just because the "sexiest" way or the "right" way, then fuck this situation even more. :(

      And I never know if it's my place to say this kind of thing or not, but being sexually incompatible (and/or your partner just being a jerk about sex) is a totally valid reason to break off a relationship or to stop making sex a part of it. I understand this might not be possible/desirable for you right now, I just want to put that out there, I guess.

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    2. I know it is, and it wasn't an issue but is becoming one more and more. In fact, I think the whole thing is broken. And you know, if he COULD get off on it, that would be something in itself, but that ain't working either.

      Sweet lovely porn, I remember something with a couple in which he had met her when she was in her teens, working in a hospital and he was intrigued by her stockings (The garter belt bump showed under her skirt) and she didn't realise there was anything particularly sexy about stockings, and they were so sweet and hot and lovely and in love. They interviewed the couples and then showed their porn/sex video. <3

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    3. OH! Matt and Khym. Just had a look at the blowfish link :)

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    4. Hating sex and having trouble with sexual compatibility with your partner is a great reason to seek help from a friendly, compassionate couple therapist who isn't afraid to talk directly about sexual (and relationship) issues. Bad sexual habits can be broken, or re-learned, or worked around, or all of the above. http://www.therapistlocator.net is a fine place to start for couple therapists, and Kink Aware Professionals (Google it) is a good one for folks who are more likely to be understanding about all kinds of different sexytimes. :)

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    5. Totally adding to the comments that that is something to stop enduring - heck, even something like "you know what, you [partner] masturbate until almost ready, then we can do the full on bouncy stuff for a small number of minutes." I've had really marathon style guys who'd go on for hours, long past when I'm all that into it anyway and really past wherein most people can still be bouncing athletically and the "I'm going to do something else that is not quite so aerobic, I will rejoin you at intervals" can be workable. I used to be firmly in the mindset of like, owing partner orgasms if I started, no matter how tired or uncomfortable things were getting, because wasn't that only fair? Not really a great mindset, and led to a "I guess I just don't like vaginal sex! Guess I'll try other things!" declaration which wasn't even actually all that true.

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  5. where does one find this porn of real couples having sweet lovely sex?!

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    1. I'm pretty thrilled to see some "real couple" porn that is (almost certainly) published with their consent. I like the idea, but I generally avoid amateur porn posted online because you just never (or rarely) know.

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    2. There's also makelovenotporn.tv, though they haven't taken off all that long ago, so their collection is somewhat small at the moment. (But you can help by submitting your own real sex videos! You get 50% of the cut.)

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  6. I've been planning to write a post about this at some point: one of the most poignant stories I know about our environment shaping our preconceptions of normalcy comes from my sister when she was little. Background: at that age, she used to call all women "mommies" and all men "daddies", our dad is a runner and goes on runs every day, and our mom is a pianist and practices piano every day.

    My sister is with my mom and, looking out the window, sees a woman jogging. She looks at my mom and asks, "Mom, why is that mommy running?"

    Mom answers, "Well, some mommies like to go running."

    My sister responds, "No; mommies don't run, and daddies don't play piano."

    I'm sure no one had ever explicitly told her anything of the sort. And I can't imagine she didn't have friends with parents who had other hobbies, etc. And yet there she was, so incredibly sure that things couldn't be any other way for anyone. Powerful stuff, the environments we get accustomed to.

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  7. Shit dad says part 1.

    My father defends physically punishing children by claiming that you give the child a choice; act bad and it will hurt. I agreed with that for a long time but in my late teens realized, that it really doesn't hold water the way some people seem to think it does.

    Physical punishment in any form normalizes the idea that violence is allowed and expected in some cases, even if it's not an inescapable life-or-death thing. And how exactly do we agree on where the hell are you supposed to draw the line?

    I know so many people, children included, who slap or push someone who has made them feel bad or otherwise displeases them. In the mindset that "be bad and you will get hurt" this is an acceptable thing, and easily escalates.

    My first issue with it was that it easily leads to people not acting good because they've been raised to believe in just being a decent person, but due to fear of punishment. As a child, I still did crummy things if I knew I could get away with it and didn't really think I was doing anything bad.

    Then again that pretty much applies to other kinds of punishment that don't include physical violence, but it just makes me wonder if there's a different way to internalize bad behavior and what it actually means. Often it seems to be that people think X is bad because jail/punishment.

    I also find it contradictory to repeatedly teach that violence is bad! Except that sometimes it's not.

    I wasn't really ever punished because I was a very easy kid (says my mom), same for my brother. But we still did things we shouldn't have, mostly things that aren't really bad - just stupid and dangerous that likely should be punished for somehow.

    I'm not sure what my mother's stance on the issue is or was, but it was only my father who ever threatened us with punishment. Even then he rarely if ever, to my memory, delivered. He just kept repeating how "when he was a kid". Mom usually just said she'd get dad to come over.
    Might be because at some point, physical punishment of kids was made illegal and was controversial to begin with? (See the irony in that?) And/or we just weren't doing all that much damage.
    Love my parents btw, love them to bits. I have no traumas that would have been created by home environment which has always been loving and supportive above anything else. I'd be a wreck if they weren't, because school was hell. I had to move to another city to end the bullying.

    Also I did view such abuse at home as normal. I knew some kids who did get on the wrong end of the stick sometimes. I thought bullying anywhere as something that is just part of growing up.

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    1. That's pretty horrible for a number of reasons.

      Punishment, in most people's minds, is supposed to have a deterring function. If you punish children, it's because you expect to scare them away from bad behaviour. However, this completely clashes with the idea that the child voluntarily choose to do the bad thing and then pay the price. The child would only make such a choice if zie didn't think punishment was that bad after all, and if that's what the child thinks, it won't really function as a deterrent.

      I've never actually heard anyone make that kind of reasoning when it comes to children, but I've heard people use that exact justification for punishing dogs. And I've always thought that dogs don't really make a calculated choice and come to the conclusion that chasing a cat or picking food off the table is SO GOOD that it's WORTH having its ears twisted or being half choked by the collar right afterwards... That's not how it works. It's just that it's really difficult for a dog to figure out exactly what kind of behaviours will lead to pain (EVEN if you try to time every punishment perfectly and administer it the very second after the "bad behaviour") versus what behaviours are "safe", plus in the heat of the moment the dog might honestly forget everything it HAS managed to figure out on that point. And although children at most ages have way more of a capacity for rational thinking than dogs have, I think something similar often applies. Certainly there's a reason why children below the age of fifteen (in Sweden, I know this varies from country to country, but there's always SOME limit) can't be convicted in court.

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    2. Well said, and I completely agree.
      That indeed is one of the many problems with his reasoning. I've actually explained these things to him a few times, he usually just responds with the "My father disciplined me when I was a kid and I turned out fine" yadda yadda.

      There's also the very real possibility that people who have been normalized to this context want to defend their outlook as a defense mechanism. I've done it too for various, often illogical reasons for things that only much later hit me as being wrong.
      It's also one of the reasons why it's so hard to overturn cultural things that so many people view as normal or good, even if upon closer inspection it's obvious that it shouldn't be. It gets imprinted in our brains often very early and very strongly.

      It's also true that even harsh punishments do not generally affect the rate of crime, for example.
      It also seems to me that people would rather punish someone and call it a day than look closer into the causes in order to properly prevent these things from happening. (Treating the symptom but ignoring the cause.)

      Thanks for your input.

      Ps. I'm Finnish, btw. 15 years is the limit here too, but there's still some leeway depending on the crime committed and the convictions are generally tamer than those of a legally adult person.

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    3. Me and a friend has discussed this a lot in connection with dog training. She used to work as a professional dog trainer for army dogs, and they used a lot of harsh measures. Later she turned away from these methods, but she said it's hard to do, since you gotta admit that you used to be cruel to animals. If you, after all, have always been very fond of animals, that's a terribly hard thing to admit to yourself. In many ways it's therefore easier to go on as before and keep defending your praxis against all counter arguments.

      I think her analysis is probably sound and could very well be extended to people who hit their kids, or who simply were hit themselves by people they love. Rather than admitting that either someone you love or yourself used to be cruel, you might wanna defend the actions against any and all counter arguments...

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    4. I would love to mail this to all the people I know who spank their kids: http://sarah-whoiamwithoutyou.blogspot.com/p/still-crying-series.html

      Especially the ones who are teaching their children to seek negative attention ('if I do something bad, mom will spank me - but then she'll cuddle me and talk to me afterward so it's worth it') and those who are teaching their kids that being stronger means you can do what you want (and, let's be honest, any one who uses spanking as a regular form of discipline is doing exactly that). It produces both bullies (because they want to be the one with power) and people who are bullied (because all they've been taught is that they have no power; they're perfect targets for predatory people).

      I really don't think any good comes from corporal punishment - it's the one person a child should be able to trust and feel safe with doing something that is NOT OK in any other context. It's also not as effective as other methods in any other context - including with animals.

      Also, it's confusing as hell for those of us who like being spanked. Seriously. Upsetting and confusing and I can't imagine spanking my child - I wouldn't want him/her to relate something that's fun in adulthood to a punishment from parents in childhood. Ick.

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  8. This is why I take such issue with the Twilight books, and how they portray stalking and controlling behaviour as signs of love. It's not that I think that someone reads Twilight and immediately gets into an abusive relationship, obviously it's not that simple. And it's not even as simple as "people are exposed to that message from various cultural sources and then get into abusive relationships". I think anyone CAN end up in an abusive relationships, no one (however much we'd like to believe that's the case) is psychologically invulnerable, everyone can be worn down by an abusive partner and start seeing every shit zie does as okay and normal. But being exposed to the message, over and over again from pop cultural, that yes, what abusive people do to their partners IS totally okay and they ARE totally right if they excuse themselves with "it's just because I care so much, my love for you make me act this way" will certainly FACILITATE.

    People defend these books (and the more recent fifty shades, of which I've only read parts, but seem just as horrible) by "people can totally separate imagination from reality". And yeah, that's right if we're talking the existence of vampires. But for the reasons Cliff said, that's NOT how it works if we're talking what a relationships should look like in more broad strokes. And you can also see this by looking at what people defending this shit says: They don't really say "Yeah, obviously Edward is an abusive stalker, I like to fantasise about Edward and Bella but would never want anything like this in real life". They actually defend what he does by "it's just because he LUUUUURVES her so much and it's not stalking or abuse AT ALL".

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    1. Too many times I have had to remind someone that no-one is immune to these things, and that telling the difference between reality and fantasy is not as simple as that. People seem to really think it only applies to big and "obvious" things. Not to mention those obvious things often also have some sort of implications that do stick around in our minds.

      A lot of romantic comedies do this stuff too, which I've always found creepy. Almost every piece of media I've ever seen has something similar to object to.

      There's also the sad fact that people often get defensive of things just because they like them. Like I love comic books, but I'm not so blinded by my love for them that I'd just ignore or make up excuses for the problematic aspects of the medium.
      It is entirely possible to love something problematic and be aware of what ever is wrong with it.

      There will never be a change if we just accept everything as "just the way it is" and shrug our shoulders.

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    2. slightly OT: I love this blog!

      Thank you for bringing up Twilight. That stuff always makes me angry, and unfortunately many other shows - similarly aimed at at teens and young adults - address love and relationship in a similar way. e.g. True Blood: Bill is a stalker, a raper (to a former lover) and even a pedophile (he has been following and stalking Sookie since she was a child). Plus he made two thugs beat her, almost kill her, just to have the chance to rescue her and thus seduce her. When this is revealed, though, there is no major reaction from her side, and it is seen as normal that she "still loves him", and that being with anybody else would be cheating (even though HE has cheated on her with his past lover and with other women).
      The lame attempt, later in the series, to qualify Sookie's character as "empowered" just because she lets men use her as a sexual tool is, well, lame. Similarly in The vampire diaries: the female protagonist is in a controlling relationship with the "good" vampire brother, who wants her to be a sort of angel, treats her like a child, doesn't accept that she might not love him anymore and move on. Both the TVD and True Blood novels predate Twilight, by the way.

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    3. I haven't seen True Blood or read the books it's based on - maybe just as well.

      I read a nineteenth century vampire story a while ago which I think is called "Clarimonde" in English (it's "the dead mistress" in Swedish) by Teophile Gautier. It's also a "vampire abuses and controls human because LOOOVE" story (but gender-flipped; the human is male, the vampire female) although it seems to me like Gautier really intended this to be a creepy, disturbing story of an abusive relationship. To mention one example: The vampire Clarimonde finds out that the blood of other people than her beloved one doesn't appeal to her any longer, so she puts sleeping pills in his wine so that she can drink from him now and then. He eventually finds out that she does this, but reasons that it's not that bad because she seems to at least try to limit herself to amounts of blood that he can manage to lose healthwise, and besides he probably would have said yes if she had asked him, so that sort of makes the whole thing consensual (he's really far down the rabbit hole at this point).

      As I said, it seems clear to me that it's meant to be disturbing. But then I read a REVIEW of this story which describes it as actually a pretty sweet love story, and Clarimonde is even, eh, "blood monogamous", how sweet of her! Euw.

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    4. In case you guys aren't aware of this one, it's a great tumblr blog about similar issues and general treatment of women in animated family movies. Also touches upon subjects of racism and the likes.

      http://feministdisney.tumblr.com/

      The movie reviews especially are worth a read.

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    5. Yeah, about Twilight... obviously readers get that sparklevamps aren't real. But when you read about the kids pricking their fingers for biology class, do you question whether biology classes really do that? Especially if you've never had a biology class? Or do you easily take it in as a realistic part of an unrealistic story?

      I think it's the second. You say "sparklevamps aren't real, but I guess some bio classes do work that way, seems reasonable enough."

      And I think with dating--especially for readers who haven't dated much--that effect can take over as well. "Sparklevamps aren't real, but I guess dating and love do work that way."

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    6. Me and a colleague also discussed that "suspension of disbelief" is something we generally do about EMPIRICAL stuff, not about ethical stuff.

      Like, you can read all kinds of fantasy and sci-fi, and accept for the sake of the story that there's magic, or faster-than-light-travel, or teleportation or whatever. But it's different with ethics. Sure, people can read books (and watch movies etc) with assassins or murderers as protagonists. But normally, these protagonists aren't particularly far off from the readers ethical point of view when you take a closer look. It's usually the case that they only kill "bad guys", which plenty of people think is a perfectly ethical thing to do, even if they for various reasons don't do so themselves. Or the story might be written in a way that makes you sympathise with the protagonist despite thinking zie does wrong (maybe zie is disturbed in some way, maybe zie was raised in a culture or subculture that normalised murder, etc). Same goes for thieves etc.
      But imagine if someone were to write a story from a completely different ethical point of view than the one most people share. Imagine, for instance, a protagonist who rapes children, and this is presented as PERFECTLY FINE. Unless the book was presented as some kind of artistic experiment, I doubt people would read it and enjoy it. We couldn't just suspend disbelief as to whether child rape is really morally wrong.

      So, what I'm getting at; you might be totally convinced that teleportation is impossible and always will be, and you might be totally convinced that child rape is wrong. But with the former, you can suspend disbelief while reading a story - with the latter you cannot. Ethics don't work the same way, psychologically, as empirical stuff.

      This is not to say that you're necessarily affected in your ethical outlook by everything you read; for instance, sometimes people read stuff because it's so bad it's good, or for its kitch value. But I think that you can't simultaneously enjoy something for real without sucking up the ethics a bit, simply because you can't just suspend disbelief when it comes to ethics.

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    7. I was actually affected by the relationship portrayed in Twilight. Not in a 'stalking, abuse, and sexual assault* are OK' way, but in how Edward and Bella's codependency are portrayed as true love, and that killing yourself once your loved one leaves you is normal and healthy. Fortunately I started reading more decent books, and realised that was bullshit.

      * Not only Jacob forcing a kiss onto Bella, but Bella attempting to pressure Edward into sex (and then Edward using her desire for sex to force her into marriage; the main three are all despicable characters).

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    8. When I was nineteen, I was in a terrible relationship for a year, because I thought that it's part of love to have terrible arguments that make you feel like shit, break up and then get back together again etc. This was waaaaay before Twilight, but I'm pretty sure that was something I've largely internalised from pop culture.

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    9. As I remember the Sookie Stackhouse novels-I stopped reading them a couple of years ago-she actually drew some pretty firm boundaries, got pissed off at Bill for manipulation and physical, if unwitting vampire-type, assault and kicks him out of her life for a few years or so. At least in the first five books, I'm 99% sure Bill never arranged a beating to save her. I'm not sure what happens later in the series but the TrueBlood plot points described above aren't what I recall.

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    10. I haven't read the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, but from the episode reviews I read of True Blood I got the strong impression that the TV show doesn't follow the books very closely. The overall plot is more or less the same, but there are lots of differences in the details, especially with the characterization.

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    11. I wouldn't be so against Twilight if it were marketed toward adults--adults have dated, and are generally better at ID'ing the BS in it. (I have a friend who was in college while the books were being published. She loved the drama of the books, because it was so soap-opera-like, but you could tell she didn't think any of the romances were all that nice. Even so, Breaking Dawn was a rather nasty surprise for her.) But it's a YA book, which means that most of the people reading it are teens and younger.

      I have a cousin who read those books at age 12. I've wanted, very badly, to talk to her about relationships and make sure she knows how horribly unhealthy Bella's relationships with Jacob and Edward are, but I'm not sure how I could bring up the subject without being horribly creepy myself. (We're over a decade apart in age--it's going to be awkward.)


      On the other hand, said cousin is now obsessed with the Hunger Games series, so there may be hope for her if I can just steer her toward enough books that have positive depictions of relationships (platonic and romantic).

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    12. I agree that teens are probably more vulnerable than adults, but that doesn't mean adults are somehow immune towards unhealthy messages of what relationships ideally ought to look like. Even if you've dated around, and none of you're dating experiences resemble Bella's and Edward's, you might come out thinking that this is because your dating is pretty mundane, while Bella and Edward have this amazing epic love story going on.

      As I said, I have only read parts of the fifty shade books, but they seem to be as bad relationship-wise as the Twilight books they're based on. They're read by tons of adults, and many of those adults feverently argue that Ana's and Christian's relationship ISN'T UNHEALTHY AT ALL and that Christian Grey is some kind of dream man. The author herself said as much in an interview. So clearly, having actual dating experience doesn't magically make you immune towards weird messages. Which is in part explained by, I think, that you sort of have to accept the ethics of the story in order to honestly enjoy it (rather than merely enjoying it because it's so kitchy or so-bad-it's-good).

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    13. Elaborating... I think it's hard for lots of people, even adults, to shake off the idea that stalking and controlling behaviour could be signs of love, or that super-duper-epic love (as opposed to normal mundane love) should involve some of these aspects. This is because our culture have this love/dating paradigm where the man is supposed to be active and pursue the woman he loves, and the woman should be at least a little bit "hard to get". The abusive stalker is really just this trope taken to extremes.

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  9. I was always amazed that my best friend's parents really did seem to be very close to the ideal of the happy, kind, loving family, and aside from a few indications that her father had some mildly backwards ideas about gender roles, really didn't seem to have any major problems or make her feel the ways I did at home. The love in that home wasn't, and still isn't, a twisted lie to excuse what's really going on, it's genuine. I knew on an intellectual level that these families existed, but actually seeing one in action was strange and didn't feel real.

    I was always mildly shocked that her parents didn't seem to hate her.

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  10. FYI - my boyfriend likes it when I'm on top, but when I do it in the up and down way that you were under the impression was the "right" way, I may have, er, hurt his penis. More than once. Apparently this has made him cautious. Much better (and fun!) to stick to the other way.

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  11. So I'm going to be a teacher and I think I'll make it a point to say it is not normal a lot...right up there with not okay.

    /me steels herself to deal with cranky parents who think I'm undermining their god given right to be abusive and absolutely charge of another person's life because they made said person with their bodies.

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    1. Oh God I hate the "don't tell me how to raise my child" argument.

      I mean, I understand it as a reaction to strangers who can be really intrusive about stuff like "you're showing a 12-year-old a PG-13 movie!" and "why aren't you breastfeeding?"

      But sometimes it gets hauled in as a trump card to argue that parents don't need to consider any outside ideas about how to treat a human being who depends on them utterly.

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    2. Oh, and I should've said, that's completely awesome that you're doing that, and I hope it makes a difference.

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    3. Please do!

      I teach adults, so the "You shouldn't be afraid of your mommy and daddy" talk is just not going to be brought up in my class. If any of my students have been abused by their parents...well, it's a bit too late by the time they get to my class, sadly.

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    4. No it isn't ever EVER too late to know that what happened in your first family wasn't necessarily ok. Too late to change things in future between the family members, sure, but not too late to help the people struggling in the aftermath.

      Being validated in some of my own anger towards how I was parented by what seems to be a sane, functional couple was immensely helpful in healing or at least addressing....because the anger was also part of the shame of not being "ok" and "appreciative", and anger was "never" ok....but actually it is. And finally hearing that what had happened was deserving of the emotion "anger" helped with setting boundaries that I had never been able to set before. My anger was always ALWAYS the "cause" of the problem or the fight, or my mother's tears or my father's own anger. It was NEVER a valid reaction to an unfair accusation, or an impossible situation, or an injustice, or whatever.....only it was. And I was in my 40's before I found out that I hadn't been wrong _all_ those times.

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  12. Thank you for this. One thing I (a het male) was continually told as a teen was that women don't actually enjoy sex, or find men attractive - that they just used it to placate men to get Twu Wuv or something. Sexist bullshit in retrospect, but I didn't know any better at the time. But you can see how this normalizes rape. I came scarily close to being this guy: http://captainawkward.com/2012/12/03/401-i-cant-tell-whether-my-girlfriend-wants-to-have-sex-with-me-spoiler-she-doesnt/

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    1. I got this so much, that I'm pretty sure it's how I ended up with a non-con fetish. After all, if I'm supposed to be ravished...

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    2. I got this as a woman and didn't realise it wasn't true until I'd already had one (unsuccessful) attempt at losing my virginity (my body just refused to become aroused no matter how much I told it to, so I gave up.)

      It's a good way to make someone not realise that they're a lesbian though, because if nobody is attracted to men then the fact that you aren't attracted to them and like women instead doesn't mean you're not straight.

      Well done on overcoming that yourself, though - it took me years and years.

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  13. I grew up in an abusive home. I've been in a number of abusive relationships. It wasn't until a year and a half ago that I realized what I had experienced had been abuse. I didn't know you could be raped if you were in a relationship. I mean, I understood that it was fucked up to drug your girlfriend and then stick your penis in her while she was unconscious. But I didn't understand that it was rape. Nor did I understand that it was not okay for your mother to belittle you and tell you that everything bad that happened in her life was somehow your fault. I had boyfriends tell me that past boyfriends and girlfriends had abused me, but then go on to do the same thing. I had friends who told me my interactions with my mom were all sorts of messed up, but they had similar interactions with their own parents. It wasn't until someone showed me what healthy interaction looks like that I began to piece together what I had been experiencing my entire life.

    That lovely person is my best friend and my current sexytime partner, and I am happy to say that our interaction has never been anything other than healthy. Not always happy, but never unhealthy.

    But I still flinch when he quickly leans over or reaches past me. And I cannot have him on top of me (with y'all on the on-top rocking motions. My knees make a weird popping noise each time I squat? Major mood killer). I apologize profusely when something in his life goes awry, regardless of my involvement in it. And I sometimes have panic attacks mid-sexytime. Which is anything but sexy. But we stop, and regroup, and talk about what happened. No hard feelings.

    So it bothers me, when people write shit that portrays abusive relationships -- not in an attempt to raise awareness about domestic violence or what have you -- and it gets internalized by people as what is "normal." I grew up in a community where abuse is the norm, but I wish someone would have showed me what "normal" is. Normal as in good. Healthy.

    Healthy relationships are sexy.

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  14. Cliff, this article touched me a lot, so I decided to comment (I'm a silent reader most of the times, I always feel like I don't have anything interesting enough to say, like being a kid and walking at the same pace as a group you don't belong in, and laughing out loud at a joke made as if you were part of the team, but everyone knows you're not).
    Then I read all the awesome comments, and there's so many things I want to say, I don't even know where to start!

    First of all I grew up in an abusive household. My father abused my mother, psychologically on a daily basis, and physically on occasions, but the threat was still there, in the air. he also abused my younger sibling on occasions. i was th only one not "directly" abused, though, now, years later, I realize it is abusive to make your daughter feel guilty for standing between you and her mother, to prevent you from hitting her.also, when your daughter tears scraps of skins off her face and her arms in front of you begging you to stop, telling her to go to her room and mind her own business is not very fatherly. All the while I knew it wan't normal, but it doesn't mean I knew how to have a norml relationship. and frankly I still don't. It's really hard for me to open up to someone. it took me years to discover and admit I could have feelings for someone, because I think feelings are weaknesses that allow people to hurt you. I don't really know how to be spontaneous, i have to calculate it. I've been in a relationship for three years with the less threatening person I've ever met, and I stil can't relax. I actually think i'm on the brink of being an abuser myself because i'm so afraid of being hurt, so defensive, that I manipulate my partner without meaning to. sometimes I catch myself belittling them, and i guess it's because I think i need to make them feel inferior so they don't realize they could "do better". I apologize of course, but it's an horrible feeling to find yourself becoming the person you fear to be. and because i've been chronically deppressed for over ten years, I can't know for sure if I'm really as bad as I think I am, or if i'm being paranoid about it and am just difficult to live with but not abusive.
    Anyway. other than that my partner was raised in another country, where hitting children, sometimes with belts is the norm. it wasn't the norm in my household, and ironically, my parents, even my father, were really reluctant to hitting us and it happened very rarely. but my partner was hit if he had a bad grade, if he lost something, if he refused to eat... he was hit with a belt on occasions. he refuses to call it abuse, an it's unbearable to discuss these things with him..
    anyway, sorry for the ramble, and thank you for your articles Cliff. they're always awesome, and they make me feel supported when people tell me i'm overreacting when I voice my concerns about abuse apology and misogyny in the media, and not alone in trying to figure out gender issues, kink, and much more!

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  15. also, you once said something like "it's amazing how many love songs sound like terribly abusing relationships"... I think of it a lot and the twilight comment reminded me of it. =)

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  16. I'm in the process of writing a paper for my second family therapy class, and I've been struggling to articulate the disconnect between the content of these classes and the reality of families in therapy. I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head here: sometimes, someone needs to be told flat-out that what their family is doing doesn't work, isn't normal, and isn't okay. Thank you.

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  17. I knew it was abuse. I just didn't know what to do about it.

    The medical encyclopedia was clear that emotional abuse existed, but was pretty mild unless it escalated into physical abuse. The Very Special Episodes were clear that real abuse was physical, and there was emotional abuse with it but in comparison it felt like nothing. (Yeah, I know it's easier to portray beatings and shouted insults than a constant atmosphere of fear and self-hatred. You want an easy job, don't run Very Special Episodes.) If you called the helpline and they decided you were abused enough, they'd put you in an orphanage where you'd be bullied and underfed and never educated and you'd grow up to be a burglar or a prostitute. (What are foster parents and relative custody?)

    And if I called, what would I say? "My parents scold me and send me to my room"? What kind of spoiled drama queen believes that's a real problem?

    I still don't know what I should have done. Assuming I managed to convey that it wasn't the normal kind of scolding, what would they have done? Probably not put me in care, I know they're not Oliver Twist-style orphanages but it's still a last resort. So what would have happened? Some kind of bullshit therapy where my father can do the apology part of the abuse cycle? We're talking little kid here, by the time I was old enough to live on my own I was to fucked up to.

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    1. And if I called, what would I say? "My parents scold me and send me to my room"? What kind of spoiled drama queen believes that's a real problem?
      Oh god, that's how I felt about so much of my childhood. Because my mom didn't go after me for literally no reason. She always told me it was about something bad that I'd done. (Sometimes she was right, too. I mean, it's not like I was a perfect child.)

      And children are supposed to be punished when they're bad, right? You can't go demanding to never be punished. Even for an adult with an outside perspective, it can be hard to draw a definitive line between discipline and abuse. When you're twelve years old and you've known no other life?

      I think if I'd told someone it might have helped some, though. Some therapy for my mom would have to be better than none--I mean, she also thought what she was doing was normal! Maybe just hearing that it wasn't would have helped. And simply hearing that this was abuse, that I wasn't just being treated extra bad because I happened to be an exceptionally terrible child, would have done me a world of good, even if it couldn't have been ended.

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    2. Cliff: I was in a very similar situation as you. Except part of the reason I stopped trying to tell was that when I did, I wasn't believed or the problems were dismissed as minor, and I had been made to think that if I kept trying, I'd be branded crazy and forced into unnecessary and unwanted treatment, and possibly locked up. There was a period of time when, whenever I'd do something to displease my mother (often, this meant speaking up against the abuse,) I was told I wasn't making any sense, and the trouble I was causing would be blamed on some mental illness that I do not have.
      One of the very few times she did hit me, I decided against telling my guidance counselor because I was convinced that she'd deny everything and I'd be thrown into the loony bin.

      (Just want to put a disclaimer on this, that this post is not in any way meant to target mentally ill people. I have some illnesses myself... just not the ones I was "accused" of having, and my above-mentioned actions weren't caused by them. I'm a huge supporter of neuroatypical issues.)

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    3. I felt the same way. What would I say, "Daddy gets mad at me when I do something wrong?" Well, no shit. "My parents spank me sometimes?" In Ala-fucking-bama? What else, Princess, is the sky fucking BLUE? I didn't know that being yelled at and called stupid when you slipped up wasn't normal--I didn't see other parents discipline their kids. I didn't know that the typical response to a B on your report card wasn't "What are you DOING in school all day? This is GARBAGE! I KNOW you weren't trying if THIS is all you got!"

      I figured that I was just a total screw-up, and that the shouting and the misery was all my fault. The only inconsistency I noticed was that my brother wasn't treated nearly so harshly over grades--and that made sense to me, because we knew fairly early on that I was extremely gifted. Or, as I thought of it at the time, "I'm a genius, and that means I have to be perfect. It's okay if he makes mistakes sometimes, because regular people make mistakes. But geniuses aren't allowed to."

      I was an adult before I realized that people are not supposed to be afraid of their fathers. I was an adult before I even learned that respect and fear are not the same thing. I still apologize for things that I don't need to apologize for, and beat myself up over every little thing.

      If I ever see my father treat my children the way he treated me, even once, he will learn that I am not a timid little girl anymore. I will tell him exactly what his words did to my head. To his face. In front of my own children, if I have to.

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    4. ""My parents spank me sometimes?" In Ala-fucking-bama? What else, Princess, is the sky fucking BLUE?"

      I just... ugh. Don't have the words to form an eloquent response right now, but I'm so sick of this attitude. It's fucking horrifying. "I can assault my children because that's just what people do around here."

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    5. To be fair, I don't believe that all spanking is abuse. Open-handed spanking on the bottom, as a last resort only, isn't abuse. Spanking as a go-to form of discipline is a bad idea, and that BS the Pearls call "spanking" is just flat-out child abuse, period.

      It's the things he said when he spanked me. The yelling, and the anger.

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  18. I recently stumbled upon the concept of the narcissistic family. In such families, everything revolves around one or both parents and their needs have to be fulfilled foremost. The needs of the kids might be fulfilled on a superficial/basic level, but everything they do has to benefit the narcissistic parent.
    Genuine emotions are displayed and discussed only rarely and the kids of those families often grow up with a feeling that something is wrong about them or missing in their life.
    Sadly, emotional and/or physical abuse is central to those families and there are many who pass this toxic atmosphere on through several generations.
    I read about it in "The narcissistic family: Diagnosis and Treatment" by S. Donaldson-Pressman, which is written for professionals but I think quite accessible for the layperson, too.

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    1. I'm not big on that kind of tidy labeling. I think it makes choices sound like pathology, and complex situations oversimplified.

      I just want people stuck in miserable families of having some way of knowing that a better life is possible and that they do not deserve to be as unhappy as they are.

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    2. An "It Gets Better Project" for kids in miserable families.

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    3. I wanted to chime in to say that I actually find some of the "labels" helpful. I use quotation marks because when treated as the serious subjects that they are, studying various pathologies goes a very long way toward understanding - and when necessary, dealing with - abusive behavior from relatives.

      I knew that my father was abusive from when I was pretty young. He was extremely and constantly violent toward the entire family. He also had a bizarre way of distorting reality that baffled me. I ran away when I was a teenager, and I was in therapy for years to sort everything out. It wasn't until I learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder that all of the pieces fell into place. Reading the madness I had witnessed described in a book went a looooong way toward putting my mind at ease.

      Now, I realize that the vast majority of cases of abuse probably (hopefully! yikes) aren't perpetrated by pathological narcissists, but for those of us who DID grow up with that, it's very helpful to find out that it's a THING so that we can learn more about it if we so choose.

      Please enlighten me if I'm missing something, as I've seen the use of labels shut down in a few places that I respect and appreciate. I agree that slapping a label on something and stopping there isn't productive at all. I just don't like the idea of not discussing the labels/conditions at all, as if they don't exist and there's nothing to be learned from them.

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    4. I think the usual objection to labels is that sometimes it's used as a way to dismiss or excuse the problem (as in "zie is bipolar, they can't help the way they behave", or "zie has narcissistic personality disorder, so there's no point in discussing the problem"). And it can be hard to avoid the temptation of inserting people into the neat little boxes that labels provide, when in actuality these labels often describe a spectrum rather than a set list of criteria to be fulfilled.

      But I agree with you that finding that label and researching it can provide a tremendous amount of support, and reinforces the notion that the behavior is neither typical nor appropriate. It can also provide a basis for finding help. It wasn't until my little brother was diagnosed with child bipolar disorder, and my family started finding and reading books about it that we started being able to get the help and he - and we - really needed.

      I had the exact same reaction as you: the literature made everything fall into place and gave me a window into how his mind worked. Which definitely made dealing with my own emotional reactions a little easier, and sometimes actually gave my family the tools to deal with my brother's problems.

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    5. holy crap. Label or not, I have just understood a WHOLE HUGE LOT about what the fuck is going on in a dysfunctional family I have the dubious pleasure of being involved with. And yes....it makes some MORE of the "wtf?" moments make sense (not that it makes them less wtf, just that I have an idea of WHY they are so wtf)

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  19. Hm... I think it is not so much about labeling and excusing every shitty behaviour with pathology but about patters that are common to many families. It certainly helped me understand many small things that I could not bring together.

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  20. "I wish someone could have taught me that wanting to be safe was human instead of selfish."

    This - I can't tell you how much this resonated for me. I've been getting better about the idea that safety is a right, not a privilege - but god its so hard sometimes. I intellectually know and understand that its something I deserve without question - but emotionally, its hard to unlearn. And the gap between the two is so huge. Coming here to spaces like this (found you through Captain Awkward) and being able to comment and discuss and not feel utterly insane for having that gap - its helpful. Thanks so much for posting this.

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  21. Cliff, I just.... thank you for this post. I used to joke that something wretched must have happened to me in a past life, because I to this day am so surprised and delighted and *grateful* when I find people who genuinely *like* me, or when I screw up somehow and nobody makes a big deal out of it. In retrospect, my childhood was not at all what it should have been, and while part of it was due to family drama, a big chunk was from my horrible luck picking friends, especially as a little kid, but it never occurred to me that being nervous all the time wasn't normal, that your school "friends" weren't supposed to make you feel like garbage about yourself, that anything was amiss. I just.... it's really good to know I'm not the only one.

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    1. "never occurred to me... that your school "friends" weren't supposed to make you feel like garbage about yourself"

      Oh geez, this. I was ostracized in elementary/grade for a number of reasons, among them the fact that I was a very poor girl bused into a wealthier area where not wearing Keds shoes rendered you a pariah, and also the fact that I was always very nervous and on edge thanks to the violence at home. I made "friends" with other ostracized kids, but that was a lost cause, as they all treated each other terribly in hopes of eventually being accepted into the much larger "cool" kid crowd. I was a naive kid, so I tried my hardest to be a good friend to these fellow outcasts, hoping they'd treat me well in return, but no dice.

      And I also used to wonder what horrible thing I had done in a previous life to have parents who abused me and no caring friends!!

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  22. Wow, yeah. The power of normal is... very staggering, sometimes.

    Like, the feeling that clearly no one else does this, so clearly there's something wrong with you - yeah. Like, relationship negotiation/initiating explicit communication can really be like that for me. I want to do it, I believe it's the good thing to do - but a lot of the time, when I think about actually doing it, since I've seen basically no examples of it actually happening and how it works, in my mind it's that no one else does it, so I'm being weird and ridiculous and the other person is going to tell me I'm an idiot.
    And wouldn't it be so awesome if the relationships in books and movie had *had* these examples?

    Thanks for drawing attention to this kind of thing. It really makes a difference.

    And also, mental health. Like, it's very hard sometimes to figure out the the line between 'everyone has issues like this and they deal with them and still get things done, so I should be able to do the same' and 'I think I'm having an actual problem.

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  23. Cliff, I have no words to describe how grateful I am for your sheer existence.

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  24. Cindy Gallup! Make love not porn.tv!!

    It's awesome. Really, awesome. So awesome, I want to contribute. But that's a little sticky since I'd also like to get a job with the government. Instead, I'll just enjoy the really hot, really normal people porn. It really does look like sex I have - lots of position or pace changes (including ones that just feel instead of look good - when on top, in order of preference I like to 1) lie chest to chest with my boyfriend and sort of rock or slowly move my hips up/down 2) sit up but leaning over him, hands on the pillow near his ears, and rock so my clit rubs and we have deep penetration and 3) sit up, hands on his shoulders and go between bouncing and rocking. It never looks like porn or cosmo - I like to be close enough to kiss, touch, etc), talk that isn't just dirty but sometimes silly or practical, affection and respect (even if it's on the rough instead of sweet side).

    For those who come from fucked up families and identified with the second part of the post, I echo Anonymous on reading about narcissism and add "parentification" to the list (along with codependent, scapegoat, and golden child). While I agree with Cliff that sometimes labeling has drawbacks, being able to identify these forms of abuse in my life, my boyfriend's life, my boss's life, my best friend's life was both sad and reassuring. Shit happened, we all came out of it, and now that I know EXACTLY what it looks like I will sure as hell address it in my own life or the lives of others (especially kids).

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  25. I like to say that porn is to sex as the circus is to a typical Saturday afternoon. That so many people seem to think that the point of sex is to copy what people do in porn is incredibly depressing, about ten times more so considering how much porn concentrates on making women jump through hoops.

    I'm always so pleased when I'm with someone and she doesn't start trying to Do Porn Things when we could be having sex instead.


    As for seeing other people's less fucked up families... I and a close friend both grew up long before we met each other with similar experiences. We'd both given up on explaining to other people that our parents acted like total arseholes only when other people weren't around, because on the few occasions where we'd dared to have anyone round, they'd acted all sweetness and light.

    Then one day my mum finally flipped and went into "scream and snipe and mindfuck for four hours because there's a fork in the sink" when one of my oldest friends was around. He'd never said it, but I knew he never believed it when I tried to tell him what it was like before. He was scared to come back after that day, and never doubted me again.

    I was the lucky one really, since my friend's parents were much worse, and it all became something that helped us become such good friends.

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    1. I think the porn thing is because, well, when else do most people watch other people have sex? It's not like your average person can say "wow, that porn sex looks totally different from when my friends and neighbors have sex!"

      Because it's such a private thing, it's hard to get any other frame of reference.

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    2. Yeah, that's connected to why I think it's depressing and worrying - say you're twelve years old and curious (redundant, probably). What else is there? Sure, you might have read that the penis goes in the vagina, and even that other kinds of sex happen and sometimes there's no penis at all. But that's a bit like saying "Hey kid, people eat food with their mouths. Now go make the perfect meal for your new friend". And some people don't even get that much.

      All of which only hinders the "porn isn't inherently bad" argument when people employ the "what about the children" defence, but that's a whole other tangent it's not wise to get into just now.

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    3. But that's a bit like saying "Hey kid, people eat food with their mouths. Now go make the perfect meal for your new friend".

      This is the PERFECT analogy and I might just have to steal it sometime.

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  26. My first clash with sexuality (and/or "romance") with another person was non-consensual. It took me ten years to realize that my boundaries had been violated, and I feel guilty as fuck for feeling that way. Especially when I keep thinking that what he did to me was pretty tame in comparison to how sexual assault is generally portrayed as.

    I blame all of this on viewing the type of thing that happened as normal, even romanticized.

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  27. I get really mad sometimes at the barrage of pop-culture messaging that Parents Always Love Their Kids And Do What's Best, because it reinforces the taboo around kids telling anyone what's going on. *Especially* children's books. How many children's/young adult books are out there where the kid feels unfairly treated or rejected by her parents, but realizes in the end that they really love her after all? The world needs a stealth campaign of tween novels where the kid realizes in the end that while her parents may not be cartoon villain stereotypes they really are emotionally abusive, and finds someone she can talk to who explains what is going on and gives her practical coping strategies.

    Then, too, people who had good parents can be so shocked by any refusal to mouth the Standard Family Narrative. It feels like violating such an enormous taboo to say that no, I don't love my mom and I don't feel belated gratitude and understanding for the things that bothered me as a teenager - in fact I'm even more pissed off about them. Everyone acknowledges that there are emotionally stunted people in the world - why do we have so much invested in propping up the myth that giving birth magically turns those people into awesome human beings? It's the non-love that dare not speak its name.

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    1. It rally builds into the idea that one must always respect their parents, whether they deserve it or not.

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    2. And the notion that all you need to be a good parent is love. What absolute bollocks. Any idiot can love someone. You can love someone and still be an emotionally abusive prick. But hey that doesn't matter, because love love love, and just have a baby and everyone will love each other and it'll be fine because of magical love. Ugh.

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    3. Oh I HATE the notion that you have to respect (or even love!) your parents no matter what.

      When I was 21, I moved to a different city and didn't tell my parents I was going (I wrote them a letter explaining that I wasn't kidnapped or dead, but that's it). I just...really needed to get out from under their influence for a while, and it was five years before I spoke to them again.

      In the meantime, if my parental situation came up in conversation with someone, 90% of the time they'd whine, "But how can you doooooo that?!? They're your paaaaaaaarents!!!!!!!" - without having any idea why I left. So either people were assuming I'd left town and shunned my family on a whim, or they thought I was obligated to love and interact with my parents even if they were horribly abusive. Pretty infuriating either way.

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    4. "In the meantime, if my parental situation came up in conversation with someone, 90% of the time they'd whine, "But how can you doooooo that?!? They're your paaaaaaaarents!!!!!!!" - without having any idea why I left."

      I'm quite lucky in that my mum managed to shield me from most of this when she was getting divorced from my dad. How he acted both to her and to me during and after the divorce is what caused me to break off contact with him in the first place, but being 17 and still living with mum at the time meant that mum got a lot of the awkward questions I wasn't able to answer myself*.

      Now I am 21 and moved out, anyone who cares knows that I haven't spoken to my dad in years, but don't ask questions about it any more.

      *It boils down to my dad being a narcissistic arsehole, but I wasn't able to sort my feelings in to anything coherent and articulate for years.

      "How many children's/young adult books are out there where the kid feels unfairly treated or rejected by her parents, but realizes in the end that they really love her after all?"

      I hate the way ~love~ is waved around as the magical power that excuses any and all behaviours. I see it mainly in "romances" *cough*Twilight*cough*, but still.

      If the trope was "... but realises in the end that they really love her after all and the parents go and get counselling and/or help of some kind and become better parents and better people" then it'd be... better.

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    5. I've never met a family where parents didn't love their kids, probably because controlling helicopters pushed me into schools that neglected kids are pushed out of. But I've seen a different mindfuck with parental love: a parent who loves their child very much and very sincerely, and always provides the very best for their child, and never notices that "their child" is just an idea and the actual kid is suffering horribly because they can't express any need that the imaginary child doesn't have.

      You can curl up and pull out your hair and beg, but their child can't be seriously hurt, so it's just a tantrum. You can say "This hurts, could you not do that?", but their child doesn't have sensory issues, so you're just being prissy and difficult. You can make one of your dreams come true, but it's not one their child wants, so it's worthless. You can repeat "Fine" like a mantra for years, but their child tells them about every problem, so you must really be fine (and when you don't look fine, you're being a drama queen again). You can sit at the dinner table completely drunk and pass the salt with scarred forearms, but their child has nothing to cope with, so you look perfectly normal.

      It's just weird, someone hugging you and telling you "I love you, and I'm so proud", when nothing they keep praising is yours.

      Delete
    6. Most recent anon - Oh God, I know exactly what you mean.

      My mom loved me very much, if love means "wanting another to be perfect and successful." She sincerely wanted these things for me and she worked and sacrificed a lot to try to give them to me.

      But she had no understanding of the part of love that involves valuing anything about a person as they are now, or accepting if their ideas of perfection and success differ from yours.

      The message I always got was "I'm going to make you happy, even if I have to make you miserable to do it!" Which plays perfectly into those "you'll be grateful when you're older, you'll realize it was love all along" narratives. Except that now I'm older and I'm really, really not grateful.

      Delete
    7. That was my mother, too. :/ She's somewhat better these days, but it's too little, too late - I still believe it wasn't me she loved, but some fantasy child. I would only get love whenever I happened to emulate the fantasy.

      -Fishgoat

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    8. Yet another anonymousDecember 30, 2012 at 3:44 PM

      My mum took that to interesting and extreme levels - by repeatedly suggesting that I'd been switched at birth and actually wasn't her child when I did anything she didn't like (like say not making eye contact when I'm autistic and partially sighted). I watched the Disney movie "Tangled" recently and cried because I spent my childhood enduring abuse waiting for my magical "real mother" to discover me and switch me back and love me unconditionally. And it never happened and never will.

      Delete
  28. Posting anonymous cause, yeah...this really resonated with me. I remember being in elementary school, maybe grade 2 or 3? And a girl came to school, crying. The teacher asked what was wrong and she said her dad had called her stupid. I was shocked that this was treated as something *bad* and cry-able. I had a few moments of the 'hmm, this isn't normal' like that, but even all the way the up through high school it never really 'clicked'. I always thought of it in my head as 'my dad gets mad and yells'. Since there wasn't any hitting it was normal, right? And there was a certain amount of discussion of emotional abuse but for some reason it wasn't the same when it was *me*. If someone had described what they were going through I'd have said, that's wrong! But in my case it was different somehow, always that belief that it was because of something I had done or not done. I still justify it in my head as 'well I was a really difficult kid and never did my schoolwork and was really lazy and...'

    And, I don't know why because I absolutely know objectively, and have told people, that that sort of thing isn't OK! Brains are weird.

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  29. Just for the record, I'm a grinding-backward-and-forward person when I'm on top during sex. I always assumed that was perfectly acceptable, probably because I grew up mostly before the internet was a thing, and racy mainstream movies always portray woman-on-top hetero sex in a grindy way.

    And it's probably worth noting that my last partner is the only guy who didn't like it and needed me to do the bouncing thing. Everyone else liked the grind just fine.

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    1. Oh! I just remembered a "porn gave me weird ideas" story. I didn't really see any porn until I was in my 20s, but the stuff I did see was very mainstream...and whenever a woman stimulated her clitoris, she'd use this teeny little dainty motion - basically just flicking the end joint of her index finger back and forth. And I thought "Ohhh Jesus. If that's how women usually masturbate, I must look pretty ridiculous by comparison" because I am, shall we say, a lot more vigorous than what I saw in the porn.

      Fast-forward to a few years ago, when I stumbled over beautifulagony.com. Beautiful Agony is a site where people send in videos of themselves masturbating. The catch is that these videos only show people from the shoulders up. So, okay, I couldn't see what any of the women are actually doing - but I could see that some (nay, most) of them were wanking with enough gusto that one or both shoulders were pistoning up and down.

      And that's when I realized that I'm actually pretty normal. :D

      Delete
    2. And that's where I finally saw another woman that DOESN"T use her hands at all to masturbate, and instead used a bolster or roll of fabric and laid on her stomach while humping/grinding. I've done it that way since I was a tiny girl, (seriously, I remember doing it that way when I was probably 4 or 5 yrs old), and still don't really enjoy the sensations of directly touching my own clit (I have ZERO problem with handling any part of my body, but it's just not horn-reducing for me)

      Delete
  30. In my case, my mom justified abusing my siblings and I by saying "but if you tell anyone, you'll go to foster care and then you'll be RAPED AND TORTURED like I was when my alcoholic mom who used to beat me got put in jail and I had to go to foster care!"

    I knew it wasn't normal how she treated me. I started wanting to run away when I was still in elementary school. But then I was also able to normalize the behavior. I mean, she wasn't beating me (although she did hit me with a wooden spoon when I was "bad"), she didn't lock me up in the basement, she didn't starve me, hell I had a couple of toys and it wasn't like I had to sleep outside or anything.

    My mom basically gave me the examples of extreme abuse as being "deserving" of saying anything to people of authority. Little things like calling me worthless and ugly and stomping around the house terrorizing me and demanding that I do various chores to an almost obsessive level of perfection..those were just "normal."

    I always assumed that everything I figured out that I enjoyed needed to be a secret- that no one else enjoyed them or did them. I was happy to sign the no sex until marriage pledge in elementary school because I had discovered masturbation at a very young age and did not want anyone to find out that I had figured out this cool thing that obviously no one else had thought of. I simply assumed that having sex with an actual other person was awful and horrible, so I had no desire to have sex with people in high school or junior high, even though the thought of kissing made me unbearably horny. 99% of my sexual fantasies during masturbation involved being raped, tortured, killed or something equally disturbing. I figured it was normal to have an ambivalent view of sex.

    Meh. Even today, I sometimes feel like my spouse is a completely different person who I can't really read sexually. We end up doing a lot of the same stuff, but when he looks at porn he's so much more variable and has more of a wide variety of tastes. Yet he doesn't want to do anything new and different with me, even though I've mentioned I'm up for it. I don't really understand why. I just want to get into his head, because that headspace really turns me on, but it's like he steadfastly refuses to let me in, even though he says he's happy with it. Argh. I wish sex could be easy. I wish everything could be easy.

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    1. Are you from a country where elementary school means something different from grades 1-5? Or did you just go to a really awful school? Because giving abstinence pledges to kids under 12 sounds awfully fucked up.

      Delete
    2. Anon - That's the point. They make kids pledge before they hit puberty so they have no idea what they're promising.

      Delete
    3. One of the most horrible things about abuse is that it's so easy to pretend it's not real. REAL abuse is _______, so what you're experiencing can't be REAL abuse since it's not THAT bad. And the thing is that there's always something worse. Right up until it's so bad the kid dies, there's always something worse. But some people will twist that around to say if there's something worse out there then you should be happy with whatever you've got, no matter how screwed up it is.

      Delete
  31. I didn't see any mainstream American porn until after I'd seen lots of stills of hentai and well-done amateur porn. My first reaction to the former was, "Wait, people pay money for this stuff?"

    The couples and amateur porn I've seen is really sweet and has a genuine "we love having sex with each other" vibe that makes it even sexier to me, and in hentai--well. When you're drawing sex, you can give people whatever facial expressions you want. But the women in the mainstream American porn I've seen just seem to look so bored. Even when they're moaning in what is, ostensibly, pleasure, they don't look like they're really getting into it at all.

    Is boring your partner really that popular, or do the consumers of mainstream porn just not realize that there's better stuff out there?

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  32. Cliff, you are an absolute utter genius!! This, SO MUCH.

    I have always thought - pretty much until just now, reading this - that yes, obviously most people have woman-on-top sex where the woman bounces up and down, but I am clearly too weak for that, which is why I can't, and so I guess my boyfriend can't be enjoying that too much.

    WTF??? I am saying WTF to myself. You have yet again managed to lift a curtain in my mind as it were, and make me see something clearly (it's a pretty amazing gift you have for doing that!).

    Of course, I haven't seen other 'real' people having sex (you know, friends, neighbours, family), so the only woman-on-top sex I've seen is in brief sketches of 'mainstream' porn - which I don't want much of, as what I've seen doesn't do a great deal for me, but that's another topic.
    And yet if I think about it - who said mainstream porn was the 'normal' way to do things? I sure as hell don't feel I have to be constant waxed and hairless (another porn stereotype). I don't think my boyfriend would enjoy me fingering myself with inch-long nails while moaning fakery (I *KNOW* I wouldn't enjoy being fingered with inch-long nails - euw, I really don't get that in porn!).
    But for some reason I hadn't thought to query the woman-on-top-will-bounce-athletically norm.

    So, thanks Cliff, again. Oh and thanks for the link suggestion to 'real people' porn - I've had a couple of quick online searches for that before, and not been lucky, so to speak.

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  33. Firstly, sometimes when I'm on top while receiving sexual penetration I'm all bouncy, and that is fun and nice. But what actually gets me off in that position is more what you're describing, combined with tensing and releasing the muscles of my pelvic floor. I actually got the idea to try it in the first place from reading your blog, and it is all kinds of good, both for me and my partner. Thank you!

    Secondly, regarding the childhood abuse: I've been saying for years that people need to be more explicit about what they mean when they tell kids to talk to people if they're being abused. I was in my twenties before I realized that it isn't normal to be severely beaten by one's classmates on a daily basis. In retrospect it seems like it should have been obvious to me that I was being abused. But I just assumed that my experience was normal, and that everyone knew about it.

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    1. "people need to be more explicit about what they mean when they tell kids to talk to people if they're being abused."

      Being explicit about what constitutes abusive behavior, as well as the warning signs for child abuse, is taught (in the US, at least) to people going into early childhood education (pre-grade school). It is not usually taught to grade school teachers, and school counselors often get even less training (not to mention counselors are overworked and underpaid as well).

      But in addition to a lack of education for the people who spend the most amount of time with children other than their parents/guardians, for people who have not experienced abuse, the sheer scope and range of abuse can be very nearly incomprehensible. I was in my early 30's when, in conversation with my supervisor and a co-worker, I was utterly shocked at the childhood stories they told that they saw as completely normal. To me, the things they spoke about were almost inconceivable. My childhood was not idyllic, and my parents had their issues, but I can honestly say that I was *never* abused in any way.

      I had a friend in college who told me about the awful things her mother said to her on a daily basis. My friend knew that her mother was emotionally abusive. But although I believed her, I didn't really understand until I visited her at home and heard her mother say these horrible things to her - right in front of me!

      My mother is - and has been - very insistent for years that teachers need more training to spot children who are being abused, because children often *don't know they're being abused*. A person's own childhood instills in them the sense of what constitutes a normal childhood, so you've never seen abuse firsthand, it can be very hard to spot even when it's right in front of you.

      The amount of school bullying that goes on is appalling. I never experienced or saw anything more than nasty words (which can be bad enough), but I certainly experienced the fact that even good teachers are capable of completely overlooking blatant bullying. The physical violence that goes on in some schools shows that far too many teachers are extremely negligent.

      Delete
    2. I was repeatedly molested by classmates right in front of my teacher in kindergarten and first grade, in addition to the constantly escalating verbal and physical violence and sexual harassment I was subjected to until I changed schools in the ninth grade. Again, most of this happened in front of teachers. And when our PE teacher was reported for inappropriate touching and peeking at the girls when we changed clothes, the principal didn't believe us, and refused to even buy us a curtain for the changing room.

      If actually seeing children get beaten, groped, verbally abused to the point of tears doesn't clue teachers in that maybe these children are being abused, I really don't know what will. There seems to be this idea that abuse is only real if the perpetrator is an adult. But that is just not true, and the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children by their peers needs to be taken much more seriously.

      Delete
  34. The umpteenth Anonymous here. :)

    I've never watched porn - seen plenty of stills from mainstream stuff, none of which make me want to see any more. The only time I've seen the bouncing-on-top thing was a brief scene from Unit One (I think), a Danish crime show, when a sex worker was doing the Reverse Cowgirl thing. I didn't think as far as the "Ow, my thighs/knees/ankles wouldn't stand that," I just thought it looked like she was trying to get her client to come as fast as possible. It sure didn't look enjoyable, but I daresay it wasn't meant to in the show's context.

    It's certainly now how I'd want to do on-top with my beloved, regardless of Knee Destruction factors. I'm not enamoured of being on top anyway, I much prefer lying down. Neither of us is into madly pumping and shoving, we like things gentler than that.

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  35. Thank for this, Cliff.

    I am honestly just getting that there are people in the world who have never been raped or sexually abused. People who have never experienced the other abusive and excruciatingly painful things I have. Strangely, it doesn't make me angry at the unfairness. It just makes me think, "Huh. Weird. I wonder what it's like to be them." It's something I can't even imagine, really.

    On the other hand, when I was in the middle of the dark place, those people made me wonder what I'd done to deserve what was happening to me. I didn't tell anyone because what happened to me was very difficult to talk about anyway, and I was worried they'd see how "bad" I was. I felt like I was a dirty, ugly thing in the middle of clean, beautiful, normal people.

    So, talking about stuff! It's a Good Thing(TM).

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  36. Two elements in this post dovetailed for me too! Except it wasn't the "bouncy on top" it was the fact that your partner and you watch different porn but are kinky the same way!

    Thanks for proving I'm normal! (or, at least, not alone.)

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  37. Get your own home based job in data entry, copy pasting, clicking and different more jobs
    www.jobzcorner.com

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    Replies
    1. I have always dreamed of a career in copy pasting. And clicking. Actually I minored in clicking in college, more to it than you'd think...

      Delete
    2. I've always fancied different more jobs instead of the same old more jobs. ;)

      Delete
  38. This post, and your Cosmocking posts, have really made it clear to me how heavily our culture emphasizes *not talking* to the people in our lives. Not just our partners and parents, but our friends and co-workers, as well. One of my biggest complaints throughout most of my life (and strongest reasons to maintain my introvert personality) is that people are not "straight" with one another. I see so many people, in real life as well as both mainstream media and porn, continue to maintain the attitude that people *shouldn't* just talk to one another and be explicit about what they feel and think. I have no aptitude or patience for the game-playing and manipulation, or the notion of somehow just knowing what someone else is thinking/feeling, that media like Cosmo encourage.

    It wouldn't occur to me...it has never occurred to me...that I shouldn't or couldn't just say, in the middle of sex, or dinner, or shopping, or just sitting on the couch watching TV, "Do you like this? Would you rather do something different? I'm open to discussion, in fact, I *welcome* discussion. I want to know how you really feel and what you really think, and I want to share my feelings and thoughts with you, and I want this because I care about you and not my mental image of who you should be."

    I credit my parents with this notion - they weren't great at doing it with each other, but they were always frank with me and my siblings.

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  39. Cliff how do you always know the right thing to write? Your post got to me on both topics. I had been wondering just earlier today what was wrong with me because trying to do the bouncy thing hurts my legs. Also, the not knowing that what is going on at home is not normal, I was there too. I never really saw any happy families growing up (just good actors) and my family sucked. To this day I can't really get it in my mind that there is such a thing a parents who love their children. TO me when a parent says "I love you" it's code for, "how can I give you just enough comfort so I can continue to abuse you without you figuring out that this is fucked up?"

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  40. This really got to me: "When I was a kid, I used to go over to friend's houses and notice that their parents never seemed to bully them or hit them." When I was 11, in 7th grade, I had dinner at a friend's house; the first time I can remember having dinner anywhere that wasn't my parents' house or my grandparents'. And I was astounded to realize that at my friend's house, when the kids were hurt or needed comforting or needed some calomine lotion on their poison ivy, the adults thought it was the responsibility of the adults to take care of the kids. And I was so used to taking care of myself and not expecting the adults around me to take care of me - because no one did - that I freaked a little, inside, and didn't know what to do when my friend's mom put calomine on my poison ivy. And I've kind of always had trouble receiving help or comfort or whatever from other people - and I'm 65 now. So it's really important to talk about this stuff, whether it's the emotional distance thing or the how you do sex thing, or whatever. Talk about your experience and figure out what's your assumptions. Lynn

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  41. I was sexually abused when I was a little kid. But it had only happened once, and I personally wasn't touched (I had to touch him). But I thought that I shouldn't feel bad about it because it happens to everyone, and they manage to survive. And they probably had it worse than me. So I'm just being silly for feeling bad about it. Also, I'd verbally consented. It was an accident, I misspoke. So if I hadn't misspoken, it'd be fine and I'd have had it better than most everyone else. Because I thought everyone else had been sexually abused too, probably more than once, and they'd probably actually said no. I said "no," but the question was "Are you uncomfortable?"

    But yeah, it surprised me to learn that some people didn't have similar experiences.

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  42. I'm still not sure if what I experienced at home was abuse. But I sure can relate to feeling a lot of the things other people have written about feeling here.

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  43. The last guy I had sex with criticized my on-top style b/c I didn't bounce straight up and down ... I was both super pissed off and crushed at the same time. It's been a few months since that incident, so now I am just super pissed off. I mean, he's not required to be aroused by every single way I move, but still, ... I dumped him b/c I didn't like how he had sex, either.

    I grew up knowing that other people's fathers didn't hit their mothers, but knowing that didn't help anything. As a kid, I had a dream that she would divorce him and we would go live with her. As an adult, I know that single-motherhood on a secretary's salary wouldn't have worked out that well. She did eventually divorce him, and eventually even that worked out well. A therapist suggested that I should have been calling the cops on my dad every time he hit my mom, and again, with my adult perspective, first of all, the hell? The kid is supposed to be in charge of these things? And, calling the cops also doesn't always work out that well, and it's not always the immediately right decision. Sooo, what to do?

    With your adult perspective, if you had known you were being abused, what do you think your options would have been? I'm genuinely curious, b/c I have no idea what my options were.

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    1. RE: guy criticizing you for not bouncing up and down.

      That's crazy.

      Up and down is a good way to cause some inadvertent serious penis damage. As a guy, I applaud you.

      I still have memories of trying to bridge my hips up every time a partner went up to try and keep contact to avoid us becoming uncoupled and having her slam down on me at a painful angle.

      Delete
  44. I hope you will one day make your main point about the abuse, because that was my life as a kid and I hope to one day hear another's perspective on what it's like living like that.

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  45. I just kinda wandered in here, so please excuse me if my comments are similar to those made elsewhere in the blog, but this post in particular echoes with me and got me to thinking about the relationship between childhood experiences and kink.

    I appreciate that this might be somewhat uncomfortable to think about but I've often wondered if being subject to both active and passive abuse as a child is the reason why I feel the need to be humiliated now. I'm sure I'm not the first person to make that link. I'm not involved in any community and know from conversations with those around me that they on the whole have quite simple sex lives, or maybe they're just less up-front than I am. Or judgemental. They also had 'ordinary' childhoods and are largely good people.

    I spent most of my 20s so stoned I didn't have to think and my 30s getting well. Kink has become/is becoming a foundation stone of my stability, and I've been fortunate enough to have a partner who is both accommodating and adventurous enough to compliment my own interests. I was 31 before I realised that I could find a partner like that. Ironically, being humiliated makes me feel much better about myself...who'd have figured that?

    I was present at my father's death, indeed I feel somewhat guilty for it, whilst my mother I cannot stand to be in the company of for more than a few minutes. I've always struggled with the whole abuser/parent conundrum. The narcissistic family label particularly interests me, I come from a big family and the demands of our parents certainly produced a dog-eat-dog environment, the harm done between siblings in such a situation can be almost as damaging as the direct harm done by the parents. That said, because I'm lucky enough to have a child of my own now, as might be expected I've gained a whole extra level of insight. It's unfair (on them and yourself) to expect your parents to be perfect, and everyone has 'issues' of one sort or another. Kids don't come with a manual...which is particularly tricky for people who were dragged up.

    That said, one of the most important things for me to learn was that I have a
    choice not to become my parents, whereas, whenever you hear about a perpetrator that has themselves been a victim of abuse as a child (as many abusers have) society almost kinda nods it's head and says 'uh-huh' like it was bound to happen. Nobody accidentally physically or sexually abuses their children, though people can be so self-obsessed they neglect them or force them into doing things that are about the parent rather than the child. Nobody abuses their children because they themselves were abused. Being a kid is difficult enough without somebody treating you badly. As a society we need to start valuing children as individuals rather than treating them as property and we should be nurturing them in an intelligent manner.

    Oh, and that bouncy up n down stuff? I didn't realise people even worried about that shit!

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  46. This whole post is full of stuff I should've known (seriously my last partner loved me-on-top and i can't bounce up and down forever either! and I never knew I could do it differently!) and things articulated perfectly. I had a friend in middle school- we used to spend the night at each other's houses probably 2-3 times a month and spend almost every weekend together. We both said it was because our mom's were really mean, but they would be nice when friends were around. My mom and I got into arguments a lot because we both are conflict seekers- when we're upset, we fight with people- and it always got out of hand. (we've both separately received therapy for how to manage negative emotions and are much better now, by the way.) My friend's mom was an alcoholic who threw chairs at her father and threatened people with knives.

    I assumed my friend's mom was like mine, and she wanted to take refuge at my house to avoid yelling fights like I did when I went to hers. I was wrong. She never knew that anything was different. She assumed that everyone's moms had a bit much to drink and got violent. Because that's the story her dad told her- mom has had too much to drink, it's nothing to worry about. It wasn't until my friend was hospitalized for anorexia, her mother forced into AA, and her dad moved to London after divorcing her mom that she realized that this wasn't what everyone else faced.

    Basically, in short, I agree with this post entirely.

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