Not “Just the Tip”: A Clarion Call to Cavalier Men in the Anti-Abortion Age

“Let me just put the tip in for five seconds, I’m not going to bust that quickly.”

“I know my body.”

“My pull-out game is on point.”

These are words I have heard during sex from the mouths of men ranging in age from 28-44. Three different men trying to convince me that I should trust them enough to have unprotected sex with them. One of these men even stealthed me–if you are not familiar with stealthing it is the practice of a man taking a condom off mid-sex although their partner only consented to sex with the condom on.[1] This same man begged me to allow him to “just put the tip in,” then looked in my eyes and said, “What are you scared of getting pregnant?” I looked at him incredulously and said, “Why yes, yes I am scared of getting pregnant amongst other things, I have short-term goals that don’t include having a baby with you.” He laughed and persisted with his “just the tip” antics. These are three men within the last year and a half, a surprising number because they most likely represent a microcosm of the men who persuade women to have unprotected sex with them as if it is not a zero-sum game.

Incidents such as these have always been worth our attention as they reveal the cavalier nature of men who prefer condomless sex while ignoring the consequences of unprotected sex.[2]  It is worth our immediate attention and interrogation as women’s reproductive rights and bodily control are in danger now more than ever. I live in Georgia, a state that recently passed the heartbeat bill which bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The above sexual encounters all happened in Georgia and, no disrespect to the men involved, I am pretty sure that if I were pregnant as a result of unprotected sex with them, they would not exactly rush to father their children. These are men who put pleasure before protection, believing at the moment that their condomless sex has no consequences or that the only consequence is pregnancy, forgetting sexually transmitted infections among other issues. These are men who, for all intents and purposes, have put themselves in the same seat of control and power that many women are fighting against in the larger reproductive rights war. In each of these intimate encounters, I was fighting for my reproductive rights by asking my partner to wear a condom, a fight that was often futile because some men love pleasure, power, and control more than they love women. Thus it makes me realize that the people who need the reproductive regulation and control are not women, but men, men such as those above who are so bold as to desire and beg for unprotected sex yet most likely would not exercise a similar boldness if they found out the child was theirs. Men who are also not on the frontlines fighting against the forces that want to control women’s bodies, because if they were to do so, they would acknowledge the ways in which they MUST relinquish their desire to control in the bedroom and outside of it.

I have always been cognizant of my body’s reproductive capacity and I have always been careful, particularly as a woman in protracted singleness who does not have a biological clock set for reproduction. At best I am ambivalent about having children, at worst I may not want them at all. But, if I ever bring a child into the world it will be because I decided to with another human being not because it was decided for me. The men mentioned above, their ilk, and the state–which includes both men and women, put my ability to decide and control for myself at stake while men remain free subjects. Most of us learned in Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, or Sex Education how reproduction works. Typically it involves two people with complementary organs that facilitate the process of reproduction, yet the heartbeat bill and other anti-abortion legislation only impinge upon the bodies of one population,  women, and not the men who constitute the necessary other half of the formula.[3] 

Where are the reproductive restrictions for men? Where are the laws that regulate and control penises the way my uterus is currently being controlled? Where is my protection from the cavalier men of the world who are begging just to put the tip in or who are convinced that their pullout game is strong? I understand I am responsible for exercising agency in choosing to engage with these men, but while I exist in a world that is, bit by bit, taking control of my body, I think we should start thinking about how to spread the regulation to control the uncontrollable male body. I am tired of men’s private(s) and public power going unchecked–because rest assured, there is a faction of the same men who exercise public power over women who are most likely exploiting their power over women in private. You do not become the type of person who is comfortable with controlling women’s bodies in the public sphere without being the type of person in the private sphere who wields similar insidious, abusive power–ask the Catholic Church. Anyways, back to the lecture at hand.

If, as it alleges in some anti-abortion bills, a woman who miscarries is in danger of committing a felony–even though she largely has no control of that–then shouldn’t we be reporting men and having them convicted in the court of law for that which they perceive themselves to have control of–their penises, the wearing of condoms, the flow of their semen, etc? I’m here for Georgia state representative Dar’Shun Kendrick’s “testicular bill of rights” that would include a ban on vasectomies, force men to obtain written permission from their sexual partners before getting a prescription for an erectile dysfunction medication, and make sex without a condom punishable under law as “aggravated assault.” Like Dar’Shun, I am not pushing an anti-male agenda, I am advocating for a human rights agenda that interrogates how regulating reproduction problematically defaults to women and reiterates the practice of controlling women’s bodies while allowing men to run recklessly free. I desire to bring men into the larger conversation about women’s reproductive rights since so many of them have so much to say during the sexual act that typically begets the reproductive act. I am interested in talking about how, if governing bodies are really concerned about life and possibility–which we all know is not their concern because no anti-abortion legislation includes increasing support for mothers via covered healthcare, childcare, etc.–they should actually pay more attention to men’s role in the reproductive process. I want men to hold themselves responsible by relinquishing their power to control and their desire for pleasure.

At the end of the day, I don’t want the state to control any of our bodies. I’m not interested in a both/and plan where women cannot have abortions and men cannot spill their semen. I want the preoccupation with and control of women’s bodies to end, but in the absence of that, I want men to take a critical look at their role in the process of reproduction. I want the same government that has so much to say about a woman’s womb to look at their fallible phalluses and make them a subject of the state in the same way my uterus is a subject and is now subject to the state of Georgia. I want them to acknowledge how the issue is not with women but it is with men, their desire to control and their abuse of power which goes from the bedroom to the bench–the Supreme Court bench where the heartbeat bills may edge us toward an overturning of Roe v. Wade which will throw women’s reproductive rights and personhood into infinite precarity, and efficiently take away women’s control of their own bodies.

What I want is for men, such as the three who inspired this essay, to recognize their role in women’s reproductive rights. The role does not start at the polls, it starts in private in instances such as I mentioned earlier. It starts by taking seriously the requests of women during sexual encounters. It then branches out to the way that you advocate for women in public spaces. It starts by believing and understanding that the war on women’s reproductive rights is about women but not just about women. The war ought to be fought not just by women but by men who are just as zealous about our vaginas in the streets as they are in the sheets.

[1] https://www.elitedaily.com/news/is-stealthing-illegal-how-guys-get-in-trouble/1892968

[2] I am intentionally using the language of “condomless sex” and “unprotected sex” because it occurs to me that the former is a euphemism for men whom see pleasure as a first end. When these men ask for or demand sex without a condom they imply that their pleasure not the possibility of procreation comes first. And though these men probably theoretically know the possible negative consequence of unprotected sex, they seem to suspend that knowledge for their pleasure even as their partner encourages otherwise.

[3] And it should go without saying that I am referring to reproduction through the sexual act not reproduction through insemination, in vitro fertilization, etc. Reproduction through the sexual act involves, ideally, two people who have entered the sexual event consensually and two people who are aware of the possible consequences of having sex which

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Teaching Christian Sexual Ethics: Reflecting on Week One

Last Thursday marked the beginning of my time as an adjunct professor teaching Christian Sexual Ethics at the Candler School of Theology. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach this class not only because once upon a time I was a Candler student who wished that such a course was offered during my matriculation, but also because I understand the necessity and value of a course such as this at such a time as this. So, with the first week behind me yet ever on my mind, I want to reflect on it.

The first day of class is often “getting to know you” time and my first day of class was no different. I spent time, with varying levels of success, introducing students to the overall structure of the class, though in telling them about the structure of the class I completely missed telling them about the class as in, “What is Christian Sexual Ethics?” I did a brief lecture that laid a foundation for the first quarter of the class, the section that will deal with historical documents that have influenced the discourse of and on Christian Sexual Ethics. I trotted out the usual suspects: The ones such as Paul, Plato, and Augustine who set the body against the soul or flesh against the spirit. Aquinas and his virtue-based approach to the body and sex. Then we quickly went through how sexual ethics turns topical in the 19th-21st century. Finally I asked the students, what is it that they want and need from the course. The answers were varied. We spent the second half of class discussing a few chapters in Michael Coogan’s God and Sex, a book that I recommend to people who are interested in beginning their study, in sober fashion, of what the Bible really says about sex. It was a lively discussion where students shared their understanding of the text, their theoretical perspectives adjacent to it, and personal experiences within their lives and their contexts.

It felt like a good class but it was only the first day. Since the class I have been thinking about the kind of space I want to create for the students, something that I could not have decided until I had an opportunity to meet and engage with them in the classroom. Now that I have done that once I am reflecting on what I think the task of a Christian Sexual Ethics teacher is, particularly as I see the ways in which students are hungry for knowledge, knowledge that will deconstruct the myth and production of sex and sexuality as the Christian Church has constructed it, for the sake of church contexts they may be leading or will lead in the future, and the knowledge that will give them a new ethical code to follow.

It is my belief that in teaching Christian Sexual Ethics one does not, necessarily, just prescribe a way forward. That is, the job of the person who teaches Christian Sexual Ethics is not to promote what to think but it is to promote how to think about what we have been thinking about the discourse at large. It is to test and approve or disapprove the ethic of Christian Sexual Ethics, particularly that which is prone to be regulatory. Thus I promote no new ethic that can be conceived of as in line with a new normal or that which would be conceived of as liberal, but I desire to take every side of the discourse, consider it in context, consider it outside of its context regarding the way it has been taught, and then think through the ways in which we might move forward with or from it.

I consider what one student said on the first day about presenting “alternative ideas,” which, in her definition, was not about actual alternative ideas but about how we make room for those who believe in the tradition–or what more progressive to liberal Christians might call the “conservative” teachings of the church. How do we talk to those for whom abstinence before marriage is still the model, purity is de riguer, marriage is between one man and one woman, etc? I felt this student deeply because it reminded me that space must be made for a multitude of views and that there is a possibility that someone could believe in the traditional teachings of the church on sexual ethics and if that is the case, how do we make room for that and ensure that if one stays close to traditional views they do no harm in the process? Because I am under no delusion that one can remain within the realm of tradition or the traditional and not toe the line of doing harm that can do violence either physically or metaphysically. How do we hold views that may be considered more liberal without making them the norm and categorical imperative? How do we help people own their sexuality wherever they fall on the spectrum not presuming that an interest abstinence denotes being a prude or a robust sex life denotes a whore? Can we break the binary that both implicitly and explicitly suggests to be tradition is to be repressed and to be liberal is to be liberated? Is there something in between all of this?

To teach Christian Sexual Ethics toward the end of liberation cannot always mean teaching liberal, it includes teaching what is considered liberal but it is not only that. It talks to tradition and contends with it and permits space for separating the wheat from the chaff in those teaching so that it might be possible to utilize the theoretical frameworks of a tradition to more liberating ends. Just as we are fully human and fully divine beings, we require a full conversation that includes all we can consider about how we move through the world as the embodied divine, little words made flesh. With this in mind we move forward entrusting one another with a full range of being and thinking through who and how we are on this earth and we wrestle with that on every level. We create space to wrestle with the implications of our commitments to our bodies and to God and to help determine for ourselves how to reconcile these two seemingly disparate modes. It is not only about how we live as faithful and sexual beings but how we think about how we live in accordance with that way of being.

At the conclusion of this course I hope that students might be able to articulate where they have been and where they are going in light of the sources and resources that have been set before them over the course of the semester and that given all of this they might leave different than they came, whatever that looks like.

So once more unto the breach I go to teach Christian Sexual Ethics, hoping that I do the topic justice, uncovering what is unjust and just about our reflections on and utilization of sexual ethics in our tradition and hoping that I help students see a way forward for themselves and their contexts.

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Reflections from the Strip Club: A Heady Night at King of Diamonds

FullSizeRenderA few days after my 35th birthday I went to King of Diamonds (KOD) my first real strip club experience–sorry little strip club on Bourbon Street with women dancing to Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” you don’t count. This trip to KOD was about a year and a half in the making as there were many attempts at going that failed. The first attempt occurred during a bachelorette weekend and failed because the concierge convinced us that there were better things to do. The second attempt happened during a close friend’s birthday weekend and failed because of the general exhaustion of the group. With this third attempt in view, nothing could stop me from being the one to conquer this beast. Despite having no real detailed plan for going because my friends sometimes like flying by the seats of their pants, I still had some hopes that on the last Monday in December I would end up in the nation’s largest, most popular black strip club. Fortunately the universe conspired with me and I made it. I didn’t suffer from sensory overload as some suggested I would, I didn’t try to save any of the women stripping, and I didn’t get bored quickly. So what DID I do? I had a good time but I think it was atypically so because I was in my head and analyzing everything I saw with my friends. So here are some of my thoughts from my night at KOD.

  1. “Women Who Strip” not “Strippers”: It occurred to me that few other women are called by what they do, and pejoratively so, more than strippers. There are the instances where people refer to Sheryl Sandberg as “CEO,” or Beyonce as a “pop star” but Cheryl and Beyonce are also “CEO Sheryl Sandberg” or “pop-star Beyonce Knowles.” They are known not only by what they do but who they are. A “stripper” on the other hand is usually just a “stripper.”  Part of that naming convention is that women who strip are usually not world-renowned–unless their name is Maliah–but the other part is that I’ve existed in a world where stripping is considered a morally questionable and problematic occupation. Among the ordinary people of the world, I’ve heard that strippers are “messed up,” morally depraved, desperate, and lacking in self-respect and dignity. Broadly construed in popular culture, the stripper is an icon in rap culture and someone T-Pain could–and has–fallen in love with, someone Usher doesn’t mind, or someone Drake respects. One night in a strip club made me question the way I refer to these women and think about what it would be to refer to these women first as women and then as their occupation. And maybe they don’t care either way, but my personal conviction is “person before occupation or ability” at all times.
  2. Do women who strip have a union? As I watched the women stripping I couldn’t help but be amazed and concerned. My concern wasn’t about the salvation of their souls but about their job security, their worker’s comp benefits, health insurance, the safety of hiking up and spinning around those poles all night long… Do these women have a national union that not only protects their right to do this type of work but ensures their safety and fair pay while doing it? I’ve read a little about regional union in places such as San Francisco but it doesn’t appear that there is an AFL-CIO-level union for women who strip in America. Maybe someone can make that happen…
  3. There is a light skin/dark skin dichotomy. An early observation that my friends and I made was that there was a difference between the performance of light-skinned women versus darker-skinned women. What we noticed is the light and fair-skinned women exhausted no energy during their performance. They did no tricks, waited for patrons to approach them, and sometimes looked disinterested in being there altogether. On the other hand, the dark-skinned women performed like the rent/mortgage was due after they left the stage. They had all the tricks and twerked exceedingly well. This claim worked across the board with the exception of maybe one woman per group. (Shout outs to Mini (sp?) for being the real MVP that night!) This was fascinating as I assumed every woman in the club would be working like their lives depended on it, but apparently that wasn’t the case. I talked to a good friend and he said, “The strip club operates the same way the regular world does. Pretty people can get by on looks.” So the strip club mirrors the world, huh? I wonder how many other ways I could draw the analogy out.
  4. Women who strip are gifted. Now on to something a little bit lighter. Women who strip are gifted. Yeah I said, “gifted.” I have no reason to mince my words here. I watched those women do things that the average, and even some above average women, could never do while naked. It takes a great deal of confidence not only to be naked in front of strangers but to perform compelling routines to great effect. (It also takes great confidence to assume that your vagina smells incredible after all that work, good enough for you to shove it in someone’s face after you’ve finished sliding up the same pole as the woman before you.) Nevertheless, I say “perform” and not “dance” because stripping is a performance of the sexual. It’s a performance of projected ideas of the sexual and sensual by women attuned to those ideas through their observations of what men want and sometimes what they need. Their performances ranged from being docile “lady in the sheets” to aggressive “freak in the streets.” There was something for everyone in the strip club performance.
  5. IMG_1170I’m low-key scared of women who strip. So about my personal experience at the strip club…I will confess that I was somewhat scared of the women. My friends and I were sitting at the bar which was close enough to watch the women strip on the stage and really close to the women who were cruising for lap dances and VIP room action. Early in the night I broke a $20 into $1 bills so that I could tip the women. I was excited about my $18–because the club charges a 10% fee to break large bills–and I felt ready to tip women. I saw plenty that was worth “making it rain” but I never got up the nerve to leave my bar stool to leave a tip on the stage. I was scared that someone would find out I was there celebrating my birthday and then bring me up on the stage for a dance or put my face in their crotch or something else. For the women roaming I tried not to make eye contact in case they thought I was choosing that night and decided I was ready to be relieved of all my money. I’ll also admit that the thoughts of objectification were running through my head as I struggled with enjoying what I was seeing but not wanting to objectify women–even though I believe these women were exercising agency not being objectified. These strains of thought run deep and even if I’m able to articulate a progressive to liberal view of women who strip, deep down the problem still exists. As the kids say, “There are levels to this thing.” As you can see I was clearly in the strip club with a lot of preconceived notions about how it works and a lot of fear that these women were predators and not just performers looking to put on the best show for all patrons. So what did I do with all those $1 bills? I spent it at an IHOP. Don’t worry, I realize how ridiculous I am for this.
  6. I would do it all over again… You’ll be surprised to know that I would do this all over again. While I spent way too much time in my head during this time in the strip club I think it was a good primer for future visits. I reserve no official judgement for women who strip–even if subconsciously I’m still showing the signs of my prior judgement. I respect it as a job a woman takes up like any other, and I enjoy watching it like a would enjoy any other performing art. As someone with interest in embodiment and dancing, watching a woman’s strip performance is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. Just like dancing, stripping requires a strong core and control of the body. There is similar precision and discipline that the woman who strips must exercise in order to deliver the best possible performance. I respect that and would definitely go again to see it. So, who knows, I might write another one of these reflections in a few months.