Columns, Features, Sexy Mac

Bringing Sexy Mac: Good sex for good people

Well, as promised, here is the follow up to my last column, “How to Have Good Sex.” This week, my mission is to tackle ethical sex, especially as part of the bigger concept of safe sex. Now, before we get down to the nuts and balls (hehehe), I’d like to offer a quick refresher on sex-positive attitudes. Sex positivity is “the view that the only relevant measure of a sexual act, practice or experience is the consent, pleasure and well-being of the people engaged in it or the people affected by it,” or at least, that’s the oft-quoted definition by Charlie Glickman renowned sex coach and sexuality educator.

Using sex positivity to have good sex — it’s a thing that can happen. In fact, it should happen. Here’s how: inclusivity, accessibility and safety. Inclusivity is important because using exclusive, vague or mocking language limits potential partners, potential experiences or even worse, it limits the potential to vocalize qualms which can significantly increase the stakes of any sexual interaction. Accessibility is important because everyone who wants to be having good sex should be having good sex. Some obstacles that can limit the accessibility of good sex are society, bodies and the sex toy industry. This is where safety can become a worrisome topic in the realm of good sex.

Safe sex isn’t just avoiding sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs or STIs) or pregnancy — that is a very closed-minded perspective. Focusing all of our conversations on those topics is exclusive and stigmatizes people who may have a STD or STI, and it is not accessible to people whose intercourse does not involve a penis penetrating a vagina. Conversations about safe sex need to bring in more people in order to be effective, and that’s where ethics comes in. People that you may never have considered could be implicated in your sex life. You need to make ethical decisions that ensure their safety, just as you would hope they make the same decisions in order to protect you.

Now, I don’t mean that when you have sex, you are secretly having sex with more people than you thought. But there is a sex industry that consists of many actors whom you indirectly affect. The sex industry, while supposedly pleasure-based, is not immune to exploitative practices. If your consumption of sex extends beyond your body and/or partner(s), then you have a responsibility as a consumer to dictate what the industry provides. On a broad scale, the pornography you watch or the nude pictures you enjoy should be obtained with consent and should not depict harmful behaviors, so avoid ‘leaked’ celeb pictures or sex tapes, child porn, anything that was created without the subject’s awareness and anything that is the result of forceful or coercive tactics. The toys you purchase should come from companies with ethical advertising and production practices. By insisting on ethical corporate practices you ensure the safety of agents at all points of the commodity chain by the expansion and normalization of such practices. These motives aren’t merely altruistic either; they directly affect your health and if you have a partner(s), it affects their health too.

There is little to no regulation of the sex toy industry. This has allowed toys produced with harmful chemicals to rise to the forefront of the market. Porous insertable toys trap and grow bacteria that are difficult or impossible to clean. Most toys with a desirable soft and squishy texture are made using phthalates (pronounced “THAY-laytes”), or plasticizers that soften PVC-like plastics as part of a chemical breakdown that continues post-production. Lubricants may be the most regulated product within the largely unregulated industry. Even so, regulation is weak at best, and highly irregular. Many lubes on the market are reported to have effects that irritate skin, dehydrate necessary mucous (I know mucous sounds gross, but its absence can increase STI susceptibility) and cause pH and yeast imbalances in the vagina.

While the buying power of a single consumer may seem futile in the face of a giant, growing capitalist machine, the sex toy industry has recently proven its malleability in the face of market forces. As a basic economic principle states, supply is dictated by demand, and consumer command can change the face of the current industry. The Smitten Kitten on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis serves as prime example of this principle.

Founded in 2003, The Smitten Kitten is on the forefront of the non-toxic, body-safe sex toy movement. This is due to the owner and founder’s refusal to propagate the distribution of harmful toys through the store’s inventory. They founded the Coalition Against Toxic Toys (CATT) as a big eff-you to the supposedly pleasure-focused industry which actually endangers people in order to increase their profit margins. Although it has a relatively small inventory compared to other shops, The Smitten Kitten has cultivated a reputation that allows them to be choosy in what they distribute. As the former Sexy-Mac-writer-turned-current Smitten-Kitten-sex-educator, Sarah Mueller, would say, the Smitten Kitten “is a big fucking deal,” as far as sex toy stores go.

Since the company’s establishment, they have worked to distance themselves from harmful practices elsewhere in the industry. As a result, the Smitten Kitten is not beholden to any higher entities. They build their own agenda and are an example for like-mindedly progressive shops. They set a standard of research and education on a variety of topics ranging from lubricants to toy distributors to sex for different bodies with different abilities in varying stages of life and health. The community benefits from college workshops, senior workshops, lending libraries and myriad other forms of information dissemination. Employees regularly attend conferences, inservices and workshops. Even in day-to-day business on the floor, Sarah admitted to “sneak[ing] in as much sex education as possible” in her interactions with potential customers.

Unfortunately, we don’t have sneaky sex education incorporated into every aspect of our lives. We have to do the best we can figuring out how to have good sex while still handling other aspects of our lives. In some circumstances, you might be left to call upon your best judgement, but there are professionals available who are more than willing to share their knowledge. Knowing which producers and distributors’ practices are ethical and what products are safe and in the best interests of consumers is made easier by the Smitten Kitten. Those great people put together a safe shopping list that you can find on badvibes.org. The site also lists the members of the Coalition Against Toxic Toys and some other helpful suggestions on what to look for in the products you purchase. Good sex depends on good communication and good people. Navigating the scary, capitalist, exploitative mess that is the commercial sex industry can be intimidating, but there are plenty of resources so you don’t have to look far to get good sex!

October 30, 2015

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