Archive for July, 2012

Live Interview on Philosophy in Action

by Jason Stotts

I’m being interviewed on Diana Hsieh’s Philosophy in Action Talk Radio show on Wednesday night at 6PM PST/9PM EST on the topic of on “Mistakes Couples Make about Sex” and then we’re going to answer your questions live. You can also email (Jason-at-JasonStotts.com), facebook message, or tweet (@jstotts) me questions and we’ll answer them on air.  This is your first chance to ask me questions live and get them answered right away.  If everything goes really well, I might even revive the Erosophia Podcast.

In Wednesday evening’s live broadcast of Philosophy in Action Talk Radio, philosopher Dr. Diana Hsieh will interview Jason Stotts on “Mistakes Couples Make about Sex.”

* What: Philosophy in Action Talk Radio: Jason Stotts on Mistakes Couples Make about Sex
* Who: Dr. Diana Hsieh, with Jason Stotts, plus live callers
* When: Wednesday, 1 August 2012, 6 pm PT / 7 pm MT / 8 pm CT / 9 pm ET
* Where: http://www.PhilosophyInAction.com/live

** Is your romantic relationship and sex life hampered by wrong ideas and bad habits? Are you inadvertently sabotaging your relationships? Find out how to stop holding yourself back with some simple tips. Then, have your questions on love, sex, and relationships answered. **

Jason is an aspiring philosopher, one of the top 100 sex bloggers in the world with his blog Erosophia ( http://jasonstotts.com/ ), and author working on his first book titled “Eros and Ethos: The Ethics of Modern Sex.” He holds a BA in Philosophy and Economics from Denison University and is an autodidact in the field of Sexuality.

To join the live broadcast and its chat, just point your browser to http://www.PhilosophyInAction.com/live a few minutes before the show is scheduled to start. By listening live, you can call in with your questions and experiences, as well as post comments and questions in the text chat.

If you miss the live broadcast, you’ll find the audio from the episode posted here:

http://www.philosophyinaction.com/archive/2012-08-01.html

Join us on Wednesday evening for an engaging discussion of the application rational principles to the challenges of real life!

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Inspirational Philosophy

by Jason Stotts

I’ve long had a problem with atheists; or, at least with some atheists.  And the problem is not that they don’t believe in the irrationality that is religion, because I don’t believe in that nonsense either.  No, the problem is that so many atheists spend countless hours arguing against the irrationality of others in an attempt to get them to move beyond their irrational beliefs.  Why is that a problem?  Atheism isn’t a belief, it’s the lack of a belief.  People do no have a belief in atheism; rather, they lack a belief in a particular kind of nonsense.  But people cannot hold negatives as beliefs.  A lack of belief in something important creates a cognitive vacuum that will be filled (“Shattered Illusions”).  This is why some people go from religion, to atheism, and back.  They never answered the real question and that void had to be filled, so they filled it the only way they knew.

If you focus simply on destroying your opponent’s arguments, even if you win, then what?  You need to give people something positive to believe in.  A vacuum will be filled by something.

I have the same problem with how some people handle the “pro-choice, anti-choice” debate about abortion.  Some people focus only on the negatives of the debate: they deny the religious arguments (on which all arguments against abortion are based), they deny the government’s right to control our lives, they argue against a woman being forced to carry a child to term she has no desire to keep, etc.  But what they don’t do is frame the argument positively and talk about how abortion can be a real value in a woman’s life.  They don’t make the positive argument that a woman’s long-term happiness can sometimes be best served by having an abortion.  By framing the arguments completely in the negative, they give the moral high-ground to the religion and save for themselves only that it might be “practical.”  But by ceding the moral high-ground, they are doomed to ultimately lose the debate.

If we don’t take a positive tack, if we don’t take the moral high-ground and argue on moral terms, if we merely attack and never build, then we lose.  In order to win, to truly win, an argument or a culture, you must present positive reasons why your course of action is the better one, how it is the moral one, and give people something to believe in and to fight for.

In order to win the world, you must give people a morality worth living for: you must help them find meaning.

I’ve long held these thoughts and problems with the way people were arguing, but I had never connected the various issues on which we were forced to fight defensively (religion, abortion, oil, global warming, ad nauseum) as all suffering from the same problem: we couldn’t win until we reframed the arguments and stopped fighting to only tear down and never build up.

I preamble so much to set the stage for what I think is one of the best ideas that I’ve seen recently, Alex Epstein’s “The Power of Aspirational Activism,” which I’m going to quote selectively below.

The Power of Aspirational Advocacy

By Alex Epstein, Founder of the Center for Industrial Progress

I have been writing about environmental and industrial issues for over a decade now. For most of that decade, my approach was essentially to focus on what was wrong with the “green” movement. For example, I would make the point that “green energy” policies, by forcing Americans to use expensive, unreliable solar and wind power, would be economically devastating.

But even though this point was true, and even though I could argue it articulately, I noticed that I had very limited success in inspiring audiences to fight for better policies.[…]

And then I realized why: people only really care about energy policy, good or bad, to the extent they understand there’s a crucial, positive value at stake. […] Thus priority number one needs to be: present a compelling, positive vision of the right values and policies.

There is a lot to learn on this topic from the “green” movement, even though they advocate all the wrong policies. They are able to gain a huge amount of enthusiasm for “green” policies because they connect those policies to crucial values…and they are able to gain the moral high ground against industrial freedom by portraying it as the source of short- and long-term environmental destruction–that is, the destruction of crucial values.

There is no reason that advocates of industrial capitalism can’t do the same thing, but much better and much more honestly.

[…]

When we offer an ideal, we can set the terms of the debate.

[…]

By contrast, if we focus our efforts on arguing against environmentalism, without offering a clear, defined, illustrated, inspiring alternative, then our best-case scenario is to get from bad to zero–from embracing “green” policies to disagreeing with them. But we want to get them from bad to good–to embracing industrial progress and industrial freedom.

I call this approach Aspirational Advocacy, because it means connecting our political policies to our audience’s deepest values and aspirations. […]

[Find out more about Alex Epstein by visiting www.industrialprogress.net]

Alex does a great job of capturing the essence of the problem: “When we offer an ideal, we can set the terms of the debate.”  And when we don’t, we can’t and we are forced to fight on the ground our enemies have picked for us.

When we inspire our audience by showing them how to make their lives better, we give them a reason to act and knowledge of why they are acting.  This is important in any debate we might wish to win, in any arena in which real values are threatened by false values or where human life is being attacked for the sake of non-humans (whether mythical, imaginary, animal, whatever).  We can’t win by being on the defensive.  We can’t win by fighting a battle that was stacked against us at the beginning. We can’t win by merely destroying: we must create.  We must show the value of a life lived well and the value doing so.

If we want to win the world, then we have to inspire people to our moral ideal and show them why our way is the only way.

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Aporia: Sexual Orientation

by Jason Stotts

Aporia (Ancient Greek: ἀπορɛία: impasse; lack of resources; puzzlement; doubt; confusion) In philosophy, a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement;  In rhetoric, a rhetorically useful expression of doubt.

Sexual orientation is a confusing subject.  So confusing that some people have taken to the idea that your sexual orientation is whatever you want it to be, that whatever you self-identify as must be your actual sexual orientation.  But, I find that idea at least…problematic.  What about the issue of self-deception?  What about the issue of other-deception?  What about contexts in which it’s acceptable to be different and cultures where it isn’t?

If a person’s sexual orientation is simply what they self-identify as, then how do we treat a man who calls himself straight, but who only is aroused by men, who only has sex with men, and who has no desire to ever be in a relationship with a woman or have sex with one?  Certainly he’s at least self-deceptive, but isn’t he also wrong that he is straight?  If it’s true that this man does the opposite of what a straight man would do, then this man is not straight.

What about the man who calls himself straight, who is in a relationship with a woman with whom he regularly has sex, but who also feels a strong desire to have sex with men and does so on a regular basis.  He’s not self-deceptive because he knows his desires and acts on them.  He’s likely hiding his true orientation from others because of the stigma of being a male bisexual, but in so doing so he’s communicating something false about himself.  Should we simply consider him a liar?  A coward for not being true to himself?  He’s not wrong about his sexual orientation, since he actually does know what it is, but there is a problem here for other people who might want or need to know his sexual orientation (for example, the men with whom he has sex or his own partner).

So, no matter what sexual orientation is, it’s definitely not just whatever you might self-identify as.  Your sexual orientation is more than simply whatever you feel it is.

Part of the problem is that we have this polarized idea of sexuality: that everyone is either gay or straight and these are mutually exclusive categories.  But this is wrong and misses much of actual human sexuality.  Sexual orientation is not binary.  It is, at the very least, a continuum of sexual options.  I think this is best captured in the Kinsey Scale, which is 0-6, with 0 being a “perfect heterosexual” who only desires and has sex with those of the opposite sex and 6 is a “perfect homosexual” who only desires and has sex with those of the same sex.  Then there are, obviously, the vast majority of people who are somewhere in between.

One alternative scale involves ranking a person on two independent axes: androphilia and gynephilia, or desire for men and women (respectively).  So, a person could have 8/10 desire level for women and a 4/10 desire for men, making them a bisexual.  With this schema, the levels of arousal for men and women are independent and indicate desire for that sex.  Thus, one advantage of this system is that also measures level of overall desire for sexual activity as well as sexual desire for each sex.  I’m not sure which I think is better, but this system does capture more than the Kinsey system, which itself captures much more than the standard dichotomy of gay vs. straight.

Of course, there much these scales don’t capture, like propensity to form relationships versus simply having sex with a person, or a person’s overall level of sexual desire (perhaps their desire for men or women is only moderate, but they really enjoy masturbating), or the fact that a person’s sexual proclivities and orientation can change over time.  But, it does, at least, help move us in the right direction

Of course, one issue that we haven’t addressed head on is the issue of action versus desire.  Or, is being gay a matter of doing gay things or having gay desires or both.  I find this issue more confusing that some of the others.  For example, what should a man who considers himself a Kinsey 2 (bisexual – opposite sex leaning) because he has both desire for men and women, even though his desire for women is stronger, but who has never, due to lack of opportunity, had sex with a women and has only had sex with men?  He self-identifies as bisexual on the heterosexual side, but he’s never had sex with a woman.  On the other hand, it’s not because he doesn’t want to, but is merely frustrated by the situation.  This is further confounded by the fact that many men grow up in our culture with internalized homophobia and try to be bi as they come into their sexual maturity so they can maintain some semblance of being “normal,” when they really know their probably a K5 or K6.  But, leaving aside the issue of whether this particular man is being self-deceptive, what should he be considered?  I find it very strange to call him a K2 when he’s only had sex with men.  Perhaps sexual orientation is simply a matter of ideal situation and not of actual situation.  But that doesn’t seem right either.  I might wish I were a K6, but if I’ve only ever had sex with women, then that obviously seems wrong.  I don’t have an answer for the question of whether we should judge sexual orientation by action or desire, or perhaps both, but it’s an interesting topic that needs more investigating.

I wonder, though, what we should do about children, adolescents, and young adults.  Should we really consider a young person to be gay, bi, or straight when they have no actual sexual experience?  Is this not being at least somewhat…optimistic about their guessing powers?  Should we simply accept that this is what they think they would like to be or should be when they get older?  Should we consider their orientation an open question until they have some experience?  As unlikely as this last sounds, there would be some definite advantages to it: people wouldn’t try to force themselves to conform to their adolescent beliefs growing up and could approach the issue of orientation with an open mind.  Their sexuality could be treated as very tentative until they’re older, maybe even their mid-twenties.  Of course, perhaps it’d be better if we all held our sexuality less rigidly and treated it as at least something of an open question.

Ultimately, I still have more questions than answers on the question of sexual orientation, but I think the topic is a rich one and deserves more careful analysis that it usually gets.

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What We Didn’t Know About the Penis

by Jason Stotts

Did you ever wonder how what is essentially a balloon full of blood becomes erect and hard enough to penetrate tight spaces and resist lots of pressure?  Now you can find out in this fascinating TED talk.

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Asexuality Revisited

by Jason Stotts

When I last wrote about asexuality, I think I may have missed one obvious way for people to have become asexual: very bad early sexual experiences.  We, as a culture, hype sex up so much, especially that magical time of “losing your virginity” and “becoming a man (or woman)” that when two virgins finally bumble their way into penetration, they’re frequently not exactly impressed with the experience.  And this is sad.  It’s like telling them that basketball is the best thing in life, only showing them videos of Michael Jordan playing (never practicing, mind you), and then telling them to get to it.  We expect kids to “just know” how to have sex, even though sexual skills are skills like any other and must be learned.

I realized my oversight when someone wrote to me, and said (personal history redacted):

[Then] I finally slept with someone who was actually good for once and it gave me hope that I might not be asexual forever and maybe it’ll just take someone patient and willing to help me figure this shit out.  But the thing is, people who are good at sex are probably going to be people who are into sex, who are not really going to want to take the time to help someone who is terrible at sex.

The person had a very bad first relationship with another virgin and even though they tried to have sex multiple times, they never quite got the hang of it and both of them considered it bad and she frequently found it painful. As a result, she considered herself asexual for several years and is only now reconsidering whether she really is asexual or whether it was simply a result of early bad experiences.  Now she feels at a disadvantage because she doesn’t know much about sex or have sexual skills and she thinks this will be a liability in finding a partner who will want to have a sexual relationship with her and help her learn about her sexuality.

Luckily for her, many men love sexually inexperienced women and would be glad to help her practice.  It would be much worse for her were she a man, as men are expected to just know how to have sex, which is ironic because most men must be bad at it given the responses in surveys of women’s sexual satisfaction.

If you have had bad early sexual experiences and this has caused you to dislike sex or have a lot of anxiety about finding a new partner, the best things to do are to:

1) Learn to masturbate well and learn about your own body.

2) Watch porn and read erotica so you have some idea (however vague) of what things you may be interested in trying.

3) Realize that most people watch porn, read erotica, or fantasize while they masturbate. (This is a common oversight among people new to masturbation or who profess not to enjoy it)

4) Read books on sexual technique (like Tristan Taormino’s The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women), attend a class (like the class I did at ATLOSCon) or many sex toy stores have classes, and many big name sex-experts travel around the country speaking (like Tristan Taormino).

5) Be upfront with your partner that you aren’t very sexually experienced, but that you’re eager to learn.  If someone is turned off by that and doesn’t want to help you grow sexually, they’re not the right partner for you and you should find that out as soon as possible.

5) Get some sexual experience.  Start dating or start a mutually beneficial friends with benefits relationship.  There is no way to learn sexual skills without actually having sex.

Ultimately, sexual skills are not hard to learn, but do require lots of practice and conscious thought about what you are doing and why.  They require an understanding of physiology and human sexual response.  They also require honesty with yourself about your actual skill level and a willingness to learn and grow.  Finally, a word of warning, the sexual things that are exactly right for one partner may be exactly wrong for another, so do remember to take your partner into account and talk to them about what they like and dislike and be aware of their sexual response in the moment.

——————-

Note: if you’re going to buy books on Amazon about sexual technique, pleasure use a link from Erosophia and help support the site!

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Aporia: Sexual Identity

by Jason Stotts

What is sexual identity?  Is it simply being gay or straight?  Is it all possible facts about our sexuality?  Is it how we structure our relationships and love as well?  Does my sexual identity include facts about whether I’m monogamous or practice polyamory?  Should it include whether a person has sexual integrity?  Should fetishes and desires be included?

This issue has captured my attention recently while contemplating sexual orientation.  People often refer to a person’s sexual orientation as their “sexual identity,” yet, that seems much too thin to me.  I certainly don’t think that describing a person as straight or gay exhausts their sexual identity: in fact, it seems like more of a basic starting point than any deep information.  If all straight people were the same as each other, if all bisexual people were the same as each other, if all gay people were the same as each other; then sexual orientation might exhaust sexual identity.   But this is plainly not the case.  Sexual identity must be something more than simply orientation, although orientation is definitely a part of it.

But what else should sexual identity include?  It seems, at least at first blush, like it should include anything and everything about a person’s sexuality to which they are firmly committed and which form the core of their sexual experience.  By this I mean that if a person can’t think about sexuality without thinking of it through the lens of BDSM, then this is an important part of that persons’ sexual identity.  If a person can’t imagine becoming sexually aroused without their fetish, then this is an important part of their sexual identity.  So, tentatively, let us say that anything without which a person couldn’t imagine their sex life being good for them is an important part of their identity.

But, this raises the question, should literally anything be included?  Should we have to include anything in a statement of our sexual identity?  Should I need to say that: “I’m into {a,b,c,f,u}, but not {d, z, r, t}, and sometimes {q, j}?”  That seems much too cumbersome.  Of course, on the other hand, it’s not too likely that any particular person has a large set of sexual things that are very important to him.  Most people could probably communicate their identity with something like: I’m a bisexual woman who is mostly monogamous with slight polyamory leanings and also like some light BDSM.  It certainly seems like the stronger you hold a desire, the more it is part of who you are.

Perhaps it would be useful to delimit identity to just a couple of axes that are the most important, like: orientation, level of overall desire, sexual openness, relationship and love openness, and interest in kink.  Each of these could have a scale of 0-6 denoting orientation (Kinsey Scale), overall level of desire (asexual – nymphomania?), (monosexual – polysexual), (monogamous – polyamorous), (none – very kinky).  It’d be a little awkward to get it going, but it’d be easy to communicate your overall desires to someone quickly as “I’m a {6,6,0,0,6},” which would be a very kinky, very horny, homosexual.

Even if the scale idea doesn’t take off, and there’s no doubt it’d be a lot to get people to go to it and it might not even be worth it, I think I’m at least correct that sexual identity is much more than simply sexual orientation and if we at least move to a richer view of sexual identity, then we will have a better chance to understand our own sexuality and communicate it to others.

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Declaration of Independence

by Jason Stotts

If you have never read this and you don’t understand what a monumental shift in politics this represents, today is the day you should do so.

——————–

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

 

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Random Facts #2: Merkins

by Jason Stotts

Think you know every strange fact about sex there is to know?  Well, have you ever heard of merkins?

A merkin is a pubic wig whose use dates back at least as far as the fifteenth century, according to wikipedia, which says:

The Oxford Companion to the Body dates the origin of the pubic wig to the 1450s. Women would shave their pubic hair and wear a merkin to combat pubic lice, and prostitutes would wear them to cover up signs of disease, such as syphilis.

And now you know.

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