New Blood Donation Rules Better, I Suppose

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So the NHS blood donation rules are changing again. And while they’re certainly getting closer, they’re still not quite hitting the bullseye yet.

That’s great. Prior to 2011 men who’d ever had sex with men, as well as women who’d had sex with such a man within the last 6 months, were banned from donating blood. That rule clearly spun out of the AIDS hysteria of the 1980s and generally entrenched homophobia. It probably did little to protect the recipients of blood, and certainly did a lot to increase the stigma experienced by non-straight men.

A shooting target with a great many holes.
You throw enough policies at a problem, eventually one will get close-enough, right?

The 2011 change permitted donation by men who’d previously had sex with men… so long as they hadn’t done so within the last year. Which opened the doors to donation by a lot of men: e.g. bisexual men who’d been in relationships exclusively with women, gay men who’d been celibate for a period, etc. It still wasn’t great, but it was a step in the right direction.

So when I saw that the rules were changing to better target only risky behaviours, rather than behaviours that are so broad-brush as to target identities, I was initially delighted. Evidence-based medicine, you say? For the win.

A nurse wearing gloves uses a hyperdermic needle to take a blood sample from a patients' arm, as seen from over the patient's shoulder.
Go on! Stick it in me! I’ll still be able to give blood, right?

But… it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The new rules prohibit blood donation regardless of gender by people who’ve had sex with more than one person in the last three months.

Diagram showing a relationship between Andre and Brandon (married), and between Carlos and Brandon (partners). Andre and Carlos are now allowed to give blood, but Brandon still can't.
Sorry Brandon, we only want Andre and Carlos’ blood.

So if for example if there’s a V-shaped relationship consisting of three men, who only have sex within their thruple… two of them are now allowed to give blood but the third isn’t? (This isn’t a contrived example. I know such a thruple.)

Stranger still: if you swap Brandon in the diagram above for a woman then you get a polycule that’s a lot like mine, but the woman in the middle used to be allowed to give blood… and now can’t! My partner Ruth is in exactly the position: her situation hasn’t changed, but because she’s been in a long-term relationship with exactly two people she’s now not allowed to give blood. Wot?

On the whole, this rule change is an improvement. We’re getting closer to a perfect answer. But it’s amusing to see where the policy misses again and excludes donors who would otherwise be perfectly viable.

Update: as this is attracting a lot of attention I just wanted to remind people that the whole discussion is, of course, a lot more complicated than can be summarised in a single, short, opinionated blog post. Take a look at the FAIR steering group’s recommendations and compare to the government’s press release.

Update #2: justifying choice of words – “AIDS hysteria” refers specifically to the media (and to a lesser extent the policy) reactions to the (very real, very devastating) pandemic. For a while there it was perfectly normal to see (often misguided, sometimes homophobic) scaremongering news coverage suggesting that everybody was at enormous risk from HIV.

Why children stay silent following sexual violence

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the messages we send to our children about their role, and ours as adults, in keeping them safe from people who might victimise them. As a society, our message has changed over the decades: others of my culture and generation will, like me, have seen the gradual evolution from “stranger danger” to “my body, my choice”. And it’s still evolving.

But as Kristin eloquently (and emotionally: I cried my eyes out!) explains, messages like these can subconsciously teach children that they alone are responsible for keeping themselves from harm. And so when some of them inevitably fail, the shame of their victimisation – often already taboo – can be magnified by the guilt of their inability to prevent it. And as anybody who’s been a parent or, indeed, a child knows that children aren’t inclined to talk about the things they feel guilty about.

And in the arms race of child exploitation, abusers will take advantage of that.

What I was hoping was to have a nice, concrete answer – or at least an opinion – to the question: how should we talk to children about their safety in a way that both tries to keep them safe but ensures that they understand that they’re not to blame if they are victimised? This video doesn’t provide anything like that. Possibly there aren’t easy answers. As humans, as parents, and as a society, we’re still learning.

Further watching, if you’ve the stomach for it: this Sexplanations episode with Dr. Lindsey Doe and Detective Katie Petersen.

Lucky Devil Eats

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Lucky Devil Eats

The lockdown’s having an obvious huge impact on strippers, whose work is typically in-person, up close, and classed as non-essential. And their work isn’t eligible for US programmes to support furloughed workers. So Lucky Devil Lounge in Portland decided to adapt their services into one that is classed as essential by providing a drive-through food service. With strippers.

This is Erika Moen’s comic about the experience of visiting the drive-through. Her comics are awesome and I’ve shared them with you a few times before (I even paid for the product she recommended in the last of those), of course.

Review: Vintage Vibrators

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Vintage vibrators

This is A.C. Gilbert’s creation, the Polar Cub Electric Vibrator No. B87, and it’s nearly 100 years old. This vibrator is so ancient it was manufactured before any of my grandparents were born, which delights me terribly. The box is in shambles — on the front, a cute flapper holds the vibrator to her throat with a mischievous glint in her eye. A thin, fragile slip of paper serves as the original receipt, dated June 15th, 1925, in the amount of $2.95. I love this vibrator with every fiber of my being. Just thinking about how extremely not alive I was at that time is exciting to me.

And of course, I’m going to have an orgasm with this thing. An orgasm that transcends time. That’s what all of this is about.

Fabulous, frequently-funny review of three vibrators from the 1910s through 1960s and are still in some kind of working order.

Episode 25: ON CONSENT AND CUDDLING with my daughter Des

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My 17 year old daughter generously sat down with me to talk about consent — her personal experiences with it, humor of it, nonverbal versions, and how to respond to rejection. We talked about her thoughts on the Dear Boy Who Likes My Daughter episode, how she perceives my romantic relationships, what makes a good cuddle partner, and being resourceful after trauma. There’s laughing and crying and lots of proud mama.

I’ve been gradually catching up on Dr. Doe‘s Sexplanations podcast; I’m up into the 30-somethings now but my favourite so far might have been episode 25, which presents a very authentic and raw look at Lindsey and her daughter Des’s thoughts on sex, romance, and consent. Adorable.

Guess that sex act #CONTENT

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My 12th favourite and my 27th favourite YouTubers just did a collaboration and it’s brilliant. Also: I totally knew seven out of the twelve terms Dr Doe brought to the table and would have been able to guess at least one more (as well as, of course, knowing what TomSka meant by his British slang), so this video made me feel clever.

Escape Room [NSFW]

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Frame from Tailsteak's 20-page comic "Escape Room"

Regular readers will know already that I’ve been a huge fan of comic author Tailsteak, ever since Ruth, many years ago, introduced me to his work. I’m particularly enjoying Forward, his latest webcomic: so much so that in an effort to work around its lack of an RSS feed I accidentally stole unpublished work from him earlier this year (oops!).

He announced yesterday his new secondary Twitter account, @TailsteakAD (the “AD” is for “After Dark”) and was delighted from the very top tweet onwards:

TailsteakAD: For the record, just because an artist makes erotic work, or even has a dedicated adult-themed account, that in no way implies that they have any desire whatsoever to receive your unsolicited sexual messages or images. I mean, *I* want'em, but other artists might not.
That’s the spirit.

Anyway: a short while later I found a 20-page comic he’d made called The Escape Room: read it on Twitter or via Threadreader. It might be exactly the comic you’ve always been looking for, assuming that the comic you’ve always been looking for combines B/D, gay sex, and escape room puzzle mechanics. NSFW, obviously.

Suddenly I feel like the escape rooms I go to aren’t quite as good as I thought.

The Four-Handed Condom

Content warning: rape.

You’ve probably seen the news about people taking a technological look at the issue of consent, lately. One thing that’s been getting a lot of attention is the Tulipán Placer Consentido, an Argentinian condom which comes in a packet that requires the cooperation of two pairs of hands to open it.

Four hands opening a Placer Consentido packet
I’ve seen simpler escape room puzzles.

Naturally, the Internet’s been all over this shit, pointing out how actually you can probably open it with just two hands [YouTube], how it’s inaccessible [YouTube] to people with a variety of disabilities, and how it misses the point by implying that once the condom is on, consent is irrevocable. A significant number of its critics try to make their claims more-sensational by describing the Placer Consentido as “a real product”, which is a bit of an exaggeration: it was a seemingly one-off promotional giveaway by its creators: it doesn’t look to be appearing on their store pages.

Hands moving to the magic pressure points on a condom packet.
Move your fingers just a bit lower. No… up a bit. Yes! Right there! That’s the spot!

One fundamental flaw with the concept that nobody seems to have pointed out (unless perhaps in Spanish), is that – even assuming the clever packaging works perfectly – all that you can actually consent to with such a device is the use of a condom. Given that rape can be and often is committed coercively rather than physically – e.g. through fear, blackmail, or obligation rather than by force – consent to use of a condom by one of the parties shouldn’t be conflated with consent to a sexual act: it may just be preferable to it without, if that seems to be the alternative.

Indeed, all of these technical “solutions” to rape seem to focus on the wrong part of the process. Making sure that an agreement is established isn’t a hard problem, algorithmically-speaking (digital signatures with split-key cryptography has given us perhaps the strongest possible solution to the problem for forty years now)! The hard problem here is in getting people to think about what rape is and to act appropriately to one another. Y’know: it’s a people problem, not a technology problem! (Unshocker.)

"It's a no", from the advertisment.
“If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.” If you ignore the product, the ad itself is on-message.

But even though they’re perhaps functionally-useless, I’m still glad that people are making these product prototypes. As the news coverage kicked off by the #MeToo movement wanes, its valuable to keep that wave of news going: the issues faced by the victims of sexual assault and rape haven’t gone away! Products like these may well be pointless in the real world, but they’re a vehicle to keep talking about consent and its importance. Keeping the issue in the limelight is helpful, because it forces people to continually re-evaluate their position on sex and consent, which makes for a healthy and progressive society.

So I’m looking forward to whatever stupid thing we come up with next. Bring it on, innovators! Just don’t take your invention too seriously: you’re not going to “fix” rape with it, but at least you can keep us talking about it.

How Can Free Porn Be Feminist?

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If you search “free porn” on Google, you get 1,400,000,000 hits. That’s a lot of porn. From vanilla lovers to BBW aficionados, kink and BDSM enthusiasts, foot fetishists and golden shower fans, there’s something for everyone. All at your fingertips, and all for free.

Although free porn is an accessible way for us to explore and embrace our sexuality, it relies on a business model that exploits sex workers and filmmakers. So while viewers are getting off, creators are the ones getting screwed. We boycott fast fashion brands for exploiting factory workers, we go vegan in the name of animal rights, we ban plastic straws to save the ocean, so where’s that same energy when it comes to protecting sex workers?

Free porn sites operate on pirated and unregulated user-generated content. Users can upload clips even though they’re infringing copyright, and stolen content goes up faster than studios can issue demands for it to be taken down. Award-winning feminist adult filmmaker Erika Lust tells Refinery29 that at the time of writing her team had been fruitlessly chasing Pornhub, asking them to take down some of her XConfessions films. “[Free porn sites] steal from studios, while at the same time profit from unregulated amateur production. This adds to the capacity for exploitation towards the performers, and the illusion that porn is free leads to the assumption that sex work is not work,” says Lust. “Most of the performers involved in these videos did not give their consent for their film to be pirated and hosted on a free porn site.” And they’re not making a penny, either.

Pay for your porn, folks!

It’s time to winterize your vagina

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Daily Mirror tweet claiming that "winter vagina" is a thing, and how to deal with it.

Breakout your plug-in vibrator and don’t forget the snow stud sheath. No battery-powered device can plow through vaginal snow pack. You need alternating current to warm that shit up after a long day of sitting naked outside filling your vagina with snow and ice. Don’t get clitoral anti freeze though, that crap stings like a motherfucker.

I don’t know whether I should describe this as being hilarious despite not having a vagina, or because of not having a vagina, but honestly it was side-splitting however you look at it. Gynaecologist/author/blogger/educator/blogger Dr. Jen Gunter points and laughs at a Daily Mirror tweet discussing “winter vagina”, and provides her own tips for dealing with the phenomenon. Warm up the mulled wine, ladies!

SHE BON : Sensing the Sensual

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I don’t know if this is genius or insanity, but either way it’s pretty remarkable. Lost my shit at “pop girl”. Lost it again at “I can poke the nipple”.

It takes a true engineer to think to themselves, “Hey, I wonder if I could use technology to tell me when I’m feeling aroused? That sounds like a useful project.” I love it.