Love & Sex

This Week in Sex: Tina Fey and Sasha Grey

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Abortion in Arizona, fertility in Israel, Rihanna with a riding crop, and more.

New books by Tina Fey and Sasha Grey both lauded for their feminism.

Two new feminist books are in the news, one with a much sexier cover than the other. Tina Fey’s is perhaps more obvious; at least since Mean Girls, she’s been the face of a sort of rough-edged equalizing feminism, and on 30 Rock, she plays the only woman on network TV who regularly makes jokes with cheese in her mouth, but also still goes on dates. Her new book, a collection of vignettes called Bossypants, takes a more direct feminist stance than her comedy. Writing about men like Christopher Hitchens who say women can’t be as funny as men, she says, "My hat goes off to them. It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that because you don't like something, it is empirically not good. I don't like Chinese food, but I don't write articles trying to prove it doesn't exist."

Porn-star-turned-actress Sasha Grey also has a new book, Neü Sex, that’s less for reading and more for looking at — it’s mostly a collection of on-set photographs from her time in porn taken by herself and her husband, Ian Cinnamon. While there are short essays interspersed, it’s more Grey’s presence and lack of shame at having done, and liked, porn, that’s making people drop the f-bomb. In an interview, Grey said, "Sex is used so often every day in the media. I mean, we use it to sell sneakers. And microwave meals. And at the same time we're taught to kind of keep to ourselves… There's this weird thing where we're allowed to be sexy, but we're not allowed to be sexual. So to me, it's a veil of safety. So it's okay to show your tits but it's not okay to talk about what your kinks are, when you're a woman."

S&M is the new girl-on-girl kiss, pegging is the new blowjob.

This week, Salon.com says two once-taboo acts have entered the sexual mainstream: S&M for women, and pegging for men.

The latter term — which refers to a straight guy getting anally penetrated by a sex-toy wielding girlfriend — was coined by Dan Savage in 2001, but it’s still creeping its way into the culture at large. There’s no good hard data on the subject — a recent study finds 11% of men claim they’ve been on the receiving end of anal sex, but that includes gay sex. But everyone from researchers to sex-shop purveyors has noticed an upswing. Does this mark a decline in male homophobia? Salon's Tracy Clark-Flory argues that men “haven't adopted a more fluid understanding of sexual orientation or anything; they've just welcomed a new form of stimulation into their definition of acceptable straight sex.”

While men are bending over en masse IRL, women in the media are picking up riding crops. This week it’s Rihanna, who, after releasing a single called "S&M," clarified her position on the matter by telling Rolling Stone that she likes to be spanked. While the pop-singer-in-scary-black-boots craze can be traced back to Madonna, there's been an upswing in S&M imagery in the last couple years, from Rihanna to Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera. The question: is it an awesome empowerment thing? Or a new-way-to-be-a-sexual-object thing, like straight girls kissing straight girls for the camera? Anyone can prance around with a bull-whip; it’s a different thing to mean it.  

Grandparents fight to use sperm of dead son

An Israeli couple was back in the news this week, for trying to use their deceased son’s sperm to create a child. Ohad Ben-Yaakov was injured in a work accident, spent two weeks in a coma, and then died. He was twenty-seven, unmarried, and had expressed no previous interest in fathering a child — at least not in any legally demonstrable sense. And yet, while he was comatose, his parents had his sperm extracted and are fighting for their right to use his sperm for in virtro fertilization.

And in so doing, raising a bunch of questions. Currently, Israeli law doesn't give ownership of reproduction to parents — only spouses — and the country does not recognize a right to grandparenthood. But there is a legal precedent for the case: in 2001, a mother won the right to use the sperm of her son for IVF after he’d been killed in the army, although attempts at artificial insemination using his sperm have been unsuccessful so far.

Israel has long been on the forefront of reproductive technology, and is culturally very pro-natalist. A Nerve commenter earlier this week put it somewhat flippantly, saying, “You'd be interested in fertility too if you were a tiny nation surrounded by larger enemies,” but she has a point. Traditionally, Judaism is a tribal religion — they don’t proselytize — and so have to grow by reproduction. Add to that the political terrors faced by Jews in the twentieth century and you get a culture that’s really into having babies.

Arizona bans race-and-gender-based abortion

And today in ethically thorny abortion news: Arizona has banned abortions decided on the basis of the race or sex of the unborn child. Under the law, the doctor performing the abortion would be penalized, but not the mother. No similar laws exist elsewhere in the nation. The bill was signed into law by Jan Brewer, Arizona’s very pro-life, maybe white-supremacist governor.

Here’s why it’s tough for a pro-life liberal: at face value, aborting a baby based on his race or sex is eugenics, more remnant of China in the 1950s than Tucson in 2011. That said, there’s actually no evidence that anyone was doing this in Tucson in 2011 — or really, anywhere in the US in the last generation.

Which is why such a ban, coming from a conservative juggernaut like Brewer in the great state of Arizona (which might be the new Florida), can’t help but feel like an attempt to creep towards banning abortion outright. Planned Parenthood officials are protesting the move, because it creates a legal incentive for a doctor to ask women to justify their choice to have an abortion (since not asking could leave them culpable).

Is George Clooney into Bunga Bunga?

In more cheerful news, we get to ask ourselves this week, “Is George Clooney into Bunga Bunga?” — Bunga Bunga, of course, being a newly minted word for a sex party that you have with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and my vote for neologism of the year.

Clooney has been called to testify on behalf of Berlusconi in his upcoming trial, slated to start on April 6, on charges that the PM paid a seventeen year-old Moroccan girl to have sex with him at a sex party. Berlusconi and Clooney are both frantically protesting their innocence — the former by saying he did not have sexual relations with that woman, and the latter by saying he’s not really that tight with Berlusconi.

While I don’t know enough to speculate much, there's ample evidence that Berlusconi is a creep, a power-hungry leader whose idea of dealing with criticism about him is buying the newspaper that smeared him. That doesn't make him guilty of statutory rape. But having a type of sex party named after you can really only hurt in a case like this.