I spent last weekend in Arcata, California, home of Humboldt State University. This is the land from whence Sponge Bob (or at least his creator) hails, where men in beards walk their yaks through town, where champagne is free on Sunday. Oh, and also you can book an outdoor hot tub at a Finnish café that doubles as an enchanted troll forest at midnight for $9 and still get a mocha and a chubby raspberry thumb print cookie.
I was invited to do the keynote for this year’s SexLand. This year’s theme was “peek-a-boo” and was a mixture of body positivity, sex positivity and burlesque. I arrived on Friday afternoon on the tiniest plane ever. Parts of SFO are under construction and I had to take what looked a lot like the Marriott shuttle around the airport to get to my terminal. I’d seen the tiny ass plane on my way in, and chuckled to myself, shaking my head and pitying the fool who’d have to fly in it. Well, pride goeth before the fall, my friends. Of course, I ended up on that plane and I watched as the tiny, unprotected propellers picked up speed. It reminded me of being in my mom’s mini-van with the 3.5 axles. It was an adventure though! It was me, my cheetah print rolly suitcase and 9 people from Eureka. And there was beverage service. I always like to be a little uppity with the beverage service and ask for mocktails. Oh no, no plebeian drinks for moi: “I’ll have a cranberry spritzer, please. Feel free to be heavy-handed with the cranberry, girl.”
It took me a while to come up with a title for the keynote, but I decided on: "There's Glitter in Fatlandia: Fat Activism as an Unapologetic (& Hella Sexy) Queer Politic." I really wanted to know some things about the people in attendance and so I asked them a bunch of questions. I promised them that I would have the results up today and here they are! Unfortunately, I didn't have time to analyze all the responses (boooo, I know!), but I think you'll enjoy what I did manage to get:
There were 81 respondents, but some responses to some questions were deemed inadmissible because respondents answered with multiple responses, did not answer at all or answered in a way that did not correlate with one of the options given. These are the limitations of statistics! But they’re still pretty fun :D
For question #4 During childhood, how would you describe attitudes toward sex in your household? 4 responses were inadmissible, and 77 were admissible. Here is the breakdown (approximations):
1. Very Positive - 5%
2. Somewhat Positive - 23%
3. Neutral - 39%
4. Somewhat Negative - 22%
5. Very Negative - 10%
What I found MOST interesting – and of course, this observation is totally NOT scientific and would literally never get reported in anything official… yay, blogs! – I found that answers were clustered. So, for example, if someone reported a very positive or somewhat positive response there would be another very/somewhat positive response right after it. If I got a very negative there would tend to be another one right after it. I interpreted this to mean – considering the way that the responses were collected – that people were sitting next to people who had similar experiences around sexual attitudes growing up. And I presumed that people were sitting next to each other because they were friends. OR this could just be a total coincidence, but I thought I’d put it out there as food for thought. Do you think you’re friends with people who grew up in families with similar attitudes toward sex? What other politics did you and your friends share growing up?
In response to Question 5: Y/N: Did you masturbate or play sexual games by yourself or with other children? 79 responses were admissible; 2 responses were inadmissible:
Yes - 59%
No - 41%
In response to Question 9: Y/N: Does the way you feel about your body affect the way you have sex? 72 responses were admissible. 9 responses were inadmissible.
Yes – 80.5%
No – 19.5%
In response to Question 12: Y/N: If you have had sex, do you regret the first time and/or wish you had waited? 62 responses were admissible. 19 were inadmissible.
Yes – 34%
No – 66%
This question was inspired by an article on the New York Times website in 2010 that reported that 63% of American boys and 69% of American girls report regretting their first time and/or wishing they had waited. From that article:
“The age at which Europeans and Americans first have sex is the same — 17, on average, on both sides of the Atlantic. The percentage who use birth control from the start? In Holland it’s 64 percent and in the United States it’s 26 percent. The percentage who have regrets about their first time, wishing they had waited: 63 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls in the United States, and only 5 percent of boys and 12 percent of girls in the Netherlands. Teen pregnancy rates: three to six times higher here than in Western Europe. S.T.D. rates: 20 to 30 times higher here than Holland. H.I.V. rate? Theirs is six times lower.”
For Question 13: What would you say has had the biggest effect on your sexuality? 66 responses were admissible and 15 were not.
The only clustering pattern I found interesting was that those who responded that media had the biggest influence on their sexuality were clustered in the response pile (again, not scientific but interesting!).
Nearly all respondents answered Question 8, which asked them to describe their body with 3 words. The answers had enormous range from "beautiful," "awesome" and "sexy" to "awkward," "flabby," and "inadequate." Here are some of the responses:
19 year old male from Los Angeles identified his body as “skinny, scrawny, tall” and reported the biggest influence for his sexuality was media.
19 year old female from New Mexico said she was “buff, strong and awesome” and her biggest sexual influence was sexual/romantic partner.
18 year old female from Torrance, CA said she was "short, soft (not toned), inadequate."
18 year old female from LA identified herself as a “fabulous bitch” (and apologized for using 2 words to describe herself! Love!) and identified her biggest sexual influence as "myself/IDK."
18 year old female from Sacramento identified as "awkward, small, and uneven."
20 year old female from Colorado identified as “tall, greek goddess curves, muscular” and identifies Dan Savage as her biggest sexual influence
21 year old female from Chester, CA grew up in a household she reported as having very negative attitudes toward sex and sees her body as“disgusting, gross, pale.”
My favorite response was from a 27 year old male from New York who said that the three words that best described his body were "your sex machine."
I really appreciate everyone who participated in this survey!
I left Humboldt inspired by a bunch of radical, sex positive people and educators. They made me remember what is at the heart of my politics, why I became a sex educator and the way that sex is one of the most important battle grounds for justice and change that’s out there.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.