Love & Sex

Sex Advice From Women’s Studies Professors

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"We say 'feminist' and people immediately think of a man-hating, hairy-legged bitch…"

Dr. Lisa Moore, 45

Author of Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid, Professor of Gender Studies and Sociology at SUNY-Purchase 

Before your academic career, were you always interested in gender and sexuality? 
I was a classic '70s tomboy. I was an athlete; I had a lot of friends who ended up coming out to me. I had my own variable sexual history of being a lesbian, being bisexual, being heterosexual. I think there was more freedom being a female athlete, being in the liberal-arts college environment, being "of age" during post-second-wave feminism. That led to more possibilities in exploring gender, sex, and sexuality in ways might not have been available in previous time periods or different geographical areas.

Do you think that studying sex is sexy? 
I think that's the problem, right? When you're studying sex and sexuality, it's a little dangerous because it can come across as titillating, or fluff, or the People magazine of academics. It's not like studying nuclear fission or something — everybody has gender, everybody has sex, everybody has sexuality, and so everybody kind of feels like they are already an expert. They don't understand how you can make your whole career out of it. I just recently published an article with a student where we looked at XTube videos to talk about pornography and the money shot and sperm. And that's exciting, and it's in a scholarly book that's published by an academic press, but when I talk to people about it just casually I always get "a look." I mean it's fun, and it's definitely seductive — it's something at that everyone wants to talk about — but I also wonder how much it dismantles your ability to have credentials and a sense of academic respect that I think women in general have a hard time getting. 

What is your favorite euphemism for the vagina?
I like when people refer to the clitoris as "HQ," like "headquarters." "I'll meet you at HQ" — I think that's kind of funny. I like that and I like "polishing the pearl," for the clitoris. I think the vagina is important but, having had three babies come out of there, I'm a little bit more about the clitoris. 

If "The Judith Butler" was a sex position, what would it look like?
Something like a complicated knot system where one person is tied up and the other is dominating them. I don't have an "insert penis here" because I think there would be multiple accoutrements. I think it would be incredibly complicated and difficult to deconstruct.

I'm a feminist, but I fantasize about being called a slut and getting slapped in bed. Do you think this goes against being a feminist?
No; I think one of the unfortunate things about dogmatic feminism is that it creates a lot of opportunities for a woman to feel guilty about working through some of the things that they need to work through sexually. I think to not express it, to repress it, that's the problem. 

I only enjoy sex with my boyfriend when I'm drunk or stoned. He's taking it personally, but I keep trying to explain that it has nothing to do with him — I'm just a really anxious person who has a hard time getting out of my head. Is there any way we can make this work?
The fact that you only can get off using substances or only allow yourself to be intimate with another person while on substances suggests to me that you need to talk to a professional. I just think you might be putting yourself in situations that later on you may regret or be unhappy. The underlying issue is, why can't you stand doing these things sober? 

My boyfriend really wants me to talk dirty during sex, but it makes me feel silly. Plus, I really don't know how. Any tips? 
I think when one partner wants anything, whether it's to talk dirty to to try a different activity, and you don't feel confident and you don't feel sexy, it just spirals downward and you feel foolish. I've heard other people not myself suggest that the person watch pornography and then do what the porn star does, but I think that then you're so then conscious of what you're saying that it's like Cyrano de Bergerac

In regards to your own sex or love life, what's one class you wish you could have taken?
Well, being in my forties, I wish I'd taken a class in my twenties to know what I know in my forties about having sex with more people. I wish there had been permission given to not be so nervous about taking more risks as a partner, to try different types of things. I guess it's just the wisdom of age; you want to have it when you're young. 

Dr. Judith Stacey, "sixty-something"

Author of Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values From West Hollywood to Western China, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

How did you start your career in women's studies?
Well, I'm a classic product of the 1960s youth movements. It was my involvement in the women's-liberation movement and feminism that led to my participation in a lot of things, before there was such a thing as women's studies. I was part of the generation that created what came to be called women's studies, and then later gender or sexuality studies. 

Were you always open-minded in regards to sex?
No, I certainly was raised not to be [laughs]. That was part of the discovery of feminism, to challenge a lot of the ideas — I was a teenager in the 1950s, which meant that we were taught to be "good girls," not "bad girls," along with all kinds of rules about sexual repression and propriety. I bought most of the line. It really wasn't until the emergence of the women's liberation movement that I, along with maybe hundreds of thousands of other women, began to re-examine what I had been taught and to gradually change my ideas about all of that. 

Do you think people have certain preconceptions about you and your own sexuality? 
In my particular case, I think that people who don't know me or only know that I'm a scholar in this field or know some of my work assume that I'm a lesbian. I've done a lot of research and publishing in the last ten or fifteen years about gay parenting and children and gay-male intimacy, so it's often presumed that I'm a lesbian, but actually, I'm not. Also, there are a lot of people who just automatically presume that a feminist has a certain set of ideas about sexuality.

Did your academic work affect your relationship with your own sexuality? 
Oh, sure. There's a great book by Rutgers' Arlene Stein called Sex and Sensibility which treats the period when a lot of feminists — actually, a lot of women — made a decision to become lesbians out of a political commitment rather than out of a automatic, spontaneous sexual desire. There was a period when a lot of us were examining why we desired men and if we did or why we didn't. I went through all of that with my peers and I think that informed a lot of my approach to scholarship as well.

Are gender-studies professors more vocal in their own sex life?
Well, I think that people who take gender studies seriously are more reflective about the character of relations between men and women and concepts of femininity and masculinity and their behaviors in all domains, including the intimate domain. As I said before, there are many feminists who turn that into a serious wariness about men and heterosexuality. There are others who become much more permissive, libertine. 

If a girl was uncomfortable with her boyfriend's porn-watching habits, what would you suggest? An alternative pornography?
Well, first of all, I would probably personally not be that concerned about all of the content. I'm sure I would find some of the content offensive, but most I just don't find very erotic. I don't think I would be all that concerned if my lover were turned on by watching porn that I didn't find sexy. I would be much more concerned about his sexual behaviors and sexual latitudes, how honest he was, how reciprocal the relationship was, how interested he was in my needs and desires as well as his own. 

Do you have a favorite euphemism for the vagina or the penis?
Not really. I probably use plenty of the standards — you know, "cock," "cunt," and "pussy." Nothing original. 

What do you think about the whole culture of taboo surrounding the word "cunt?"
Well, it depends on the context in which you use it. I don't use it very often in my lectures. I don't think a lot about it. In other words, I think that words are powerful and have huge connotations and emotional impact on people. It's always important to know who you are speaking to and what their context is and what yours is. 

I'm a feminist, but I fantasize about being called a slut and getting slapped in bed. Do you think this goes against being a feminist? 
No, I don't think it goes against being a feminist, but it's easy to understand the feelings of conflict involved. I think it's a normal part of human sexuality, and there are as many men who want to be slapped. So yeah, to have sexual desires that are embarrassing doesn't mean that you're a wimp. In fact, there's a lot of evidence that some of the most powerful men are the men who want to be dominated. Sometimes it's the more powerful women who want to submit and subordinate themselves for a while as a form of relief. My presumption about the desire to be spanked or dominated is that all human infants are dependent and confuse love and discipline early.

In regards to your own sex life, what is one class you wish you could have taken? 
Well, I wish I could have taken my own class! I teach a course on the sociology of sexual diversity, and we weren't taught anything at all about cultural and historical differences in sexuality. I certainly I wish I could've been introduced to concepts of female pleasure. I certainly wish I had been introduced to feminism before I was a teenager and to have understood the power plays and to have been able to reflect on the relationship between sex and power and not to have bought hook, line, and sinker the complete ideology of my time.

Elizabeth Wollman, 42

Author of The Theater Will Rock: A History of the Rock Musical, from Hair to Hedwig
Assistant professor of music, Baruch College

Do you think your being a women's studies professor and a feminist leads to preconceptions of who you are or what your own sexuality is?
I'm sure that they do, but I don't care. We say "feminist" and people immediately think of a ball-busting, man-hating, hairy-legged bitch. That's the immediate reaction to "feminist," or at least it was in the '70s. Then, of course, we can talk about the stereotypes of female professors, which I always find hilarious. There's this idea of professors where the men are wearing tweed, smoking pipes, and fucking their students, and the women are sexless, friendless, crones who are devoted entirely to their work.

Do you think there's an increasing conservatism in our culture?
You know, I think it's going in different directions. The fact that people can't say "cunt" in mixed company really pisses me off. We can say "dick" and "cocksucker" all the time. I've heard people use that in front of their children, for god's sake. To call somebody a dick, nobody even blinks, but to demonize the vagina the way that people do is so upsetting to me. But, one of the things I argue in my book is that people weren't really as comfortable with out-there sexuality in the '70s as we like to think. I feel we like to romanticize that. 

On that note, what is your favorite euphemism for the word "vagina?"
I think my favorite word for the vagina is "vagina." I do find myself fascinated with the word "cunt" because people get so unbelievably freaked out by it. I think from a cultural perspective that the reason people get so freaked out by it is because anything related to the vagina, we're taught to think that it's gross, bad, and vile, whereas anybody can be a "dick." But if you're going to talk about a vagina, I'm going to say the word "vagina." I really don't go in for the whole "let's make up cute little words for our genitalia" thing. I think that takes away any kind of mystique about them; they're a part of our bodies and we should embrace our bodies. 

As a woman who's interested in music and sexuality, what do you think is the sexiest music?
A lot of people would listen to the music I grew up with and immediately think "There's nothing feminist about that," but I really like classic rock. I think Led Zeppelin is fantastic; I like The Who. I find Joni Mitchell endlessly fascinating, but maybe not sexy. K.D Lang just jumped into my head; she's got this glowing, rich voice and she sounds so incredibly self-assured and she's so open about who she is, you know? Led Zeppelin has been always kind of tainted, like, "Oh they're so sexist! They sing about having sex and that's so sexist!" But Susan Fast wrote a book about Zeppelin that was basically saying, "What the hell? Women like to have sex too! Why is that inherently sexist?"

My girlfriend wants me to stop watching porn because it makes her uncomfortable. I don't want to. What should I do?
You should start by reading Linda Williams' excellent book, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible." Then, have your girlfriend read it. Then, discuss it. Perhaps the book will sway one, the other, or both of you, and allow you to find a healthy, happy middle ground.

In regards to your own love/sex life, what's one class you wish you could take/could've taken? What's one class you wish you could teach all your former partners?
I regret not ever having taken a course on Shakespeare, but that has less to do with sex than the fact that I was an English major who never took a course on Shakespeare. And as for the class for my former partners? Easy: conflict resolution.