You can’t go online or get groceries without being bombarded by articles about sex and insecurity. Compatibility quizzes, things he wants you to know, things you’re doing wrong, how to look good having sex. I even saw an article recently on how to burn more calories while you’re having sex.
Now we have to “earn” every morsel of food by working out and we have to earn our orgasms through calorie burning as well. How is it romantic to be like “Hold still dude, I’m trying to get my third set of tri-presses in!”
Not only is most of the information hurled at us about sex completely heterosexist, but it serves to tell women that our bodies are not, and probably never will be, good enough.
In 2010, blogger Maura Kelly had a piece published on the Marie Claire blog to discuss whether or not fat people should be allowed to show affection in public. Kelly said
I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other…because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room—just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroin addict slumping in a chair.
She followed it up by saying “don’t go getting the wrong impression: I have a few friends who could be called plump. I’m not some size-ist jerk.”
See, some of her best friends are fat—everything is OK. The eagerness of this blogger, and other sizeist jerks, to share their bigotry out loud affects the ability of women of all sizes to take pleasure in sex, influencing us to think that we don’t deserve pleasure, or even that we don’t have the right to ask for what we want, whether it’s a sexual position or a condom. To delve further into this I spoke with three women who literally wrote the book on fat sex.
Virgie Tovar, MA Human Sexuality, is the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion
Hanne Blank is a writer and educator who wrote Big, Big Love—A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them)
Rebecca Weinstein is an attorney and MSW who wrote Fat Sex, the Naked Truth. For more, visit www.fatsexthebook.com.
Ragen Chastain: What led you to write the book?
Virgie Tovar: Hot & Heavy felt like a necessary dissenting voice in the wake of the heightening War on Obesity, and it was a passion project. I have been fat my whole life and the stifling fatphobia that I was (and am) subjected to has had an enormous effect on the woman I have become and the way that I have sex.
Hanne Blank: I wrote Big, Big Love after beginning to teach seminars, on sex and bigger bodies. I noticed a lack of content in the burgeoning sex-positive community around physical diversity. By virtue of my own experience, (as a fat person and sex educator who has done a lot of work with other fat people, and has had sexual relationships with a number of fat people, and who is a size-positive activist. I was poised to help address this particular kind of physical diversity when it came to sex.
Rebecca Jane Weinstein: I had started PeopleOfSize.com about 4 years prior, a website that aims to address issues of all types relating to being a person of size. One of the topics that kept coming up was sex and intimacy issues. It was obviously an area of concern and conflict for a variety of different reasons. My mother was the one who realized this needed to be explored in more depth and she suggested I write a book. She was right, as I was overwhelmed with people wanting to tell me their stories
Ragen: Do you think that the current climate around beauty, beauty ideals, and dieting affects women’s ability to be empowered around sexuality? If so, how?
Hanne: Yes, I do. Our ideology around women’s bodies often centers around what is basically a consumption dynamic: is the woman’s body the right kind of body to be wanted, desired, acquired by men? What this means is that from the very start, what women want—aside from whatever desire they might have to be desired, wanted, acquired, etc.—does not even enter into consideration. They’re thinking about how to make their bodies desirable for other people’s sakes. Through mainstream beauty ideals and body-conformity pressures women are, in short, taught to make themselves into objects.
This means that what they’re not thinking about is things like whether they enjoy being physical in their own bodies, their sensual experiences in their bodies generally, their sexual desires, what romantic or erotic things they like, what physical sensations feel good to them, what they want out of their sexual experiences (if they choose to have them)… and these are pretty basic things. The upshot, in my experience as a sexuality educator, is that many women end up not knowing what they want sexually, and not knowing how to even figure those things out, because the only thing they are taught to do where their bodies are concerned is to do their best to make their bodies into something someone else wants sexually.
Rebecca: With endless media and internet it gets worse and worse—we are inundated with certain kinds of images and perspectives. Now people feel they have the right to share their opinions all the time so everybody is telling people what’s right and wrong about their bodies. In that regard I think empowerment is very difficult.
Virgie: Absolutely. Women are taught that the value of our personhood is highly linked to our ability to adhere to increasingly impossible standards of beauty—and specifically to increasingly impossible standards of thinness. We know from research that when women don’t feel like they measure up we make poorer sexual decisions because we don’t feel empowered to negotiate for things that we want or that help keep our bodies safe, like condom usage. I’ll give you an example from my personal life. Because I’d been told most of adolescent life that my fat body meant that no one would ever want to date me, sleep with me, marry me, or even love me, once I began having sex I truly believed that I had no right to say no whenever the opportunity to have sex or date arose because I was “lucky” that anyone wanted me at all. So, yes, I made a lot of decisions that I now realize were so risky and potentially life-threatening because I’d been taught that my body had no value. I hated my body and so I didn’t feel like I needed to take care of it. When it comes to the issue of body image and sex, we’re not just talking about a personal issue. We’re talking about a public health issue.
Ragen: What did you find most surprising in the process of writing the book?
Rebecca: When I boil down my book into a few words, I often say that what I learned is that the overriding theme is a cliché, something we have heard our entire lives: what really matters is how you feel about yourself. It’s simultaneously a bit trite and also an extremely difficult reality. With the images and ideas that are thrown at us constantly about our bodies, sex, and shame, having a positive self-concept can be a monumental feat. But that seems to be key in satisfying sexual relationships. Many of us spend a long time falling down on that road, but once you get to the point in the journey where you feel good about yourself, others respond. No one I talked to who liked themselves the way they are had any trouble finding partners, or love, or whatever it was they were looking for.
Virgie: I had to grow up a lot during the process of editing the book. I really truly believed that fat women who loved their bodies were magical creatures who had been unscathed by the culture’s prohibitive body expectations. I thought they were like magical unicorns with cryptic gifts. It turned out when I began to read their stories that this was so far from the truth. Women who love themselves despite the culture’s self-hate imperative are very brave and very strong and have had so many of the heart-breaking struggles I had but they’ve chosen to fight back. It turned out that they were actually magical but for totally different reasons than those I’d originally imagined.
Hanne: Most surprising to me—both times I wrote this book, since I did new research for the new edition—was the number of fat people I encountered who had no trouble understanding their own attractions to partners who were not thin, but still had trouble understanding how others could be attracted to them.
Ragen: What are the top takeaways you would like people to have when thinking about fat sex?
Virgie: Fat sex happens! There is sex—really, really hot sex—after 110 pounds (or whatever the arbitrary weight ideal is right now). There is this prevailing myth that a muffin top is going to ruin your sex life because fat people—particularly fat women—are supposedly undesirable and unable to get sex, love, or relationships. This is simply untrue. This myth hurts people of all sizes and it prevents us from experiencing the kind of wild, exhilarating, passionate sex we deserve. Right now at 250 pounds I am having some of the most amazing sex I have ever had because I actually feel like I deserve pleasure. I feel l like I deserve pleasure because I choose not to hate my body.
Jiggle is hot. We live in a super jiggle-phobic culture but I am here to tell you that jiggling is super sexy! Rather than try to endlessly position yourself so that your tummy looks flat or your double chin doesn’t show or your boobs don’t sag, just focus on the deliciousness of sex and find partners who want to do that with you.
I really believe that dieting can be antithetical to hot sex. Back when I was dieting and exercising obsessively (at the time I didn’t think it was obsessive, mind you, and I was proud of my “will power”) I thought it would all be worth it because I would get more dates. Well I was getting a lot of dates but because I hated my body so much my sex life took a major hit. I was constantly holding back because I wasn’t at my ideal weight yet. Dieting, in my opinion, holds us in that future-focused thinking pattern such that we are never entirely in the present moment. Because our culture doesn’t have a healthy attitude toward body size it is very easy to get into destructive and obsessive behavior patterns without anyone—even ourselves—noticing. Being in tune with and present in your body are the best ways to get the exact sex life you want. You have to value your body to be in tune with it.
Hanne: There is no such thing as “fat sex.” There is only sexuality. People with a wide variety of bodies engage their sexuality in a wide variety of ways, with a wide variety of partners who also have a wide variety of bodies. Period.
The more comfortable you are in your own skin, the better sex you will have. That’s pretty much guaranteed.
Sexual desirability is not a number on the scale or a clothing size.
Rebecca: Attitudes about fat people and sexuality are cultural, but that doesn’t mean cultural attitudes are the only thing at play. But from what I learned, there is a much wider and diverse interest in different types of people sexually than we are lead to believe by peers and the media. The difficulty is in becoming comfortable with impulses when society inherently criticizes them. Many people I talked to felt they were somehow flawed when they desired someone who didn’t fit the standard beauty models. Sexual drive is usually strong enough to overcome that, but some people do live in the proverbial closet for at least some time. Ultimately, people are attracted to more people than they sometimes feel comfortable admitting.
Additionally, it seems your experiences growing up are enormously impactful on how you’re going to feel about yourself in sexual relationships. People reflect their childhood beliefs. In my interviews, people who were raised to hate themselves as children carried that over to adulthood. Alternatively, if they were raised to love themselves as kids, they continued to do so as grownups. What we are taught as children seems to be even more powerful than cultural norms
Ragen: What do you think is the most important thing for me to get across in this article?
Hanne: Sexual pleasure and good sexual relationships are not a reward that gets given out for having the “right” kind of body. They do not automatically arrive because your body conforms to particular parameters, or vanish because it doesn’t.
Virgie: Loving your body is hard work, but so is hating your body. It seems easier because it’s so culturally prevalent, but the truth is that they’re equally challenging struggles but one leads to sexual empowerment and the other one leads to crappy sex (at least in my experience).
Rebecca: I tell a great many sad stories in my book. Happy ones as well, and stories of growth. But it is not all fun and frolicking. Some peopled criticized what they perceived as negativity, and felt I should have been more of a cheerleader for fat sex. But my book is real stories and real often people feel pain. Putting that on the table without shame so that people can recognize they are not alone, and are able to learn from other’s experiences is vital to healing.
I believe that telling stories with the warts and all is empowering. It is not the only way to empower, but it is an important way. There is strength in no longer feeling alienated from “everyone else.” I don’t apologize for the fact that people often cry when they read my book. As human beings we are allowed to feel and express pain, and we are allowed work to get past it to become stronger and happier people. I feel that is a very positive message.