The New Gender And Sexual Revolution with Catherine M. Roach
Looking for better sex in 2022 and beyond?
This week on the podcast, we dive into the new gender and sexual revolution as well as The "Manisexto" that will help start the standards for ethical and pleasurable sex with Dr. Catherine M. Roach, professor of gender and cultural studies at New College - The University of Alabama, where she teaches on topics such as gender, sexuality, and pop culture
She has over 25 years of research and teaching experience on gender and sexual studies and popular culture. She’s a two-time Fulbright award winner with lots of amazing accolades.
In this episode, we’ll be discussing the shifting demographic, how to discuss consent, comprehensive sex education for young people, inclusive masculinities, genital anxiety, and more.
complete transcript below.
In this episode you'll discover
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Learn more about Dr. Catherine Roach via her website HERE.
Catherine M. Roach is Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies in New College. She has over twenty-five years of research and teaching experience on gender and sexuality studies in American popular culture. A two-time Fulbright Award winner, she has held visiting fellowships and delivered invited lectures at universities in Australia, Canada, Scotland, England, and Greece.
She is the author of Mother/Nature: Popular Culture and Environmental Ethics (Indiana Univ. Press, 2003) and Stripping, Sex, and Popular Culture (Berg, 2007). Her academic book Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture (Indiana Univ. Press, 2016) won Silver Medal in the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards and earned mention in the New York Times Book Review. As part of that book’s study of the “Find Your One True Love” narrative, Roach undertook a companion project of writing two historical romance novels as Catherine LaRoche (Simon & Schuster, 2012, 2014).
Her newest book is a general-audience book of public scholarship, Good Sex: Transforming America through the New Gender and Sexual Revolution (Indiana University Press, 2022). Read the companion essay, “Making Good Sex: The Story of the Book.”
Her current collaborative research involves gender and sexuality studies and art history about the famous 19th-century American statue The Greek Slave (original version at Raby Castle, UK, and two later versions at the University of Alabama). The project tells a gripping tale about today’s most pressing issues of bilateral social justice: the US and UK’s ongoing reckoning with racial and sexual justice movements. It’s a lost story of transatlantic art and slavery that ties the two countries together from the 19th century to the present day.
At the University of Alabama, she has won the school’s top research and teaching awards: the Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award (2016) and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) UA Faculty Achievement Award (2021), including UA nomination as SEC Professor of the Year. She is a Fellow in the Collaborative Arts Research Initiative, working to bring research alive through the arts for a broad public audience. Every semester, she teaches the popular cross-university course “Sexuality and Society” that addresses cultural change in America and campus sexual wellbeing.
She enjoys hiking, paddling, cooking, and spending time with family and friends— especially summers escaping the sultry Alabama heat back in her native Canada.
Purchase Good Sex on Indiana University Press: https://iupress.org/9780253064691/good-sex/
Jamie McCartney - The Great Wall of Vagina: https://www.greatwallofvagina.co.uk/
Sophia Wallace’s Work - The Cliteracy Project: https://www.sophiawallace.art/cliteracy-100-natura
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EPISODE 235: with Catherine Roach
[Fun, Empowering Music]
Amanda Testa: Hello, and welcome to the Find Your Feminine Fire podcast. I am your host, Amanda Testa. I am a sex, love, and relationship coach, and in this podcast, my guests and I talk sex, love, and relationships, and everything that lights you up from the inside out. Welcome!
Hello, and welcome to the Find Your Feminine Fire podcast. We are going to be diving into Good Sex, the new gender and sexual revolution, and the Manisexto (if you will) that will help start the standards for ethical and pleasurable sex in 2022. I am super thrilled today because I am going to be talking with legendary Catherine M. Roach. She’s a professor of gender and cultural studies at New College - The University of Alabama, and she has over 25 years of research and teaching experience on gender and sexual studies and popular culture. She’s a two-time Fulbright award winner with lots of amazing accolades. So I feel very grateful to have you here, and I’m really excited to dive into this topic. So, welcome. Thank you so much.
Catherine Roach: Well, thank you, Amanda. That’s a very [Laughs] grand introduction, thank you. I never think of myself as legendary, but I’m delighted to be here chatting with you.
Amanda Testa: Yes, well, I think we often don’t always celebrate ourselves enough so I’m gonna celebrate you and all your accomplishments. And, also, we’re gonna be talking, too, about your new book. It’s called Good Sex: Transforming America Through the New Gender and Sexual Revolution, and I really love the structure of how you outlined everything here in the book. We’re gonna get into that in a minute.
But before we do, I’d love if you wouldn't mind just sharing a little bit more about why you’re so passionate about this topic. What led you to write this book?
Catherine Roach: Yes! Thank you. That’s actually one of my favorite questions about this book 'cause it very much came from my students. So I’m a professor at The University of Alabama, and I teach Gender, Sexuality, and Pop Culture topics here. I published several other books, but this one, more than anything else I’ve written, comes really from the students.
It was driven by a sense of student need here on campus, and I don't think our campus -- I’m in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’s this college town -- I don't think it’s particularly different from other places around the country in this regard. We’re a large public state university. We have what’s called a core curriculum where students have to take a little bit of social science, a little bit of humanities, a little bit of natural science.
So, this course I developed about seven years ago as one of the social science courses in the core in order to reach a broad mix of students from all across the campus. And this was because, in my smaller seminars that I had been teaching for 20 years on these topics of gender and sexuality and popular culture, I was hearing from students this need for a bigger, curricular, safe space where they could think and learn and engage academically with issues about positive sexuality, things like consent, hook-up culture on campus, and the #MeToo movement that was sort of exploding at the time, and the growing openness for gender and sexual diversity in the country but that still came with a lot of backlash and risks.
There are places where you can sort of talk about that on college campuses, like frat parties and bars, but to talk about it academically in a safe space where they can learn and think and write and reflect and hear from guest lectures, that didn’t really exist in a way it seemed that it needed to.
So I created this bigger lecture course. We have 75 students, usually, every semester, and I’ve been teaching the course every single semester for seven years now except last year when I was on a sabbatical and somebody else took it over for me, and so much great material started emerging from the class. The students write weekly response papers, and I saw that if you create a safe space and give them an opportunity to think and write and reflect, amazing material came out.
And so, this research project grew directly out of the course. I wanted to take this material that we’d been talking about, workshopping together in this larger lecture course, and turn it into a book.
So the book very much emerges from the class, and it’s just chock full of responses from the students and, obviously, anonymous. I asked students if they wanted to participate in this research project once the book started getting going, and those students who did consent, I gathered responses from them confidentially (respecting student privacy) and included those in the book. So I feel it’s very much a collaborative effort in that sense, and it very much reflects the students’ engagement with these issues about gender and sexual diversity and positive sexuality. So it’s sort of a snapshot of young people around the country today who are here on campus in the class. So I’m very grateful to the students. They made this book possible.
Amanda Testa: I think that’s so powerful, and I think, too, that’s the beautiful thing about being in an academic environment (a college campus). I feel like it is such a -- there’s people from everywhere, and so, no matter, kind of, what the regional area is, the college campus is usually kind of a little breath of diversity, of forward-thinking, and I think this is so important to talk about.
First, let us dive in a little bit more to around when you talk about the new gender and sexual revolution, can you talk a little bit more about that tipping point, that shift that you are speaking to?
Catherine Roach: Mm-hmm, yeah. Well, by using this term new sexual and gender revelation, I’m trying to take a positive view, engage in an optimistic, positive sense of where the culture is going. There’s evidence to indicate that we’re at a tipping point or a turning point, a shift in the culture exemplified by some very fundamental changes in the last decade in America.
Things like same-sex marriage becoming legal across the country since 2015. The #MeToo movement exploding, making a hard line against sexual assault, creating a conversation about the bedrock importance of consent, and also making it less shameful to talk about issues of sexual assault and it’s less of a taboo topic than before.
The body positivity movement, body acceptance is becoming really important. Seeing a lot in social media, a lot of companies have come to embrace it within the last decade. Then, also, issues like transgender becoming much more mainstream; gender nonbinary, gender diversity becoming much more mainstream and visible than before. So all of these changes in the culture can be seen as part of a fundamental shift toward more equity, inclusion, acceptance of diversity around gender and sexual diversity.
It’s not to say that there’s any sort of paradise here for gender equity and inclusion or positive sexuality. There’s also an often virulent backlash provoked by this sense of change and greater openness. But, nevertheless, it seems to be here and particularly among younger people, the Gen-Z, the college-aged demographic of young adults 18 to 23. That’s what really gives me hope, what I think is the grounds for optimism about change in this direction of greater openness and equity.
Amanda Testa: Yes, I think that’s so powerful to have that hope, especially in the greater scheme of the political climate right now and overturning of Roe v. Wade and just all the things on the docket they want to get passed around like limiting contraceptive accessibility and just all the things. Sometimes it can be easy to get really frustrated because when you talk about pleasure and equality and bringing in all of the juicy aspects of it, there’s also the complex side effects and all the parts.
And so, they're all very important, and I think what is beautiful is that all of these ways of expressing, there are names for them, there are ways that it’s more talked about, less shame which is so key and important. Also, just a lot of the keys that you talk about in your book are just in general good things to think about, right? [Laughs]
Catherine Roach: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Amanda Testa: Like when you want to have better sex, these are just important for any person no matter what.
Catherine Roach: Yeah, I think that because, as I was saying earlier, so much of the book is driven by the students, I found that the students respond to (that flipping the script is one way to think about it) focusing on positive aspects and more optimistic developments in the culture like on the question of the #MeToo movement or sexual assault, nobody wants to spend an hour and a half class period talking about rape, for example. It’s depressing. It’s scary. It can be retraumatizing for students who’ve experienced sexual assault which is a big demographic. It can be demonizing towards sexuality.
So I find if one flips the script and asks instead, “What does positive sexuality look like? What are the Hallmarks of a healthy, pleasurable, sexual experience? What do we need to get there? What does it look like? What needs to change in society as a whole to enable and support healthy, intimate relationship,” students respond much more enthusiastically to those sort of questions. They engage more. It feels like a powerful forward-moving beneficial conversion.
So I try to flip the script in those ways in the classroom and then in the book without being overly naive or simplistically optimistic, that would, I guess, be the risk or the downside.
Amanda Testa: Right, right.
Catherine Roach: But to focus on the positive.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and I’m wondering if you would feel open just talking about what some of those Hallmarks are. I like how you refer to it as the Manisexto manifesto, if you will.
Catherine Roach: [Laughs] Yes!
Amanda Testa: Can you share some more about that?
Catherine Roach: I got that from my husband, actually. I was muttering at home about this. “I want to write a new book. I want to write a book. It’s some sort of manifesto about sexuality,” and he said, “You mean a Manisexto?” He’s very good with puns and word play. They sort of fall like acorns from a tree, I’d say. So he came up with this word play of the Manisexto - a manifesto about sexuality. So that’s another way that I describe in the book this sense of a new gender and sexual revolution or this turning point, this tipping point in the culture. You can think about it as a Manisexto, a manifesto about positive sexualities that are working its way through the culture.
So, yeah, I talk about that there’s five central commitments I see to it. A commitment to positive sexuality. That sexuality is a normal, healthy, pleasurable aspect of being human. That people have the right to their sexual choices as long as those choices are consensual and hold people’s best interests, and so, positive sexuality.
A commitment to equity and inclusion or to normalizing diversity. That sexual and gender identities take many forms and because diversity is the norm, equity and inclusion need to be central values for any strong, democratic society.
The third commitment would be to body positivity or body acceptance. It’s termed sometimes body neutrality ‘cause there are different ways that that works out. But no more shaming or bullying for not having the perfect body. We’re opening up this definition that society’s had of what constitutes the good body, the sexy body, the beautiful body, to thinking much more broadly. It’s another way of thinking about diversity, actually, about the diversity of bodies, themselves, and minimizing shaming around that.
The fourth commitment of the Manisexto is to consent. Full consent is fundamental for all sexual activity, and meaningful consent arises out of egalitarian gender norms based in new and broader scripts about masculinity and femininity. so that’s part of this Manisexto also, so decreasing slut shaming, double standards, tight man-box rules that are boy shaming also.
Then, the fifth commitment of the Manisexto, as I’m envisioning it, is to share pleasure. That good sex is mutually respectful and pleasurable. So I talk about ideas of closing the heterosexual orgasm gap, especially in the campus culture hook-up culture. It’s time to learn about cliteracy as a notion of literacy about the clitoris which is not my own. I didn't coin that. Porn literacy is part of that also. So this essential commitment to equitable pleasure for all partners involved.
The title of the book Good Sex is meant to be a play there on good as in ethical, moral, and consensual, respectful, but good also as in pleasurable, equitably satisfying of desire, not necessarily orgasm-centric only ‘cause pleasure is broader than just that. Although, there’s nothing wrong with orgasm. But good as in whatever good means to you in body pleasure.
So that’s the Manisexto.
Amanda Testa: I am just in love with all of those tenants! I think this is so beautiful. It’s interesting, too, ‘cause one of the things that you mention around the porn literacy, too. I’m sure with college-aged kids things are way different, especially with just access for younger and younger kids.
I actually am curious about this ‘cause one of my clients recently was asking me around, you know, for younger kids, when they have all this exposure to non-realistic things happening, kind of trying to educate them but then also what other options can they have that can support them to be more positive in the way they view? So I’m wondering how you might speak to that if you feel you can answer that.
Catherine Roach: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And actually the conclusion that my book works towards is comprehensive sex education.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: So I think that’s a big part of the answer there in terms of this question about pornography. Porn is hugely accessible. Much more so than when I was a young gal. It has to do with the internet, right? The explosion of the internet and access to the internet, the web at a young age. I’m not entirely against pornography. I think there’s a role pornography plays. There’s queer porn. There’s feminist porn. There’s ethical porn, slow porn, artistic porn. But the one thing porn is not designed or meant to do is to function as comprehensive sex ed. It’s like a fantasy factory, and, in its more negative forms, porn is often -- there’s violence, there’s demeaning aspects to women, to sexual minorities.
But even when that’s not there, its primary function is not comprehensive sex ed, and our culture as a whole often doesn't have great sex ed. I hear this from the students all the time, no matter where they're from --
Amanda Testa: Oh, my gosh. Yes.
Catherine Roach: -- in the US or outside the country. They’ve had hugely-varying experiences of sex ed from incredibly bad, damaging, or absent sex ed to, if they're lucky, pretty good comprehensive sex ed. But in the default of high quality, consistent sexuality and relationship education accessible to everyone, a lot of young people turn to porn to figure out what is sex or what am I supposed to be doing in bed or what does it mean to be a good lover. And so, we get these sexual scripts rom pornography (like, we get a lot of gender scripts from the culture as a whole), and then that’s what young people have.
They often talk, also, about how their parents are too embarrassed to talk with them in an open or ongoing way about sexuality. And so, they're sort of left to muddle through, figure it out on their own, and porn is often what they turn to as a default, even knowing this isn’t enough.
Amanda Testa: Right.
Catherine Roach: This isn’t supposed to be a realistic depiction of healthy, satisfying relationships, but that’s what they’ve got.
Amanda Testa: Right. It’s hard because there’s such -- I’ve had friends that have wanted to kind of create an online type of educational platform for kids (older kids, right?) but there’s a lot of red tape involved, let’s just say.
Catherine Roach: Yes, yes.
Amanda Testa: So I think the best thing to do is, like, yeah, if we’re parents, I’m always like good for reaching out. That’s the number one thing you can do. What is it in your own experience that you would have loved to see differently and what is it that you still hold a lot around that might need some extra exploring and curiosity so that you can be more open to whatever might cross your path with your kids, right?
Catherine Roach: Right. Yeah, so openness and communication. Maintaining open lines of communication is super important. In many realms of life, communication is the answer.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and I like that you talk about this, too, because it is so important, and I know I talk about this a lot on the podcast, but it always comes up. It’s, like, wanting to have these conversations around having better sex or bringing up these conversations around, like, what consent looks like or how can we do this and how can we talk about supporting my pleasure and not have it be divisive or all the things around that, right? [Laughs]
Catherine Roach: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Amanda Testa: So, what would you share around that?
Catherine Roach: Around the question of consent in particular?
Amanda Testa: Or just about having those discussions without getting people upset. How might you suggest that? I always like to get different people’s perspectives on this question.
Catherine Roach: So it depends. So there’s the conversion of parents and kids in the home conversation. In the realm that I work in is the classroom with students and myself and then the guest speakers that I bring in, so there’s an element of verticality there, power difference. But then there’s the peer-to-peer conversations. And then in intimate relationships themselves (romantic or sexual relationships themselves). I think, in all cases, emphasis on open communication is super important. It needs to be ongoing. A sense of respect for the other and acknowledgement that we come from different backgrounds, different sets of values or fundamental commitments, it can be different religious backgrounds, socioeconomic, racial; differences of ability, disability. Ideally, difference is fun and engaging and stimulating and interesting, but it can also be a source of anxiety and concern or just, sort of, mystification.
It can create barriers. So working through all of those differences with an open mind and a sense of the other partner in the conversion, their best interests. So respect, openness, diversity, commitment to the good. There’s something about the long term I think is important. There’s the immediate goals but then the longer-term vision of a relationship, where you want that to grow into. I think that’s important, too.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: That open communication is very difficult. As you’re communicating and trying to keep openness to the other, it requires a communication with one’s self and knowledge of one’s self, and in some ways, that’s maybe the most difficult. It requires you to be open and honest with yourself about where you're coming from, what it is you want, what are the sources of your pleasure, your own goals, your values and being able to articulate all of that, that’s difficult. It changes for all of us as we go through life.
Amanda Testa: And you're right. It’s very different based on what you learned, what your experience is. Everyone’s unique in that. It is inspiring to me to hear the young college kids (the Gen-Z people) they're all having these conversations at such an early age like, “What do I like? What do I enjoy? What’s in this for me? How can I enjoy this experience?” which is very different from the education I got. I went to college in the early nineties, so that was a while ago. [Laughs]
Catherine Roach: Yeah. Yeah, I am interested in these demographic shifts. I think this cultural shift that I was talking about is very much tied to a demographic shift. In recent polls, now, one out of five (around 20%) of our Gen-Z youth 18-to-23-year-olds are identifying as LGBTQ, embracing a sense of gender and sexual diversity and claiming that as part of their own identity.
And it’s different that one out of five is a higher proportion now than even just a few years ago when the poll was finding one out of six. And I don't think that there’s a bigger queer community now, necessarily, but it’s that people feel more empowered to be out about that, to be open and honest with them self and then with others in the culture. I think that’s very encouraging.
So this sense, for a lot of young people, that diversity is not a source of anxiety. It’s the world that they increasingly seeing and growing up with and surrounded by all the time, and they're just fine with it. They don't have a problem with people who are gender nonbinary or guys who dress in traditionally-feminine clothing or a sense of hosting slut walks on campus and women who can embrace their sexuality and aren’t afraid of slut-shaming labels.
That’s just not cool anymore, slut shaming. Not to say it doesn't happen, but there is a stronger voice and positionality that creates space or all of that among young people.
Amanda Testa: I think that’s so --
Catherine Roach: On a good day! On a good day, that’s what I’m feeling, and I’m like, “Yes! You go young people! You’re leading the way!”
Amanda Testa: Yes! We want to encourage that! I think that’s so important because the hope in there is that as they rise into the world and offer their gifts, and that perspective will gratefully open up a lot more in the world.
Catherine Roach: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think that’s right. And then, it’s like a ripple effect. I was just talking to one of my students. She’s a young engineering student, and there are more and more women in engineering here on campus, and she’s going to work for a company that is embracing gender and sexual diversity in the workplace and making that a central part of their workplace culture.
And so, if companies want to succeed and attract the best workers -- one wants to be sort of, not cynical, but realistic or pragmatic about bottom-line value and issues and cultural competence around gender and sexual diversity. Companies can take that perspective. You want to attract the best workers nowadays? You can make sure that your company culture is competent and inclusive on these issues.
Amanda Testa: Yes. I think that the other thing, too, around that I’m curious about is when you’re talking with your students, when you're polling them or when they send in their reports, what are the things that they most are excited about? I’m curious from your research. What are the things that excite them most around sexuality, around sex, around the future? What are the things? Do they share about that?
Catherine Roach: A variety of things. I think this openness to more gender and sexual diversity, that’s a positive point that comes up a lot. A sense that, on this issue, consent, for example, that’s been in the culture a lot and gets addressed on college campuses all the time. The way that that can be very empowering for women. It gives women a more gender, egalitarian, dating culture, campus, hook-up culture. That’s something that comes up a lot. To what extent is that changing here on campuses now? The flip side of that, that I hear from the students, is about new gender codes around masculinity.
Amanda Testa: Mm-hmm.
Catherine Roach: That’s a hard one for guys, but I do hear this from them. Some of them talk about how the haze around the guy code (the man-box rules) is lifting, and they find that so liberating.
It’s a lot for guys to break through 'cause there’s so much restriction around the gender norms for men, more so than women, even. There’s been more openness from the women’s movement and feminism. A gal can be an engineer (like I was just saying) or a doctor nowadays. But it’s actually harder for a guy who wants to be a nurse or an elementary school teacher.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: Or a guy who has experienced unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault himself to be able to come out and say that. There’s even more taboo and shame, in a way. So there is a lot of, I would say, excitement (to answer your question) around the sense of new masculinity, inclusive masculinity, the possibilities of that are finally allowing a certain freedom from these very tight structures of man-box, tough guy, rules for masculinity in the culture.
Amanda Testa: Right.
Catherine Roach: I think that’s sort of a next wave that’s coming that I’m very interested in 'cause there’s a lot of costs for guys, too.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: I like to buck those rules to try to break free of the man box. There’s still a lot of shaming and, “Be a man.” That rhetoric has not gone away at all. But for guys who see through it who can break free of the man box, there’s a great sense of empowerment coming from that.
Amanda Testa: Right. I just think, too, it’s interesting. I feel for a lot of men in that category because there isn't a lot of healthy right of passage kind of things for a lot of men or that coming of age, those rituals, those things that are more of a healthy way of coming of age versus hazing or shaving your head, or whatever it might be, that happens when peers do the initiating of something that used to be done by elders or community. I’m curious your thoughts around that if you notice that or what your thoughts are.
Catherine Roach: Yeah, yeah, and I think it relates to what we were saying about pornography earlier also, ‘cause if you're talking about a lack of narratives in the culture for positive sexuality, positive relationship instruction for guys, I think that’s true.
One thing that they get is porn - porn telling them how to be a real man. What does a sexual stud look like, and it fuels huge anxiety. And so, I do hear that from the guys. We just did a unit on genital anxiety which is actually true for women and men.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: But your penis is likely never to be as big as that of a porn star. Your vulva is not going to be as, sort of, clam-shell shaped and groomed as that of a female porn star. So those narratives of the manly stud guy, the sexy gal that come out of porn, play in the minds of young people. I hear that from their responses in class, and it makes them feel bad. Like, I’m a bad lover or they're just like a confused lover, and so, there’s a lot of rough-sex tropes that they enact with each other because they think that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: Like hair-pulling or spanking or choking, and not to shame that if that’s your consensual kink that you work through with good communication, that that’s what gives all partners involved in such pleasure, but that doesn't seem to be happening in a lot of these narratives that I’m hearing from students that just -- the tropes that they're fed by the culture, and so, as they’re trying to figure things out without great communication, what they end up enacting with each other.
Amanda Testa: Mm-hmm.
Catherine Roach: So, yes, we could have more and better role models or sources of insight and compassionate leadership on these issues as we’re all trying to figure out healthy, intimate relationship.
Amanda Testa: I do feel like that’s an upcoming trend, though, that’s gonna hopefully expand is around the -- I don't know the term. I’m probably gonna mess it up. I’m just gonna say this one. It’s probably wrong, but, you know, the conscious masculinity or really different ways of being a man and there’s more groups and there’s more men’s groups about it and there’s more things I see with youth-guided things.
Catherine Roach: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Amanda Testa: So that’s a positive thing. And I think, too, also, it also is a lot around where you live and that kind of thing, what you have access to. So there’s that.
Catherine Roach: Yeah. Yeah. I think inclusive masculinity or the new masculinity or --
Amanda Testa: Yes, thank you.
Catherine Roach: -- or to use the plural to talk about masculinities. There’s more than one way to be a good man. There’s lots of ways to be a man. Being traditionally feminine could be one or being nonbinary could be one, and being gay and being playful with gender expression, that there’s lots of ways to be a good man, and certainly being sensitive and inclusive is an essential part of it.
Amanda Testa: Yes, and I want to go back just a minute to the genital anxiety course, ‘cause I just want to celebrate that so much. If only that could have happened back when I was in college. I think about, too, all the people that I work with, and this is such a huge thing because they never got the awareness that, oh, okay.
I remember reading Sheri Winston’s Women’s Anatomy of Arousal, and I was in my thirties when I read that, and I was like, you know, I’m college educated, I’m very smart. How do I not know these things about my own body?
Because, like you say, we’re not taught. And so, I’m curious what are some of the things that you talk about in that course, if you're open to sharing or if that’s okay to do so?
Catherine Roach: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so I think…
Amanda Testa: For the adults listening, I think a lot of the people that are listening to the podcast probably are women who are past the college age or maybe they have kids in college, or maybe they're young still, but just, yeah, let’s talk more about that.
Catherine Roach: So, yes, genital anxiety or genital positivity (where we’re flipping the script) -- diversity is the norm. As part of a commitment to diversity, to inclusion, and in body positivity or body acceptance, we would talk about the way that genitals are diverse in all sorts of ways. Symmetry is not the norm. Asymmetry is actually the norm that, in terms of women’s vulvas, the inner labia are actually usually bigger than the outer labia.
And so, sometimes, they do these labiaplasty surgeries now, and there’s increase in this as a form of plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery. There’s been a big increase in it. Women are worried that their inner labia are too long and they're protruding out of the vulva or that their vulva isn’t symmetrical, is not like a Barbie clamshell vulva. And that’s all perfectly normal.
Amanda Testa: Yes.
Catherine Roach: It’s perfectly normal for the labia to be different and to be big and to be doing their thing, and it’s all good. There are some great artists who work in this area. We bring this work into the classroom. Jamie McCartney is a British artist who has The Great Wall of Vagina he’s made from 400 different plastered casts of actual women’s vulvas (women who volunteered to participate in his art project). So to show the huge diversity, it’s all vulvas are beautiful in that sense.
Amanda Testa: Yes!
Catherine Roach: He works with men also to show the diversity. There’s a lot of anxiety of, “My penis isn't big enough.” This actually comes up in class. Well, not quite so boldly.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: But it emerges, anxieties about the penis, and so, to show the diversity of penises, also, size, shape, whether there’s foreskin (whether it’s circumcised or not circumcised which can also be a source of shaming).
Amanda Testa: Mm-hmm.
Catherine Roach: Another artist whose work I really like is Sophia Wallace who has worked with this term cliteracy or literacy about the clitoris. She’s a New York City-based conceptual artist who has this project, The Cliteracy Project, and she uses 100 natural laws about the clitoris (or more broadly about women’s sexuality). Her whole point is that there’s this massive sexualization of women’s bodies used all the time in the media and in the culture, that women’s bodies are sexualized and then consumed or the sexualization of women’s bodies is used by companies for consumer intent, advertising and such.
But, underneath all of that, there’s this massive illiteracy about women’s sexuality, about women’s sexual pleasure which is centered on the clitoris. So the whole notion of penis-in-vagina sex as sort of a standard trope of what constitutes sex is one that leads much more reliably to male orgasm than to female orgasm, that women’s sexual pleasure generally involves engaging the clitoris, centered on the clitoris, if we’re talking heterosexual sex. The penis-in-vagina male-orgasm vision of sex is one but not the only, and it works for some women but not for many women.
So this whole notion of genital anxiety and genital diversity and genital positivity is linked, then, to women’s sexual pleasure, to men’s sexual pleasure, too, ‘cause if you're anxious about your genitals, if you think you don't look good down there, you're probably gonna be anxious about your sexuality and not enjoy intimate encounters as much as you could.
Amanda Testa: Yes. Yeah.
Catherine Roach: So they're related, all bodies. Inhabit your body with joy. All genitals are lovely genitals and capable of the pleasure that your body can give you.
Amanda Testa: I love that. I’m so glad. That makes me so happy. [Laughs] I just love it. I just could keep talking to you ‘cause I love these conversions. I would love to know just maybe if there was any question that you really wished that I would have asked that I didn't or if there is something that you want to make sure to share?
Catherine Roach: Huh. Oh, that’s a lot of pressure now. [Laughs] I don't know!
Amanda Testa: Or what closing words you might like to share?
Catherine Roach: Good sex involves equitable sexual pleasure, egalitarian gender norms. Good sex is sex that is mutually pleasurable and respectful. It is entirely possible, I think it’s increasingly within our cultural reach, and I’m hoping that with an emphasis on open conversation, inclusion, and comprehensive sex ed it’s somewhere that we can get.
Part of what gives me hope is the sense that younger people are less concerned about shame and taboo --
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Catherine Roach: -- and are helping us get there --
Amanda Testa: Yes.
Catherine Roach: -- to this vision of sexual justice.
Amanda Testa: I love that. Oh, that’s so important. Thank you so much for being here, Catherine.
Catherine Roach: Oh, my pleasure.
Amanda Testa: And I want you to share, too, where everyone can learn more about how to connect with you, how to get all your books, all that good stuff, if you don't mind sharing that.
Catherine Roach: Well, thank you. Yes, thank you, Amanda, for inviting me onto your podcast. I said that this was my first ever podcast, and it’s sort of fun! [Laughs]
Amanda Testa: Ah, I’m so, so glad.
Catherine Roach: The book Good Sex just came out. Indiana University Press is my publisher, and I’ve been delighted to work with them. The book is available where one buys books. You can go to Amazon. Certainly, you can go to the website of Indiana University Press to get it.
Amanda Testa: I’ll put in the show notes, too, just the links to where you can find it and also if you have an independent bookseller you love, (I always love to support those) just sharing that, too. [Laughs]
Catherine Roach: Exactly. Yes.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and then I’m wondering, too, for people listening that are just taking this all in, digesting these Manisexto commandments, if you will, the tenants and the beauty of these, what would be, you’d say, the easiest step forward? If there was one first step you’d offer people, what would you say that would be?
Catherine Roach: Well, I guess, too, we were talking about open communication and how that begins with one’s self. So, I guess, to think about your own body, your own pleasure, your own desire, to know that there is nothing shameful about one’s desires and sexual pleasure. And then, to be able to communicate that with partners as one wishes.
In whatever partnership feels respectful and open and empowering and affectionate and rewarding, to find the space to share with your partner, to know that our bodies are supposed to make us feel good, and sexuality is supposed to be a source of pleasure and joy and connection and intimacy, of positive growth. I guess there’s the Manisexto.
Amanda Testa: I love it! This is so beautiful. Thank you so much, again, for being here. Again, I’ll put in the show notes where everyone can connect with you and with the book and, again, we’ve been having a delight talking with Dr. Catherine Roach, and thank you, again, for all the amazing work that you're doing in the world. I’m so grateful that you’re out there doing this and all the people that you’re touching and how that ripple effect will bring a lot of openness and much-needed education.
Catherine Roach: [Laughs] Thank you very much, Amanda. It’s been a pleasure.
Amanda Testa: [Laughs] Yes, thank you!
Catherine Roach: Take care!
[Fun, Empowering Music]
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[Fun, Empowering Music]