Sasha: The escalating need for "more"

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Dear Sasha,

I'm a 21-year-old female and regularly masturbated to porn as a teen. Now I am bored with a lot of it and find I need more shock value to get aroused.

I'm concerned about this, because for the first time I watched bestiality. I think it is wrong, and I would never consider doing it, but I watched it nonetheless because it had that sexual "shock value." Is there something wrong with me? Is this common, and what can I do?

Help

Help, you are bringing up an issue that almost always arises when someone is publicly accused of sexual depravity: does a paraphilia or proclivity lead to more damaging behaviour? I would highly encourage you to read the book Pornography, by Debbie Nathan, for some answers. "As sex therapist and researcher Judith Becker has pointed out," writes Nathan ($11, Groundwood), "sex crimes committed by adults and teens are linked to childhood sexual and physical abuse and to being drunk, but not to being exposed to pornography."

Its very subject matter makes pornography polarizing; what one person can't get enough of, another can't get far enough away from. And "shock value" is a common term used when pornography is brought to the table as the cause of someone's escalating need for "more."

Many reasons involving issues of consent and deviance mean bestiality is questionable. Most of us don't want to have sex with animals and would agree that the level of consent an animal offers in this exchange is nebulous at best, making it reprehensible.

But there is no doubt that our relationship to animals and their own very basic relationship to sexuality is one that holds intense fascination. Animals act on a primal wisdom that we as humans have complicated with religion and morality. For millennia, we have made anthropomorphic images using animals as totems and used their body parts in elixirs and ritual apparel, hoping to capture a fundamental essence. We are unable to speak empathically about these things without feeling profound guilt or fear of aligning ourselves with remorseless psychopaths.

"Shock value" and "more" are complex issues. Let's look at a recent case where I feel they came into play.

"A depraved double life," blared the Toronto Star headline over two photos of Colonel Russell Williams, one in one of his victim's tankinis, the other in pristine military garb.

The Star got in hot water for publishing this pairing of images. Why? Certainly not because it suggested that a man who cross-dresses is more ethically and emotionally challenged than a man who is employed by the military, an organization that regularly commits all the acts (kidnapping, intimidation, torture, rape, forcible confinement, souvenir photography of victims' torment, misogyny, murder) perpetrated by Williams. Or because by showing a man in a woman's personal garments the Star is perpetuating the Silence Of The Lambs stereotype that men who cross-dress are compelled to escalate their proclivities to rape and murder.

To me, it's the man in uniform who represents the potential for detached, methodical violence than the man in the bikini. (I won't even go into the blatant sexism involved in the demonizing of femininity. You can read more about that in this book.

I know that many people in the military do not commit these acts -- certainly not outside the context of conflict. But it is a wonder they don't, considering that they are, for the purposes of their job and without the reassuring stipulation of fantasy and consent, inured against humaneness, many at a very young age. Throughout history, soldiers have routinely expressed shame and complained of lack of support when they talk about the real effects of conflict on their bodies and minds.

Still, those who followed the Colonel Williams case may have the impression that it was Williams's propensity for cross-dressing that was the springboard to brutality rather than the desensitization to committing and witnessing soul-crushing atrocities under the banner of honour and freedom. Men who dress in women's lingerie are almost always depicted as horrific, but in my dozens of exchanges with cross-dressing men, I have yet to meet one who terrified me in the same way as the image created by the media. From my point of view, you don't need a pairing of images to convey Williams's double life. The one in uniform says it all. What we expect soldiers to endure and then remain compassionate is unreasonable.

A Metal of Integrity

Dear Sasha,

I've been contemplating the idea of getting nipple rings for a while, but I have metal allergies. I currently don't even have my ears pierced, because the holes closed up when I was young due to irritation resulting from wearing lower-grade earrings. I'm not sure whether I'm allergic to all metals and/or whether higher purities would be fine, but I know I've had issues with silver and steel.

So I'm wondering, are there non-metal alternatives? Also, while looking around on the Internet, I've read that I should see a dermatologist or allergist to figure out for sure which metals I'm allergic to. Is that something I should look into?

Allergic to the Pretty

When the piercing craze reached its zenith in the mid-90s, Pierre Black was one practitioner in Montreal who could be counted on to provide sound information and do outstanding work -- and believe me, with the job I had at that time, I saw a lot of oozing navel piercings. He stopped piercing in 2006 to pursue a career in health and lifestyle consulting (pierreblack.com), but his policies and practices still stand and can be accessed on the Black Sun website. Contacted by email, Black says, "Ninety-five per cent of piercing establishments do not use real implant-grade materials."

From the Black Sun site: "Real piercing jewellery involves strict design standards using materials approved and tested for use in the human body.

"These metals include ASTM [American Society for Testing and Materials] standardized implant-grade steel, titanium and niobium as well as appropriate gold alloys and platinum," it reads. "Piercing jewellery is not regulated like medical devices or other products used in your body. This means that most piercing jewellery on the market today is not tested or regulated in any way."

You would do well to make an appointment with an allergist, but as Black writes, "Often when people think the jewellery is causing a problem, it is actually recurring infection, bad jewellery sizing or inappropriate after-care. These are responsible for so many people thinking that they have metal allergies -- and even doctors will encourage this thinking without actually testing for allergies."

Recommended jewellery materials: implant-grade surgical stainless steel, 18k palladium white gold alloy, platinum or platinum and palladium alloy, implant-grade titanium, implant-grade niobium and Teflon.

This column was originally published in NOW Magazine. Ask Sasha:

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