The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Jezebel’s Moe And “Condom-Gate”: Hang The STIs, Bareback Feels Better!

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 26, 2008

Another week, another Jezebel “controversy” – Jezebel writer (and star of the last Jezebel vs. the world debacle, and who this week joined and then left Radar within a matter of whiplash-inducing moments) Moe Tkacik has walked into another blogosphere fracas with her Thursday post, “Sex Without Condoms Is Actually Better Than Diamonds, People!”

Here’s an excerpt:

[...] I have only really engaged in bareback sex with the types of dudes who don’t fear HPV and whose diseases I don’t particularly fear, because the worst thing I can think of about most of them is the ensuing lifetime of awkward conversations, and the worst thing about that is that awkward conversations summon memories, and summoning bad memories every time you’re about to fuck a new person is no way to live, but, if you can smile and say (hypothetically!) “Hey, just so you know, I have [insert STD here], but I got them from this really hilarious guy who is still one of my best friends, so it was kind of worth it,” before you do it with a new person, it’s almost nice. Like: oh yeah, that was a good time.

My instinctual reaction was (and remains), man, when did women buy the “But it feels better, baybeee” line, too?

I know Moe has made a point of discussing her experience with STIs, and I commend her for that – such is the state of the world that people who have STIs (or have had) are made to feel as though a) they can’t discuss it freely because b) it’s gross or yucky or dirty. Like Moe, this is something I feel particularly strongly about.

But considering this, I find it hard to believe that Moe can be so glib about practising unsafe sex. Because you know what? It’s easy to buy the ‘bareback feels better’ line – until an STI stops the party.

When I was younger I became infatuated with an older and considerably not wiser dude, who – once we’d reached ‘that’ stage of our courtship – pulled the “I don’t ‘do’ condoms” line on me. Through my being keen to impress him/sleep with him, I hastily agreed; “Oh yeah, me neither!”. Flash forward six months or so and I was in the emergency room trying to find out why my vagina was going berserk, only to be told I had an “acute” case of HPV.

And while sex without condoms might feel great (personally I find the difference negligible to unnoticeable), what doesn’t feel great is having a spray can of liquid nitrogen aimed between your legs, or taking immuno-stimulant anti-HPV medicine that makes you feel like you have the flu for two months, or being told you are in the high-risk category for cervical cancer. All of those things were decidedly damaging to my libido – at that stage I wouldn’t have cared if bareback felt great, because I was still healing from having my bits turned into Mr Freeze.

I don’t place the blame for what ended up happening on the dude in question (as much as he was a complete tool who cheated on me for the entire relationship) because it was my misguided choice not to say “Actually, since we’ve only just met, let’s use frangers”. The doctor who treated me said that most people are exposed to and/or carry HPV, and that it was a ‘luck of the draw’ thing as to whether or not you develop symptoms. Considering that, I find it very hard to understand the whole bareback thing, particularly outside of a committed relationship – and that is not a value or moral judgment, it’s just a fact: how do you know they are telling the truth when they say they are clean? It’s not hysteria to assume the worst until you can prove otherwise.

The blogosphere has, somewhat predictably – and understandably – reacted strongly to this latest Jezebel controversy-courting. Blogger For When I Feel Like Sharing said:

The site is bad for women (and men) and it always has been. This is not to say all of its ideals are wrong, but it is bombastic and flies in the face of what any kind of decent, thoughtful, or fair “reporting” should be.

Blogger and writer Jessica Gold Haralson added:

What an embarrassing day to be a feminist, when one of its “advocates” thinks irresponsibility and disregard for others is the new black.

This is similar to the issues that arose with the last Jezebel-related blow-up – as a high-profile feminist site, what responsibilities does Moe have to the cause of feminism? What responsibilities does she have as a noted blogger/writer in terms of the views she is able to more widely broadcast than, say, you or I?

Inevitably these debates will end up in a sort of ‘who’s more/a more correct feminist/right/wrong’ prizefight, but I’m inclined to think that “Condom-gate” is far more troubling than the whole Thinking & Drinking fuss. STI rates of infection are rising, thus so does our chance of contracting an STI, so why do we still fetishise condom-free sex?

As TheFrisky.com’s Amelia says:

[T]he thing that struck me as most interesting is the notion that sex with a condom is so horrible and feeling-less and lame that risking infection is worth it for the awesomeness of sex without a condom. Maybe I’m nutty, but I never minded using condoms. I’m a paranoid freak so sex with a condom has always been preferable to the best case scenario of going without (having to make an annoying trip to the gyno because I had unsafe sex and need to get tested and/or checked to make sure I’m not with child) and the worst case scenario (you know, HIV, herpes, an unplanned pregnancy, etc.).

Here’s where I stand: have as much sex as you like – just do it safely. This is not about moralising, or suggesting that “casual sex” (a phrase I’ve never liked) will end up damning you in the pants, or that serial monogamy is necessarily where it’s at. It’s about making responsible choices that will affect (or, rather, not infect) everyone involved.

But how do you feel about all this?

13 Responses to “Jezebel’s Moe And “Condom-Gate”: Hang The STIs, Bareback Feels Better!”

  1. Jessica said

    Firstly, i think anyone who relies on Jezebel to dictate their decisions in life is a total idiot.

    Second, i have to agree with Moe. Sex without condoms IS better. That again, i’ve only had condomless sex with guys i’ve been in love with. But it makes sense that sex without condoms is better.

    The fact that condomless sex is better is kind of beside the point. They’re neccessary to protect against pregnancy and the spread of STI’s.

    I think how Moe feels is how Moe feels. End of story. Because as we all know there is what people preach about sex and then there’s what people actually do when they have sex and the two arent always the same. Shit happens. If the readers of Jezebel are sitting there thinking “oh, well if Moe says it’s okay …” then maybe they get what they deserve.

  2. Mel Campbell said

    It’s also worthwhile remembering that Jezebel is a commercial blog. Outspoken bloggers mean more eyeballs for advertisers. I just think discussion of the actual substance of the posts is a vain endeavour when Jezebel seems to be more about ‘attitude’. If anything, what needs to be critiqued is that insouciant, ironic attitude – and why so many women identify with and emulate it.

  3. Clem Bastow said

    Mel: sure, but you don’t find the substance of it troubling as well? Particularly since it’s a commercial/”brand” blog.

  4. Mel Campbell said

    Sure – it is troubling and it reminds me of the Cleo and Cosmo-esque primacy-of-pleasure stuff, where sex becomes a competition for more awesome and diversely obtained orgasms, and where sexual satisfaction is the goal that always justifies all the risks you take with your emotional and physical health to obtain it.

    It is also troubling to think that feminism’s memory is so short that women think it’s empowered to use men’s lame old sexcuses. Only in 1994 (in Sex, Guys and Videotape) Elle McFeast was taking the piss out of this one by making men shower in raincoats and asking them how similar it felt to wearing a condom.

    That, I think, is the problem – Jezebel and its writers really don’t seem to identify or engage with feminism as an overarching cause. Their ‘feminism’ is a hedonistic individualism that’s all about women’s right to behave however they please. That’s why I think arguing with the substance of it would be arguing at cross-purposes, and the criticism should go towards the attitude rather than the content.

  5. Clem Bastow said

    Fair enough, but I just can’t sit back and shrug or argue something else when it’s content as dumb as “sex without condoms feels great, who cares about STIs”, considering my personal experience with that particular lie.

  6. audrey said

    Hmmm. I find it interesting that people who like Jezebel et al tend to come out in defence of the site as being something that shouldn’t be taken as gospel. It seems to imply it is above criticism for the kind of flippant content they choose to write about, or stereotypes they might like to perpetuate etc etc, simply because they aren’t asking to be role models.

    However, the minute something is published in the MSM we have a field day dissecting it, lambasting it, discounting it and condemning it as being something that is manipulative and reinforcing of negative ideals and perceptions.

    Is it that readers of the MSM are too stupid to have this innate wisdom when it comes to recognising that something isn’t a point by point directory on how to live and/or justify your life? Because that seems a little arrogant to me.

    Jezebel and its ilk shouldn’t be above criticism just because it occasionally amuses us, or its writers adopt a devil may care-we never asked to be role models-anyone who lives like us just because we do it is an idiot- kind of attitude.

  7. audrey said

    Sorry if that doesn’t make sense. I am laid up with fluuuuuuu.

  8. Mel Campbell said

    Audrey, I have never found Jezebel amusing, nor its writers admirable. What I am saying is that reasoned critique simply doesn’t work against their rhetoric. The mainstream media don’t speak from a posture of ‘cool’. Whereas if you critique Moe, you come off as humourless and conservative, as someone who ‘doesn’t get it’.

    This is why I think the attitude is what needs to be critiqued.

    I have decided that Jezebel = feminism’s equivalent of Andrew Bolt. I mean, how many times have you seen that fuckstick write irresponsible crap about something you cared about, just pandering to a captive audience who thinks he shits sunbeams?

  9. audrey said

    Hi Mel – I was actually referring more to jessica’s response at the top, the whirlwind of responses from fans after the Thinking and Drinking fiasco and to a lesser extent an earlier post written here by elmo about the responsibility or lack thereof of the writers.

    And I agree with your comparison to the Boltster. You should read Amanda Marcotte’s summary of the hipster crowd and how women like Moe and Slut Machine perform their roles within that. You can find it here.

  10. Elmo said

    I would like to know where exactly on Jezebel they make any kind of claim to “representing” feminism whatsoever. ‘Celebrity, sex, fashion. Without airbrushing’, as is their tagline, seems pretty sufficient in describing the site’s MO. Which I find consistently entertaining and well written. It’s other commentators who have held the site up as some kind of bastion of new feminism, mainly from the sound reasoning that is it written by women.

  11. audrey said

    I don’t think they claim to represent feminism at all. I agree they’ve actually gone specifically out of their to distance themselves from any kind of position as role models. And your earlier post about the role of that in and of itself pretty much hit the nail on the head regarding whether or not they should be held up as such particularly if they don’t want to be.

    But I do think they should be open to the same kind of criticism that is leveled at any form of major media outlet (and I think we can all agree Jez ain’t just some lil ole blog). And if the Dawn Chorus regularly highlights offensive constructs in other forms of the media, why should Jezebel et al be protected from that? I think there’s a tendency from some people to excuse them because their form is completely different to the MSM. But it’s a bit like preferring Apple macs to PCs. Just because they look prettier and fit in better with what our idea of our life is like doesn’t mean they should be above reproach. Think what the reaction here would be if Sam de Brito wrote a blog for The Age about how he preferred it bareback because it’s just better.

    I think Mel’s correct in saying that it’s the attitude that needs to be critiqued rather than the content; but it doesn’t mean the content shouldn’t also be a focus.

    And even though they claim not to be representing feminism, they do identify as feminists and conflate a lot of really stupid ideology with what that means.

  12. audrey said

    Ah! Should have also added this:

    “…and conflate a lot of really stupid ideology with what that means.”

    Obviously feminism means lots of different things to lots of different people, yada yada yada. That comment was really just a personal opinion.

  13. Clem Bastow said

    Well, someone else is more than welcome to critique the attitude!

    But Jezebel, whether it presents itself as a feminist site or not (and its writers frequently identify as feminist) has a huge readership, so in this instance, I don’t care if it’s insouciant hipster cool or what, posting about how bareback sex is, like, totally awesome is idiotic – and far more irresponsible, in my mind, than any questions of attitude.

    This is not, as people have suggested, because readers are looking to Jezebel for tips on how to live their life, it’s just because it’s an irresponsible stance to broadcast on such a big scale. Would we be concerned about their attitude if they said “Dude, shooting up is totally the way to go”, or “Don’t hesitate to give your baby a few shakes if it won’t stop crying”?

    Just because it’s delivered in a particular manner (and a manner the site is known for) doesn’t make it any less reprehensible.

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