Open Source, Open Bed... [Salon]

Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

From: Rohit Khare (
Date: Thu Jun 01 2000 - 23:14:41 PDT

[No further comment, except to note that this sort of
turn-of-the-century SanFranLit is the epitomhy of navel-gazing... I
can only imagine the story-storming sessions... Live from the heart
of the target market, Rohit]

If code is free, why not me?

Some open-source geeks are as open-minded about sex as they are about hacking.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Annalee Newitz

May 26, 2000 | At a recent San Francisco sex party, I found
myself kneeling rather rapturously at the feet of three charming
naked men whose level of arousal seemed unimpaired when our
conversation suddenly shifted from pornographic fantasies to the
implementation of the Web server program Apache on offshore
computers. While people began to have (safe) sex on the mattress next
to us, and I continued to caress my companions with a lascivious
wink, I found myself in the surreal position of discussing the nature
of social freedom in the software industry while wearing sexy
lingerie. I don't mean to imply that the conversation about code
itself was somehow erotic for us, but rather that our sexually
liberated environment seemed as good a place as any to chat about
something else we all had in common -- our love for free software.

Free software is software in which the underlying source code to a
program is made freely available to the general public. It's a
development methodology that sharply contradicts the way companies
like Microsoft or Oracle do business. At first glance, the idea that
free love and free software would come together as smoothly as so
many sex-party comminglers might seem odd, but the scene really
wasn't that unusual. As my own regular participation in both the
party scene and the world of free software frequently demonstrated,
free software hackers aren't all that uncommon in the "sex"
community, a group that includes people in open relationships,
queers, S/M or kinky fetish fans, and anyone else whose sexual
proclivities fall outside the mainstream.

Coders suffer an unfortunate reputation for living disembodied,
asexual lives; they are maligned for being passionate only about
their computers and often deemed incapable of non-virtual lust. But
the stereotype doesn't hold true -- the geeks I know are getting
some, and not infrequently with utter disregard for conventional
social mores. Most intriguingly, that subset of geeks who are
passionate about free software may well be leading the way: Some of
the same free software programmers who eagerly experiment with new
methods for developing software are also gleefully dallying with
alternative ways of developing sexual relationships.

The people at this particular sex party -- a private, monthly event
that many of us attend regularly -- were in search of freedom, or at
least a relief from social convention. They saw no need to constrain
themselves to a sexual status quo just because the boring majority
doesn't know how to have fun. Likewise, many advocates of free and
open-source software describe themselves as nonconformists, rebels or
as just generally more open-minded than your average person. In terms
of software, that means that they delight in engaging in practices
that challenge the staid old proprietary capitalist way of doing
software business.

The ideals that underlie free and open-source software are applicable
to more than simply coding and business -- they get at the very
nature of what constitutes human community. Free software is a shared
resource that nobody can selfishly hoard; open-source software is an
alternative form of production that involves groups of people who
work together rather than in competition with each other.

When programmers see that software production is dramatically
improved in a shared, non-competitive, free environment, wouldn't it
be natural for them to apply what they've learned from coding to what
they practice in their everyday lives -- including their sex lives?
And the logical extension of free and open-source software in the
realm of sex would certainly include publicly shared sex at a sex
party, for instance, alternative ways of building relationships (such
as queer sexuality) and non-monogamy (or, to put it another way,
non-proprietary sexual affection).

One need look no further than Richard Stallman, the most prominent
advocate of free software, to see how technological and sexual
experimentation can merge. Stallman has both awed and frustrated the
open-source and free-software communities with his incendiary
opinions about why developing free software is not merely pragmatic,
but also morally imperative. But his intransigence isn't limited to
code. "I've been resistant to the pressure to conform in any
circumstance," he says. And that includes sexual conformity.

Stallman says he has never had a monogamous sexual relationship, and
he's also observed that programmers tend to favor polyamorous or
non-monogamous relationships more than people in other jobs. "It's
about being able to question conventional wisdom," he asserts.

He confesses with a smile that he doesn't consider himself an expert
on sex, but he recognizes that the unconventional choices he has made
as a software engineer are analogous to the choices he's made in his
romantic life as well. "I believe in love, but not monogamy," he says

Stallman's specific beliefs are his own, but the nonconformist,
experimental nature that guides his work is shared by a
not-insignificant portion of the coder community.

Stallman is often dismissed by mainstream software developers as an
oddball who is not to be taken seriously -- so it wouldn't be
surprising for defenders of the sexual status quo to do the same. But
Stallman isn't unique in his hacker polyamority. Author and
programmer Eric Raymond is both a leading evangelist of free software
and a expert on geek anthropology whose credentials are second to
none. "Hackerdom easily tolerates a much wider range of sexual and
lifestyle variation than the mainstream culture," writes Raymond in
"The New Hacker's Dictionary." "It includes a relatively large gay
and bisexual contingent. Hackers are somewhat more likely to ...
practice open marriage, or live in communes or group homes."

Of course, no one's been counting how many hackers frequent sex
parties or calculating the percentage of open-source contributors who
also enjoy open relationships, but there does seem to be a crossover.
"This [alternative lifestyle] group is a healthy contingent of the
hacker culture, and has been even more influential than its size
would suggest," says Raymond.

At the very least, it's safe to say that not only are many
open-minded open-source hackers unafraid of the anything-goes
mentality of the experimental sex community, but that they also
positively embrace it. There's even a crop of online open-source
pornography, memorialized in J. Stile's hoard of erotic "Linux slut"
images, which you can find on his Webby award-winning Stile Project.
The overlap between the languages of programming and kink is a source
of humor on a bondage Web site known to fans as the BSD BDSM Site. As
an advertisement for the "Cat5 o' Eight Tails" reads, "Light and
fast, perfect for the home or office where multitasking is vital.
Eight individual strands to transmit your message interference-free."

This entire free software/free love scenario would seem to challenge
the conventional wisdom that holds that there is something lacking in
geek sexuality. According to stereotype, geeks are celibate,
disinterested in pleasures of "the meat" or too socially awkward and
unattractive to find partners. And sexual pioneers are supposed to be
gutter-dwelling crackpots or beautiful porn stars. What reason could
they have for mingling with bespectacled programmers who gripe
endlessly about such problems as coding a free Perl script that will
work flawlessly with a proprietary Oracle database?

Of course, most free-software advocates will tell you that
conventional wisdom is no wisdom at all. For some of the select group
of techies who have devoted themselves to free software and
open-source projects, free love and creative sexuality are part and
parcel of their dedication to communities that value openness,
sharing and collective pragmatism.

"There's no causal connection between being into open-source software
and being sexually adventurous. Let's dash the implication that open
source causes bisexuality or anything else," laughs Eli Silverman
(not his real name), a longtime programmer who worked extensively
with the GNU Emacs text editor at a Silicon Valley company devoted to
open-source development. He is also a self-described "pervert" whose
collection of gray-market lesbian fisting videos is much admired in
the sex community. Adds Ed, a queer Apache developer working in San
Francisco: "Just because you know other freaks in open-source doesn't
mean that being into open-source makes you a pervert."

And yet both admit that the ideals that motivate a person to get into
open source or free software might also motivate them to be sexually
experimental. Open-source "is not the textbook solution," Ed
explains. "It's an alternative mode of economic production, and being
queer or non-monogamous are alternative modes of having
relationships. Perhaps people who can consider alternate modes of
production are willing to consider other kinds of alternatives."

Another Apache developer who preferred to remain anonymous noted that
while he isn't a part of the sex community, he does see how the
mindsets of the two overlap. "I suppose the two groups do share a
common sense of rebelliousness caused by marginalization by society,
a marginalization due to deliberate choices made by the individuals

Even as the craze for free software saturates the market, spurring
stock market public offerings and inciting fear and trembling in
industry giants, opting to go the free or open-source route is still
difficult. Although lately free software hackers have been more
likely than not to get rewarded for their labors with stock options
from aspiring Linux companies, the usual result is more intangible,
like getting to build communities or creating better code just for
the sheer joy of it. Therefore, it is no surprise that mavericks and
free thinkers are the lifeblood of open-source and free software
development. And thinking outside the box is, of course, exactly what
is required of anyone whose sexuality doesn't fit into cultural norms.

Yet the notoriously debate-prone open source and free software
communities are as divided on the question of sexuality as they are
on whether Debian or Red Hat is the better distribution of GNU/Linux.
While people like Raymond and Ed see the communities as open to
alternative lifestyles, others disagree.

Deirdre Saoirse, a former employee of Linuxcare and founder of a Bay
Area users group for people who use the Python scripting language,
feels strongly that people involved in open source can be just as
conservative and closed-minded as any other part of the population.
"Some of my female and/or queer and/or transgendered friends have
felt very out of place in the Linux community," she says
emphatically. "I've seen a lot of sexism and not a lot of openness to
alternative lifestyles among the community as a whole, even in the
Bay Area."

Goolie, a programmer who works on open-source community development
projects at a San Francisco start-up, warns that an ability to
connect open-source sensibilities and open-mindedness about sex
"would take a particular type of coder, one who felt that open source
gets at some basic, fundamental expression of humanity."

Richard Stallman, of course, is just this sort of person. Free
software is not a business model for Stallman, nor is it a
technically superior method for creating software. Stallman has made
his point of view very clear -- he doesn't care if the software he
uses is actually technically inferior; for him, free software is a
moral imperative based on the principle that people who share code
are ethically better people. His commitment to an unorthodox romantic
life extends even into the realm of family.

He says he distrusts the idea of traditional families and criticizes
the idea that having children is necessarily a positive contribution
to an already overpopulated civilization. "As a child, I rebelled
against parental authority," he recollects. In his view, traditional
family structures are predicated on the opposite of freely-given
love. His point of view is shared by many people in the queer
community, where "family" often means long-term friends rather than
biological relations, and having children isn't regarded as the
logical outcome of marriage.

Like many social renegades, Stallman has had to create a home life
out of his work and friendships. He remembers that back in the 1970s
he flirted with the idea of joining a commune devoted to creating
"families" who practiced polyfidelity (committed, but non-monogamous,
relationships). But he was concerned that he wouldn't fit into any of
the families.

Instead, he created his own family of sorts with his Free Software
Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to the sharing and creation of free
software resources and information. Rather than sharing food and
shelter with a biological family, Stallman shares his famous GNU
software with an international group of like-minded individuals.

When queer San Francisco network consultant Richard R. Couture
created a Linux-based Internet cafe known as CoffeeNet, one of his
wishes was "to create the kind of space where socializing and
sexuality and an interest in computers could come together." And yet
Couture, who also founded the Linux user group now known as the Linux
Mafia, mourns the fact that Linux users seem so, well, straight.
"People call me a pervert jokingly in the Linux cabal," he laughs.
"It's because I'm openly homosexual and I sometimes enjoy freaking
everybody out by commenting on sex. I do it to shock everybody.
Sometimes, I just can't keep my mouth shut."

Couture's friend Rick Moen, also a network consultant and member of
the Linux Mafia user group, contends that the connection between
hacking and open sexuality goes back to the 1970s. In a free zine
called the Node, published by San Francisco's now-defunct Kerista
commune, he found a "mix [of] articles about computers and technology
with pieces on polyamorous/community living and all sorts of other
oddities. I read it whenever I could find it," he says.

"Geeks are introverts, we read a lot of science fiction, and we have
bizarre socialization," says Muffy Barkocy, a non-monogamous bisexual
working with Apache and Perl at She believes that a
geek's stereotypical lack of socialization encourages a more
experimental sexual life. "Because of our lack of socialization, we
don't learn about the monogamous imperative. It just doesn't occur to

Barkocy's point about science fiction bears examination. Speculative
fantasizing has always been a passion for geeks of any kind. For some
free-software enthusiasts, there is a clear link between the bold
visions common in science fiction and a tendency toward
experimentation in both coding and sexual practice. Lile Elam, a
member of Linux Chix, a women's Linux user group, suggests that many
proto-free software geeks grew up imagining a world where societies
weren't necessarily driven by the profit motive -- or by compulsory
heterosexual monogamy. Elam adds that many hackers are also pagans --
yet another data point indicating an openness to alternative ways of

Adds Stallman: "A lot of programmers are science fiction fans, and
there's a tendency in science fiction fandom to accept non-standard
relationships." Science fiction is a genre sometimes known for its
utopian musings on what a more liberated society than our own would
look like. And reading about alien or unknown worlds can inspire fans
to go beyond the realm of imagination and explore alternative
realities and social arrangements in everyday life.

Not all free software geeks are science fiction fans, of course, nor
are all open-source software developers likely to be ready to strip
down and join a three-way at the drop of a Red Hat. But that's not
the point. Part of the essence of the open-source and free software
communities, ideally, is that they are open to experimentation of all
kinds, both in terms of practical engineering -- the compilation of
efficient code -- and social engineering -- the construction of new
ways of being in the world. And these new ways of being are certainly
not limited to the sexual variety. Open-source enthusiasts are likely
to see applications for open-source strategies in a vast number of
arenas, including politics, the creation of literature and even
hardware design.

But when you get right down to it, sex is always near the top of the list.

"Computer people talk about two things: code and sex," says Barkocy.
"You discuss alternatives to what your company can do with code, or
alternatives to sexual norms." | May 26, 2000
- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Annalee Newitz is a writer and lecturer living in San Francisco.


They've got money, power and huge hard drives,
so why aren't Silicon Valley's finest getting any?

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Paulina Borsook
Jan. 12, 2000

#if !defined(EROS)
It's been observed that the Victorian era's astounding progress in
engineering, communications and global capitalism is a tribute to
what harnessing sexuality to commerce can do. The same might be said
about Silicon Valley, where no sleep, no life and the residue of the
valley's founding Puritanism (military/aerospace and semiconductor
fabrication were not party-hearty industries) drive the information

The guys wearing polo shirts who make the cover of Business 2.0 may
be enjoying the pop-star eroticization of their image -- but the fact
is, the engineers who actually build technology are mostly not
singing the body electric. At least not in the way Whitman intended.
Ignore the high-profile sexual bad behavior of Oracle CEO Larry
Ellison or former Starwave CTO/Infoseek exec Patrick "hotseattle"
Naughton -- their antics could have showed up in any industry sector,
at any time. The Internet gold rush is not creating a new Barbary
Coast in its stampede to the Bay Area.

// warning: works best without a girlfriend
while (alive);


Forget H-1B visas. In Silicon Valley the biggest immigration problem
may be sex. People come from all over to work in the valley -- from
other states and other countries. It's =hard= to make connections.
Foreign nationals may have been schooled in the universal language of
mathematics, but they may also be caught in a neuterland. That is,
the rules of attraction and courtship they grew up with in Pakistan
and Turkey don't apply here; dating, West Coast style, can be
confounding even for the natives.

Maybe it's better to stay home with some much-loved Web sites.

At dinner with with several mid-to-late 20s engineers, both men and
women, whose countries of origin were all over the Eurasian landmass,
I was taken aback when they all shrugged and rolled their eyes at the
notion of dating. They were fluent in English, presentably dressed,
perfectly poised, all of them decent creatures -- if you had been
forced into a blind date with any one of them, you would not have
been repulsed and you would at least have had a convivial evening. It
didn't make sense, on the face of it, that they had written off the
prime recreational activity of most other members of their age group.
When I spoke with a young man employed by a major computer company,
whom I encountered in a short-term therapy group designed to help
males figure out how to score better with females (unlock the key to
female hardware and software!), he explained that he had done fine as
a teenager in his Indian subcontinent homeland, but when he arrived
in the United States to attend university he found there was so much
culture shock that it was just too hard to also figure out the mating
dance. And, he added, there was something about computer science that
leads you away from learning/understanding/valuing the squishy
irrational cues that are so necessary to doing well in the realm of
spotting and sequestering a desirable mate.


Regardless of where you come from, in the valley you are confronted
with the specter of Kelli the surfer-girl/marketing manager: Her
"exotic other" favors are so much more compelling than those of the
less buffed and gleaming traditional women of one's homeland. Images
from American pop culture have turned out to be globally addictive
and appealing in every imaginable circumstance. But geeks, never
known for intuiting the moves in the best of circumstances, are at an
even bigger disadvantage if they come from elsewhere. How can you be
culturally competent in two alien cultures simultaneously: that of
Northern California, and that of Dating the Appropriate Sex? Whether
the object of your desire is heterosex/homosex/ both/neither, it's
just all so difficult.

But there's a model to dream toward, along with the =business porn=
desires of appearing in the Kleiner Perkins portfolio and being
profiled in Red Herring. Many Silicon Valley execs =marry= their
good-looking, modern career-gal publicists -- what could be better
than to have your woman be part of the family business? Or maybe
you're just so glad to be here, to have the opportunity to work in
the Golden Land, that you can't be bothered with psyche or eros.
Maybe you've left your family behind in India or China.
Techno-coolies -- newly-arrived immigrant technologists performing
long hours of unglamorous geek grunt work -- contribute much to make
SilVal's engines of commerce rev.

Work Will Make You Free.

It's been said that guest workers on temporary visas can be
blackmailed into working ungodly hours for fear of being sent home --
it makes sex lower down on life's priorities.
#if (SEXRATIO != 0.5)

In Silicon Valley, males outnumber females and money comes easier
than time, but the valley is not like its closest analogues (Wall
Street in the '80s, Hollywood any time) where conspicuous consumption
as marked by high-class call girls is comme il faut. SUVs and
teardowns and other signs of crass materialism have arrived in the
valley, but showing off by buying females has not. Though the
evidence is purely anecdotal and the data sketchy and hard to come
by, sex workers say

I talked to a fantasy-maker from the East Bay, an outcall worker from
the South Bay

their clients from the valley tend to be =less= in high tech than
other walks of life -- and that their geek clients tend to be so much
nicer, smarter, richer, shyer -- and more thankful. As the vice cops
who work on the Peninsula say, nah, you gotta go to San Francisco for
that, we're mostly the suburbs here.

#ifdef CUBE_FARM

Which is sort of true and sort of not. Yes the valley is hectare
after hectare of creepy sprawl with no redeeming urban center
anywhere, filled with strip malls and cul de sacs that would do the
San Fernando Valley proud. But so many of those yucko-stucco ranchers
are =geek= houses, where a pet iguana may get placed in the
refrigerator for safe hibernation when her owner goes on vacation,
and a DSL line is shared by all housemates. The bedroom communities
of San Mateo, Mountain View and Los Altos are not necessarily home to
those cohabiting with mates and offspring.

horny> make -t love < money
Make: Don't know how to make love. Stop.

The "Sex in high tech? Isn't that an oxymoron?" Weltanschauung seems
to show up in the way law enforcement in San Jose, the closest thing
Silicon Valley has to a city center, has made a =point= of busting
sex workers -- even if they were outside San Jose when answering
outcalls, and not walking the streets of the city's newly-revived
downtown core. The SJPD doesn't want that sort of thing in their
city. San Francisco's own historically
sex-positive/sex-worker-tolerant culture hasn't percolated out to the
valley, even though theoretically San Francisco sets the tone for the
entire Bay Area.

When I kept on asking a very nice police officer working vice in San
Jose, "But why?" he came back with the standard answers that make
sense but don't answer the question. It's not good for the city. It's
not good for the women. It's the law. All true, but still no answer
for the importance of the hooker crackdown, so different from what
goes on in the City. What I think is that when a belief system is
embedded in you, you don't even see it. Something about San Jose's
sense of self (An ambitious D.A.? A zealous police chief? Something
in the aquifers contaminated by the byproducts of microprocessor
manufacture?) makes this moral crusade unremarkable within its own
context, but slightly loopy in the context of the greater Bay Area.

And just as sexuality reflects the larger society in which it is
embedded, the libertarianism and union-loathing rife throughout the
valley seem to have been reflected in the fact that sex workers in
the valley aren't =organized=, as they are in San Francisco through
COYOTE (Cast Out Your Old Tired Ethic), the long-standing sex
workers' political organization, and the Cyprian Guild -- a support
group/professional cadre for sex workers. So close, yet so far away.



But what of Silicon Valley's infamous romance with the BDSM community,

class girl_with_secret
char upstanding;
long dresses;
friend bend_over_boy;
char *safeword;
double strap_on;

Security smartypants Dan Farmer is just as well known for being a
sadist/top as for his SATAN Net security hole detection program.
Dominant Robin Roberts, a computer scientist whose career began with
the Univac in 1957, says there's always been an overlap between geeks
and weird sex: "The elaborate negotiations of S+M courtship are like
network protocols and handshaking." And just to give one more
=personal= example, when I was at a dinner in Palo Alto with many
fine and friendly computerists, one of my companions knew without
prompting who wrote the three-part FAQ -- a guy with
a stellar Silicon Valley engineering résumé. An entire segment of
"Beyond Computing," a weekly public radio show produced in San
Francisco, was devoted to what host John Rieger called "geek

fetishwear and role-playing and fantasy and polyamory and play
parties in the Santa Cruz mountains and in dungeons in the Haight?

enough to keep former theatrical costumers very busy and solvent

But only true believers blaspheme; all the get-up and foofarah don't
demonstrate a basic comfort with sex, but instead a comfort with
observing rules and following them -- gaming as it were: a
programmer's, rather than a sensualist's, delight. Object-oriented
sex-play. It's a case of the most important sexual organ being
between the ears --- but not in a good way. if (this rule applies)
then {do that} else {do this} repeat until (1=0).

/* call repeatedly between puberty and death */
short findlover(char * bplace, int accent, float networth)
if ( !strcmp(bplace,"usa") && (networth > 100,000))
return TRUE;
if ( (!accent) && (networth > 250,000))
return TRUE;
if ( networth > 2,000,000)
vreturn TRUE;

/* bzzzt, but thanks for playing! */
return FALSE;


Of course it's not all sexual repression and lack of fulfillment in
the valley: As anywhere, there are tons of happy couples.
Historically there have been the organizations High-Tech Gays and
Digital Queers (now subsumed into GLAAD). As well, Trekkies, Sci-Fi
fans, Society for Creative Anachronism members and, more recently,
techno-pagans have always found ways to pair off.

/* there be dragons here */

struct daemon_state {
int wizardflag;
short magic_cookie;
char * attend_midsummer_group_goddess_celebration;



Possible changes in the sex life of the valley are afoot with the
recent overlay of many sleek frat-boy venture capitalists and their
ilk. It's not for nothing that last year San Francisco, and not
Manhattan, was the place graduating MBAs indicated they most wanted
to work. At least in a certain strata in the valley, mating habits
will look more and more like those of New York during its "Liar's
Poker" Wall Street boom years. What will happen to the disembodiment
of high-tech (online gaming! shopping! virtual everything!) as
Silicon Valley, with its dot-com fever, ever more resembles a swarm
of arbitrageurs and currency traders attempting to spoof global
markets, rather than a nest of technologists trying to engineer
something they believe in?

And the rise of the Web/South Park/SOMA enclave spurred by Wired has
meant media types and liberal-arts flakes have infiltrated the valley
to some degree. It's interesting to contemplate what might happen
when a comely female sysadmin, originally trained in international
relations, ends up talking at a party to a well-meaning male Unix
wizard about which windows managers they prefer. Will she =still=
just want to be friends? Or will love of open-source software conquer

These lines have never needed to be Y2K compliant.
/* end of file */ | Jan. 12, 2000

About the writer
Paulina Borsook is the author of the forthcoming "Cyberselfish: A
critical romp through the terribly libertarian culture of high-tech"
(Spring 2000/Public Affairs).

> As of October 1998, there were 5,372 more single men than women
>between the ages of 20 and 45 in Santa Clara County -- making it the
>metropolitan area with the highest percentage of unmarried men in
>America, according to a research survey from Claritis cited in a San
>Jose Mercury News report on Monday.
>This news -- along with a recent report that only one out of the 100
>top-salaried CEOs in Silicon Valley is a woman -- should be another
>indication of the continuing gender disparities in the valley. Tech
>is clearly an industry still dominated by men.

I'm too sexy for my hijab
Lingerie maker to sell underwear to Muslim women.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Jack Boulware

April 28, 2000 | In accordance with strict Muslim tradition, women
in Middle Eastern countries are expected never to appear in public
without wearing the hijab, or hooded veil, that covers the entire
body and most of the face.

But if a Canadian company plans its lingerie invasion properly, those
same women will soon have the last laugh, wearing racy bras, panties
and teddies under their veils.

Suzy Shier Ltd., a lingerie retailer based in Montreal, has already
licensed its La Senza intimate-apparel brand to 18 successful shops
in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This week the company announced it
will target more licensing agreements in other Gulf states. By the
end of the year, La Senza stores will open in the United Arab
Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Buying lingerie in the Persian Gulf is a sensitive experience for
women. In Saudi Arabia, only men are allowed to work as sales clerks.
The existing La Senza stores, which operate under an agreement with
Saudi-based F.A. Al-Hokair Ltd., also have no fitting rooms, says
Laurence Lewin, president of La Senza Inc.

"The male sales clerks are trained in the product when it comes to
things like materials, availability and price, but the customer is on
her own when it comes to determining the appropriate size," Lewin
tells Canada's National Post.

So if you're expanding your underwear empire, why target a culture
that has hidden its lingerie for hundreds of years? Why not take a
path of less resistance, like selling thongs in Brazil? Or better
yet, sign a deal with an entertainment corporation and market Britney
Spears push-up bras?
Lewin insists that selling lingerie to an ultraconservative country
like Saudi Arabia "gave us valuable experience dealing with some of
the toughest issues first."

And if you aspire to conquer the underwear world, you have to
continue to expand. La Senza already owns and operates 211 stores in
Canada, operating under the La Senza, Silk and Satin and La Senza
Girl banners, with another 75 stores licensed outside Canada. A
British subsidiary lost money and was sold two years ago, but La
Senza vows to continue its lingerie invasion into markets in the Far
East, Europe and Latin America.

In other words, if they can handle Saudi Arabia, they can handle just
about anybody. "What goes on underneath the veil is between a woman
and her husband, and I am assured most Saudi women are very
fashionably dressed," says Lewin. "They're interested in all aspects
of fashion, lingerie included." | April 28, 2000

- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writer
Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San
Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

Oops, she's doing it again!

She's a Mouseketeer trafficking kiddie porn, a school-girl queen
selling sex in a leathery cat suit. Does Britney Spears have any idea
what she's doing?

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Strawberry Saroyan

May 22, 2000 | This is what she looked like when you first saw
her: pigtails, Catholic schoolgirl uniform, Lip Smackers baby-doll
pink lips. She was a good girl, but suddenly gone bad, having tied
her little white shirt in a knot over her Madonna-influenced midriff.
She was a 17-year-old babe --in both senses of the word -- who
already knew too much.

She was Britney Spears, and it was 1999, and this was her first
video. It was called, sweetly enough, " ... Baby One More Time," in a
winking omission of the soon-to-be controversial real lyric, the
dot-dot-dot covering up the words "hit me." "Hit me baby one more
time," she sang, at once flirtily and beggingly, in a
now-you-have-me/now-you-don't cadence over and over again, in that
short little skirt, in those be-lockered hallways, the leader of the
pack. She was Olivia Newton John's version of Sandy in "Grease" for
the '90s: No need for transformation, this girl gave it to you all in
one -- the good, the bad and the body.

Britney Spears' debut album went on, propelled by that single (which
shared its name with that of her album), to sell over 9 million
copies in the States alone last year, making her one of the
top-selling teen pop stars of all time. And, as with so many other
acts, that first year of stardom -- that intervening rocket launcher
of a year -- showed her transformation from tentative entrant onto
the cultural radar screen (a girl who still clearly had certain
strings tied to her "Mickey Mouse Club" past) to full-fledged media

Sure, the do-I-dare sexuality was sort of there in the beginning, but
it was an insider's thing that the little girls might not get
(although the grown men surely would) as she posed for her first
album cover sitting on the floor in a little red shirt and a denim
mini. It was a Calvin Klein "oops, my underwear's showing" ad taken
one step further and yet seemingly one step back. (Her underwear
wasn't showing, but it appeared to be airbrushed out.)

But then, as the year went on, Spears was out there in every sense of
the word, coming more and more clearly into focus: Britney, in a
so-slick-it-seemed-wet shocking pink tube top, traversing the arena
stages of the world with a mike bit around her head, oddly
reminiscent of the orthodontic headgear her peers were wearing that
same summer; Britney, in a clingy white "cut-out" strapped dress or
an all-but-see-through polka-dot top, up for trophy after trophy at
awards show after awards show; and, finally, Britney, smack dab on
the cover of Rolling Stone in almost nothing but a bra and panties,
with a phone pressed to her too-perfect-for-bed head, but which was
still snuggled up against the satin pillows photogenically anyway.
Spears had arrived. She was doing business in her boudoir. She was
the virgin ready to be the whore. But what did it all mean?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
For many teen pop stars, it might not matter. She's just another
Tiffany, some might say, recalling the raven-haired mall rat who
ascended by playing places like the Beverly Center; or just another
Debbie Gibson, who after her initial burn-so-bright-she-burnt-out
success resurfaced as a wholesome Broadway staple. But some of us
suspect there's something more to Britney's appeal, something hidden
amidst the flirty near-nakedness, the vanilla hip-swinging. For
Britney Spears is about sex, and she's about sluttiness, but she's
also about something more complicated.

I bought the Britney Spears disc relatively early on in her
ascendance, just as she hit the cover of Entertainment Weekly in a
double stint with fellow Jive records' labelmates N'Sync. (It was
just as Jive, which also counts the Backstreet Boys among its acts,
was only beginning to emerge as the multi-billion dollar powerhouse
it has subsequently become.) I bought the disc because I liked the
single. " ... Baby One More Time" grabbed you; it was a hard-hitting
hit, this track, that pinned you to the wall and wouldn't let go. It
was a summer song arrived early that spring, and it was fun to roll
down my car windows, letting in the L.A. sun, and to sing along with

It's interesting, sometimes, the evolution of an incredibly
commercial album like this one, that you buy almost expecting you're
going to get screwed by its most-likely-schlocky excess, but which
can occasionally sneak up on you because of that very same
please-let-me-please-you attitude. And so, finally, after avoiding
the rest of the album and simply playing " ... Baby" over and over
again, I accidentally let the disc run its course a couple of times
and decided it wasn't so bad. In fact, I actually surprisingly liked
a couple of the songs, including "Sometimes," Britney's second
single, which, like its predecessor, had equally double entendre
lyric, but which I took with a grain of salt (or, shall I say,
sugar?) at the time. "Sometimes I run/Sometimes I hide/Sometimes I'm
scared of you ..." she sang and I, again, as innocently as Britney
herself purported to be, sang along.

And so it was that way for a while. I became a fan, a guilty-pleasure
admirer through her rise from red- to white-hot that summer and then
through the fall, and I began following, in the casual way of a
celebrity magazine reader, the news and gossip about her. There were
rumors, in the wake of the Rolling Stone cover, about breast
implants: Had she really grown up that fast? Many media voices
wondered out loud, and it was true: The "RS" pictures did strike one
as quite different than her relatively "undeveloped" pictures on the
album and its bonus poster inside.

"Yup, I did grow up that fast!" she said delightedly whenever asked,
guileless and serious. And in the age of the Wonderbra ("Hello,
boys!" its ads had been proclaiming since Spears must have been about
14), it wasn't so hard to believe. People also started to, quietly,
question the lyrics on " ... Baby," but few did it too explicitly or
in-depth. "Hit me," came the justifying reply, wasn't meant
literally. (Duh! was the teen get-a-grip vibe.)

After a while, a few media outlets even began questioning Spears'
persona more loudly as, for example, when she graced the cover of
People enveloped in the headline, "Too Sexy, Too Soon?" But inside,
Britney and her mom insisted that she was just a good Baptist girl
from Lousiana who just seemed to want stardom so bad her parents let
her go for it. They also let it be known that the Britney, from her
lavender-bedspreaded bedroom on her constantly-in-motion tour bus,
still scribbles down her daily prayers in a diary she calls her
"Bible Book." So, was she a puppet? No way. It was Britney's idea to
dress that way in the " ... Baby" video: She'd wanted to bare her
belly because she thought it was cute and girly.

Now, in a way, for awhile, this could all be seen as Madonna-esque.
Madonna, in fact, was one of Britney's idols, and it seemed plausible
that she was simply objectifying herself in the manner patented by
her model. It was an idea that had been perverted, so to speak,
before (see Fiona Apple's "Criminal" video and that
cool-rocker-girl's apparent decision to exploit herself before anyone
else had a chance), but there seemed something beyond that going on
here. There seemed, in fact, to be something going on that, if you
read -- as no doubt millions of us last year and this year did --
interview after interview, pull quote after pull quote, and if you
looked at picture after picture of Britney, was beyond the pop
phenom's grasp.

You might have caught it in the odd media moment with Spears: The
time on a late-night talk show when she wide-eyedly told the host
that fame was great, if you just avoided the older men who -- could
you believe it? -- seemed to be fans too.

But mostly, you'd glimpse it in the oddly angry sentiments elicited
by Spear's name among her supposed fan base: When, as happened one
night on Los Angeles' Top 40 station, 102.7 "Kiss" FM, a Britney-aged
girl called up regarding a rumor about the pop star and N'Sync's
Justin Timberlake having bought a house together, and the caller
predicted in judgmental tones that, if they had, their place was no
doubt a "fuckfest." Or when, as a study of teen girls' attitudes last
year reflected, young women proclaimed that they didn't actually like
the No. 1 girl act of their time and demographic. When questioned,
during this study, about what celebrities they'd like to hang out
with, they had pricelessly characterized Spears as someone whom they
probably wouldn't want in their social group, but then amended it:
OK, they might, but only because she'd attract the guys. (The idea
was that she was dirty and it might rub off, and it even seemed to be
supported in reality: When "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" star Melissa
Joan Hart began a high-profile friendship with Spears, within a month
or two Hart had shed her goody-goody image and shown up barely
clothed on the cover of a lad magazine). So, unlike Madonna,
Britney's boy-toy behavior was alienating girls rather than
liberating them. Why?

It was clear that Britney, despite her sweet-as-pie smile and fun
little lyrics and pink-tinged videos, was a slut. But that had never
hurt Madonna before. So no, that didn't seem right.

The answer, instead, I began to think, could be found on that first
album itself. Listen to it. I did, and after several months of
enjoying its nice-girl naughtiness, I had to stop. For what happened
to me was this: Odd as it may sound, whenever " ... Baby" started up
-- complete with its sounds of a man's hard inhaling and exhaling,
seemingly literally breathing down our teen dreamgirl's neck -- or
when the whip-cracking effects on another song, "Crazy," hit, I began
having uncomfortable visions. I began, in fact, in some murky part of
my mind, to have inescapably awkward and then downright ugly pictures
in my head of what was going on in these songs. They sounded, after a
while, like sounds emanating from elaborate S&M dens, or from lands
of sexual purgatory and destruction -- or, at the very least, from
places where everything's so fine and perfect that it's indelibly
fucked (both literally and figuratively) up. It sounded, in fact, on
many of these songs, as if Britney was getting hurt as she was
singing, as though someone were forcing her to sing these words at
gunpoint. (It's a feeling that's intensified on " ... Baby" in the
way parts of the song have been produced to sound, ominously, as if
they're being sung over a phone line -- an effect that's also
replicated on her latest single, "Oops! ... I Did It Again.")

It sounded, in short, like Spears was being victimized. And it was a
feeling, this odd sense that my jukebox heroine was being hurt, that
even after a while seemed to be echoed on her initially
innocuous-seeming ballads which, upon closer listen, sounded to be
dripping with desperation for a return to something with some boy
that actually sounded not so special in the first place -- and in
certain cases, the boys actually sounded explicitly violent. Beyond "
... Baby," there was also that second single "Sometimes," in which
she pleads with a guy to be understanding of the fact that,
"Sometimes I hide/Sometimes I'm scared of you ..." They were words
that could just be taken at slang face value -- or not. And after a
while, I began to have a hard time brushing them off.

Why, I began to wonder whenever that song keyed up, was she so damn
scared? What exactly was this guy doing to her? Her recipe for
success, it seemed finally, was locked into exactly this not knowing.
Britney Spears' songs and her persona, in fact, seem to be
all-too-authentically Lolitaesque: Her appeal hinges on a confusion
between, and an overlap of, sex and violence. Her secret weapon, as
it were, is in some frightening and unspoken but also real way, abuse.

And in a season where a woman on "The Sopranos" prides herself on
allowing her boyfriend to hold a gun to her head during sex (How
could he ever find a mistress who would do such a thing? she reasons,
priding herself on her keepin'-her-man ingenuity) but where this same
girlfriend ends up killing him in the end, it occurred to me: We're
still, post-Madonna be damned, a nation at sexual war with ourselves.
We like sex, but we like it better when it's wrong. In fact, its very
wrongness makes it even hotter. And what's more wrong, in a sense,
than a girl in an abusive relationship -- who likes it? Who thinks it
hurts, as another shamelessly commercial but conflicted pop star once
sang, so good? And so we like a girl like Britney, who allows us to
have our cake and hide it too: She'll give it to us, but she'll never

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- -
Britney, although non-fans either very likely never knew she was here
or fans never knew she was gone, is back. Her new album, "Oops! ... I
Did It Again," arrived in stores last week. The record has already
hit No. 1 in the U.K., and it seems destined to do the same here. But
this time, she's not just a sweet-and-sour slut, a good-time girl
about to go bad. She's a girl who's been hurt, and now it's her turn
to hurt back. Of course, it's still really all just sex-play, and
she's celluloid-smiling and seductively sneering the whole way
through it.

This shift -- from a sort of battered girlfriend to a
battered-girlfriend-who's-getting-even persona -- isn't being
trumpeted loudly, of course. Instead, it seems to be being alluded to
in quiet code. The album, musically, has got "more attitude," her
producer Max Martin told the Los Angeles Times last week. Indeed it
does. In its initial "Oops! ... I Did It Again" video, Britney --
clad in princessy blond hair extensions and, again, a
wet-as-fresh-paint looking cherry red cat suit -- hits the camera
with a mad-as-hell body, kicking and slamming against the screen.
She's Barbie as an action figure. And here's what she has to say:
"Oops, I/Did it again!/Made you believe/We were more than just
friends/I played with your heart/Got lost in the game/Oops, you think
I'm in looove/Sent from abooove/I'm ... not ... that ... innocent!"

Yes, "Oops ..." isn't just a wink at her multimillion album-buying
fans who she hopes will do it again, it's also a strike back. And in
case you didn't get it, she even stops in the middle of the video for
a dramatic interlude, where her "boyfriend" gives her the
trillion-carat necklace from "Titanic." Yes, the old lady in the
movie threw it into the ocean in the end, but this poor guy went down
and got it for her. "Oooh, you shouldn't have," Britney says, smiling
her homecoming best, but then, wait ... "Oops, I ... did it again!"
she gleefully concludes, breaking back into song.

Spears' publicity machine has tweaked its "attitude" this time around
as well: For her latest Rolling Stone cover, for example, she's
clothed -- in red, white and blue leather. The headline: "Britney
Wants You!" The message? This girl is sex, American-style. And just
as with Uncle Sam, although in a very different way, the idea is:
You're gonna pay. If Britney was screwed last time, she seems to say,
in all her high-kickin', action-packed, slicked-out glory, this time
she's screwing you. But with a wink, of course. Sure, she's a girl
who's been hurt, but in a weird way she kind of enjoyed it. Now,
though, the rules have changed: It's still about sex, oh yeah, but
now she's, so to speak, on top.

But isn't this just self-objectification? And if she's having fun and
making a mint, the logic goes, why worry? And it's true that Madonna
has committed seemingly "worse crimes" with her "Sex" book and her
"Erotica" album, and nearly everything else during her iconographic
career. But the difference is this: Each thing Madonna has done, from
her "Borderline" days on out, and barring only a few
misunderstood-by-everyone months, was as a self-proclaimed,
self-aware fantasy-creator, dealing with the dark and the
subconscious but only after explicitly explaining what she was doing.

But what about No Doubt's Gwen Stefani and Mariah Carey, someone else
might say, both of whom, respectively, are no strangers to slamming
sounds or desperate ballads? Again, the differences are key: For
Stefani, even in all her "Just a Girl" glory, works into her ska and
new wave-y hard sounds, echoes them, plays along with her songs
instead of getting beaten up by them. She's a tough girl, and she's
got the style -- the flamingo-pink hair, the braces-as-a
fashion-statement moxie --and one-of-the-boys energy in her
performances to prove it. And Mariah? Mariah's just a girl with a
crush, over and over again, a girl who wants to be pretty and keeps
trying harder and harder to be ever more so, who promises to give it
up but still always remains, in all her Sony-studded armor, a version
of a virgin.

So no, Britney's different. What she's doing, in the end, seems much
more murky, and more real, and more subtle, and -- finally and
perhaps most crucially -- more unknowing. In that latest issue of
Rolling Stone, for example, she appears to be finally getting a whiff
of what may actually be going on, but she's still holding her nose,
saying, "I don't think about [it]. ... I don't want to be part of
someone's Lolita thing," she tells the magazine. "It kind of freaks
me out." So Britney doesn't really want to know what she's doing, and
she appears to be committed to keeping her innocence, at least in
that regard, intact. She wants to remain shielded from her own

And perhaps luckily so. For Spears' appeal, in the end, seems to be
exactly that: That who she is, or more precisely, what she's doing,
is beyond her own understanding. Her new album, in fact, expertly
plays upon the same "Who, me, sexy?" guilelessness as her first one,
from the title on down: Oops ... she's doing it again. (The media, of
course, only plays this note further: "The Girl Can't Help It" is one
recent and typically dutiful headline.) And yet, of course, the truth
is that the "Oops" title alone is confirmation that someone has
zeroed in on her double-entendre underage appeal, and decided to slam
it all the way to the bank.

And so the question remains: Who does know what Spears is doing? Jive
Records' shockingly dirty old man-esque impresario? Her Swedish
hitmaker Svengali, Max Martin? Britney herself, secretly? Her
millions upon millions of fans?
I've come to suspect that it's probably all of us, and perhaps also
none of us at the same time. Yes, it's possible. Because it's simply
unspeakable, this girl's persona, like so many things these days in
the media-saturated air. It's like the odd (and unacknowledged)
reality of a movie like last year's "The Talented Mr. Ripley," a
clearly gay romp marketed as a clearly hetero one; or the unending
but also secretly marketed homoerotic appeal of a Brad Pitt or a Tom
Cruise or the unspoken but inescapably odd institution of
crooked-toothed but implanted-galore porn star Jenna Jameson in a
reporter's spot on "E!" recently; or, cutting even closer to the
chase, the way "no one will talk about porn but everyone rents it,"
as another adult film star recently told an interviewer on a "True
Life" special on MTV.

It's true life alright, stumbling upon moments, media and otherwise,
that are the exact opposite of what they promised to be. And it may
not just be odd, it also may be dangerous. In fact, it's supposed to
be a leading cause for schizophrenia -- being sent mixed signals,
being told (or, in this case, sold) one thing, and shown another. It
screws with your sense of reality. It makes you, in a sense, split
right down the middle. It cracks you in two.

And so we have Britney, a girl for our times. A virgin and a whore. A
girl who doesn't know what she's doing, but boy does she do it. A
girl who lets you hurt her, and who pretends, and maybe even
believes, that she likes it. A girl whose pain is our pleasure. A
girl who gets even, but only as long as it's hot. A Mouseketeer
turned near-kiddie porn star. A girl, finally, who feeds something
black and blue in all of us, but who wraps it up in a pretty pink
bow. | May 22, 2000

About the writer
Strawberry Saroyan is a Los Angeles writer whose work has appeared in
Elle and George. She's at work on her first book, "Girl Walks Into a

Spain's happy hour for sex
Local beaches to test a lights-out period every night.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Jack Boulware

May 1, 2000 | Tourists walking along the beaches of Spain this
summer should watch where they step, especially between 1 a.m. and 2
a.m. They might disturb the world's oldest activity. Local police
have deemed this time slot a happy hour in the truest sense -- the
time set aside for young people to have sex on the beach.

Beach lights will be turned off for this crucial 60 minutes, to allow
young couples the privacy that a drunken, sand-covered sexual
congress deserves. This strange pilot program is currently being
tested on the beaches at Torre del Mar and Caleta de Velez, which are
popular with European tourists on holiday. Local police authorities
promise to suspend patrols of the beaches during this hour of lust,
so as not to disturb the rutting.

According to Antonio Lopez, the town council member in charge of
beaches, the sands were getting stirred up regularly from young kids
who hit the dunes for a late-night romp after the nightclubs closed.
Might as well give them some space to do it, goes the official
reasoning, because they're going to do it anyway.

"It has always been traditional for young people to use the dark and
the low tide for a quick roll in the sand," Lopez told the Scottish
Daily Record, apparently with a straight face.

Traditional Spanish families will see the new happy hour in one of
two ways: a blasphemous slap in the face to a devoutly religious
population, or a chance for their hormone-crazed family members to
get out of the house and sow some wild oats. Local young people
usually live with their parents until the age of 30, in small,
crowded family flats that lack the privacy needed for a quick roll in
the hay.

And, of course, young horny tourists will do what they always do when
they visit Spain -- try to get laid. Except now the government has
made it that much easier, providing an officially sanctioned
location, time slot, and mood lighting.

"It is up to the authorities to prepare places where young people can
maintain sexual relations," said Antonio Fernandez, the region's
director general of youth affairs.

Despite this liberal attitude, not all Spanish officials are pleased
with the new idea. More conservative towns are vowing to increase
beach patrols at night, to cleanse the sands of sex-crazed youth.

The unorthodox program will start when the annual summer tourist
season begins, and is in no way affiliated with the travel industry. | May 1, 2000

Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jun 01 2000 - 23:19:11 PDT