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Jam: A Video About The Performance Model

February 2, 2013

Canadian sex educator Karen K.B. Chan created this video based on my essay Toward A Performance Model Of Sex from Yes Means Yes: Visions Of Women’s Sexual Power And A World Without Rape.  She brings the idea of a collaborative and nonjudgmental way of looking at sex to life in such a vivid and accessible way.

This.  This is terrific.  Everyone should see this.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2013 3:45 pm

    It’s a great metaphor … Thanks for posting this, I love the message and I love the way it’s told.

  2. February 2, 2013 3:48 pm

    Reblogged this on I can't come … und kommentierte:
    Sex als Jam Session! So habe ich das noch nie gesehen. Ein sehr schön gemachtes Filmchen mit einer inspirierenden Botschaft.

  3. February 2, 2013 6:33 pm

    Reblogged this on Valprehension and commented:
    This is every kind of wonderful!

  4. Richard Heck permalink
    February 5, 2013 12:35 pm

    Truly fantastic.

  5. Ms.Angela permalink
    February 5, 2013 3:21 pm

    Love the video and the musical metaphor. I posted it on my FB page!

  6. Sam permalink
    February 5, 2013 10:26 pm


    thing is, every band needs a certain balance of instruments. Sure, jamming can be creative and thus there will not be a strict musical structure, but if you only get people with guitars and one base player, there will not br balance, there will be competition, and the base player will likely opt to jam with the guitarists he likes best. For all other guitarists, the idea of jamming sounds great, it’s just that – there’s noone there to jam with them

    The whole notion of jamming in sex as in music is predicated upon a balance that, with respect to sex at least, appers seriously counterintuitive to almost everyone. When women are the baseplayers and men are the guitarists in the above metaphor, guitarists wait until they’re called in to play, and at every single time, most of them won’t jam, even though they might like.

    You can rephrase this problem as much as you like. Jamming definitely sounds better and more sexy than commodity model. But whenever something is in higher demand than available, say, a baseplayer, that something gets a value that’s higher than something that is in lower demand than offered, say, a guitarist.

    So if you cannot ensure that there are equally interested base players and guitarists, in similar numbers – in other words, that sexual desire is balanced and can be mutually satisfied without leaving one side worse off than the other – then you may start out with the jamming model, but you’ll inevitably end up in a commodity model. Then jamming is not a stable equilibrium.

    The only hope a jamming model has is that our cultural notions of sexuality are actually fundamentally flawed, and that there is no actual difference in sex drive and desires between base players and guitarists. Cultural notions are likely a significant part of the problem, but unlikely the entire answer: thus there’s a very real possibility that female sexuality will always be scarcer and thus more valuable than male sexuality.

    So, let’s dream of jamming. But unless we can balance different desires to play, the scarce player will be more valuable than the abundant one. There’s just no way around it.

    And that leads to something I don’t really understand: why this desire to cling to the idea of a balance of desire when the lack thereof is so clearly visible. And why is the belief in that balance implicit, never explained when it should be accounted for as a limiting factor for the concept, and ideas should be developed with respect to understanding human desire better and potentially better identify things that devide and unify base players and guitarists with respect to their desire to play.

    Not doing so makes this a great – theory, not a practical concept to help people redefine the way they look at sexuality.

    • February 6, 2013 8:12 am

      Sam, I think you have this the wrong way around. It sounds like you’re stuck in a Buss & Schmidt hole, thinking that women have inherently lower sex drive because they don’t as readily respond to cold propositions, when Conley’s research shows that this is all explainable because the immediate prospects for casual sex with a stranger are higher risk and lower reward for women. But much of that is cultural, having to do with the difficulties of frank communication, shaming, etc. So if we modeled sex as a jam session culture-wide, much or all of this crap would go away, leading to more equal willingness to engage sexually with new partners.

      Further, even if there is a disparity in availability, between men and women, that does not in and of itself import shame around women’s sexual expression or practices. Often, the possessor of a thing with higher value has more freedom to set terms, but in the Western world we have a different history, where social policing of women’s sexuality is much stricter. That’s not an inevitable result of value disparity, that’s a construct that depends on very specific positioning of sex as separate from a person — the Pussy Oversoul concept I reference in the TAPM essay.

      • Sam permalink
        February 6, 2013 2:00 pm


        while I do think that SST does have merits, as does Conley’s research, and I think it’s completely possible to integrate those findings, I don’t think that SST is necessary to explain differences in sex drive, or psychological differences that lead to differences in sex drive, at all. Even disregarding, for the argument’s sake, all cultural displays that could indicate a higher male sex drive as “patriarchical” All research about sex drive, including reports from trans men on hormon shots, points in the same direction – men as an aggregate have a higher endocrinological sex drive. But be that as it may –
        this, taken from the Conley-quote you posted in your Conley-conclusion –

        First, male sexual proposers (who approached women) are uniformly seen as less desirable than female sexual proposers (who approached men).

        totally supports my point that there is a lack of balace in jamming. Whatever the reason, there is an imbalance, and it’s quite noticeable. So, it’s not women who are less desirable, it’s men. And that goes back to something I’ve said for ages – most concisely in a comment here – .

        Further, even if there is a disparity in availability, between men and women, that does not in and of itself import shame around women’s sexual expression or practices.

        No, but who said so?

        Often, the possessor of a thing with higher value has more freedom to set terms, but in the Western world we have a different history, where social policing of women’s sexuality is much stricter.

        Agreed. I believe that a lot of formal and informal social regulation is about this imbalance in desire, and trying to regulate and balance it out, so it can be handled. I should be noted that the Conley quote from above, about male sexuality being less desirable, is probably the origin of patriarchy, which I believe started out as some sort of “affirmative action” for men given that perceived imbalance. And the assumed male sexual sociopathy was supposed to be controlled through controlling sexual access by and to women.

        Still, whatever you do, the same imbalance of desire. Some people may be jamming happily, for those standing on the sideline watching other play, it probably won’t matter too much what you call it, or how you model it.

        As much as I like your idea of jamming, it’s a beautiful metaphor for good sex, it won’t solve the disparity and allocation (sorry for the econ slang) problems. As long as there is an imbalance in desire, there will be a price.

    • February 6, 2013 2:15 pm

      Isn’t this argument rather heterosexist? Where do same-sex pairings/groups and non-binary & trans folk figure into this?

      • February 6, 2013 3:32 pm

        Yes, and I wish I had the math chops to work out the impact of the bunch of people who have exclusive versus non-exclusive preferences in partner identification and those who don’t, but it’s a complex model because some people care about identification, some people about genital anatomy (which is of course problematic), some people just don’t want cis partners at all (and some don’t want trans partners, also problematic) … there are a lot of variables and even relatively small proportions of the population may collectily have a significant impact on the total picture, and potentially much more as society moves away from a simplistic, heterosexist and cissexist model to one where all partner choices among consenting adults are respectec. Any statheads around?

      • Sam permalink
        February 6, 2013 9:26 pm

        Cx Tiara Transcendence,

        Isn’t this argument rather heterosexist? Where do same-sex pairings/groups and non-binary & trans folk figure into this?

        well, in this argument, gay people don’t have a problem, as it’s about aggregate gender differences. And trans people are on either side, so yeah, they are faced with the problem, albeit likely with a much better insight into the opposite gender’s patterns of desire.


        I’ll adress this part of your comment here as it’s thematically related:

        some people about genital anatomy (which is of course problematic), some people just don’t want cis partners at all (and some don’t want trans partners, also problematic) …

        Somehow I find it odd that someone who’s as profoundly concerned about consent as you would call people’s sexual preferences “problematic”.

    • Sam permalink
      February 18, 2013 7:30 pm

      More anecdotal, unsurprising, yet still very interesting, research about the different sides of the problem of finding the right people to jam with.

  7. February 6, 2013 3:05 pm

    Sam, instead of trying to interpret your comment, I just want to ask you to explain your last sentence. In your view, what necessarily arises from an imbalance of desire?

    • Sam permalink
      February 6, 2013 10:10 pm


      disregarding specific intervening social configurations, it’s rather simple. Venn diagram simple, really.

      If one configuration of desire is a subset of the other (that is, similar in quality but different in quantity), then the group with the larger set (x) will not be able to satisfy the extent of zir desire that extends the other group’s (y). Thus, the sexuality of the group with the smaller set (y) will be in demand, while the sexuality of the group with the larger sex (x) will be relatively abundant. One will thus be valuable and the other less valuable, one group will be satisfied, the other not.

      If the configurations of desire are partly overlapping, both (or more) groups will only be able to satisfy their desires to the extent that the desire is mutual, and the valuation problem will arise, in every dimensions of desire, for both (or more) groups. Of course, given multiple dimensions with varying degrees of possible satisfaction for any group, there may be the option of exchanging satisfaction in one aspect of desire for satisaction in another.

      I think in the case of human sexulity and romance, the latter is a more plausible model than the first, given multiple and overlapping dimensions of desire. Even hoping that the total respective excess sets of desire are multidimensionally congruent and there is thus a possibility for a stable equilibrium, we still end up in a model in which exchange over multiple dimensions takes place instead of people jamming with only one, and in which both relative scarcity and – in real life, social configurations – will determine the extent to which the desires in any specific dimension can be fulfilled.

  8. February 7, 2013 8:17 am

    No, Sam, It’s not that simple. Let’s postulate a rather elementary universe in which all people are binary gendered and nobody gives a fig what someone else’s trans status or genital anatomy is. If all the men are pansexual with no particular preference for women as partners, are you saying that the willingness of men without women partners to pair up with male partners has no effect on the demand for women partners? Of course you’re not saying that, because it would be transparently wrong. To analyze the economics of demand, we need to understand what economists call the “functional substitutes.” I hire economists to model shit as part of my day job. It’s not elementary.

    • Sam permalink
      February 7, 2013 10:48 am


      I’m sorry, I don’t seem to quite understand your point. If you’re assuming a universe in which homosexuality is a functional equivalent to heterosexuality, of course that would have an effect on the demand of women partners. But that assumptions, as not least radical feminists who proposed political lesbianism found out during the sex wars found out, has nothing to do with the universe we’re living in. Funny thing, the eminent German feminist Alice Schwarzter recently complained about that problem in an essay that basically made my Venn point above, basically stating that feminism has left women more vulnerable to emotional exploitation by men (who only want sex) because now men don’t need to trade sex (which men want) for romance (which women want) and because, sadly, in her view, women aren’t able to raise the price for sex absent their desire to mate with women in relevant numbers. So, in this world at least, homosexuality is not a functional equivalent to heterosexuality. I’m not saying human sexuality isn’t complicted and that we don’t know enough about it, but I’d say that it’s a good idea if proposed behavioral hypotheses have some connection to reality. So, if you hire economists on a regular basis, just ask them, next time, if they believe that homosexuality is a functional equivalent to heterosexuality for all but very few people – those who are bisexual.

      • February 7, 2013 11:15 am

        Schwarzer (you misspelled it) also said “female masochism is collaboration.” Not someone you should be citing with approval.

        You’re being obtuse. “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” do a lot of work: to describe affectional and sexual orientations both, and also cultural and political affiliation. We’re talking strictly about sexual partners, and your use of that terminology imports a notion that everyone is monosexual with a single sex-of-partner. That’s not so. I won’t even use the term “bisexual” because it assumes a binary. Some people who identify as het are heteroflexible and prefer opposite sex partners but not always. Some people who identify as gay or lesbian prefer same sex partners but not exclusively. Some people identify as queer or pan or something else, but that doesn’t mean that their preference is 50/50. So if we assume that a certain portion of the population views only people identifying as one sex to be acceptable partners, what’s the portion that doesn’t fit that category? Double digits to be sure, and maybe a quarter of the population. For those people, partner whose sex is not their primary choice is a functional substitute for partner whose sex is their primary choice. That complicates the modeling enough to make your simplistic point meaningless.

        Or we can hire an economist to find a data set and work with it. That could easily run six figures. Got that lying around?

      • Sam permalink
        February 7, 2013 11:41 am

        So – *SOME* people vs *MOST* people. You’re basically saying that the existence of a minority experience renders the majority experience meaningless (because of interaction between the populations), and I don’t think that the interaction effect is a particularly limiting factor for the disparty in desires I perceive in the majority. I don’t cite Schwarzer with approval, I merely quoted her to point out that the assumption of widespread fluidity in sexual desire is ideological (and convenient for your point) rather than empirical, and that ideology is a bad starting point if it’s about understanding human sexuality.

        Again, I love the jamming metaphor, it’s far better than anything I’ve heard, because it involves pleasure and mutuality, and that is important for society’s discourse about pleasure and sexuality. In that respect it is *very yes means yes* and that is an excellent way to talk about sexuality.

        But as much as I like it, and as much as I’d like your hypothesis to be true, I do not believe it’s solving the fundamental disparity of desire.

  9. February 7, 2013 8:20 am

    Sam, on problematic desires — there is no, none, zero, inconsistency between saying “anyone can say no to being sexual with anyone for any reason or no reason, even a bigoted reason” and saying “if your reason is X, then you are a bigot.”

    • Sam permalink
      February 7, 2013 10:55 am

      Except that telling someone their reasons are bigited is putting potentially problematic pressure on that person to change or do something they do not want to do. It’s policing desire and potentially shaming people into unwanted behavior. Would you say it’s ok to tell a woman that it’s ok not to have sex, for any reaon, or no reason, even a bigoted reason, however, if that reason is X she’s a prude/frigid/not sexually liberated/etc? I doubt you’d find that ok.

      • February 7, 2013 11:18 am

        No. But when John Mayer said his penis was like David Duke, I concluded he was a racist. There’s a difference between people having a preference and people replicating historical oppression in their personal lives. The latter can be problematic. If you can’t see the difference than all I have to say to you is that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

        I’m not Clarisse. I don’t have infinite patience with you.

      • Sam permalink
        February 7, 2013 12:15 pm

        Look, I’m all for examing our desires and understanding them in a larger context that certainly includes historical and present oppression. But that can only happen in the context of an acceptance of these desires as *real* and identify forming for the individual. Someone may politically *want* zir desires to be more fluid, say include same sex partners, but that may not be an option for that person because of zir heterosexuality. Telling them that their sexuality is problematic because of reason x (like a woman not being aroused by a woman) is a problematic proposal, because it does imply that sexual preferences are a choice rather than an orientation. And that the decision which preferences are ok and which are not is a political decision. If you can’t see *that* problem, I don’t know.

        Thomas, since you mention the personal aspect – you’re often too impolite for my taste and certainly too condescending if not downright disrespectful of people who may disagree with you. Your companion essay to “what you really really want” sealed the condescion aspect for me and made me think of you as someone who’s preaching his answer rather than someone who’s trying to find an answer to a lot of important questions by talking to other people and trying to understand their positions. That makes it hard for me to engange with you, but you’re an intelligent person with often interesting, if radical, positions, and sometimes I figure it’s important to talk about those points despite the uneasiness that is likely to go with it (like being forced to write this paragraph).

  10. February 7, 2013 1:59 pm

    Sam, when you say “forced to write this paragraph”, you are using “forced” in a way I do not understand. I am unaware than I have any power to compel you to interact with me.

    Surely some desires, even ones we can’t change, are problematic. Being a pedophile, even if immutable, is problematic. I do not and will not accept a mindset that people are entitled to unconditional acceptance of desire; that’s not the same as bodily autonomy and all attempts to conflate the two are silliness.

    As to the rest, I’ve said before that my primary goal is to serve a back-office function, to float ideas and evidence and conjectures that are of use to people who agree with me. See this post? Karen B.K. Chan’s video is more eloquent than anything I ever wrote; what I did was of use to her. I leave “working with people where they are” to people whose temperment is better suited to it. I’m not warm and fuzzy. That’s the way it is, that’s not news to you, that’s not going to change.

    • Sam permalink
      February 7, 2013 3:04 pm

      That’s the way it is, that’s not news to you, that’s not going to change.

      And that’s fair enough. It’s also the explanation for “forced”, by the way, if you accept that I’m convinced of the importance of the subject.

      I agree that some desires, even if immutable, are not only problematic but clearly pathological – you mentioned the most obvious example, sexual predators are another.

      There are, clearly, cases that are ethically clear-cut. In other cases it’s more about social definitions whether something is considered problematic or not, and I do consider it as offensive when you suggest that someone’s desire to not have sex with someone with a particular genital anatomy is problematic, sexist, and effectively an insult to that person. Maybe I should have mentioned your argument to a lesbian woman I once had fallen in love with… “I feel insulted that you don’t like my penis…”. Seriously? My guess is that you’d say that she’s allowed to discriminate against my penis, but my desire to discriminate against other penises by not wanting to have sex with them is problematic, because it’s heterosexist and patriarchical. If you cannot see the problematic double standard in that argument, I don’t know.

  11. February 10, 2013 3:19 pm

    I replied on the SSSS Linkdin discussion group i’d like to post this video to FB = but can’t see a way to do it here!

  12. February 11, 2013 4:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Emancipating Sexuality and commented:
    This is super sweet and wonderful… I’d like some “Jam” with bread, thanks for asking.

  13. March 7, 2013 6:40 pm

    Loved this on so many levels.

  14. Jan permalink
    June 22, 2013 6:49 pm

    Fabulous, fabulous video. I think some elements of the metaphor could take expansion, for example, the part about practise; just because someone is a virtuoso alone doesn’t mean they’ll get the results they’d like from jamming until they’ve tried it many times, likewise someone who has practised with others many times may not. Other people may be like a duck to water (too many metaphors!) with jamming because they’ve practised so much alone and know themselves so well or because practising alone doesn’t do much for them and what they thrive on is riffing on other people. I think this process of becoming sexual works very differently for different people and that’s quite important. But it’s a great metaphor, anyway.

    My only problem now is that I’ve been going round using “performance model” to mean sex as a performance (implying an audience) ie. with the emphasis on impressing ones partner with ones skills rather than working together to have a good time ie. a bad thing. So what’s the term I should be using for that? I’ll have a scout round to see if I can find an answer.

  15. November 10, 2014 6:25 am

    I am happy somebody shares my perspective..


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