There cannot be any discussion of true spirituality without an honest and open discussion of human sexuality, free of thousands of years of fear mongering, power-brokering, self-loathing and ignorance.
below are several articles by Dr. Marty Klein, PhD from his website: http://www.sexualintelligence.org/
And for a wise woman’s point of view on all things sex, there’s good ol’ Dr. Ruth: http://www.drruth.com/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/
(in general, when seeking healthy information about sexuality, seek out information written by sex therapists and tantra experts; stay away from academics and politicians. you want heart/love-based sex info, not mind/fear-based info.)
“Giving Thanks For Sex”
While always accurate, Sexual Intelligence is nevertheless often critical, snide, and cranky. In a world full of sexual ignorance, bizarre impulses, and fear-based, wacky public policy, we roll our digital eyes here a lot.
This Thanksgiving holiday let’s take a break. Today let’s give thanks for some of what’s wonderful in the world of sex.
* Sex toys
Sex toys are humanity’s answer to the question “just how long can someone move their hand in the same direction at the same speed without getting bored or injured?”
Marshall McLuhan would be proud: just as the telephone is an extension of the voice, and the car an extension of the foot, sex toys are an extension of the hand. And of the penis, vulva, and mouth, as the case may be.
There’s little recession in this industry; even if your 401k is now a 201k, you can still buzz or probe yourself happy.
Toys are mainstream now, as even Amazon.com carries dozens of them–from the “Pink Fantasy G-Spot Magic Wand Vibrator Dildo” to the “Smartballs Kegel Exerciser” to the “Horny Girl Next Door Realistic Pussy Male Masturbator.” Every person and couple should have a bunch.
Most adults love little [choose one or more:] (munchkins) (rugrats) (screaming bundles of scary impulses). But there’s a limit to how many of these weapons of mass destruction one wants to love. I suggest the number of hands a person has is a good clue to the number of children one should parent in a lifetime.
Enter Captain Contracept! There are styles for everyone: hormonal, mechanical, vegetarian, you name it. And for gentlemen who have finished the quest for biological immortality, science has a special gift for you: vasectomy. It only takes an hour, then you get the weekend off, then back to work. You’re wise to hold off ejaculating for a week, and then you’re shooting blanks for the next half-century. Yes cowboy, you still shoot–wet, warm, voluminous loads of blanks.
The only people who can honestly condemn birth control as “unnatural interference in God’s order” are those who shun other modern comforts like electricity and gossip. But even the Amish have begun taking advantage of contraceptive wisdom.
I’ve been in countries where pornography is simply illegal. You don’t want to live there.
Trust me, you’d rather live in a country where people are free to make their own entertainment choices, even if you find them baffling or repulsive (American Idol, anyone?).
Pornography paid to build the internet. Pornography made The Sopranos, David Mamet, and The Daily Show possible. Pornography is the sexual outlet for a lot of lonely people who are not going to meet Mr. Good Enough or Ms. Right for a long time. Or ever.
Pornography has many, many, many, many faults (is that enough acknowledgment?). It is also one of the few places you can get an honest look at America’s subconscious. And what you find there is simply human: childish curiosity, adolescent yearning, adult confusion, an overwhelming interest in sexual body parts, fluids, power dynamics, and yes, feelings. Healthy human sexuality has a noble, wholesome, loving side.
That same healthy human sexuality has a dark, aggressive side. Pornography shows it all, complete with big smiles, happy orgasms, pretend coercion, lame music, and stupid dialogue (“ooh, is that for me?!). But pornography doesn’t show anything that isn’t common human fantasy.
I’ve counseled patients who felt deep, deep shame for watching pornography. I’ve also counseled terrified or enraged patients who believe that their partner’s watching porn is infidelity, rejection, or perversion. You don’t want to live like that.
Spit will only get you so far.
So a special salute here to lube–the magic stuff that makes sex more comfortable for people of all ages and persuasions.
I still have patients who resist using it, saying they don’t “need” it, as if it’s some medicine for losers. No. To the extent that sex is about friction, lube helps you custom-design the friction. The slippery stuff in lube helps turn the geekiest guy into Fred Astaire, the clumsiest woman into Ginger Rogers.
If you don’t know who they are, the second thing you should do is sign up for Netflix. The first thing you should do is get some lube.
* Female Sexual Desire
Plenty of Americans remember the days when Good Girls Didn’t Say Yes.
Unfortunately, even today, many women across the globe can’t say yes even if they want to. Single women in Muslim countries; patriotic women in war-time Vietnam; African women struggling with clitoridectomy–these women have learned bitter lessons about an enthusiastic yes.
The great uber-gift of legitimizing female sexual desire is the way it allows sexuality to be a form of intimacy between two people. When female sexual desire is considered abnormal or slutty or threatening to her partner, she has to hide it or her (male) partner needs to control it. This is the case around the world, where men pursue and women submit or dissemble.
When two people can acknowledge and celebrate a woman’s sexual interest, they can be themselves and connect physically. She doesn’t have to manipulate her partner or spend her life unable to speak for herself.
A great accomplishment of modern America is that we have established a moral code that isn’t based primarily on the number of sex partners a woman has, or when she has them. Women are now free to be unethical independent of their sexuality–by bribery, say, or theft or child neglect. Yes, judging women on their public behavior rather than their private sexual choices is a big advance in civilization.
* * *
Finally, let’s enjoy today by taking the perspective that all those erotophobic activities we hate–laws and customs limiting sexual expression, narratives of sexual danger, efforts to trivialize sexual knowledge–are essentially compliments to those working for a world of sexual justice and responsible erotic expression.
If those forces of fear, hatred, and sexual denial weren’t afraid of the continuing and inevitable success of our work creating a sexually progressive world, they wouldn’t be fighting us so hard.
Oh, I give thanks for one more thing: for all my readers, who encourage me with email, suggestions for articles, financial contributions and book purchases. Your affection and support are very, very important to me. On more nights than you might imagine, you make the difference between me working and me…well, me not working.
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Female Sexuality, Feminists, & The Superbowl
On Feburary 1, 100 men in the prime of their lives were planning to repeatedly line up and violently run full speed into each other. For the entertainment of 100 million people (and several million dollars and world-wide fame), they would risk permanent disability, paralysis, and even death.
Welcome to the Superbowl.
Because 100 million people watch, the TV commercials during the three-hour show are the most expensive on earth. And, of course, the most watched. And so it was big news when NBC rejected the ad proposed by the vegetarian activist group PETA (disclosure: I DO eat meat and wear leather).
The stylish 30-second ad shows rapid cuts of a half-dozen beautiful women wearing bikinis or lingerie fondling various vegetables with erotic delight. There’s a sexy instrumental soundtrack, with a single message overlaid in big letters: “Studies show vegetarians have better sex. Go veg.” It’s signed “Peta.org.”
The NBC censor rejected the ad, saying it “depicts a level of sexuality exceeding our standards.” NBC said PETA had to cut the following 1-second moments before they’d reconsider the commercial:
touching her breast with her hand while eating broccoli
pumpkin from behind between legs
rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin
screwing herself with broccoli (fuzzy)
asparagus on her lap appearing as if ready to be inserted into vagina
rubbing asparagus on breast”
Mind you, this all takes place in less than 30 seconds, so you can imagine how long the camera could possibly linger on any of these images.
Morality in Media is thrilled, commending NBC for rejecting the “home strip-tease” and “PETA smut.” This kind of reflexive censorship and its support is drearily familiar. But a more troubling criticism has arisen, the so-called “feminist critique.” Being a long-time committed feminist myself, I frequently agree with both BlogHer and Feministe. But unfortunately, they and their supporters are critiquing the wrong thing here.
Since we don’t live in a perfect world, everything must be evaluated relative to the alternatives. So I ask my feminist colleagues: aren’t you troubled about the censorship–of sexuality, and of FEMALE sexuality? Isn’t that the more important, less ambiguous sin here?
True, it would be better if the PETA ad showed sexy men, too (their other ads do).
But in this commercial the vegetables are not stand-ins for men. The ad honors straightforward female eroticism, which is NOT something we can take for granted in the mass media. The ad references sex without disease, violence, unwanted pregnancy–or marriage. It shows women quasi-masturbating–for themselves, not for their lover. For mainstream TV, this is a big deal. It beats Oprah’s sexual fear–mongering by a mile.
Besides, the whole ad can be viewed as a parody of commercials in general, particularly the Superbowl ads. PETA’s ad is actually witty. Mistaking it for sexist crap is intellectually lazy, exposing us to the age-old argument that feminists and feminism not only lack eroticism, but a sense of humor, too.
Of course, NBC will show plenty of commercials featuring sex. But they’ll all have men in them, and they won’t portray women as independent sexual agents. Besides, where’s the “feminist” critique about men–not people, men–being encouraged to risk death to entertain us?
A display isn’t automatically sexist or degrading just because it features female sexuality, or the woman is beautiful. If we can’t celebrate female eroticism and we can’t laugh at ourselves, where does that leave us?
The joyless, humorless, Morality in Media.
Is that who we want to be in bed with?
* * *
Correspondence: Porn? “That’s Just Like A Man”
A reader named Janet has sent a vitriolic response to my criticism of the concept “victims of porn” (issue #64).
She says, “You totally missed the real victims…there is no pornography without the object of lust…this sends so many girls down a path of self-destruction, eventual shame and abuse in the porno world…where their self-esteem is forever damaged. They typically end up like Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole…confused, sad, and powerless to end their own misery.”
This is a great example of the confusion and sex-negativity in the anti-porn world. They believe that lust is dangerous; that working in pornography is shameful; that no one could make a rational decision to participate in it; and that doing so somehow robs women of their adulthood. Oh, and that there’s always a great alternative to being in porn. What would Anna Nicole be if there were no porn–Secretary of Agriculture? Professor of astrophysics? Or just one more average jane, working the nightshift at 7-Eleven and hating her life?
But the real highlight of Janet’s nastygram is this: “I am not surprised that you arrogantly only see this from a man’s point of view. Why not call your website Womenarenothingmorethanabodyformyselfindulgentpleasure.org.”
Ah–now she gets to the problem: I’m a man. And so I can’t possibly enjoy, respect, or like women. I’m a man, and so I can’t be thoughtful about sex and gender. I’m a man, so my desire for pleasure is obviously selfish and aggressive. Janet, I’m sorry you live in such a terrible world.
But Janet, I’m afraid that you’re no feminist, and you seem, well, too lazy to think. What you’ve done is just as bad as dismissing a woman’s opinion as “just a woman being emotional,” or “women just don’t get it,” or “she’s just premenstrual.” If we want to get beyond “women only think with their hormones,” we have to get past “men only think with their penises.”
Since you don’t know me, and obviously haven’t bothered to read my work, maybe you’ve missed my actual blind spot–if I desire the victimization of women, maybe it’s because I’m Christian, left-handed, or an Aquarius.
And if my piece were written by a woman–how would you account for the attitudes you find so appalling?
We live in a time where science is considered just one more opinion, and having strong feelings is equated with being well-informed. Put the two together, and meaningful discourse is impossible. The result is public policy that makes things worse: abstinence ed, Amber Alert, the battle over Emergency Contraception.
By dismissing someone’s well-researched thoughts as merely the predictable artifact of their gender, you dishonor women, men, and thinkers. You disqualify yourself from any important conversation. You’re just talking about your fear and anger.
Some of us are having a serious discussion about the fate of the world. Please don’t change the subject.
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Sexual Hypocrisy Makes the Personal Political
Randall Tobias abruptly resigned as head of the Bush administration’s foreign aid programs Friday after he was implicated in an investigation of high-priced call-girls.
Ho-hum, another married Republican outed as–gasp–participating in non-marital, non-monogamous sex.
The moral failure of yet another Bush appointee would hardly be worth mentioning, except that Tobias directed the Agency for International Development (USAID) and America’s global AIDS relief programs. In those capacities, he was personally responsible for implementing a condom-is-the-last-resort policy for AIDS prevention. He implemented America’s shameful international blackmail scheme–you want family planning money, you have to vigorously oppose prostitution, while promoting abstinence & monogamy.
Two years ago, Brazil (with the developing world’s most successful anti-HIV program) rejected $40 million of that money. Last year DKT International (which sold 400 million discounted condoms to sex workers in 11 countries) sued USAID for withholding an HIV prevention grant for Vietnam after DKT refused to sign the anti-prostitution pledge.
So Tobias has been responsible for a lot of bad international policy, policy that attempted to narrow the developing world’s sexual expression as an ostensible way of combating HIV and unwanted pregnancy. And now he’s been caught doing exactly what he’s been trying to prevent hundreds of millions of non-Americans from doing.
It’s easy to have contempt for this hypocritical man, this man who thought he knew better than the adults whose lives he tried to control, this man who demanded a moral purity he did not choose for himself.
But it’s also appropriate to have compassion for the guy. Like so many social and political conservatives (many, of course, devout Christians), his vision of human sexuality is so distorted, it hardly leaves room for real people.
When you believe that sex is inherently bad unless redeemed within extremely narrow, arbitrary limits, sexual feelings, desires, and communication are dangerous.
While it’s not unreasonable to expect that adults will tell the truth and keep their promises, people who decide that their core is evil have a much, much harder time doing so. They live in fear–fear of discovering that they’re worse than they should be, and fear that as a result they will lose what and who they value.
Tobias implemented global policies that tried to limit the bad sexuality he saw out in the world (and, obviously, in himself). Instead of accepting the diversity of the human family’s sexuality–including his own–he worked hard to get people to conform to his shame-based, guilt-ridden vision. Most people didn’t. He certainly didn’t. That’s why real sex education is so crucial–to combat the guilt, fear, and ignorance that drive people to repress others’ sexuality.
Tobias’ failure isn’t going to massage parlors, or even lying to his wife.
It’s violating the inhumane rules he forced on others–poor, uneducated, desperate others. Tobias is a poster boy for the tormented version of Christian charity that has been soiling our country for 6 years.
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It’s Women’s History Month–But Which Women?
March was Women’s History Month.
Americans don’t know much about history in general; why were Kellogg’s Corn Flakes invented? Why was J. Edgar Hoover so feared? How did contraception become criminalized in the U.S.? Why did the American Psychiatric Association remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses? And if we Remember the Alamo, shouldn’t we also Remember Stonewall, the Hays Code, and the Comstock Laws?
Anything that better acquaints us with our history–or herstory, if you will–is almost certainly a good thing. But which women’s history? Which women?
Should we study ardent supporters of church-state separation like Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or small-minded policy-makers like U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling, who fear that God needs the help of American law?
By “women,” do we mean Margaret Sanger, who went to jail for opening America’s first birth control clinic, or Bridget Maher (Family Research Council) and Jan LaRue (Concerned Women for America), who lie about the effectiveness of condoms and try to restrict the public’s access to birth control?
Should we know about Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, who believed books and pictures of sexual activity were dangerous, or the ACLU’s Nadine Strossen, who has spent her adult life crusading against the censorship that inevitably hurts women and their sexuality?
Should we learn about Deb Levine, who founded ISIS to create innovative sex education internet programs for teens, or Leslie Unruh, whose Abstinence Clearinghouse lies about the consequences of teen sex, and deliberately prevents teens from getting the healthcare they need and deserve?
The truth is, we need to know about all these women. We need to know the history of how our sexuality has been stolen and re-stolen from us by frightened do-gooders, religious fundamentalists, so-called feminists who don’t trust women, and “decency” groups that try to enshrine their personal morality into law. Being female doesn’t mean that someone is a friend of sexuality.
We’re told that history is written by the winners. We need to know as much history as we can, to protect sexuality–and ourselves–from being the losers.
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George Carlin’s 7 Words The Government Couldn’t Handle
George Carlin died last week at the age of 71.
Most people would call him a comedian, and indeed he was–22 albums, 14 HBO specials. In 1975, he was the very first host of Saturday Night Live.
But his legacy involves something much darker and more serious than that, affecting every American alive today.
In 1973, one of Carlin’s routines (“Seven Dirty Words”) was broadcast on a non-commercial FM station–WBAI, known for its lefty politics and progressive artsy ideas. After a listener complained to the FCC about the “dirty words” (one listener!), the FCC reprimanded the station owner. The Pacifica Foundation appealed, and won in federal court. But in 1978 the FCC appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the government in the now-famous FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.
Carlin’s words were declared “indecent”–an astounding concept when used even today. The year the Cold War raged, the year China lifted its ban on Aristotle and Shakespeare, the American government declared certain words dangerous.
The decision suddenly gave the government the right to decide that certain words couldn’t be said on the radio at certain times of day–and to decide which words (and which times). Apparently, the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Bill of Rights didn’t apply at all times of day, or to all words.
It still doesn’t.
You are allowed to say that “Jesus hates gays” on the radio 24 hours a day. You aren’t allowed to say that “anal sex and eating pussy are gifts from God” any old time you like. Is the government protecting God, itself–or you?
George Carlin spent his half-century career hilariously pointing out life’s absurdities. One was that the most powerful government in the world was so obsessed about the power of a few non-violent words that it was willing to damage the Constitution to protect society.
The words that required stifling by the Supreme Court were shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.
Click here for Carlin’s intensely funny routine about these words. Of course, they’re harmless–until they’re banned, when using them constitutes a political act.
For 10 minutes, the clip shows Carlin skewering the whole idea that words are dangerous. With an orator’s skill and an athlete’s daring, he uses the words over and over until they lose their feared meaning, and gain a new one: the words become symbols of power. Banned, the words reflect government power. Spoken, they reflect Carlin’s. And, by extension, ours.
Beyond chanting the Sacred Seven, Carlin reminded us that words alone couldn’t be bad, that context is everything. It’s a subtlety mastered by most adolescents. Our government has yet to catch on to this.
Carlin believed that censorship was wrong and dangerous. To fight it, he ridiculed it so effectively that everyone within earshot laughed at it. When people realize that censors are ridiculous, small, stupid, and selfish, censorship is less likely.
And so Carlin was an alchemist. He took banned words he knew were harmless, and by using them to expose government malice, he made them dangerous.
“You can say you pricked your finger, just don’t say you fingered your prick,” he said.
To honor George Carlin, tonight you can salute him with any appendage you wish.
* * *
THE MYTH OF SEX ADDICTION
The diagnosis of “sex addiction” has become popular with both lay people and professionals in recent years. But it is a destructive and irresponsible one that should be discontinued. In 21 years as a marriage counselor & sex therapist, I’ve never seen a single case in which the label “sex addiction” was clinically useful. That’s because there is no such thing. What we clinicians do frequently see includes:
* Poor decision-making: Even the healthiest people occasionally behave sexually in ways which later they regret.
* Poor impulse control: This, too, we all experience to one degree or another with money, food, TV, gossip, etc. Most of the time it is simply inconvenient; sometimes it gets out of hand.
* Obsessive-compulsive behavior: A small number of people think, feel, and do things that they don’t want to do. Whether it’s exhibitionism or hand washing, they are driven: the more they try to stop, the worse they feel, and the more they have to do it.
* Psychotic or sociopathic personalities: This small group of people has impaired reality-testing, and typically behaves with complete disregard for even the most basic social conventions.
Addictionologists now call all of these behaviors, when sexuality is the vehicle, symptoms of the same poorly-defined disease–“sex addiction.” Supposedly, “sex addicts” can’t control themselves; they cannot be cured, they can only “recover.”
But I say that, except for a handful of truly disturbed people, all of us have the ability to control our sexual energy. For the vast majority of people, “being out of control” sexually is a metaphor, a metaphor we clinicians see every day in countless non-sexual forms. It’s more accurate to say, instead, that for many people, controlling sexual urges is difficult or emotionally painful. Relinquishing our power–FEELING out of control–is a classic defense to reduce this pain. By encouraging people to admit that they ARE powerless, they are prevented from examining how they’ve come to FEEL powerless–and what they can do about that feeling.
Saying that people are powerless over sex, the fundamental definition of “sex addiction,” undermines them. It robs people of the tools they need to understand or (if they wish) change their lives. And it relieves people of the responsibility for developing an adult sexuality, one that involves subtleties, choices, and strong feelings such as fear, anxiety, anger, joy, and passion.
The concept of “sex addiction” is a set of moral beliefs disguised as science, as reflected in these fundamental concepts of “sex addiction” training programs and Sexaholics Anonymous:
• Sex is most healthy in committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships
• There are “obvious” limits to healthy sexual expression (for example, masturbation more than once a day)
• Choosing to use sex to feel better about yourself or to escape from problems is unhealthy.
The concept of “sex addiction” really rests upon the assumption that sex is dangerous. There’s the sense that we frail humans are vulnerable to the Devil’s temptations of pornography, masturbation, “promiscuity,” and extramarital affairs, and that if we yield, we become “addicted.”
The “sex addiction” movement is also dangerous in the way it supports the anti-sexuality forces in this country. “Sex addiction” is the Right’s newest justification for eliminating sex education, birth control clinics, gay/lesbian rights, and books like “The Color Purple” from school libraries. We should not be colluding with this destructive, life-denying force.
If mass murderer Ted Bundy had announced that watching Bill Cosby reruns had motivated his awful crimes, he would have been dismissed as a deranged sociopath. Instead, Bundy proclaimed that his “pornography addiction” made him do it, and many Right-wing feminists and conservatives treated this as the conclusion of a thoughtful social scientist. Why?
Virtually no one in the field of sexology believes in the concept of “sex addiction.” All clinicians and thoughtful people should reject any model suggesting that men and women must spend their lives 1) fearing sexuality’s destructive power; 2) being powerless about sexuality; 3) lacking the tools to relax and let sex take over when appropriate. In these terrible anti-sex times, one of our most important tasks is to reaffirm that sex, though complex, is precious, not dangerous.
* * *
Oprah Still Promoting Sexual Anxiety
For almost twenty years, Oprah Winfrey has been promoting sexual anxiety, showcasing victimhood, exploitation, and a dark vision of sexual relationships. Sometimes she does it herself, and sometimes she hires others to do it.
Oprah’s latest surrogate is “Dr. Phil” McGraw, a forensic psychologist who helped her out when she was sued by Texas beef growers three years ago for criticizing beef on the air. McGraw’s now on the show every Tuesday, and has a column in her monthly magazine. His latest pronouncement is that men who look at internet porn are “addicts” who are “cheating on their partners.” ALL men, regardless of circumstance? Absolutely: “This behavior is not OK, it’s not even almost OK,” he says. “This habit is a perverse and ridiculous intrusion into your relationship.” But don’t 20 million Americans look at internet porn each month? Surely they can’t all be perverts. “Addicts give lame justifications for their behavior like ‘It’s harmless’, or ‘Everybody’s doing it’,” says McGraw. And in a final swipe at the humanity of men, he says, “Guys just don’t understand the pain, hurt and devastation they can cause with their unfaithfulness.”
So Dr. Phil, with Oprah’s blessing, pathologizes millions of men for looking at porn. And supports millions of women in attacking, rather than understanding, their mates.
I suppose we should expect this from the doc selected as Oprah’s top guru. He perfectly reflects the messages on which Oprah has built an empire: male sexuality is a problem; female sensitivity leaves women vulnerable to male manipulation. Oprah’s the one, after all, who said on a show a few years ago, “We all know that, sooner or later, all men cheat if they have the chance.” Hmm, does Oprah have issues with men or sexuality?
Her recent interview with Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, author of “What your mother never told you about sex,” offers more clues. On an episode broadcast last week, the middle-aged African-American psychologist was straightforward about female sexuality: use a vibrator. Love your clitoris. Talk to your mate about what you want. And to counteract media pressures about youth and beauty, walk around the house naked when alone. Yup, let those breasts breathe free, and get some air between those legs. Hardly radical stuff, and yet La Winfrey could hardly bear it: “Walk around naked? not me!” she said, obviously embarrassed about her body. And using a sex toy or a vaginal muscle exerciser was clearly out: “Hell, I ain’t puttin’ that thing inside me,” she said, wide-eyed. Perhaps most revealing, Oprah had terrible trouble saying the words “vagina” and “clitoris.” The problem wasn’t network censors, who didn’t try to silence Hutcherson.
Oprah is America’s most influential sex educator. With her sexual conservatism hiding as embarrassment, and her victimology disguised as compassion, Oprah is betraying the eroticism of the women she claims to empower. Too bad she’s leaving part of each woman behind. And too bad so many women don’t seem to notice.
* * *
Sexually Healthy Faith Communities
Many people know Debra Haffner as the executive director who made SIECUS the international leader in sex education advocacy. Since leaving SIECUS three years ago, Haffner has embarked on a dramatic journey. She has finished divinity school, will soon be ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister, and has now co-founded the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.
The Institute’s mission is mobilizing the nation’s religious denominations, congregations, and clergy to promote healthy sexuality. The Institute’s founding declaration is a gorgeous document which affirms that sexuality is a life-fulfilling divine gift. Signed by more than 2000 clergy and theologians, it calls upon faith communities to integrate sexual minorities, offer quality sexuality counseling, challenge sexual oppression, and support comprehensive sexuality education in schools and religious institutions.
One of the great things about the Institute is that it isn’t simply a bunch of radical clergy and marginal denominations congratulating themselves. Haffner and co-founder Rev. Larry Greenfield have attracted the participation of seminary faculty, Catholic bishops, and other mainstream people of faith. In her new guide A Time to Build, Haffner shows how all congregations–from Catholic to Lutheran to Mennonite–can use their own fundamental theological statements to relieve sexual suffering, promote the sexual health of clergy, and affirm sexuality for all congregants.
Haffner not only tells religious leaders and their flocks that they should and can support healthy sexuality, she shows how–in a language that shimmers with both faith and justice.
* * *
Follow the Money, Do the Math
Concerned Women for America (CWA) is another one of those morality groups that’s obsessed with sexuality. Only two years ago they tried to get an indictment against Amazon.com chair Jeff Bezos, claiming he encouraged child molestation because of the books his company sold.
CWA’s latest report criticizes many Fortune 500 companies as “white collar smut peddlers” who profit from pornography. Companies cited include AT&T, MCI, Time-Warner, DirecTV, Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton, and Radisson, who make billions of dollars from “dial-a-porn” and in-room adult films.
CWA also berates credit card companies like Visa for accepting $420 million in processing fees from on-line porn purchases. “CWA is sending letters to the CEOs of each of these corporations urging them to place the welfare of children and their families above profits and [to] discontinue trafficking in pornography,” said Janet LaRue, Chief Counsel of CWA.
Once again, anti-porn activists undermine their main point with simple mathematics. The billions of dollars involved in sexually explicit entertainment prove that this is a mainstream American industry catering to a huge number of mainstream Americans. “Trafficking” and “profits” are what corporations are all about. Without customers, there is no trafficking and there are no profits.
For better or worse, corporations like AT&T and Visa are generally not sympathetic to demands based on “morality.” And fortunately, most groups like CWA are sufficiently marginalized that their threatened boycotts have little impact. Still, it’s scary to contemplate CWA’s logic: that pornography is everywhere, part of the basic structure of American capitalism and communities, but that it’s enjoyed only by people on the fringes of our society–and that in any event, it’s a sufficiently dangerous activity that it must be destroyed. Groups like CWA are so obsessed with their fear of eroticism that they’d gladly eliminate anything they have to–including America’s civil and economic freedoms–to reduce everyone’s exposure to it.
* * *
America–Land of Sex Maniacs?
Here’s a fun activity to try: go outside the U.S. and listen to people talk about Americans’ sexual habits.
I’ve just returned from Turkey, Croatia, and Austria, and acquaintances and colleagues in all three countries have the same image–that we are the world’s horniest people, doing it in the streets, eating porn for breakfast, committing sex crimes for lunch, and skipping work to have orgies (which we videotape) with Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson.
When I informed people it wasn’t quite that way, they were startled. So I pointed to that week’s issue of Croatia’s national Globus Magazine, a cross between Parade and Newsweek. The cover featured photos of celebrities, news items, and a little one-inch shot of a barebreasted woman. You couldn’t do that in America, I said. Really?, they said.
OK, to really convince them, I said that in America:
• The federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to get teens to not have sex, or to stop if they’ve started;
• There are thousands of laws across the country attempting to eliminate sex shops, strip clubs, and swing clubs;
• There are dozens of national organizations devoted to keeping certain words and situations from being broadcast on TV or radio;
• Until two years ago we had a law against anal and oral sex (sodomy), and people were periodically jailed for violating it;
• Many cities have websites or municipal TV shows featuring mugshots of men busted for soliciting prostitutes;
• Selling vibrators is illegal in more than 10% of our states;
• The Congress is discussing amending our two-centuries old Constitution to forbid same-sex marriage, and the President himself is praying that they succeed;
• In many states, a 16-year-old cannot consent to have sex with an 18-year-old.
They were amazed by all of it.
So am I.
* * *
Civilization: The Ultimate Danger
Sidney McGee, a popular art teacher with 28 years in the classroom, has been fired for leading her fifth-grade classes through the Dallas Museum of Art. It’s the result of an unnamed parent’s complaint that her child saw nude art in the museum.
The tour had been approved by the principal. The 89 students were accompanied by four other teachers, 12 parents, and a museum docent. Nevertheless, school principal Nancy Lawson responded to the complaint by criticizing the students’ exposure to nude statues and other nude art–such as the marble torso of a Greek youth from 330 B.C, and Rodin’s “Shade.”
Three thousand years of civilization dismissed over a penis here, a nipple or two there.
So forget the miracle that children were somehow actually engaging non-electronic, non-moving, soundless expression. Forget the idea of enriching the lives of human beings who happen to be 10 years old, inviting them to consider existence beyond McDonald’s.
In Dallas, kids can watch football players knock each other down, and hockey players knock each others’ teeth out. Kids learn that it’s every Texan’s birthright to hunt down innocent birds, fish, and mammals, killing them for sheer pleasure.
But a 2,500-year-old statue that encourages us to contemplate the meaning of being human? That’s just too dangerous. The kids might get ideas.
* * *
July 31 was National Orgasm Day throughout Great Britain.
We don’t have such a day here in the U.S. (although good Americans do observe National Masturbation Day on May 7). In a country that criminalizes vibrators and classifies contraception as abortion, celebrating orgasm is a little advanced.
But let me speak against National Orgasm Day for a moment.
Because as a sex therapist, I observe people making way too much fuss about orgasm.
Don’t get me wrong, I think orgasms are fine–hey, some of my best friends have them.
But orgasm lasts, what-six, eight seconds? As good as those 8 seconds can be, they’re not worth a whole lot of aggravation. Or boredom, or guilt. Or doing a bunch of stuff that you don’t really want to do.
If you’re with a partner, that’s what those eight seconds frequently cost. That’s part of masturbation’s appeal-most people get an orgasm without a lot of hassle. You don’t have to take anyone out to dinner, kiss someone who needs to brush their teeth, or give anyone else head. You touch yourself, think about something pleasant, and in a few minutes a little magic door opens. Momentarily.
Depending on how you and your partner do things, it’s anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour from the time you undress until you climax. Ideally, people would enjoy every single one of those 10 to 60 minutes. But frequently they don’t. They’re thinking about their saggy butt, their unreliable erection, how their vulva smells. While many people love every part of sex, too many others are just trying to get through it, hoping to be competent, wanting for the Big Payoff that give the whole thing meaning.
That’s so sad. It’s people like that who give orgasm a bad name.
Orgasm is not the point of sex. It’s a little bonus, a fine bit of punctuation. If it’s the best part of sex for you, you’re missing a whole lot. If it’s the only part of sex you enjoy, it can’t possibly be worth it.
National Orgasm Day? How about National Relax & Enjoy Sex Moment-By-Moment Day?
That would be something to celebrate. And not just one day per year.
* * *
My Topless Italian Friend–America’s Enemy?
Last week, after teaching in Croatia, I took a couple of days to relax in northeastern Italy before teaching in Germany and New York.
Two Italian friends took me to Grado, the seaside town that started as a maritime possession of Imperial Rome, and three centuries later gave Christianity to Venice. I was looking forward to a long walk on one of the Adriatic’s rare sandy beaches.
We drove to the shore, parked the car, and walked two minutes. Once on the sand, Marina took off her shirt. She had nothing under it. Our colleague Roberto hardly seemed to notice–but I, um, well, ah, “what are you doing?” I asked dumbly. “It’s the beach,” she replied, “if this bothers you …” Fortunately, I was able to cope.
Fortunately, because there were other topless women on the beach. Young, old, older. Tall, short, wide, very wide. Neither they nor the people with them seemed to notice, much less care. Even better, the kids around them ignored the various breasts around them, caring about much more important things like ice cream and hitting their younger brothers.
I looked at a few dozen breasts lounging, walking, and swimming around. Some were more entertaining than others, for sure. And after roughly three minutes, none were as entertaining as the conversation with Marina and Roberto about the 16th-century competition between the Hapsburg and Venetian Empires.
So without the challenge of looking down anyone’s blouse, through the armholes of tank tops, or attempting to use x-ray vision to see through sweaters, the various Italian breasts on display lost most of their sexual aura. They were as pleasant-looking as the sea and the palm trees. Nice, that’s all.
As normal as it was here in Grado, how deeply different the scene was from U.S. beaches. America’s problem starts with the belief that all female breasts are sexual (except Mother Mary’s, of course), and continues with the superstition that sexuality is dangerous for children.
At a time when American women are being prevented from breast-feeding in public, and photos of mothers and their children nude together are considered child abuse or child porn, the normal toplessness of European beaches is an affront to everything American “morality” groups believe. A field trip to Italy would open their American eyes.
I’ll tell what did keep catching my eye at the beach long after the breasts lost their novelty. The exotic sight of women’s unshaved underarms-mile after mile of them!
* * *
Dear President Obama
Dear President Obama:
For months, I’ve been predicting that when you win, nothing will change regarding sex. I’ve said you won’t stop the government’s War On Sex; you won’t demand respect for sexual rights as human rights; you won’t prevent religious fanatics from controlling non-believers’ sex lives.
You now have your big chance: prove me wrong. Here’s what you need to do:
* End funding for abstinence-only training in public schools.
* End the Department of Justice’s war on adult entertainment. Keep the war on child porn. Make it clear they’re two different things.
* Decriminalize all consensual sex that teens have with other teens. Decriminalize teens sharing photos of themselves having sex.
* Increase financial support for Planned Parenthood, an investment proven to reduce poverty and domestic violence.
* Take the moral leadership to decrease abortion–by funding contraception services and comprehensive sex education, not by criminalizing abortion.
* Require all sex education programs to be scientifically accurate. Isn’t that required by the policies of car manufacturers, meat-packing plants, and toothpaste makers?
* Require all municipalities that want to restrict commercial sexual expression (strip clubs, adult bookstores, swing clubs, etc.) to actually demonstrate a need to do so, rather than simply claim “effects like crime, disease, and blight are well-established.” Because they’re not.
* Require all federal judges to take a Continuing Education course about sexuality. Healthy sexuality, not “sex addiction” or child molestation. Make this education mandatory for anyone aspiring to be a judge.
* Get the FCC out of the censorship business. Let Americans use the “off” and “change channel” buttons on their TV remotes whenever they want; it’s good practice for voting.
* Remove the blocking software from every federally-funded computer in America–libraries, universities, airports. Start with the computers in the White House and Congress.
I’ve said in dozens of lectures this year that you won’t make a difference in America’s War On Sex.
Please, prove me wrong.
* * *
Sweden Gets It Right: No Need to Make Sex a Sickness
Sweden’s health officials have decided that seven “alternative” sexual behaviors will no longer be listed as diseases.
The diagnoses which will soon be declassified as diseases include sadomasochism, fetishism, and transvestitism. The National Board of Health and Welfare hopes that this will limit prejudice against these activities and their practitioners.
The Board made the decision to declassify the behaviors because they are not illnesses in and of themselves. “These diagnoses are rooted in a time when everything other than the heterosexual missionary position were seen as sexual perversions,” notes Board head Lars-Erik Holm.
Here in the U.S., people with intense sexual interests in bondage or whips, in leather, rubber, or silk, in exhibitionism or voyeurism, as well as many other “alternatives” are pathologized–by the DSM-IV as well as the clinical training of most psychologists and marriage counselors.
Why does it matter? Because people whose sexuality is officially classified as “sick” are more likely to lose their kids, their jobs, their military careers, and their civilian security clearances. Although, as Sweden’s Holm says, “These individuals’ sexual preferences have nothing to do with society,” American society does punish them.
To appreciate the importance of Sweden’s bureaucratic action, recall that homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the U.S. until 1973. Included in the diagnostic manual DSM-II, it was finally omitted from the updated DSM-III. As people today discuss how many civil rights should be granted or withheld from gay Americans, imagine how the debate would look if people like Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, or the Mormon Church could say “yes, but the American Psychiatric Association says these men and women are sick.”
That’s why many people like San Francisco’s Dr. Charles Moser and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom are working to influence the content of the forthcoming DSM-V, expected in 2012. It really matters who’s considered mentally ill.
The most common adult sexualities–including masturbation, oral sex, viewing pornography, and discomfort with monogamy–are already demonized by political, church, and “decency” leaders. Formally labeling millions of people sick or perverse for their private, consensual sexual behavior continues to damage America today. It creates the shame and guilt that encourage secrecy and substance abuse, and it prevents people from accepting themselves and building productive relationships and lives.
We salute Sweden for showing that a country can grow and widen its vision–“even” about sexuality.
* * *
Supreme Court Obsessed With Sex; Healthy Americans Lose Rights
For a half-century, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has had the right to decide which words and pictures are excluded from the Free Speech guarantees all Americans enjoy.
The FCC’s criterion for this cruel abridgment of the Bill of Rights is material that involves “sexual and excretory functions.” This sounds clearer than it actually is. For example, do the words “dickhead” and “buttface” refer to sexual or execretory functions (controlling whether you’re allowed to watch South Park or The Daily Show)? Are plain buttocks (not the anus, just the cheeks) a sexual organ? (The FCC recently ruled they are.)
The FCC’s attitude, especially under the Bush regime, has been ‘when in doubt, throw it out’. And so Saving Private Ryan was unavailable to many viewers last Memorial Day, as stations feared punitive fines for airing this testament to the (salty-mouthed) soldiers who died to preserve democratic institutions (like the FCC).
So the FCC is obsessed with sex, seeing it everywhere, and attempting to exclude depictions of or references to it–no matter how indirect or esoteric.
This week the Supreme Court affirmed that it, too, sees sex wherever it looks. First it affirmed the FCC’s right to banish and therefore punish the occasional coarse word fleeting across your TV screen–say, Bono exclaiming something is “fucking brilliant”or Paris Hilton noting the difficulty of getting “cow shit out of a Prada purse.”
Days later, the Supreme Court challenged a lower court ruling that the 1/2-second glimpse of Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show should not be punished.
In both rulings, the Supreme Court sought to “protect”Americans from “sexual” words or images that would either harm them, offend them, or undermine the country’s “morality.” Justice Scalia and colleagues offered absolutely no science to support their fear. Indeed, Scalia conveniently omitted the fact that the rates of sexual violence, divorce, and child molestation have remained stable since 300 million American eyeballs were seared with the horrifying image of the Jackson tit 5 1/2 years ago.
Indeed, Scalia himself warned, in his scathing dissent in the case that de-criminalized gay sodomy (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003), that the majority decision would end the government’s ability to legislate based on “morality.” His anxiety about what he quaintly calls “the f-word” seems to have separated him from his own beliefs.
The obsession with seeing sex where it doesn’t exist isn’t limited to media issues.
Author Sally Wendkos Olds reminds us about those who successfully demand that mothers who breastfeed on airplanes or other public places stop or cover up–because breasts are sexual, and immature adults have a right to be “protected” from seeing them.
There are lots of fascinating technical arguments about these FCC cases, which legal writer Mark Kernes [possibly NSFW] explains quite clearly.
But the real question is: why are people like Justice Scalia, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly more concerned about protecting the sensibilities of some people than the Constitution of everybody?