An Electronic Newsletter
Written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
Issue #2 -- April 2000
2. "American Beauty's" eroticism
3. A nation of cyber-addicts?
4. Phoenix orgies--gay only, please
Sexual Intelligence archived
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The second most important aspect of the Oscars--some say the most important--is the dresses worn by the actresses involved in the show. Over time we have seen a parade of memorable choices and fashion crimes, including Barbra Streisand's see-through outfit and Cher's then-outrageous bare midriff. This year, the show's producer encouraged participants to dress up, and for the most part, they did.
The press' reaction neatly summarizes America's ambivalence about sexuality. On the one hand, people enjoyed seeing the lovely legs, backs, and cleavage of women such as Cameron Diaz, Ashley Judd, and Wynona Rider. On the other hand, there was an obvious sense of disappointment that almost no one had behaved badly. Erykah Badu's sky-high green turban provoked Billy Crystal's only fashion joke.
Contrast this to the fuss over Jennifer Lopez's body-exposing dress last month at the Golden Globe Awards. Every TV station and magazine took its turn disdaining her--while grabbing the opportunity to show a half-naked woman.
This year's Oscar dresses said "look at me" rather than "fuck me," the definition of class vs. trash. While few women actually hid their gorgeous bodies--completely covered Angelina Jolie, for example, was almost nude--virtually all portrayed themselves as objects to look at and desire, rather than as human beings to have sex with. More's the shame.
In America, it's OK to leer, as long as we pretend we aren't. That's why Madonna was so scandalous just a few short years ago--she invited us to leer at her, and whether we accepted her invitation or not, our desire was acknowledged. When people couldn't handle being exposed like that, they projected their shame onto her, calling her sleazy and exploitative.
In a year of political campaign pledges that will surely be broken, let's hope that Cher--"I promise not to dress like a grownup again next year"--keeps hers.*
2. "AMERICAN BEAUTY'S" EROTICISM
You have to love a movie that opens with a shot of frosted bathroom glass and the line, "here I am, jerking off in the shower again." Not surprisingly, though, "American Beauty" seems misunderstood by a lot of people. I've read reviews saying it's about voyeurism, pedophilia, and drugs. Others refer to the "affair" that Kevin Spacey's character had with a teen, although he refused her invitation for sex. As usual, the mainstream media are having difficulty understanding a film that treats sexuality as a normal part of life--that is, something that people are grappling with, and not necessarily resolving in a neat and tidy way.
There's plenty of eroticism to go around here--the beautiful teenage tease, Annette Bening's affair with "The King of Real Estate," her daughter and her boyfriend undressed together. And while the film leaves too many questions unanswered, it does depict these various sexualities as erotic in a rather down-to-earth way.
For that alone, we should be grateful for this film. Cinematically, it's hard to portray sexuality as it really is--important to its characters without exaggerating, simplifying, or glamorizing it. Most of us feel that questions about our sexuality are meaningful--within the context of the rest of our lives. It's a rare film which can portray this, and an amazing film that can do it with mass appeal. Audiences have not been trained to appreciate a realistic, existential approach to sexuality--they've been trained to appreciate tits and violence instead.
3. A NATION OF CYBER-ADDICTS?
The new journal Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has just released a study of Internet users, which reports that 1% of a self-selected sample show a compulsion for porn sites, X-rated chat rooms, and other online erotica. The authors dub these people "cybersex compulsives," and extrapolate their data to estimate that "at least 200,000, and probably millions more, are at risk."
The national press has gobbled up this story like a famished guest at Thanksgiving. It's the smoking gun so many people have been waiting for: Proof that cybersex is addictive and destructive. The media, of course, have no interest in the study's flaws: The 2-year-old sample isn't representative of any population, the criteria of compulsivity are arbitrary, and questions about respondents' behavior were vague.
But worst of all, the study's lead author said, in the AP story, that they next plan to investigate whether sexual compulsion online leads to sex crimes offline. Fairly or not, that creates this connection in the popular mind. Furthermore, since the study identified exactly 96 (that's right, 96) "cybersex compulsives" it will only take a handful of screwballs for these researchers to conclude that cybersex leads to antisocial behavior. Even if researchers come up with ambiguous data, the popular press will surely twist it to imply such a conclusion.
Finally, let's underline that the study identified only 1% of respondents as "cybersex compulsive." I don't dispute the figure; if anything, this estimate is too low. But it means that 99% of respondents were not identified as "cybersex compulsive." Considering how much sex of every conceivable kind is found on the Web, this is rather amazing news, and should be tremendously encouraging to parents, educators, and law enforcement everywhere. But given the sex-negative bias of most of America's institutions, this reassuring news is nowhere to be found. It's a dog-bites-man angle with no sales appeal.
4. PHOENIX ORGIES--GAY ONLY, PLEASE
Readers of this website know that last fall, the Phoenix, AZ City Council voted to close the city's five "swinger's" clubs because they created some vague "public nuisance" that no one could actually document.
Let us now turn to The Chute, a Phoenix sex club open daily. It's still in operation because its clientele is gay men. City Attorney Jim Hays explains this anomaly as political: "The gay constituency is very vocal, and they resist what they perceive to be the government's attempt to focus specifically on places frequented by homosexuals... They consider themselves a minority group, which creates an extra layer of analysis we have to go through so we're not perceived as picking on gay people."
This is indeed a fantastic turn of events: Gay men have transformed themselves from a hidden bunch of anonymous individuals into an identified bloc of people, with corresponding political power.
The historical stigma of being homosexual is so powerful that patronizing a sex club is hardly considered damning. By contrast, there is still no socially safe way for heterosexuals who enjoy non-normative sex to publicly stand up and identify themselves as a community--and demand their rights.
Thus, while gay patrons of sex clubs are willing to exert political pressure, heterosexual patrons of sex clubs are generally not. And so you have five hetero Phoenix sex clubs close down, while a gay sex club thrives. True enough, dozens of courageous people attended a series of City Council hearings--and were ignored by those in power. It seems, though, that if 1,000 people packed Council chambers, or if there were hundreds of signed letters to local newspapers, or if a handful of influential people went to the top of the city's power structure, there would still be places for consenting couples to watch each other have sex in Phoenix. For now, one only has that privilege if he's a man who enjoys watching, or being blown by, other men.
Enjoy it, boys. Sooner or later, Council will come after you, too.
Sexual Intelligence Archived
You can now view back issues of Sexual Intelligence here at my website. Feel free to refer friends & colleagues who might enjoy a look.
6. CALENDAR: Workshops & lectures for professionals
April 7, 2000
Unsolved Challenges in Sex Therapy & Psychotherapy
Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
San Diego, CA
April 14-15, 2000
April 29, 2000
What Do Students REALLY Want To Know About Sex?
National Sexuality Conference
Santa Ana, CA
May 4, 2000
Diagnosis & Treatment of Sexual Issues
California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
May 5, 2000
Power, Anger, & Trust Dynamics in Couples Counseling
California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
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