Sexual Intelligence
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Each month, Sexual IntelligenceTM examines the sexual implications of current events, politics, technology, popular culture, and the media.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Certified Sex Therapist and sociologist with a special interest in public policy and sexuality. He has written 6 books and 100 articles. Each year he trains thousands of professionals in North America and abroad in clinical skills, human sexuality, and policy issues.

Issue #106 -- December 2008



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.


Bush's Parting Shot--Aimed At Your Sexual Health

President Bush has proposed one last set of new regulations carefully designed to damage Americans' right to sexual health care.

The proposed rule would require recipients of federal money to allow doctors and other health care workers to refuse to participate in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their "religious beliefs or moral convictions."

Worse, it would also prevent hospitals, drugstores, and other healthcare locations from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to "assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity" financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

To put it another way, this law would allow every person in the healthcare system to decide what services he or she would deliver to you--based on whatever internal belief system they have. It's a recipe for chaos, dignified by the term "religion."

The regulation is opposed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, over 100 members of Congress, and the attorneys general of 13 states.

But the proposal is supported by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals. Its president Carol Keehan claims "we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations."

Yes, that's exactly right. In secular, pluralistic America, the public demands that people and corporations entering the health care business actually offer health care. We also expect that any enterprise buying sports stadiums will offer sporting events, and anyone buying the right to manage an airport (as in Chicago, New Orleans, and London) will actually operate an airport.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue fears that the Church might be "forced" to close its hospitals if they actually have to offer state-of-the-art, legal, medical care to patients.

And so the proposed HHS rule would require any health care entity receiving federal money to certify that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable. This is terrible. This puts the internal beliefs of individuals at odds with the reasonable needs of the public.

And it's the obvious consequence of letting the Catholic Church buy hospitals. Lots of hospitals. In fact, they now operate more hospitals than any other company in the U.S.. And the care at these facilities is getting narrower and narrower.

This is a crucial, missing part of the conversation about health care and health insurance. What does "access" to the health care system matter if it's "access" to incomplete services? If the only hospitals within 100 miles of my house won't offer the full range of legal, safe procedures--for non-medical reasons--what does it matter who will reimburse me for this non-existent care?

If it's increasingly unacceptable that health care is allocated by money and social class, why is it acceptable if health care is allocated by religion? And why is "religion" a good enough reason to excuse licensed professionals from doing their jobs? What if a nurse's "religion" forbids her from washing her hands at work?

There's an ethical, spiritually correct option for bus drivers who get carsick, teachers who don't like children, chefs who can't stand the sight of meat, and health care professionals who can't honestly serve all patients with all needs.

Other jobs.


The Worst Predator of All: The Ever-Growing Fear of Predators

Walking through New York's beautiful Central Park a few weeks ago, I was struck by a sign posted on a small fenced-in playground: No adults who aren't accompanied by a child.

No lonely old men wanting to connect with life. No lonely old women who miss their children or grandchildren. No researchers studying kids' play habits. No young adults wanting to feel more confident about becoming parents one day. No would-be nannies wanting to observe how other nannies do it.

And yes, no potential child molesters.

What's the logic here? Since the only kids at the playground are with adult caregivers, they're not vulnerable to molesters. And the rule doesn't help reduce kidnapping, because according to the FBI, children are almost never kidnapped by strangers. So what's the point of the regulation?

And regardless of what it accomplishes, do you suppose this sign makes people feel more safe or less safe? It's surely less safe.

It must be terrifying to live in a world in which policies and signs like this are sensible necessary.

Creating that frightening world is a political act. It's been created by a long series of smaller political acts--many of them innocent, but many of them deliberate. Public policy that appeals to emotion rather than logic is dangerous. Lots of public policy designed to "deal with" sexual exploitation does nothing to reduce risk, but encourages other problems. That makes it dangerous.

In a world where every "unaccompanied" adult is hazardous, of course you'd want to limit the rights of sex offenders, the availability of porn, non-pornographic sexy speech and art, and the erotic expression of normal adults everywhere. And all the time, you'd be saying, "in a world full of sexual predators, every intervention is justified; no other right of anyone else is as sacred as the safety of one child."

And you'd repeat it to yourself a hundred times a day: "a world full of sexual predators. A world full of sexual predators. Nothing else matters as much--a world full of sexual predators."

The search for the feeling of security can go so wrong that everything you do in its name makes you feel worse. That makes you want to do more and more: Sacrificing fundamental rights. Tolerating art less and less. Cursing the sexuality that is the divine spark in all of us. Welcome to America, 2008.

For the Sexual Disaster Industry--groups like Focus on the Family, Morality in Media, Abstinence Clearinghouse, Citizens for Community Values--that panic is their Mission Accomplished. For the rest of us, all children included, it's a disaster.

Molesters ruin some lives. The panic over child molestation is ruining far more.



Good News About Choice

Three very different state referenda attempting to limit Americans' freedom were defeated in November's election. They happened to be about the ability to decide when and if to bear a child.

In South Dakota, voters defeated a sweeping abortion ban that was to be a vehicle for challenging Roe v. Wade. In California, voters refused to require teens to inform a parent before receiving an abortion (the issue's third ballot defeat in California in four years).

In Colorado, voters rejected by almost 3 to 1 an initiative amending the state's Constitution to bestow complete personhood on fertilized eggs--prior to implantation in the womb. Not only would it end abortion, it would have banned fertility clinics, most birth control, and lots of medical care.

It is encouraging to see ordinary people in diverse places halting the relentless assault on reproductive freedom.

While anti-choice forces frequently cite religious or spiritual reasons for opposing others' abortions, they too rarely support the sex education and contraceptive encouragement that would actually decrease the need for them. Until all so-called religious arguments against abortion include the demand--not just tolerance, but demand--for comprehensive sex education and universal availability of contraception and emergency contraception, these arguments should be seen as little more than personal opinion dressed up in fancy, hypocritical, anti-sex clothes.

It's time to stop all referenda and other forms of voting about the right to choose an abortion. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution affirm that rights are not given to people, they belong to people. Our Founders and contemporary society agreed to limit others' rights primarily when science strongly suggests facts that require it: Stealing hurts the victims. Improper food handling makes consumers sick. Driving drunk kills people.

Democracy does not mean that people can vote on anything they want to. We can't vote to imprison all left-handed people. We can't vote to reinstitute slavery. And we shouldn't be voting to limit the right to control one's child-bearing.

People who don't "believe" in abortion shouldn't have one. There are no actual facts in dispute here, only personal philosophies. And like religions, philosophies are not something Americans should ever vote on.

Taking Unauthorized (Yawn) Photos Under Your Skirt

When I taught medical students in Morocco ten years ago, several young women inquired why "American men don't respect your women." I asked what they meant. "We watch CNN and your movies, and we see how women dress. Why do American men let their women out of the house, their arms and legs exposed, their tight clothes outlining their bodies for all to see?"

I explained that in America we do respect women. We express that not by restricting them, not even by "granting" them various freedoms, but by believing that they are free to choose how they dress, where they travel, and with whom they speak and socialize.

Choice is risky, replied one of the Moroccan students, suggesting that this makes freedom bad. "You're right," I said. "Choice always involves risk. In America, we respect women's ability to make good choices, and to handle the risks that come with autonomy."

This was before cell phones.

Now fast forward to an era of cell phones. With cameras.

And the horror!

Yes! The horror! Strange men taking photos of your body parts in public--pictures so disconnected from the rest of you that you can't even recognize them as your own.

We're not talking about anyone touching you or even talking to you. We're talking about the admittedly odd behavior of using a cell phone or digital camera to peek up your skirt or down your blouse.

Not your face, not your name, not your face, not your face. Your panties. Your cleavage. The crotch of your jeans, which are so tight that anyone bothering to look can see if you're wearing a thong, granny panties, or nothing at all.

This week, Salon writer Tracy Clark-Flory whipped herself into a frenzy over this. She quotes some criminal justice experts who are predictably outraged. Some of her readers are even more bloodthirsty, variously calling for ball-crushing, internet vigilantism, and police brutality.

What exactly is the problem here? You go to the mall, where security cameras record your every move. You pay with a credit card, which continues to refine the consumer profile that knows you better than your mother. You made your own choice that morning about how much of your body shape to reveal while shopping. Since social norms in America do not demand that eyes be averted, men and women look at every part of you every minute of every day that you're out of the house.

Is it creepy to know that some guy is jacking off looking at a digital photo of your panty-clad butt or vulva? For some women, yes. For others, no. For a few, it's a kick.

But what exactly is the harm? When we have no privacy left, why the sudden faux modesty? What's the difference between the guy next to you looking at your cleavage, or someone taking a picture of it? They're both done without your permission.

"The difference is that the photographer takes my image home." Excuse me, we all take images of strangers home with us. It's called memory. Or imagination. "I don't want my picture on the internet for all eternity." Wait, it isn't a picture of you, it's a picture of an isolated body part. There's no you-ness about those butt cheeks.

But let's turn the camera around, reminding ourselves that the upskirted and downbloused take pictures, too. We take photos of the homeless sleeping on the ground--without asking. Or, walking by them, we look at them and talk about them--without asking. We travel to Disneyland or New York, taking pictures of the interesting people around us--without asking.

What about traveling to South America or Asia, where people don't want their photos taken? How many of us quietly violate their privacy anyway, clicking from the hip, or while we fake a yawn? After all, we know that our photos can't hurt them ("steal their souls, hah!"), and their hats are SO colorful.

Many American women are married to foreign nationals. When Jennifer visits her husband's family in India, she can't go out alone. When Maria visits her in-laws in Iran, her flesh and hair must be covered when going out. When Carol and Zhou visit his family in China, she can't be kissed or hugged by him in public. In Saudi Arabia, no woman--local or foreign--can drive a car, whether accompanied or not.

I'm willing to believe that there's little or no upskirt photography in Iran or China. But ask any of these American women which they prefer--the freedom to go out and dress as they choose, "risking" an upskirt photo, or the safety that comes with imposed limitation.

Calling women whose body parts are surreptitiously photographed "victims" demeans victims of actual violence. And it trivializes women as delicate creatures who must be protected from interfacing with the adult world. Laws that would punish men taking these pictures sound right at home in the Iran and Saudia Arabia that "respects" women so much it removes their choices.

American women don't need that. Gentlemen, get a life. Until then, take your silly pictures.


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