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 #110 -- April 2009



"Sexting" Can't--Repeat, Can't--Kill Anyone

We're told there's an epidemic of teens sending nude photos of themselves to a friend or lover, who then sends it to every other teen on the planet. The original kid then responds with naive surprise and deeply hurt feelings.

Adults typically respond with predictions of the end of civilization as we know it.

In Ohio, 18-year-old Jesse Logan's peers took the routine pretty far. After seeing her nude photo they taunted her and made her life miserable, as only teens can do to one another.

But Jesse went way, way too far in reaction. She killed herself.

It's tragic, of course. But now her mother Cynthia wants Sycamore High School held responsible. And she wants laws passed what, to bring her girl back? To prevent other kids from killing themselves? To prevent teens from doing thoughtless, mean things? To ruin the lives of those who do?

Sexting didn't kill this young woman. Teens deal with humiliation and ostracism every day without killing themselves. They've been doing so since way before cell phones.

But there are ambulance chasers lining up to help mom. Matt Lauer and the Today Show are giving Cynthia Logan plenty of time to wail on national TV. And big-time cyber-lawyer (her word, not mine) Parry Aftab is on the case, hypocritically blogging that "Sexting Can Lead To Death." Shamelessly, she invites parents to join (i.e., fund) her organization, to "Help us make sure your child won't be next."

We've seen this tragedy-grief-media-law circus before, featuring John Walsh, Marc Klaas, Richard and Maureen Kanka, and others who are now household names.

Each parent experienced a horrible tragedy--and then turned not resolving their grief into a career. Dozens of media appearances led to undeserved seats at America's legislative tables.

In a macabre twist of sadism, parents like these honor their dead child by burdening the rest of us with medieval laws that don't make anyone safer, and wouldn't have prevented their own child's abduction. These laws (Adam Walsh Act, Megan's Law, Amber Alert, etc.) make life miserable for many innocent people, spend enormous amounts of public money, enhance the "predator around every corner" industry, and frighten Americans into thinking their kids are far more vulnerable than they really are.

Tragedy makes bad law. Tragedy + Sex + Kids + Money makes really bad law.

So I predict we'll soon hear about Jesse's Law, which will make lifelong sex offenders out of every kid who takes, sends, or receives a nude photo of another kid. This won't make anyone safer--but it will ruin the lives of thousands and thousands of normal, healthy kids with poor judgment. Teens in Greensburg, PA, Fort Wayne, IN, and a dozen other cities are now life-long criminals. For childish pranks.

Arresting these kids for the creation, possession, or distribution of child pornography is a perversion of the law. It turns the 15-year-old who poses into both a victim and a perpetrator (what kind of law does that?). It defines a stupid boyfriend as a snarling predator.

And by watering down the definition of "child pornography," it undermines our attempts to reduce the actual sexual exploitation of children, and to catch and treat those who would really harm our kids. Real child pornography is a record of child abuse. "Sexting" is a record of adolescent hijinks. Lumping the two together reflects adult anxiety about young people's sexuality, not a sophisticated understanding of it.

And what about the supposed "dangers" of "sexting"? School counselors, police, even Bill O'Reilly all agree that kids' lives could be ruined--by insane laws making them lifetime criminals, not by any actual harm. "These photos will be on the internet forever," we're warned--yes, and quickly forgotten. And in twenty years, everyone's physician, accountant, and local sheriff will have nude photos of themselves somewhere on the web. Welcome to the 21st century.

Ironically, the campaign against "sexting" holds kids to a higher standard of judgment than adults. With adults, we generally don't criminalize poor judgment unless it involves coercion or demonstrable harm. If you take nude photos of your wife, and send them to her friends the day after your divorce, she can call you a bastard (which you would be), but she can't sue you. She certainly can't get you on a sex offender registry that lumps you in with rapists and child molesters. But that's what angry adults like Cynthia Logan want.

Logan represents The American Way: turning her child's death into an industry, calling it a social problem, demanding we recognize this as a crisis. If she spends enough time developing her new brand, she'll never have to come to terms with Jesse's death and get on with her own life.

Kids' sexuality being so much scarier to American society than adults', we again show that when necessary, we will destroy teens' lives to save them.



Pure Romance, 1000 Women--And Me

I recently returned from Las Vegas, where I spoke at the annual convention of Pure Romance. For two hours I was on stage in front of 1,000 ladies who sell sex toys and related items at Tupperware-type parties in their friends’ living rooms.

The company thinks of their sales force as peer sex educators, which is fantastic. They realize that a lot of their customers want more than a vibrator—they want sympathy, they want permission, they want information. Some of them want the experience of saying the word “sex” out loud. The executives running Pure Romance actually want to make the world a better place, and their approach is to enhance people’s sexual literacy.

So what did I talk about?
* What most people focus on during sex (hint: it’s not pleasure or closeness)
* Reasons people have sex (dozens and dozens of them)
* The most common sexual question (“Am I normal?”)
* The vast similarities between male & female sexuality
* What to tell a woman who says “my husband won’t allow a vibrator in our bedroom”

Underlying the whole morning was the message that sex toys, lube, and communication can change people’s fundamental consciousness about sexuality. And why that’s such a good thing—for them, their partners, and the planet.

I guess this talk is the flip side of my speech about America’s War On Sex. I’m happy to say that the audience loved the talk, and I loved the audience. Afterwards, women from Kentucky and Ohio, Utah, Oklahoma, and a dozen other states lined up just to shake my hand, hug me, thank me.

And I wondered, for the millionth time: how could any politician say sex toys are bad for America? How could any priest or minister say sex toys offend God? How could any city council, zoning board, or “morality” group say sex toys “don’t belong” in their town?

A twenty-buck gadget that can make women climax, a little bottle of stuff that makes body parts more slippery, fur handcuffs or naughty dice or edible panties—how can any adult pretend that their opposition to these things is anything more than fear, fear, or fear?

Blaming God or “our community” or “the children” is cowardice (and it gives God a bad name, besides). Even though they make my life miserable, I would shake the hand of any person who admitted “I’m against sex toys or erotica because they make me feel frightened, inadequate, lonely, or perverted.”

Telling the truth is always the first step toward freedom.




Condoms: Modern Miracle or Dirty Little Secret?

If you had told Socrates or Queen Victoria that one day there would be an inexpensive little gadget that would prevent pregnancy while allowing you to enjoy sexual intercourse, they would have said “No waaay!”

Well, “Waaay!” That gadget is here, and it’s the condom.

As with everything sexual, the U.S. has a love-hate relationship with condoms. Americans spend millions of dollars buying millions of condoms every year. But stores often make them hard to find; a billion dollars in your tax money has been spent to discourage young people from using them; people are never shown using or even discussing them on TV; their advertising is severely curtailed, and used to be illegal altogether.

Today there are two new shots in this love-hate relationship.

Radio stations in Phoenix (104.7 KISS) and Tucson (93.7 KRQ) are actually bleeping the words “condoms” and “rubbers” in new songs. Eminem’s “Crack A Bottle” and Asher Roth’s “I Love College” were both censored this week. (Honor Roll mention: 98.3 in Phoenix does not censor these songs, according to Rachel Wheatcroft.)

What exactly is wrong with the people running these stations? I understand that Arizona has plenty of religious people who might object to the mention of condoms (which also makes no sense). But—duh—none of them are listening to this degenerate music. Nevertheless, these people are willing to complain about it anyway—it isn’t enough that they don’t want the option of listening, they don’t want anyone else to have the option.

And that’s where democracy always breaks down around sexuality and public policy, because very few 16-year-olds—or adults for that matter—are going to complain, “you bleeped innocent words in songs I like, cut it out!”

Fortunately, there’s two-part good news on the condom front. First, there’s a new product: SKYN, a non-latex condom. Second, it’s being advertised in a new way: with pictures and words focused on sex.

According to sex educator and product tester Cory Silverberg, the new condoms “stretch like latex condoms, they’re comfortable, and they don’t smell bad. They have a lower slippage and breakage rate than other non-latex condoms.” They’re FDA approved for both contraception and disease protection. And in double-blind clinical trials, some couples preferred these condoms over latex ones.

The advertising for them is cool: see the video clip by clicking on the little “Watch now” box. It features kissing, undressing, and messy bedrooms. It’s currently running on MTV, and Ansell Healthcare/Lifestyles plans to roll the spots out onto cable shows this summer.

“We know what people do with condoms,” said marketing executive Carol Carrozza. “They use them to have sex. Why not just admit this, rather than fooling around with dumb humor and euphemisms?”

Indeed, this goes straight to the matter. Many Americans don’t like to talk about sex in a straightforward, honest way. And they depend on their institutions—government, media, religion—to maintain an environment that restricts or prevents such behavior.

That’s why there are laws against nude beaches, regulations banning women’s nipples on TV, and the Christian Right gets to use the legislative process to lie about the alleged effects of pornography.

We’re eager to see how many stations accept the ads—which, as you’ll see, don’t show any flesh that you can’t see every evening on CSI or Grey’s Anatomy. Presumably, Morality in Media will be angry and scared, predicting that children will be harmed by seeing an ad for a product their parents, friends (and perhaps they) use.

We wish Carrozza, Lifestyles, and SKYN, um, godspeed in their campaign to get people to use their product. And to admit why they do.




Massachusetts Revokes Consent of Adults Over 60

Massachusetts state representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein has introduced a bill making it a crime for anyone over 60 to pose nude or sexually for a film or photo. The person taking the photo—whether a lover, artist, or commercial porn maker—would also face jail time.

Adding insult to injury, the proposal amends a bill designed to punish those who make child pornography. It treats fully functional adults who happen to be over 60 the same as children under 18; it explicitly takes away their right to consent to be photographed in a lascivious way.

Reinstein’s office says she proposed this bill in response to requests from senior advocacy groups. They claim there’s an epidemic of “elder sexual abuse,” and cite a handful of ugly cases. What pressure groups and legislators fail to mention is that there are already laws criminalizing coercion, and protecting the mentally incompetent. Other than that, Massachusetts’ millions of older people have the right to make their own choices, poor or not.

By the way, those “older people” who would lose their right to take or pose for a nude photo of themselves include such decrepit ancients as Meryl Streep, Richard Gere, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters, and Al Gore. Not to mention Sophia Loren. Elder porn anyone?

The law also criminalizes nude or sexual photography of the physically disabled—again, regardless of mental capacity. Apparently, in Massachusetts you lose control over your sexuality when you lose control over your legs. And don’t forget the small matter of the U.S. Constitution; see Marc Randazza’s excellent coverage of the legal aspects of this law.

Predictably, Reinstein said, “If we can extend protection to the elderly and the disabled, it’s a no-brainer.” But “protection” in the form of stealing people’s rights isn’t protection. This is the same argument that was used to deny women the right to vote 100 years ago: “protecting” them from the upset of digesting political information and the pressures of citizenship.

It is, of course, illegal for adults to have sex with vulnerable children; any photo of this activity is the record of a crime. In contrast, it is legal for adults over 60 to have sex with each other; photos of this sex document only legal activity.

The proposed law, under the guise of protecting adults who are already protected, is simply an attack on adult sexuality. Is this merely a bunch of middle-aged legislators repulsed when they think about their older mom and dad being sexual? Or is it just another flag-waving attack on the legal adult porn industry?

Since 60 is, as they say, the new 40, and given the millions of older adults in Massachusetts (each of whom has a cell phone with a camera), the state is bidding to become the sex crime capital of the world. A small price to pay, Rep. Reinstein would say, to “protect” a few vulnerable people.

Where is AARP while Massachusetts seniors are being persecuted—or are their rights less important when they’re sexual rights?



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