On September 22, I leave for 2 weeks in Azerbaijan--a country bordered by Russia, Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and the Caspian Sea. I'll be teaching medical students, training psychologists, and consulting with the Ministry of Health about sexuality and public policy. I'll be blogging almost every day, at www.MartyinAz.com. Do follow my exploits there!
Both sides agree--the whole fight over same-gender marriage and other civil rights for gays is about the right to decide what's normal.
Now there's nothing more normal than ice cream, and there's no ice cream more delicious than Ben & Jerry's. The brand is playful, too, with flavors like Berried Treasure, Economic Crunch, and my favorite, Cherry Garcia.
Combining the two, the Vermont-based company is celebrating the legalization of same-gender marriage in Vermont by renaming their "Chubby Hubby" flavor "Hubby Hubby."
The move is both subtle and direct. Subtle insofar as nobody's yelling about anything. Direct in that when a kid reaches for a container of it, or a parent pays for it, "Hubby Hubby" is what it is. Two grooms, right there on the label.
That's partly how this social justice issue is going to be resolved, once and for all. By people having everyday contact with gay doctors, gay swim coaches, gay neighbors. Gay relatives who are as boring as most relatives. And yes, gay-themed ice cream.
People who think of gay people as a separate species, as a group of sick or damned creatures who must be kept from infecting the rest of us, are fighting a losing battle. And they know it--they're watching their straights-only world crumble piece by piece. On a good day I can really sympathize with their anxiety and sense of impending loss.
On other days I want to remind straight people that this is our fight, too. As long as anyone can be demonized or deprived of simple civil rights (the right to be a foster parent, the right to sit at a dying companion's hospital bed) because of their sexuality, none of us is safe--no one who's into bondage, or non-monogamy, or sex toys, or cybersex, to name a few. In other words, all of us.
Not every hubby--gay or straight--is yummy, but Ben & Jerry's blend of peanut butter, pretzels, chocolate, and vanilla malt ice cream sure is. It's double good--Hubby Hubby.
Ice cream. What could be more normal?
When it comes to sex, most self-help books offer more "self" than "help."
People keep buying them--when they stop, so will the publishers--and they keep feeling disappointed. Many readers wonder what's wrong with them when they don't achieve the greatest sex in the history of the world.
When these books don't deliver the ultimate sex, it's generally not the reader's fault. It's because most self-help books are limited in what they can actually offer. And they leave out some very important facts that help shape our sexual experience. Let's look at a few:
There are two good reasons many people don't want sex: 1) they don't expect to enjoy it, or 2) they're not getting along with their partner. When one or both of these are true, low desire is healthy, not something to fix.
Our romantic culture declares that desire is supposed to be driven by love, but our own experience tells us this isn't necessarily true: most people have desired someone they didn't love (and maybe even disliked), and most people in long-term relationships watch their desire decline with the very person they love most.
No one really knows what keeps a few older couples hot for each other while so many other adults lose interest in their mates. It's some rare "chemistry"--these couples don't need or use any secret techniques. For most everyone else, methods of maintaining novelty are essential, and for many people even this doesn't work.
Sex therapists unanimously agree that desire problems are the hardest to repair in adults. If books don't help with yours, you are certifiably "normal."
* Female orgasm:
Different women climax in different ways, and most women never come from intercourse alone. Lots of books urge women to pursue orgasms by stimulating their vagina or G-spot, while other books suggest you're not really alive if you don't have multiple orgasms.
While all these variations can be lovely, for too many women (and their partners) such suggestions feel like pressure.
If you're a woman and you like your orgasms, keep doing what you're doing. If your partner is dissatisfied with your "limited" repertoire, that's probably his or her problem more than yours.
If you want to experiment, go ahead, but do so in the spirit of "what if," rather than "I have to do it better or right." The clitoris is the only organ in the human body with no purpose other than pleasure, so feel free to depend on it for that.
Our bodies change over time, and our sexuality changes with them. "Recapturing" our sexual function from 15 or 25 years ago is rarely possible, and isn't such a good idea anyway.
Rather than attempt to have desire, erections, lubrication, and orgasms like we did when young, we should be learning more about the kind of sex our bodies want at our current age--and start noticing the next set of changes that are unfolding right now.
Getting hard or getting wet takes longer as we age. No pill, technique, or visualization is going to change that. Perfectly healthy people watch their tissues dry out; they get tired sooner; their backs hurt. Our sexual choices must keep pace with the changing facts "on the ground."
We all learn about sex when we have the body of a young person. No one has that body for very long--so if we don't develop a vision of sexuality that fits the body we eventually grow into, we'll be stuck with an obsolete picture, and our sexual experience (and self-esteem) will suffer. Books that offer to help us return to the sex of our youth are promising something they can't deliver.
* "Men" vs. "women":
Many books describe the supposed differences between men and women, and urge readers to learn about male sexuality & psychology or female sexuality & psychology.
Authors of such books apparently don't realize that as people move through adulthood, their gender is less and less a determinant of their sexual experience. To put it another way, the similarities between male and female sexuality become increasingly important, while the differences, small to start with, become even less important.
Men and women want the same things from sex--closeness, pleasure, validation, a sense of adequacy. Sexually, men and women are distressed about the same things--performance anxiety, insufficient information, not feeling attractive enough, difficulties communicating honestly.
And there's no point in understanding "men" or "women" (like such a thing is possible!), since no one has sex with "men" or "women." We have sex with George or Maria or even both, but we don't have sex with some abstract group of 100 million people. For better sex, learn more about the person(s) you're with, not "men" or "women."
* * *
The truth is that for adults, good sex usually takes effort, focus, and patience. Be wary of any book--or pill or TV show or expert--claiming that "everyone using our technique will get the best sex of their lives."
The desire for sex to be simple and extraordinary is understandable. Too many books exploit this fond desire, and readers pay the price for believing their fantasies.
America has triumphed over Indianapolis for the third time.
In 1984, religious fundamentalists on the Indianapolis City Council teamed up with phony "feminist" Catharine MacKinnon to outlaw adult entertainment in the city. It was bad enough that the law criminalized making or selling pornography (yes, it criminalized certain kinds of expression); even worse, if a woman felt emotionally or physically injured and believed that the offending man had seen porn, she could sue the porn's maker or seller for damages.
It was a bizarre new way to think about human beings: if a man reads or views porn and then won't hire a woman, or forces a woman into sex, the porn did it.
The law was repealed by a federal appeals court, which sung a beautiful Constitutional song:
"...No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. Under the First Amendment the government must leave to the people the evaluation of ideas. A belief may be pernicious...and may [even] prevail. One of the things that separates our society from [totalitarianism] is our absolute right to propagate opinions that the government finds wrong or even hateful."
A decade later, Indianapolis decided to squelch adults' rights again, by banning swing clubs. Yes, it went after private citizens getting together in each others' homes to have sex with each other. Two clubs folded; the third fought the ordinance, which the city defended. Many years and a million dollars in legal costs later, the law was overturned.
But the city of Indianapolis wasn't finished trying to control adult sexuality. In 2005 it passed an ordinance creating the category of "adult entertainment business" and created special rules they had to follow. First, they needed a special license (just to sell books, magazines, films, or vibrators). Second, they were prohibited from operating on Sundays, or after midnight.
If this doesn't sound so terribly wrong, imagine if these restrictions were placed on any store selling books or magazines about racial equality, or about vaccination, or about home-schooling. Unthinkable, right?
Of course, government in America is prohibited from controlling how people express themselves--you know, freedom of the press, of assembly, of speech. So a city can't legally say "we're against dirty books" (or any other kind of books). Instead, like most cities ignoring the Constitution to regulate adult sexuality, Indianapolis claimed that it wasn't trying to control certain kinds of books or ideas, but the "adverse secondary effects" supposedly occurring wherever these materials were sold (crime, littering, drug use, blight).
U.S. courts have been mixed in how much they required cities to prove that these "adverse secondary effects" really exist. For example, Phoenix was able to claim that swing clubs caused littering and public urination without discussing how much this occurred at local bars or 7-Elevens.
So it was a great day last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Indianapolis was more interested in suppressing the expression of ideas it didn't like than it was in the problems that such expression supposedly attracted.
Judge Easterbrook--the same poet who had educated MacKinnon and her small-town cult following 25 years previously--quoted American Bookseller Ass'n. v Hudnut:
"Above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message [or] its ideas..."
When this country stands by its radical rules of free expression and secular pluralism, you gotta love America. Happy Labor Day to gutsy attorneys Steven Shafron & Michael Murray.