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.
StupakPitts Amendment does to the healthcare reform bill, right? It prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for:
* any abortion, or
* any part of the costs of any health plan that covers abortion,
* except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life.
This amendment is designed to eliminate the possibility of abortion for millions of poor women.
But if you already have health insurance, this amendment will actually take something away from you.
Because insurance plans that cover abortion--even if a consumer never has an abortion--will be disqualified from any federal plan. If you were a reasonable insurance executive, how would you respond? By deleting your plan's abortion coverage, of course. Once this health reform bill with its evil amendment is passed, insurance companies will rush like a herd of wildebeests to rewrite their policies. Overnight, abortion coverage for tens of millions of people will vanish.
But that's not what I'm writing about today.
I write against the abortion-ban exception for rape, incest, and maternal injury. How can this exception be justified?
If you're against reproductive choice for so-called "moral reasons" (as if anyone getting an abortion or supporting its legality isn't "moral"), be consistent. If killing a fetus or even a fertilized egg wandering around a woman's body is the same as killing a person (the position of every anti-choice activist), why should it matter how the fetus or fertilized egg got there? Why is a fetus' right to live diminished because its father was a rapist or a sadist? After all, we don't say the children of such men have fewer rights than other children.
And if some fetuses have fewer rights than others, what about fetuses whose fathers were drunk, or delusional, or suffering from major depression? What about fetuses whose fathers are incredibly stupid?
No, opposing other people's rights to abortion for "moral" reasons demands that you make no exceptions.
But some of those "moral" anti-choice people are compassionate: They don't want to require women to bear children forced upon them by ugly violence. But why privilege certain kinds of suffering over others? Where's the morality there? What about pregnancies from men who batter their partners? What about poverty-stricken prostitutes impregnated while bribed to not use a condom? What about dependent women who are forced to have unprotected sex by husbands who say God condemns contraception?
If "compassion" is what generates abortion-ban exceptions, how about an exception for anyone under the age of 18?
Yes, compassion is a slippery slope. Because if you allow abortion for any woman who would suffer terribly with an unwanted child, you must allow all abortions. No one can say which category of suffering deserves more compassion than another. Besides, how can "compassion" compromise "morality"? How can "compassion" allow the murder of an "unborn child?"
The truth is, exceptions to abortion bans are hypocritical political expedience. They allow those who wish to control their fellow citizens to look more reasonable. They apply to a tiny fraction of the 1,000,000 women who need an abortion each year (yes, need--ask any of them). These clever, immoral exceptions allow a handful of "murders" in exchange for the political support of people who are willing to criminalize most abortions.
Anyone who believes that abortion is murder should say so in a meaningful way: by demanding that it be banned 100%, under all circumstances, like the profoundly anti-American American Life League. If you waffle on which "murders" are acceptable, if you say morality is conditional, then you're just another citizen lobbying your government for the right to control other people's sexuality.
In which case, quit insulting God by claiming divine direction, and mind your own damn business.
After taking thousands of pictures around the globe with my trusty Pentax, I bought a digital camera last week.
If you already have one, this may sound pretty ho-hum. But to someone who spends hundreds of dollars on film every time he leaves the country, and who still thinks a "photo" is a picture of something as it actually was, a digital camera is a little miracle.
My wife and I spent a few hours learning how to use it yesterday. Sitting in the living room we took turns learning to use things like the "multi selector" and "shooting mode." Soon we were practicing, taking pictures of everything in the room. Then we were zooming, cropping, light-compensating. We used the record' feature that lets you dictate "14th century late Gothic" when you take a picture you might later mistake for 15th century early Renaissance.
And then I realized: I could say "honey, lift your shirt" and take a picture. She could take a glorious shot of my bike-ridin' butt--without shorts. We looked at each other with the same thought--theoretically, we could take pics of ourselves being sexual.
Since we're not mad with hormones, and our friends don't talk much about photographing their bedroom antics, and seeing each other nude isn't exactly novel anymore, it had taken us a full 90 minutes to come up with the idea of using our digital camera in erotic ways.
And it hit me--that's probably 89 minutes longer than it takes your average 16-year-old.
As we contemplated using the camera to post photos on our blogs, email photos to friends, and keep precious digital memories, I was reminded of the words I've been saying professionally about this for years.
The most important: Americans put the world's most powerful communication tools into the hands of children, and expect children to use them thoughtfully, safely, wisely. Then parents are outraged when kids do with digital technology what they also do with magic markers, French fries, and rollerblades: use them carelessly, selfishly, casually, and stupidly. You expect your kid to be more thoughtful with her cellphone than with her sweater?
I was privileged to be part of this year's annual meeting of FOSI, the Family On-Line Safety Institute. This was the first year they invited a sex expert. So it was 400 public policy people and one sex guy--me.
The lineup of speakers was extraordinary: a Senator; senior executives from companies like Verizon and Comcast; several state Attorneys General; President Obama's Deputy Chief Technology Officer; and dozens of heavy hitters like Adam Thierer (Progress & Freedom Foundation) and Larry Magid (ConnectSafely).
The complexity of the internet, broadband, and mobile-connected world of kids and teens which they discussed for two days had my head spinning. Preschoolers tweeting?
Everyone agreed that the online environment posed various dangers to kids; thankfully, in addition to talking about predators, these sophisticated people talk about cyberbullying and other problems that are far more common in most kids' lives.
All speakers expressed commitment to the same thing: helping young people have safe, productive experiences online. Of course, sincere people disagree on how to define "safe" and "productive"--a common disagreement whenever sexuality is involved. That tension underlines policy discussions of adult sex-related issues, too, like the morning-after pill, prostitution, and same-sex marriage.
With this all-star lineup I didn't have much time, but I did make the following points:
* Why do kids use the internet for various sexual activities? Why NOT? Kids are sexual (whether we like it or not), and the internet is the most powerful communications technology ever invented. Of COURSE they'll use it for sexual purposes--just like adults do.
* How should we deal with kids sexting? The way we would deal with it if we could see beyond its sexual aspect: by talking about trust, power, privacy, and fairness, and respect.
* Parents don't need help dealing with their kids' sexuality online--they need help dealing with their kids' sexuality, period. Most parents deal with their kids' online erotic lives the way they deal with their kids' offline erotic lives--by ignoring or problematizing them. Whether they're talking about the internet, the playground, or hooking up, parents need to discuss sexuality with their kids beyond the context of danger and safety.
* We're preparing our kids for lives they're NOT going to have--lives without erotic feelings, falling in love, and sexual decision-making. In doing so, we leave them unprepared for the lives that they're going to have--whether we're comfortable with that or not.
* It would be great if kids were as thoughtful and careful online as many policy-makers wish they would be. But that's expecting kids to make better decisions online than most adults do. When tens of millions of adults are hooked on their blackberries, spending too much time in chat rooms, and being deceitful about porn use or online flirting, why are we surprised when kids reveal themselves too much on facebook or by sexting?
In most states, the age at which a picture qualifies as child pornography is higher than the age of consent. And so privately, I asked the Attorney General of one western state how he could justify criminalizing pictures of teens being sexual if the sexual acts themselves were legal. He kept telling me that the pictures were illegal no matter how they were created, so that ended the conversation fairly quickly.
He was more interested in enforcing the law than in understanding how it affects the society he supposedly wants to protect. Perhaps his attitude would change if his 16-year-old son had to register as a sex offender because he'd shared a nude photo of his girlfriend.
There are, of course, some real threats to the health and safety of young people online. But sometimes the criminal justice system is one of those threats. I wish this had been discussed seriously during the two-day conference.
Social scientists at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice have been researching the causes of the Catholic Church's modern tradition of priests sexualizing boys. In releasing their initial findings, researchers said they can not attribute it to gay priests or seminaries for teenagers.
"We do not have data to support those assertions," said Karen Terry, lead researcher for the $2 million study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She believes that the priests had sex primarily with boys mainly because they had access to boys. "Even though there was sexual abuse of many boys, that doesn't necessarily mean that the [priest] had a homosexual identity," she said.
After all, male soccer coaches who have sex with teen girls, and step-fathers who have sex with their step-daughters don't do it because of "heterosexuality." Such adult sexual behavior is caused by internal torment about sexuality, a collapse of boundaries, lack of empathy, a breakdown of ethics, and confusion about power...just like priests sexually exploiting boys.
The question of what defines a person as gay is interesting, and relevant to people of every persuasion, including straights. Many male public figures who have been caught being interested in other men have loudly denied they're gay. Some are (understandably) frightened liars, but many others, such as Senator Larry Craig, are clearly telling the truth.
As Alfred Kinsey first showed Americans a half-century ago, same-gender fantasies, curiosity, desire, and the occasional fling, do not alone define someone as gay. And if an adult has sex with children who happen to be the same gender, that doesn't define him (or her) as gay, either. It defines him (or her) as interested in children, which is its own orientation (permanent or otherwise).
The Church has more than a bad-apple-gay-priest problem. It has a who-becomes-a-supposedly-celibate-priest-anyway problem. Like the French Foreign Legion, the job description itself cannot possibly attract enough psychologically healthy people. And given the Church's tortured, inhumane attitude about sexuality, it's hardly the institution to heal any sexual problems revealed or developed by its shepherds (much less its flock).
What Dr. Terry's project is almost certain to find is that the priests who sexually exploited children are a heterogeneous lot--some of them gay, most of them straight, some of them angry (some surely angry at their god), many of them lonely, and some developmentally primitive. That last sub-group will have experienced their sex with kids as a peer activity. Psychologically (although not biologically, ethically, or legally), that would be accurate.
Astonishingly, many so-called morality groups used the revelations of 2002 and beyond as an opportunity to demonize homosexuality--blithely overlooking the Church setting that was the dominant feature of every one of these exploitative interactions. Talk about chutzpah. That's like discussing car accidents without discussing cars, or alcoholism without discussing alcohol.
People don't do bad things because they're gay. People do bad things because of who they are. Some of those people are blond, some are left-handed, and some are gay. Many of them lack empathy--the ability to truly understand the experience (including the pain) of others. That's the place to start cleaning up the Church.
At the top, by the way.
For friends, lovers, or your favorite professional, how about one of my books or audiotape sets? We ship within 24 hours (guaranteed). See what's available at http://www.SexEd.org/books.html and http://www.SexEd.org/audio.html. If you order before December 20, take a 10% discount by using code SI10.
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