A pair of transportation giants revealed last week that as parts of Western society become more comfortable acknowledging sexuality, discomfort and fear of sexuality are still as powerful as ever.
For starters, Carnival Cruises of Miami will not book another "cougar-cub cruise" (younger men and middle-aged women meeting for erotic connection, either temporary or long-term), even though the first sold out and demand for a second is high.
It's not clear what Carnival objects to--middle-aged women having sex, middle-aged women having sex with people other than the crew, or simply all that legendary 24-hour-a-day food going uneaten.
On a more ominous note, British Airways has revealed its policy preventing men from sitting next to children to whom they are not related.
Mirko Fischer, a 33-year-old businessman, discovered the policy while flying with his wife. Six months pregnant, she had booked a window seat. Fischer was in the middle seat between her and a 12-year-old boy.
When all passengers were seated and buckled in, a flight attendant asked Fischer to change his seat. When he refused--explaining about his pregnant wife--the flight attendant raised his voice, warning that the plane could not take off unless Fischer obeyed. Apparently BA crew stalk the aisles of every plane before takeoff, demanding that men sitting next to kids move. Fischer has sued for the humiliation of being treated like a potential criminal.
BA's failure to grasp the most simple dynamics of human interaction is breathtaking.
Molest a kid on a plane? There isn't enough room in coach to move that much. Besides, most molestations are done by someone the victim knows. The more reasonable policy would be to prevent kids from sitting with their parents, not with strangers.
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To understand the true problem here, let's imagine slightly changing the two companies' policies. Say Carnival's policy was "no cruises focusing on older people meeting each other for companionship," or "no cruises focusing on young people in the travel industry looking for professional mentors."
Similarly, let's alter BA's policy. Say it was "no handicapped people allowed to sit next to children," or "no African-Americans," or "no Arabs," or "no one over 60."
Not only would such policies be condemned, they'd be considered bizarre. The problem with CC's and BA's policies isn't merely that they're discriminatory, it's that they don't make sense--but because the discrimination is based on sexuality (imagined or real), people tolerate it.
In the 20th century, civil rights were granted to blacks, women, and the handicapped when enough people complained that discriminating against these groups was unreasonable. In this century, we have to make the case that discrimination against people based on the fear of their sexuality is equally unreasonable (and equally unconstitutional).
Some will inevitably protest, "Some men do molest kids. Some cougar-cub pairings are unhealthy, or done in public." And of course that's true.
But imagine blocking anti-discrimination laws against blacks, women, and the handicapped by telling the parallel truth--that some blacks are criminals (true, of course); that some women are stupid or vapid (true, of course); or that some handicapped people are clumsy and selfish and aggressively in others' way (true, of course).
As public policy, we don't withhold rights from a group because of the behavior or characteristics of a few of its members. And this should be equally true regarding sexual-related issues.
Millions of Americans shouldn't be punished because a few people misuse nude beaches or spend the rent money on lap dances. But if we're going to scrub cruise ships, airlines, beaches, bookstores, and other places so Americans can't use or misuse them sexually, let's start with an institution that, while most participants engage it legally and peacefully, is a proven haven where thousands of people have sexually exploited children: the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, if BA doesn't trust me enough to let me fly next to a kid, I'll take my business to some other bankrupt airline. United apparently trusts me much more--much to my dismay, they love to sit me next to kids.
You've heard about the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Overturning the heart of the McCain-Feingold Act, the Court said that corporate donations to elections cannot be limited because it would violate the First Amendment.
How bad is this? Said the New York Times, “The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.”
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor added she is concerned that "the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse, and quite soon."
There's a very troubling sexual angle to this. And no, it's not about a large bank or insurance company donating a dozen naked women to their favorite congressional candidate.
Quite simply, the Supreme Court--so concerned about supporting the First Amendment rights of non-persons--has shown a remarkable interest in limiting those same rights in individuals when it comes to sex.
Yes, we have Lawrence v Texas (2003), which overturned a law criminalizing private consensual sodomy. However, Justice Scalia wrote a scathing dissent in that case, in which he predicted that the decision would be the end of civilization as we know it. Who knew he was so concerned about people marrying their sisters--or their horses?
Justice Scalia has reaffirmed his opposition to your First Amendment rights around sexuality many times, particularly around obscenity--one of the very few types of speech that enjoys no First Amendment protection. If the government wants to punish a TV network, an artist, a teacher, or the average person with a nasty website, they just have to get 12 jurors to say that your speech, painting, or blog is "obscene," and you lose one of the most precious rights any American has.
The Supreme Court has also declined to rule on the challenge to Alabama's law criminalizing vibrators; refuses to stop cities from discriminating against adult bookstores, strip clubs, and swingers clubs; and has supported a definition of "child pornography" that is frighteningly broad.
While it's far, far from ideal, I suppose I can live with corporations buying elections. What I can't live with is the Supreme Court giving these corporate non-persons the right to express themselves while taking away mine.
The verdict is in: the guy who murdered physician George Tiller will spend the rest of his life in jail, feeling good about what he did.
Yes, the verdict shows that the justice system works, sometimes. But this doesn't bring back Tiller. His family only had one of him. We have very few of him. The other side has plenty of Scott Roeders.
Roeder is a suicide bomber. He sacrificed his own life and blew up Tiller. No one can defeat a culture that produces suicide bombers. Almost a decade after 9/11, the mightiest military the world has ever seen hasn't even made a dent.
While legally inevitable given the facts, the Roeder verdict is also unsatisfying because it doesn't change anything. The government won't protect physicians or clinics more. The anti-choice domestic terrorists won't be punished as a group, won't be fined out of existence, won't even be discouraged an eighth of an inch.
Just as Thomas Friedman wants to know where are the moderate Muslim voices decrying radical Muslim violence, I want to know where are the so-called moderate anti-choice voices decrying Roeder's crime? True, some spoke up in the hours following his capture for stalking, murder, and violating a church in service. Some hypocritically continue to condemn what he did.
But after the obligatory "we don't support that," what else has the religious anti-choice community done? What responsibility did they take for maintaining a culture of long-term warfare against the legal, private choices of fellow citizens? What changes did they make in their dishonest, greedy policies operating Crisis Pregnancy Centers (which depend on government funds)? What changes did they make in their lies about Emergency Contraception--which does not, cannot cause abortion?
And what progress have they made in supporting pregnancy reduction, other than their fantasies about dissuading teens from having more sex? Until the Religious Right enthusiastically supports contraception of all kinds, its anti-choice stance will remain exposed for what it is: a hypocritical, anti-sex, cynically expedient position. These people have accumulated vast political power and wealth. There's no crime in that. But they wield that power and wealth exactly like the immoral political interest group they are, and nothing more.
Anti-choice religious groups claim to care more about fetuses than about pregnant women, more about fetuses than about unmarried women who don't want to get pregnant, and more about fetuses than the adults they would murder. This is a sick obsession dressed up as a moral position. There's absolutely nothing "moral" about sacrificing living people for fetuses.
The mistake that the pro-choice majority makes is in not taking this claim seriously enough. It should be quoted and broadcast over and over again, everywhere: "They care more about fetuses than about any other living creature--including you, your children, your spouse, or your parents."
Perhaps that's why they're so solidly against same-gender marriages: they simply don't create enough fetuses to matter.
Sexual Intelligence continues reporting live from 3 weeks in Vietnam.
Last night I was interviewed for an hour on O2, Vietnam's independent lifestyle TV channel.
The set was pretty familiar, as was the three-camera setup, spike-haired makeup guy, and sound guy who threaded the mike cord under my shirt with a nonchalant air of entitlement. Eventually it was 3-2-1 and we were rolling tape.
The interviewer had clearly been to my website, knew my books (a happy contrast to American TV!), and asked very intelligent questions. We discussed differences between U.S. and Vietnamese ideas of gender, love, and marriage; I talked about how technology affects sexual culture, and will presumably continue to do so in Vietnam; and I talked about how increasing Vietnamese women's economic independence will presumably increase the country's divorce rate.
I also compared the sex-related policies of our respective governments. In Vietnam, adultery is illegal; in America, the government has spent a billion dollars trying to discourage teens from having sex. Both countries regulate abortion and contraception. Both countries have inadequate sex education and premarital counseling.
The hour show flew by, and my host was quite pleased. She gave me a lovely silk scarf as a gift, and soon I was back out on the street.
After a quick bowl of steaming pho (noodle soup with beef or chicken, which can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner), I headed back to my hotel. I can't wait to see what I look like dubbed into Vietnamese.
Sexual Intelligence continues to report from a three-week trip to Vietnam. I’m reaching the end of 5 days in Hanoi.
Today I began my two-day seminar in Hanoi. I have 2 days with 20 professionals, teaching both general counseling skills and sexuality counseling. It's quite a challenge, as the group is heterogeneous in terms of experience and background--some hotline workers, some physicians, some long-term clinicians, etc.. Only 4 of them are over 30 years old. And only 3 are men.
As in many non-western countries, a lot of their concept of counseling involves telling people what to do--either from a well-meaning place of advice-giving or from an old-fashioned idea of medical superiority. So my first job has been to establish a new concept of counseling. We talk about how to listen, how to ask questions, the difference between empathy and agreement.
We talk about how clients speak in metaphor, how they will push whatever boundaries we set up, how they often demand answers to questions that aren't helpful to them, while avoiding questions we think will be helpful. And we talk about the delicate balance between being clinically powerful and being respectful.
They aren't used to my informal style of lecturing, of course (I've never taught a group outside the U.S. that has!), nor to my continual inquiry about their experience with me--how's my English? Do my examples--which often involve eating and sports, since most people can relate to that--make sense? How would they apply the material I just presented?
And I have to beg them to ask questions. They don't want to be "disrespectful," and don't want to "interrupt." So I ask them--how would it affect the counseling if a client feels the same way?
In Vietnam people rely on family members for guidance far more than in the U.S.. This has many consequences; one is the weird power dynamics involved as parents pull their children one way, while their siblings or younger aunts/uncles pull them another way. How do you follow your own heart if it means disappointing your family? How can you enjoy your "selfish" choices when you know you have disrespected or dishonored members of your family--who, after all, want what's best for you?
It's an age-old conundrum, still alive in most parts of the world (as well as ethnic communities in the West). The introduction of technology such as mobile phones and the internet complicate the situation, adding powerful new influences on decision-making.
Sexual decision-making--already complicated in cultures that discourage premarital experience, sexual communication, and marriage-for-love--is getting even more complex with these new influences. When people can no longer rely on traditional norms (or no longer want to), how do they make choices? Having sex in order to be "modern," or to compete with others in a newfangled relationship marketplace, or to establish a sense of independence, doesn't always serve people. Add a huge dose of sexual ignorance and mythology, and sex can be the source of great emotional (and physical) pain.
We should know--in our own way, we've been doing something similar in America for a while now.
Each year, Sexual Intelligence Awards honor individuals
and organizations who challenge the sexual fear, unrealistic
expectations, and government hypocrisy that undermine love,
sex, and relationships--and political freedom--today.
of the 2009 Awards were:
Vermont Law School
Dr. Doug Kirby, Sexual Behavior Research Scientist
National Center for Reason & Justice
Previous winners also include Candye Kane (musician), Robert
McGinley (non-monogamy activist), and Charles Moser &
Peggy Kleinplatz (sex researchers).
Your nomination should be one or two paragraphs about your nominee, sent to Klein@SexEd.org. Deadline for nominations is February 21; winners will be announced March 1.
You'll notice this is issue #120, and if you do the math, you'll realize that this completes our first 10 years.
Sexual Intelligence began on March 1, 2000. Every month since then, without skipping a single issue, we've covered "Sex--and Politics, Culture, the Media--and Sex."
We're up to about 6,000 subscribers, along with some 2,000 readers who access the Sexual Intelligence blog directly. Some of you are brand-new to SI, while others have been with us from the beginning.
Every year we get about $1,500 in donations via PayPal to support the IT work. And every issue generates about 25 emails commenting on articles--praise, criticism, advice (some of it helpful, some of it anatomically impossible), correction (factual, grammatical, spiritual), or just plain "thanks."
I feel appreciated. Don't stop!
Here's to another 10 years.
This is my chance to acknowledge my IT wizard, LeAnn Erimli of VOAssistant. She's been with SI from the start, and I highly recommend her if you need a virtual office assistant.
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