Talking At Lovers
Two weeks ago I spent the weekend in Tacoma, Washington, a guest of Lovers--a large chain of high-end stores selling the latest vibrators and dildoes, whips and handcuffs, DVDs, lube, books, and a million brands of condoms.
They do a lot of bachelorette parties there, so they have tons of lingerie on display. Wearing corsets, bustiers, and fishnet hose, the mannequins looked really, really hot. Oops, did I just say that out loud? I only meant to think it.
The company is also committed to education. Their stated mission, in fact, is "to provide an exciting environment to explore human sexuality and to acknowledge the freedom to do so."
This is not your dirty-old-man dirty bookstore.
The founder and CEO is Phyllis Heppenstall, a feisty, fun-loving old gal (her words) in her sixties. Thirty years ago, she opened her first store in a Seattle area suburb--and was promptly thrown out of town. Welcome to America, where grownups can tolerate guns better than vibrators. This rejection only strengthened Phyllis' motivation, who now has 32 stores across Northern Washington and Southern California (employing 1,000 people, by the way). Phyllis is a tireless fighter for American freedom. The flagship store, in fact, has a Sexual Freedom Museum.
As part of Lovers' educational mission, they invited me up there to speak at two different stores. Saturday was Couples Night in Tacoma. Sunday was Ladies Night in Tukwila. About 100 women showed up at the large, classy store. Most were under 30, a funny mix of piercings and tattoos, ripped jeans and elegant skirts, and clunky shoes. And cell phones that apparently needed constant checking.
I spoke for about 20 minutes--the kinds of concerns my patients have, the types of things I tell them. The talk was part high school sex education, part behind-the-scenes of the therapist's couch, part just us girls talking about sex as it really is. Oh, and part Borscht Belt. I love making people laugh, especially when I get to make a serious point ("Why does my boyfriend always touch his penis at random?" "I don't know, but I assure you it isn't random.").
Everyone wrote down their questions, which we collected.
They were pretty typical; for example:
* How do I get my boyfriend to do X? (Tell him to please do it)
* How do I get him to stop doing Y? (Ask him to please stop; if he won't, ask him why he's willing to undermine the relationship)
* Can you get addicted to a vibrator? (No. Attached, yes; Develop affection for, yes; Addicted, no.)
* Why don't I climax from real sex? (You mean intercourse? Well, do you masturbate mostly with your vagina or your clitoris?)
* Is it gross to do it during your period? (Please define "gross"--is that just real life the way it actually is?)
* If my boyfriend wants my finger in his butt, is he gay? (He may be, but liking anal play isn't a reliable test' for sexual orientation.)
Afterwards people came up to talk to me privately, and it was a familiar scene: a few people telling me I'd emboldened them to talk with their husbands; the usual suspects wanting to be sex therapists when they grow up; and the inevitable person or two revealing they were in a threesome, or enjoyed spanking, or that they ran amateur porn sites with cameras in their bedrooms.
They all looked pretty ordinary, and sounded like your neighbors. Maybe, in fact, they're you.
Everyone knows that communication is absolutely essential to satisfying sex, right?
So therapists, physicians, educators, progressive clergy, even a know-nothing like Dr. Phil are continually encouraging people to talk MORE about sex with their partners.
But there's a problem with this. Here's how a lot of my patients communicate about sex: "Down there." "Y'know." "Let's do it." "Um." "It." With a vocabulary like this, more communication isn't going to help much.
As George Bernard Shaw said, "We don't think of sex decently, so we don't have a decent language with which to discuss it." Let's face it, no one requests or offers "cunnilingus." No one says "I'd like to stimulate your vulva."
It's obvious to almost everyone that comprehensive sex education is really, really necessary. That's how young people will learn the sexual knowledge they need, words to discuss it, and the comfort to actual use them.
Admirably, the New York City Board of Education has provided teachers a syllabus for the task, directing that students be encouraged to use words they understand.
For doing exactly that, Faith Kramer was investigated, disciplined, and removed from her classroom last year. Kramer, a city teacher for 26 years, led a classroom discussion in which kids used street language for body parts and sexual activities, words that were listed and compared to other words in an actual dictionary.
Last week, almost a year later, the charge of violating school regulations and the suspension were dropped, and Kramer was reinstated to her classroom duties. If this story isn't about you or me, we can say that justice prevailed and life returned more or less to normal. Imagine, though, if this were your story. Would you say "Oh good, OK, never mind"? Would your middle-age life return to "normal?"
The paranoia and rage in this country about sexual words is astonishing. Just 4 weeks ago we ran a story about a judge who jailed a woman for wearing a t-shirt in court that said "pussy." Even worse, news outlets, including the allegedly progressive Huffington Post, ran the story WITHOUT mentioning the word that made this woman a prisoner.
Pussy. Dick. Tits. Cum.
Pakistan and Bangladesh recently banned Facebook from their precious shores because a user invited others to post images (positive, by the way) of Muhammed. Has America descended to this level of medieval fear and attempted mind-control? If a teacher gets fired for allowing kids to say sex words in sex education class the terrorists don't need to win. We're giving this country away.
The planet is melting, airports have become emotionally toxic, half of all American kids are obese, millions of people text while they drive, Red Sox pitching is horrendous--and a bunch of frightened parents actually objected to their kids hearing "jerk off" in school. Do they think their offspring not only don't do it, but don't know what it's called?
These parents desperately need help. So do their kids--although they may learn a little bit about sex despite their parents' selfish demand for their ignorance. That pathetically inept principal who pursued the disciplinary action needs a spine implant and a new job, since education and curriculum outlines are clearly not his calling.
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein provided every American student and adult with a brilliant lesson in civics. His decision explains exactly what "due process" is, and why it's so important to a free people.
Sadly, I suppose the parents who objected to their kids learning about sex would object to them learning about everyone's Constitutional rights as well. Some parents want to transmit a love of learning and curiosity about others' ideas. Others want to transmit a fear of them. Just like in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
A group of California attorneys say they are literally on a mission from God to replace four current judges with themselves. They are running for San Diego Superior Court judge on June 8.
"We believe our country is under assault and needs Christian values," said candidate Craig Candelore, who believes "God has called upon us to do this." The campaign is supported by clergymembers, gun enthusiasts, and opponents of reproductive choice and same-gender marriage.
This is simply un-American. It threatens to take us back to the 17th century of the Puritans and the monarchy-centered Europe from which they came.
For most people in the history of the world, no one got to vote on anything. Kings made the laws, local big shots implemented them, and if you didn't like it, tough luck. "Courts" were local appendages of political and economic power that simply decided how things would be. There were no separate "judges"--the "judge" was either the guy who made the law, or it was a guy appointed by the guy who made the law. If he made a decision the king or lord didn't like, he'd hang--and he knew it.
So in the Bad Old Days (the Pharoahs, the Dark Ages, Russia today), "judges" knew the outcomes of cases ahead of time, and then looked for ways to justify these decisions. In places like Iran, Turkey, and China today, those justifications include "hooliganism" and "insults to the state."
Although we tend to take it for granted, the creation of an independent court system, and the separation of judges from lawmakers, is a spectacular innovation that has only been tried on a limited basis in human history. I imagine most people living under this system would say they prefer it to the alternative.
So it's crucial to have judges who are free to adjudicate the law independent of political concerns. And it's equally crucial that they be free to do this independent of their own personal interests. Otherwise, what's the point of the law?
Unfortunately, 33 out of 50 American states now have elections for judges. This doesn't have to be a disaster--after all, people COULD vote for judicial candidates based on their wisdom, their training, and their demonstrated fairness. But anyone who went to high school knows that that's NOT how elections work.
Indeed, candidates Candelore, Bill Trask and Larry Kincaid have been rated by the San Diego County Bar Association as "lacking some or all of the qualities of professional ability, experience, competence, integrity, and temperament" needed in judges.
But their platform is not competence. Their platform is the outcome of their judicial decisions--which they are announcing in advance.
I don't want ANY judges who know the outcome of their cases in advance, even if I would agree with the decisions. I've been in countries where people go to "court" knowing the decision has been made before they utter a word of defense. I never, ever felt safe there. Would you?
This is not some abstract issue. Imagine being involved in a custody battle with your ex, knowing your case will be decided by a judge's notion of your "morality:" "You won't raise this child Christian? You don't get to parent him." Or you're denied the right to buy a home because you're an unmarried couple: "This is not a lifestyle the court condones." We're talking real lives here, not just theory.
Although imperfect, American law intends to let people do what they want in private. For better or worse, the regulation of sexuality is a key focus of organized Christianity. That means that if elected, these "Christian" judges will make decisions about people's personal lives in accordance with religious values--not the 200-year-old law that guarantees the right to be left alone in "the pursuit of happiness."
Candelore admits that he and his religious colleagues want to take over the United States and change its laws: "If we can take our judiciary, we can take our legislature and our executive branch." This simple declaration should be the only campaign statement his opponents need. Unfortunately, many Christian voters are willing to sacrifice the America they claim to love in order to save it.