I wouldn't want to be Anthony Weiner right now. Because everyone can see he's conflicted about sex.
But c'mon, aren't you? Isn't everyone?
As Somerset Maugham wrote almost a century ago, "There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world with surprise and horror."
Would you want your mental sexual architecture exposed? Of course not.
And that's the problem: Everyone in America is conflicted about sex. But only people with certain kinds of sexual conflict get caught.
Some people conflicted about sex never masturbate, never ask a woman what time it is just to stand next to her, never look at porn, never choose a table or subway seat based on who they get to look at, never fantasize when they walk past a dress shop, never read a romance novel, never think about what's under those tight NFL pants, never look up old boyfriends on Facebook, never wear a plunging neckline, never own a vibrator, never smell their spouse's underwear.
They never think of sex, feel little passion, and rarely do it.
Such people's sexual conflicts are never exposed to public scrutiny, because they're rarely acted out in ways we can easily see. But the internal crippling of sex phobias, the terror that one might not be 100% heterosexual, the rage against others' sexual self-acceptance--these qualities in our public servants should concern us far more than the phone sex of Anthony Weiner, the love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the prostitutes of David Vitter or Elliot Spitzer.
The problem with all the moralistic, self-satisfied, judgmental crap being thrown at, on, and around Anthony Wiener is that it affirms the idea that sex gets us in trouble--and that if we stay away from it, we're OK. It affirms the idea that people who are conflicted about sex and act it out (in Weiner's case, playfully, consensually, and without meeting or touching, remember) are somehow less trustworthy and less emotionally stable than people whose sexual conflicts leave them with frozen hearts, frozen bodies, and a complete lack of a paper trail. The grief of a spouse emotionally abandoned by a sex-phobe is always considered more acceptable than the grief of a spouse who's been cheated on--a naïve and mean-spirited reading of human emotion.
I agree that Weiner did dumb things.
But if you want to say the guy's poor judgment disqualifies him from public office, you have to put that in context. You also have to talk about the poor judgment of public servants who, in private, beg Jesus to kill their sex drive, or beg a therapist to kill their fantasies, or brainwash their kids to be virgins at marriage, or, like St. Augustine, are intensely obsessed with the fundamentally dangerous nature of female sexuality. Does Anthony Weiner's sexuality make him less trustworthy than St. Augustine's tormented sexuality made him? I don't think so.
The media (including the pretend-liberal Huffington Post), self-righteous members of both political parties, and many Americans continue to express their intense sense of betrayal by Weiner: "We thought we knew him."
By that, people mean they thought they could safely assume Weiner's sexuality was vanilla. Now they feel somehow violated because it isn't. Much of the American public--and all of the media--seems to feel it has a right to expect vanilla sexuality from politicians, regardless of ideology or the lack of impact on their political behavior.
When non-vanilla behavior is exposed in public servants, people sanctimoniously complain about its content--the hookers or the multiple partners or the porn or the (duh) lying. If we hypothetically put aside such morally tainted content--is there ANY non-vanilla sex life a politician can have that's acceptable to the public?
For example, what if a politician privately sends hot emails to his own wife? Takes explicit pictures of their monogamous bedroom activities and keeps them private? Or, with her encouragement, sends them to the couple's best friend? No one's hurt, no one complains, it's all private. Does the DESIRE to do this, or the WILLINGNESS to do it, mean a public servant can't be trusted?
Why not? And why is this worse than electing someone who, it turns out, believes that their sexual fantasies are going to damn them to everlasting hell?
America's sex scandals (not the behavior, the "scandals") are dangerous because they're always about an interest in non-authorized sex. And because the lesson we're always told they teach is that "too much" interest in sex, or "too little control" over our sexual impulses, or "too unusual" sexual desires are dangerous. And that the other kind of sexuality--one loaded down with guilt, shame, terror, and frigidity--is merely inconvenient, rather than a menace to society.
Anthony Weiner may be a flawed husband, but he's no menace. Those who want to strip every bit of eroticism out of our governing classes are. At the very least, they should be honest about their intention, and quit hiding behind the skirts of "he has bad judgment."
Sex therapy can be complicated. Fortunately, sometimes it isn't.
About three months ago my patient Sam finally started dating again after his wife left him last summer. After a few nondescript experiences, he met Yolanda, they hit it off, and a few weeks later he found himself in bed with her. Two days later he came in for his weekly session. Five minutes before it ended, he mentioned how he couldn't "y'know" when he wanted to "y'know."
"Oh," I said. "You didn't get an erection when you wanted one?" Yes, that was it, poor guy. I knew he wasn't taking any prescription medication, so I checked that he hadn't been drinking before the sex. Our time was then up, and I suggested we discuss it the following week.
We did, especially since he had had another "y'know" situation. Sam assumed we'd need to discuss his grief over his wife leaving him, or "maybe my relationship with my mother."
Instead, I asked him a simple question: "Sam, from what activities were you supposed to get an erection?" He didn't quite understand the question. "Um," he said, "we were kissing, and it looked like we might have sex, and I was excited about that. And we were rubbing against each other while making out."
I told Sam that he needed to have direct stimulation on his penis in order to get an erection. He disagreed; shouldn't it be enough that he was "excited"? "It's important that you're emotionally aroused," I partially agreed. "But you need to be physically aroused as well."
He didn't quite believe me. He didn't WANT to believe me. Because that would involve communicating with Yolanda: His desire to be touched or licked. How he wanted to be touched or licked. And, of course, the ways he didn't want to be touched or licked.
Sam was shy about that. "Having sex is one thing," he said. "Talking about it is much more difficult." I agreed: "Yes, talking about sex is much more intimate than doing it."
"You know," I continued, "Sex would be a lot easier on the nerves if you didn't feel pressured to get erect for it. If you just counted everything as sex, and you two decided to enjoy each others' bodies in whatever ways were available, getting an erection wouldn't matter."
Sam didn't especially like that. "She won't like that," was the way he put it. "How do you know?" I asked. He didn't, of course. "Women want an erection" was the best he could do. Well, some women do, of course, but not all. "And without asking," I gently smiled, "you can't know how Yolanda feels about it."
Sam really wanted an erection, but he wasn't willing to arrange for the physical stimulation he apparently needed for it (and forget, by the way, him touching his penis in front of her. "No way," he said firmly).
This conveniently illustrates the three rules for not getting an erection when you want one:
* Don't get the physical stimulation you need
* Envision "sex" as something that requires an erection
* Don't discuss this dilemma with your partner
For most men, there's actually a fourth rule:
* Have sex with someone you don't like, you're not attracted to, or you're angry with
Sam wondered if he had "erectile dysfunction," and if a drug would help. "Getting a stomach ache from eating at McDonald's three times a day for a month isn't a stomach dysfunction, it's the way your system is built," I replied. "Not getting an erection when your penis doesn't get sufficient stimulation isn't erectile dysfunction--it's the way your system is built."
Sam sighed. "I guess you're right," he said. "But I wish this whole sex thing were easier." I sympathized with Sam, as I do with all people who say this. And I replied as I often do: "Sam, sex would be easier if you didn't make it so complicated."
Today I had the great pleasure of watching the masterpiece "Amarcord" again. The film is a charming series of vignettes set in Fellini's seaside hometown during his childhood in 1930s Italy. A warm and gentle comedy, it lovingly skewers the platitudes by which everyday people manage their daily lives.
Although Fellini is ever the romantic, he is also honest. And so a film about early adolescence includes story after wry story of adolescent sexual fantasy. We see daydreams of erotic conquest, braggadocio that cannot be fulfilled (including the largest breasts on this earth), boys lovingly tailing the town's glamorous hairdresser, and even a comical circle-jerk, in which boys take turns calling out fantasy objects for the group's arousal.
In parallel, the film keeps returning to the adolescent sexual fantasies of the adults--
obsessive shots of women's butts (the women fully participating in the town game), a construction crew slobbering over the town nympho, an elderly gentleman recalling his grandfather's sexual exploits, women swooning over a local would-be Ronald Coleman (look him up, kids).
The subtext of the film, in fact, is the perpetual adolescence of the townspeople, flailing helplessly under the repressions of the Catholic Church and Mussolini's Fascism. We see a typical Italian family--a couple around 50 living with his father and her adult brother, along with their two children. The old man is a reminder that the couple are less than adults, while her brother is an unemployed man-child, indulged by his married sister, coming to dinner in a bathrobe and hairnet, and using the most obvious pickup lines to simply get laid, lacking any interest in a relationship.
Fellini saves a special stinging critique for the Church. A priest who hears the boys' confessions is primarily interested in their "self-pollution." The institution is particularly uninterested in either challenging the rise of Fascism or supporting townspeople who do. Religion has displaced both spirituality and morality.
Everything we have learned to expect from Fellini is on display in this film: his extraordinary gift for creating visual tableaux, his respect for world cinema, and his love of parades, of music, and for the Italian people. We also see how sexual repression, whether based in religion or politics, undermines adult development.
In addition to its enduring artistry and wise look at the human family, "Amarcord" has special resonance today. As the world's attention focuses on the Islamic community, there's a perfect storm brewing there. Very high unemployment among men (women don't go to work in most Muslim countries) means that many young men can't get married, and are still living at home. This, plus the lack of premarital sex (with little privacy for unmarried couples who are so inclined) means that several hundred million Muslim young men can't have sex (except for prostitutes or boys).
This enormous population of horny young men, with little to support their sense of self-worth, masculinity, or adulthood, is ripe for exploitation. They can help overturn a government, as in Tunisia, or they can blow themselves up and hope for virgins in heaven.
In "Amarcord," Fellini shows us the sexual dreams of teen boys, whose tender age blocks their fulfillment. He shows us the sexual dreams of adults, which look quite similar--but while unblocked by age, they are infantilized by religious guilt, political corruption, and a simplistic vision of gender relations.
The Arab world boils today with something similar, but with a dangerous new edge. No one in the Church is calling for people to blow themselves up for Christ. Italy, Spain, and every other cradle of western Catholicism is a hotbed of pre-marital, extra-marital, and openly gay sex. Islam urgently needs not just a religious reformation, but a sexual reformation. Like Fellini's characters, they desperately need the political and religious structures that will support a dignified, life-affirming sexuality for all.
Otherwise, another generation of sexually humiliated and emotionally frustrated young men may think heaven is their best option--and to get bonus points, they will take us with them.
"Amarcord" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and was Oscar-nominated for both Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay.
It's official--every picture with a minor in it is now "potential" child porn.
Imagine this perfect storm:
* A mean-spirited Sheriff's Department with too much time on their hands;
* A school run by spineless bureaucrats;
* A population of compliant students' parents
* Detectives who apparently think "innocent until proven guilty" is SO over.
They all came together last week at Big Bear Lake High School in Southern California. After the school's annual yearbook had been out for a while, someone discovered, in the background of a photo of a school dance, a couple in which a young man had his hand under a young woman's clothes.
The school, displaying exactly the kind of moral weakness and lack of character everyone criticizes in our young people, decided they were obligated to call the Sheriff's Department.
The Sheriff's Department, licking their chops over the chance to be on the Lord's side of a teen sex scandal, leaped in, declaring that the photo's background "could involve penetration," and therefore "could be child pornography." Without anything as messy or expensive as a trial or even a judicial opinion, they demanded that all students bring their paid-for yearbooks back to school, or face the risk of felony prosecution.
(Note: If you're wondering about the Separation of Powers that are the crowning glory of the American system of government, the two-century old arrangement has apparently been suspended in San Bernardino County.)
The school totally cooperated--throwing both the students' rights and the school's dignity under the bus of CYA--"cover your ass."
And, this being America--where we're SO eager to get the government off our backs and out of our lives, where we're SO independent and mistrustful of authority--1,000 yearbooks were returned. Every one of the parents who supported this should be ashamed. This being suburban Southern California, these parents are the same electorate who are afraid that the Second Amendment is all that stands between them and tyranny. The yearbooks were turned in without a single shot being fired.
* * *
This is the decade of destroying children to protect them. It's the decade of arresting teens for emailing sexy photos of themselves, turning them into Registered Sex Offenders. It's the decade of arresting teens for having sex with each other, turning them into Registered Sex Offenders. It's the decade of arresting and expelling 6-year-olds for "inappropriately hugging" classmates, turning them into "at-risk juveniles."
It's a disgusting Moral Panic. The Fear of Child Porn has gotten completely out of hand.
* * *
We know it's a Panic, because laws that were designed to protect kids are now being used to destroy them, along with some of the basics of our adult system of government. And most people don't even feel bad about it.
The bizarre behaviors of Sheriff's Departments, state legislatures, school districts, and "morality" groups are not about protecting kids. They're about responding to Panic. This is about adults, not about kids. It's about frightened people reassuring themselves that they're safe; that they're doing everything they can to make a changing world less confusing; that they're "erring on the side of caution" (as if there are no negative aspects to that); and that we specifically aren't letting the niceties of the Constitution or common sense stop us.
It's like a kid insisting on being a good Boy Scout by helping an old woman across the street even though she keeps saying she doesn't want to go. He swears he's taking care of her--but he's really taking care of himself.
* * *
Of course, child porn is a real problem, and it needs attention and solutions.
But "child porn" isn't a photo of two teens groping, and the danger of child porn--of the physical and emotional exploitation of vulnerable children--isn't posed by two teens groping. Prosecutions like this trivialize real child porn, and they do absolutely nothing to stop it. In fact, by diverting precious resources and distracting people with nonsense, busts like this are an obstacle to reducing real child porn.
How I wish this country could be concerned about a sex-related problem without freaking out. That would be a great skill to teach today's young people. Instead, they're watching how we deal with our fear--by trying to destroy them. We can expect the same from them in 20 years--dealing with their fears about kids' safety by destroying a new generation--to save them, of course.
By the way, what exactly was that picture? Or at least, what exactly did it show? No, you can't have that information. The government has decided, without a trial (or a judicial order), that it's too dangerous for you to see--and so you can't judge the school's or government's behavior for yourself. All we know is, sex is dangerous. And from ABC to the Huffington Post, there will be NO film at 11.