Here's an old therapy joke:
A new patient comes to see a psychiatrist. The doc decides to give the patient a Rorshach Test, and shows him a series of cards with different inkblots on them.
"What do you see on the first one?" asks the shrink.
"That's a man and a woman making love."
"And the second one?"
"That's a couple who just finished making love."
"And the third one?"
"That's a man asking a woman to make love, and she's deciding what to do."
The shrink asks, "Don't you think it's interesting that you see sex in every card?"
"Don't blame me," says the patient "they're your cards."
Playing the role of that patient this week is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The animal rights group is upset with a photo in a recent New York Times food section. Accompanying a story on the guilty pleasure of crispy chicken skin, the photo shows a raw chicken posed jauntily--even seductively.
It's funny, eye-catching, and sexy in a playful way.
But PETA went way over the top in objecting to it: "It's downright offensive, not just to people who care about animals but almost to everyone," said the group's president Ingrid Newkirk. "It's a plucked, beheaded, young chicken in a young pose. It's necrophilia," she concluded.
I'm certainly not the only one to note that perhaps PETA objects to someone stealing a page from their playbook. They've publicized their work by showing semi-nude models who'd "rather be nude than wear fur;" showing nude porn stars pleading with owners to spay their pets; and they're even planning to start their own porn site, which will "reach a whole new audience of people," according to PETA's director of campaigns.
But this latest, um, catfight, goes deeper than mere hypocrisy.
Newkirk is complaining that a raw chicken--the kind you buy in the supermarket--has been posed in a way that's too sexy. Worse, she invoked the archetypal monster of our time--the child molester. Newkirk said the photo showed a "young chicken in a young pose."
She might as well have called the photographer a terrorist. For nostalgia, throw in "Communist."
We live in a country where some people see sex--and therefore danger--everywhere.
Where you or I might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about penis size, those uncomfortable with sex feel assaulted. Where you might ignore a tampon or douche commercial, they feel assaulted. Where you might be bored (or intrigued) by a Katie Couric episode about teen hookers, they feel assaulted. That's a lot of assault.
If you're not obsessed with sex, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casually observe "dumb joke + health product + social problem (exaggerated or not)." But they perceive "sex + sex + sex." And for them, it never stops; people obsessed with sex that they resent never have a nice day.
When people are obsessed by sex--not about doing it, but by the subject--they see it everywhere. Like a four-year-old in a candy store or an eight-year-old at a scary movie, they are simply not emotionally equipped to ignore what they see. We should feel sympathy for these people, but they make it difficult, because they deal with their upset in such an aggressive way. They want to strip the public sphere of sexuality--and they imagine the public sphere as practically the whole world. It includes Greek statues in City Hall, radio ads for birth control, string bikinis on the beach, vanity license plates, lube in the drugstore--the list is almost endless.
I'm tired of people obsessed with sex seeing it everywhere, feeling assaulted, and wanting to protect themselves from it by stripping my world of art, fashion, words, products, and, ultimately, eroticism. Let's give these people compassion, not political or organizational power.
Like a bad penny--or like an abusive ex-husband, or a public policy cancer--abstinence is back, just when we thought it was gone.
Through the 1970s, U.S. policy was to reduce teen pregnancy. In 1981 the goal was changed, to funding programs to reduce teen sexual activity. During the Bush Administration, $1.5 billion was spent trying to get kids to have less sex. These programs failed completely (other than transferring federal case to Bush supporters).
In 2009 the federal government ended most funding for abstinence (although states and school districts continued funding abstinence programs locally), and began funding comprehensive sex ed. But that was just a brief tease. Because last year, in addition to authorizing $75 million to implement evidence-based comprehensive sex education, Congress also provided $250 million over five years to implement abstinence programs. As under Bush's abstinence regime, the money cannot be used to teach about contraceptive effectiveness or healthy decision-making.
This week, House Republicans slashed 81% of the comprehensive sex ed money, and removed language requiring funded programs to be medically accurate and supported by rigorous research.
Abstinence is baaaack.
America's public policy goal is again to prevent teen sex, not to reduce teen pregnancy and support healthy decision-making--despite unambiguous scientific proof that this leads to more pregnancies and STDs, not less. It's tragic that a country which used to produce the world's finest scientists and scientific projects is now being run by tea partyers and other Republicans for whom science is just another opinion.
These people think it makes sense to systematically prepare kids for what they won't experience--adolescence and young adulthood without sex--and to leave kids completely unprepared for what they will have: Sex. Sexual feelings. Sexual relationships. Sexual decision-making.
Abstinence proponents claim they love their kids and don't want to abandon them to dangerous sexuality. But their behavior is aggressive and hateful. They are throwing their kids under the public policy bus for completely selfish reasons: for political gain, and to sooth their own feelings about their kids' sexuality--their anxiety, sadness, resentment, and sense of loss.
We know how we would describe a parent who's uncomfortable about his own teeth, and therefore refuses to teach his kids about brushing, flossing, and soda. Imagine that this parent also prevents his kids from learning anything about oral hygiene, and forbids them from going to the dentist.
We'd call this parent neglectful. I'd add irresponsible and unforgiveable. And if this parent got in the way of my kid learning about toothpaste, I'd say he's dangerous. That perfectly describes adults who desperately need to live in a world without teen sexuality--and selfishly fantasize that they can.
I fantasize about a world in which people who refuse to believe in science are disqualified from public office. In real life, Americans elect them to Congress, and beg them to be President.
Today was World Contraception Day. Sponsored by organizations from most parts of the globe, its goal is straightforward: to create a world in which every pregnancy is wanted.
So simple. So life-affirming and life-enhancing. Such a dramatic, proven program for reducing poverty and domestic violence. Who could be against such a thing?
Unfortunately, way too many people:
* Religious adherents who think their god is against it;
* People who don't want women to have more power in their relationships, families, and lives;
* People who see children as a source of family labor or national wealth;
* People so obsessed with abortion that contraception has become controversial;
* And some American presidential hopefuls.
That's right: some Americans are actually considering whether to elect a President who opposes contraception. Kinda makes you yearn for the progressive days of, say, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Yes, familiar names who are against reproductive rights aren't just against abortion. They're against birth control. One example is Michelle Bachmann, who recently trashed Obama's health-insurance bill by referring to "contraception and the so-called morning-after pill, which some researchers say are abortion-inducing drugs."
"Some researchers say" is a handy rhetorical device that allows a speaker to lie without having to take any responsibility. Concluded Bachmann, so "people who have a moral issue about supporting abortion and paying for other people's abortions will be forced to do so..."
Presidential hopeful Rick Perry one-upped Bachmann's rhetoric with his recent actions as Governor. Together with the Texas legislature, he cut funding for family planning clinics by two-thirds. Asked if this was part of a "war on birth control," state Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Nacogdoches) said "Of course this is a war on birth control and abortions and everything--that's what family planning is supposed to be about."
Civic groups, decency groups, religious groups, and just plain screwball groups are all out there, fighting against contraception--again, not abortion, contraception. One well-funded organization is the American Life League, which supports state legislatures in criminalizing birth control pills.
The believe that "separating lovemaking from procreation" leads to a couple's, and a nation's, death. A recent honored speaker repeatedly made the bizarre claim that "Contraception feeds the abortion industry."
Websites like thepillkills proudly distribute lies about the effects of various forms of contraception. With a public whose scientific literacy is in tatters, readers of such sites are easily misled and inflamed. For them, the tea party awaits to channel their anger, fear, and alienation.
Fundamentalist religious groups have been challenging the scientific advances of contraception for a century. Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, and evangelical Protestants use eerily similar words to describe their opposition to family planning for not only themselves, but for all members of their tribe--and yours. It's one more way in which fundamentalists of various religions are more like each other than they are like the moderates of their own faith.
In America, the massively destructive expansion of homeschooling has been a godsend to evangelicals, whose children are virtually untouched by secular culture. Sexuality, gender roles, and the Satanic intentions of contraception are central issues to sects like Quiverfull or the United Apostolic Brethren, whose adherents routinely have 10 children per family. Only last month such a fundamentalist couple with 9 kids spanked their 7-year-old to death, persuaded they were divinely instructed.
The choice to bear a child is without question the single most dramatic action most humans ever take. To believe that humans should take no responsibility for this "decision" is reprehensible and immoral, whether the belief comes from interpreting the Bible or channeling Napoleon. There's nothing quite so disgustingly disingenuous as a Catholic or other pious couple claiming their "religion" forbids contraception--while they tolerate divorce, premarital sex, or women working outside the home. How convenient to treat religious dogma as a bunch of suggestions on Monday, and rigid guidelines on Tuesday.
Of course, if religious people taught their children to masturbate, and supported each couple in enjoying various forms of non-fertile sexual expression, their impact on society would be less damaging. Instead, people who oppose contraception refuse to teach their kids about it--who predictably still have sex like their peers, but without doing it safely. Why anti-contraception parents can't see that they're increasing their kids' chances of unplanned pregnancy is a mystery for the ages.
While hosting his 1960s quiz show, Groucho Marx famously interviewed a woman with a dozen kids. "That's a lot of children," he said. "Well, my husband and I love each other very much," replied the woman.
"I love my cigar, too," said Groucho. "But periodically I take it out."