Last week I had the honor of addressing the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Everyone was very nice to me, and my talk was received enthusiastically.
But that wasn't nearly the best part. For four days I got to listen to the country's best sexual scientists. It was a festival of fact, tested hypotheses, and replicated data--actual information.
Leslie Kantor discussed sex education outcomes, demonstrating that scare tactics do not motivate young people, that accurate information is not dangerous, and that parents can shape their kids' sexual behavior--if they'll talk to them.
William Fisher dissected common government strategies for fighting HIV/AIDS–and showed why most common approaches are wrong if we want to minimize the spread of the disease.
Debbie Herbenick talked about why promoting sexual satisfaction is an important part of getting people to make responsible sexual decisions. She also showed that policy-makers underestimate men's willingness to use condoms.
Mickey Diamond presented his long-term study on how children develop a sense of gender--and what happens when physicians or parents ignore this.
There was plenty of other science to go around, with data on the effects of pornography in real life (quite small), the dynamics of sex offending (very low recidivism), the most effective ways to teach medical students about sex, the impact of social media on sexual decision-making, and so on. Even former Surgeon General David Satcher gave a talk.
While sexual scientists were examining the fine points of sample size and research design, Republicans wanting to run for President were running away from science as fast as they could.
Rick Perry dismissed evolution as "just a theory" with "some gaps in it." He also dismisses climate science as a "contrived phony mess that is falling apart."
Newt Gingrich, a brilliant, well-educated man who surely says different in private, calls himself "agnostic" on the question of climate change: "I actually don't know whether global warming is occurring."
Mitt Romney, who would gladly say Rhode Island is bigger than Texas if he thought it could help him get elected, now says he's "unsure" about climate change.
Michelle Bachmann--who makes Sarah Palin look moderate, intelligent, warm, and conciliatory--has never met a scientific fact she couldn't ignore or disagree with. On the "Today" show, she attacked vaccination. In speeches, she calls Emergency Contraception "the abortion pill," even though a pregnant woman taking EC continues to be pregnant.
Gravity? Unfortunately, these candidates are not being asked if they believe in it. I'd love to hear them either deny that it's real, or actually say the words "yes, I acknowledge the science."
Of course, this is a country in which more people believe in the Rapture than in Evolution. Half of today's Americans are like cavemen confronting fire for the first time--pointing at it with a combination of fear, wonder, and rage.
It all helps explain why sexual scientists spend so much time talking to each other, getting so little time to speak with policy-makers, bureaucrats, and elected officials. Maybe after the Rapture takes all the anti-intellectuals, it will be easier for the voices of scientists to be heard.
People in the state of Mississippi just spent a few cool millions of dollars arguing about how many fetuses can writhe on the head of a pin. That is, they just voted on a ballot measure that would decide the simple question of when life begins. How many textbooks, hepatitis shots, firefighter salaries, and fresh vegetables would that money buy? Well, who cares about that when you can invest in shackling some stranger whose pregnancy you've made your business?
And "when life begins"! Only in America, where "democracy" is the pitiful excuse for mobs, religious zealots, the powerful, and the terrified to enforce their morality on others, would adults actually get to vote on the mysteries of the universe. And only in America would people think they deserve to vote on such a thing.
The internet and "interactive news" (now there's a modern abomination--let's vote on the news) have pushed this trend to the point where people feel deprived if they don't get to comment on everything that interests them. Michael Jackson's doctor gets convicted of manslaughter, and instead of a serious conversation about medical ethics or family responsibility, newspaper (and blog) readers are invited to "vote" on the verdict--right or wrong? It's yet another exercise in fact-free self-expression. Where do I click for "How the hell do I know?"
The Mississippi ballot measure conferring personhood on a tiny random blip of carbon is not, of course, about sponsors' awe of biochemistry; rather, it's a cynical ploy to outlaw other people's abortions (and much of their birth control). After all, even though every Mississippian with a heartbeat can own a gun, these people revere "life"--i.e., the ability to control what you do with yours.
Fortunately, the measure failed (although over 40% of voters approved it. Maybe Secession wasn't such a bad idea). Similar campaigns, however, will be pursued next year in at least six other states. These ignorant, flag-waving "patriots" don't understand the first thing about "democracy:" it isn't three wolves and a lamb voting on who's for dinner.
Sponsored by groups including Concerned Women for America (CWA) and Morality in Media (MiM), the goal of the week is "to educate the public about the extent of the pornography problem and what can constitutionally be done about it." These are powerful groups lobbying Washington and state capitols to adapt Biblical principles for governing, and to weaken what they label the "so-called separation between church and state."
Their suggested activities for the Week include urging the Attorney General to enforce obscenity laws; demanding that convenience stores stop selling X-rated mags or DVDs; and pressuring presidential candidates to promise to prosecute "illegal pornography."
They also pledge to "raise awareness" of how pornography harms every single person in every single community. In other words, their goal is to lie, cheat, misinform, frighten, confuse, and manipulate. So far they're doing a great job.
One strategy is the White Ribbons Against Pornography (WRAP)--literally wearing white ribbons to invite conversation about pornography. (They presumably considered but discarded the White Garter Belt Campaign.)
I totally agree with the idea behind WRAP. I support increasing everyone's awareness of pornography use in this country: how many people watch it, who these people typically are, how it affects them and their relationships, how pornographers work hard to screen out underage performers, what Americans' rights are regarding possession of erotic material, etc.
Of course, I have a fact-based approach to this phenomenon rather than WRAP's emotional, say-anything-to-get-people-to-stop approach, so I propose a different set of activities to observe Pornography Awareness Week.
To counter the obscene lies that our media and legislators will be hearing this week, perhaps you could do one (or more!) of the following:
* If you use porn, talk about it with your partner.
* Thank the clerk in your local convenience store for carrying porn magazines or DVDs.
* Thank your local hotel for carrying pay-for-porn, even if you personally have never stayed there. Alternatively, write to a national chain that carries pay-for-porn (and has been bullied about it by groups like Citizens for Community Values), such as Marriott or Westin.
* Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining that most people who use porn have no problem with it.
* Write about this on your own blog. Tweet about it: "I use porn and my sex life is fine," or "I use porn and my sex life isn't very good--but it has nothing to do with porn."
* Invite your partner to share her/his concerns about porn with you.
* Instead of a White Ribbon, wear a Plaid Ribbon. When people ask, say it's for Porn Awareness Week and your gratitude for the First Amendment.
* Start a conversation with someone: "Did you know that the Bill of Rights says NOTHING about exempting porn, obscenity, or indecency from our Freedom of Speech?"
* Write your mayor or governor reminding them that you vote–and that you have no problem with porn.
* Memorize this fact: in the real world, porn is NOT connected with violence against women, child molestation, or divorce. In fact, the FBI says these have all declined since the country was flooded with internet porn in 2000.
* Memorize this fact: the adult industry NEVER knowingly creates or distributes child porn. They're smart business people, not clueless idiots. The government has only identified two underage performers in professional films--both of whom produced sophisticated false identification--in over twenty-five years.
* Memorize this fact: using porn does NOT cause brain damage, erectile dysfunction, or loss of sexual interest in one's mate. Other things do that, but not porn.
* Use some.
Bonus: What to say to people who say that pornography causes most of America's problems:
* "Of course some rapists and wife-beaters use pornography. So do 50,000,000 other Americans, and it doesn't make them rape or beat anyone."
* "Of course some people watch way too much porn. Other people watch way too much football, reality TV, or the Weather Channel. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with any of them."
* "Porn doesn't make men withdraw from their wives and girlfriends. Men withdraw for a variety of reasons. No pictures or stories can compete with a satisfying sexual & emotional relationship with a live person."