I've now been in Brazil for over a week. And after blogging (with photos) every day about history, culture, architecture, or nature, it's time to mention the women.
Everyone knows they're gorgeous, so let me say a little more than that.
For starters, Brazilians are a mix of three races: the indigenous Indians, European settlers, and African slaves. Over the last five centuries, the three races have blended continuously. Compared with the U.S. and other societies, there have been relatively few taboos about race-mixing, a process that only accelerated when slavery ended in 1888. Mixing races produces unique and therefore exotic-looking combinations of features. One is instinctively drawn to the mystery of miscegenation. And nobody here seems embarrassed or apologetic about it.
In fact, Brazil's self-described founding national myth sits atop race mixing, and thus sexuality is embedded in the national DNA. Brazilians frankly describe their national character as both sensual and sexual, often contrasting it with their neighbors'. So neither the women nor the men here feel terribly compelled to feign less interest in sex than they actually have. This makes people pretty damn attractive.
Second, Brazilians breathe music and dance. Watching Carnival rehearsals up north in Olinda was spell-binding; the women move parts of their bodies that I didn't realize could move in quite that way. They dance with their shoulders, their necks, their hips, followed by their feet. Their torso practically comes along for the ride. I'm certain I wasn't the only observer reminded of sex.
And even more amazing was watching the six-year-olds samba. Ah, so that's how adults are able to move like they do--they've been doing it since they were six. And while the kids' movements were sensual and their costumes an echo of their sexy older sisters', their dance scenes had integrity, an organic logic light years away from the phony tarting-up of the child "beauty" pageants in America. These Brazilian children were being themselves, faces beaming, enjoying their bodies.
It was almost too intimate to watch--and far too life-affirming to turn away from. So I watched. I was intrigued by my own hesitation to appreciate children's bodies in a way that was, here in Brazil, culturally approved and wholesome.
Another compelling feature of Brazilian women is that when it comes to dancing, everyone is eligible. No woman is too large to participate, and when they do, they shake whatever they have. Often, that's a considerable amount of shaking, and no one scolds them or turns away. Bodies are bodies, and in Brazil, bodies are good.
In fact, the large women in Brazil dress exactly the way their thinner sisters do: skimpy, tight, and colorful. There's even a style of tank top that deliberately exposes the belly, inviting it to hang over their short shorts. In America most women would be horrified to expose what we delicately call "rolls of fat." In Brazil that same flesh is called, um, flesh, and it's not seen as a moral failing or aesthetic calamity. It's part of a woman's body, and they apparently don't feel the desperate need to cover or disguise it. If it's a woman's body, there are plenty of men to celebrate it. As a result, there are Brazilian women of every size preening. And that's attractive regardless of how a woman is constructed.
And did I mention that the Brazilian women are gorgeous?
Yale University President Richard Levin has announced that the school is discontinuing "Sex Week" in its present form. Since 2002, the program has brought speakers to campus to discuss a variety of sex-related topics. But as it grew, it involved corporate sponsors such as Pure Romance (in-home sex toy sales parties) and porn stars such as Sasha Grey.
President Levin has done the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
He could have assembled the student Sex Week producers and said "we need to do this differently." They could have proposed substantive changes (or not), and let things unfold from there. But no, he dropped the atomic bomb.
Sex Week will, in fact, return in a different form next year, although neither sponsored by nor located on Yale facilities. But regardless of the outcome, the reasoning behind the fuss is highly troubling. It indicates a continuing trend of American sex-negativity dressed up as concerns about public health.
A group called Undergraduates for a Better Yale College complained that Sex Week was too focused on porn. That may or may not be true. But they go on to demand, "Tell Yale that a pornographic culture does not create respect, but degrades…[the campus should focus on] relationships based on true love between partners, not transient lust."
As is often the case, people who want sex intertwined with "love" believe that that's the only correct form of sexual expression--for everyone, not just for themselves. These students apparently want Sex Week to be Intimate Forms of Affection Week. That kind of narrow-minded thinking and discomfort with lust is why students need Sex Week in the first place.
Another troubling aspect of the situation is the way President Levin received the recommendation to shut down Sex Week. It came from the report of a committee investigating whether the campus environment is hostile toward women, which is illegal under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.
The committee's report suggested--with absolutely no data or even theory--that because Sex Week had become too focused on titillation and porn stars, it was part of a bigger problem of sexual assault and harassment, and thus should be banned. This is the familiar libel of those angry about how sex is misused to hurt others: sexual entertainment and the frank admission of lust in the human psyche somehow lead to sexual violence against women.
These people ignore two FACTS:
* Cultures around the globe that experience an increase in legal porn enjoy a decrease in sexual violence;
* Since free porn flooded American homes via the internet in 2000, sexual violence has decreased.
That said, I can easily agree that Sex Week has evolved in some unfortunate directions. As a lifelong sex educator, I have watched as porn stars have been hired to lecture college students across America. I have seen representatives of Ashley Madison and other dating sites presented as experts on conference panels. I cringed as Ron Jeremy went on a national tour debating the XXXChurch on the effects of porn. I even lived through Kim Cattrall publishing a book of sex advice called--gulp--Sexual Intelligence. Her credentials? Playing a sex-loving woman on the show Sex And The City.
I admit it--I'd rather be giving those lectures myself (shameless promo: see the link to my 2012 lecture schedule at the right of this page). Or that they be given by my esteemed colleagues, such as Debbie Herbenick, Jay Friedman, Judith Steinhart, Paul Joannides--there are dozens of qualified (and entertaining) sex educators out there.
But the problem with campus Sex Weeks goes beyond having porn stars as "experts" (although at least we can depend on these people to use grownup words like clitoris and ejaculate). It's a matter of addressing what students actually need.
The three biggest sexual problems facing students are:
* Unintended pregnancy;
* The inability to communicate before, during, and after sex;
* The fluidity of the concept of "consent."
(Note: Life is NOT as simple as "no means no." While coercion IS black-and-white--it's always wrong, regardless of circumstances--pressure, self-doubt, ambivalence, misunderstanding, fantasy, hope, low self-esteem, and the trading of sex for prestige or other nebulous goods is far more common in college student sexuality, complicating sexual interactions even before we get into issues like alcohol and privacy.)
These three issues are inextricably linked. They all relate to questions of accepting one's own sexuality; feeling a sense of agency in shaping sexual experiences; having a wide range of sexual options, not simply intercourse or even genital sex; and making sexual decisions based on one's core values (which requires knowing them, of course).
This is the stuff that Sex Weeks should focus on--not positions or techniques, not why porn use devalues or addicts us, not why sex-with-love is the best sex. The three Cs of enjoyable sex--communicate, communicate, communicate. A frank discussion of why men enjoy porn (and keep it secret), and why women feel queasy about it would be great too--not a discussion of how porn affects "people" or "society" or even "users," but a venue for students to discuss their feelings and their fantasies about each other around porn.
While the Yale community debates "appropriate" ways to learn about sex and love, I note with grim irony their widespread acceptance of two of the world's most violent, body-objectifying institutions--NCAA football and ROTC.
Mandatory disclaimer: Sex abuse is gruesome, rape is horrifying, unintended teen pregnancy destroys lives. One single case of any of these is way, way too much.
Now to the science: there's been a dramatic drop in child sex abuse and rape for several years. And while these two crimes are obviously under-reported, there's no reason to think they're more under-reported today than 10 years ago. If anything, the reverse is true.
Teen pregnancy has also decreased dramatically. And although teen marriage is far more common in some American subcultures than others, the decline in teen pregnancy has occurred in every kind of group--racial, ethnic, income, educational.
Nevertheless, the media, fundraising appeals, politicians, and conservative (and some feminist) doomsayers cry endlessly of dysfunctional epidemics, of out of control behavior, and of our country's very fabric being destroyed by sexual violence and compulsivity.
(Pornography is often cited as the "cause" of these non-existent epidemics. Claims that these social pathologies are getting worse are then used as proof that pornography is dangerous and must be controlled or eliminated. But let's not digress.)
So since it's Thanksgiving, let's give thanks. There's little enough to cheer about in our battered republic these days, and this is legitimately good news, fantastic news.
And while giving thanks, let's note:
1. America should be cheering the apparent success of various programs that tackled these three problems. Increased awareness, empowerment of the less powerful, and other interventions may actually be working. Those working with children are subject to more background checks; women are more assertive about their boundaries; teens are using more contraception, starting sex later, and having fewer partners (?).
Instead of talking about how nothing works and problems keep getting worse, let's build "things can and do change" into our national story. And let's demand that more resources go toward maintaining those changes, possibly helping people rather than giving in to our culture-wide despair.
2. We should be very curious about why so many people are claiming that things are getting worse and worse when the data shows that they're getting better. This phenomenon is killing our country, and we should examine it as carefully as drunk driving, cancer clusters, high school dropout rates, and similar dangerous trends.
3. Why are we so eager to embrace the demonstrably false myths about socio-sexual pathologies getting worse and worse? Why do we resist the good news about a drop in sexual violence or childhood exploitation?
Sexuality seems to be a magnet for this kind of mass delusion. Look, for example, at teen sexting. As online safety expert Dr. Larry Magid says, there's an epidemic of good decision-making about sexting--practically no kids do it. "It's important to acknowledge that NOT sexting is "normal," he says. Otherwise, we're practically begging kids to join the "everyone's doing it" mentality, turning a false perception into an accurate one.
An article like this inevitably receives a flood of hate mail, angry that I "don't take these problems seriously." To which I sigh, "please see this post's first and last sentence." But the question is, why must taking a problem seriously require either cooking or ignoring the facts? Why is cheering the improvement of a problem perceived as trivializing it?
We who care about social problems like sexual assault and sexual abuse should be working overtime figuring out exactly how these decreases occurred, so we can promote and enhance them (they may actually have little to do with programs or interventions). And we should be studying what perversity in human (or American) nature makes people insist that things are worse than they are, ignoring documentation of the very changes our hearts desire.
And now I'll repeat sentence number one: Any amount of sexual violence or teen pregnancy is a bad amount. But some bad amounts are bigger--i.e., worse-- than others. Exaggerating how terrible things are in order to generate attention or create more funding (or to prove piety--that one really, really cares) isn't just bad policy. It's immoral.
If you're giving gifts this season, give sex. At a discount!
Give one of my books: Ask Me Anything (600 questions and answers about sex), Beyond Orgasm (about sexual communication and self-acceptance) and America's War On Sex (about how the Religious Right is using the issue of sexual regulation to undermine American democracy).
Or for the psychologist or physician on your gift list, give one of my CD sets. These multi-disc sets feature my thought-provoking, practical, entertaining trainings on various subjects: sexuality, power, couples, etc.
Our user-friendly terms:
* Take a 15% discount by using code SI15 before December 31.
* Full satisfaction guaranteed: 100% refund if you're not satisfied for any reason.
* Guaranteed holiday delivery if your order is received by midnight December 13.
* Paypal, credit card, and checks accepted.
For questions, write Klein at SexEd dot org, or call 800/584-5111 between 10am-midnite PACIFIC time.