2011 was quite a year for Sexual Intelligence. Some 75 posts were viewed over 125,000 times.
The blog was also honored twice. It was named number 21 of the Top 100 Sexuality Blogs. And the post on the circumcision debate (Self-Hatred As Public Policy) was expanded and reprinted in the book Best Sex Writing 2012, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press.
What do you think of as the year’s most memorable moments of Sexual Intelligence? Here are my choices—some happy, some awful, all important.
5. Mississippi “Personhood” Amendment Fails
4. Stealth Federal Funding for Abstinence Ed
3. Newsweek Conflates Watching Porn, Prostitution, & Trafficking
2. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Ends
1. Teen Pregnancy, Sex Abuse, & Rape Decline in America
Today I come to praise vulvas.
Vulvas in general, but especially the hundred and one featured in Hylton Coxwell’s new book. It’s gorgeous. They’re gorgeous.
The coffee table book is elegantly simple: it features 101 Canadian women, age 18-65, showing their vulvas close up in living color. We get the women just as they are. We see hair, we see stubble, we see smooth, bare skin. We see jewelry, tattoos, and even the wisp of a tampon string.
The variety of course, is astounding. For decades, we sex educators have been saying “vulvas are like noses—every woman has one, but each one is different—in size, shape, color.” Indeed, in these extreme close-ups every vulva is a landscape (vulvascape?) all its own: graceful peaks, abrupt valleys, graceful curves, contrasting textures, the random asymmetries of nature.
And the colors! The high-resolution photography yields every possible shade between ebony and bubble-gum: cranberry, wine, claret, maroon, nutmeg, fire engine, mauve, chocolate.
A review of this wonderful book would be incomplete without mention of its predecessors. In 2003 there was Petals (the book, followed in 2006 by the DVD, both of which won a Sexual Intelligence Award). Its black-and-white work was exquisite; the interviews with its models were even more eye-opening.
A decade before that (and, remember, before digital photography) was Femalia. The truly groundbreaking book edited by Joani Blank featured 32 full-page vulvas, all with lips spread. This little (6”x8”) gem has just been reissued, and is a perfect $15 Valentine’s Day gift.
“Vulva 101 is a great resource for anyone who wants to honor the female sex organ,” says educator and artist Betty Dodson. Indeed, our world would be a better place if every girl received a copy from her parents the day of her first period.
In fact, Vulva 101 is a great antidote for any woman considering labiaplasty to “correct” her “unattractive” genitalia. It’s also a great response to activists complaining that today’s porn, which shows primarily shaved or waxed vulva, is subtly training men to desire pre-pubescent girls. In these dozens of bare vulvas, no one could possibly say there’s a little girl among them.
With a tip of the historical hat to both Petals and Femalia, congratulations to Vulva 101. It’s the perfect confluence of art and sex–which makes it a work of political provocation. Both the subject and the provocation deserve celebration.
The book’s website is here.
I was recently interviewed by internet safety expert Dr. Larry Magid for a piece on kids looking at porn. We had such an interesting conversation I thought I’d write about this myself.
Of course, 700 words can’t possibly cover every aspect of this issue. But let’s begin.
Given the typical danger-oriented media coverage of pornography, it’s easy for parents to feel terribly anxious about this issue. To listen to Newsweek or “morality” groups, you’d think that every American boy is in danger of becoming a porn addict—an obsessive, aggressive loser who hates women, and eventually destroys himself.
So let’s all take a deep breath and calm down.
Here’s what we know: All children are sexual. That means they have sexual feelings and thoughts. Naturally, six-year-olds don’t think about intercourse, and thirteen-year-olds can’t imagine the subtleties of mutual arousal and satisfaction. But every human is born a sexual being. How parents deal with their feelings about their children’s sexuality will shape how they feel about, and what they do about, their kid looking at porn.
So how do you, Mom or Dad, feel about your kid masturbating? That is, after all, why he or she looks at porn more than once or twice. If you can’t handle that, the kid’s use of porn will of course be unacceptable—but beside the point. Whether it’s about kids’ use or adults’ use, too many conversations about whether porn is harmful to users or society is really about the unacceptability of masturbation. If that’s your position, be honest and say “I don’t want my kid masturbating to porn because I don’t want my kid masturbating.”
Even parents who accept the reality that their kids are sexual and masturbate can be concerned about porn. What if it’s violent? What if it encourages values of which I disapprove? What if it’s confusing?
The answer to all three questions is: it might.
The porn your kid watches might be violent—but it probably isn’t. Most porn isn’t—for the simple reason that there’s a limited market for that.
The porn your kid watches might encourage values of which you disapprove—but it probably doesn’t. Most porn shows men and women as partners, wanting pleasure and wanting to give pleasure. Porn isn’t a love story, so if you disapprove of people having sex before marriage, you may object to your kid watching almost any sexual depiction, whether it’s porn or Desperate Housewives.
But if your kid watches porn, he or she might easily get confused: Is that what sex is really like? Is that what most people look like naked? Do strangers really have sex together so easily? Are some people really rough with each other in bed? (This is where you explain that just as kids play games on the ballfield, pretending to be mean or brave when they really aren’t, some adults play games in bed, pretending to be bossy or submissive when they really aren’t.)
Questions like these deserve answers. And if you remember your childhood—before the internet—you know that kids develop questions (and confusion) about sex even without porn. After all, you did.
The response to “my kid’s watching porn, what do I do?” is—you talk about it. You ask lots of gentle questions. Your kid squirms. You explain stuff. You squirm. No one’s comfortable talking about this. You talk anyway. That’s what parents do—they talk about subjects even when they’re uncomfortable.
Just like kids need media literacy, kids need porn literacy. They need to understand that they’re watching actors playing roles, not documentaries. They need to understand that just as Glee and Harry Potter are edited, so are porn films. None of these media products is an accurate portrayal of real life. For example, porn usually omits two crucial parts of sex—the feelings and the talking.
All of this argues for a pre-existing parent-child relationship, doesn’t it? No one wants their first parent-child conversation about sex to be about porn.
So make 2012 the year you raise the subject of sexuality with each of your kids. Both you and they will benefit. And if at some point you need to discuss porn with them, you’ll already be in the middle of a loving, long-term dialogue.
President Obama has joined President Bush in opposing the widest possible access for Emergency Contraception (Plan B). And he’s done it for the two worst possible reasons: emotion and “common sense.”
After years and years of dishonest stalling, the FDA has finally recommended that minors get complete over-the-counter access to Plan B. In a rare move, the HHS Secretary overruled the FDA’s decision. The President says he supports Secretary Sebelius’ decision, “as the father of two young daughters…we [should] apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”
This is anti-science doubletalk.
During the dark Bush years, the federal government stalled the availability of this miracle drug for adults, which was already being used safely in Europe. The objections have generally coming from the religious community, “decency” crowd, and those who pretend to want a smaller role for government. After they exhaust their morality pitch, they simply lie. They say Plan B is an abortion drug (it isn’t), and that it will promote “promiscuity” because it lowers the perceived cost of reckless sex (data from both Europe and the US show it doesn’t).
The terror of “promiscuity” is the same argument used against the HPV vaccine, legal abortion, condom distribution in schools, contraceptive insurance coverage, and every other public policy measure designed to make sex safer or more enjoyable. This terror deserves sympathy and psychotherapy, not public policy consideration.
Some argue that young teens can’t be trusted to use Plan B properly. That’s undoubtedly true for some of them. But we let them have access to a lot of things in the drug store that they might not use properly: tampons, razor blades, ipecac. And there’s nothing they can do with Plan B that will be as dangerous and life-damaging as carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, much less getting an illegal abortion.
Every sexually active fertile person, regardless of age, should have Emergency Contraception in their medicine cabinet. It’s for an emergency, get it? At $50 a throw, I don’t imagine a lot of 12-year-olds buying it for a thrill—or by accident.
Mr. President, when you were elected you promised us science and rationality. I don’t want you making public decisions as a father, a husband, a Hawaiian, or a basketball fan. I want science from you and your administration. Save your “common sense” for the dinner table. And if you have any, make sure your kids understand Plan B.
And just to remind you: the most dangerous thing the average 13-year-old does is ride a bike while talking on a cell phone. You might want to talk to Malia about that, too.
My new book will be published February 7 by HarperCollins. It's Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex, And How to Get It.
Psychology Today magazine says, "Read this if you want to let go of your inhibitions and improve your sex life."
Here's my offer: Order an advance copy here, and get $5 off the purchase of any of my books or CDs here (you can browse by starting here). Just buy Sexual Intelligence, then order anything on my site. I'll credit $5 back to whatever credit card you use. No proof necessary--I trust my readers.