Yesterday I had the great pleasure of addressing Sex::Tech, the national conference on Youth, Technology & Sexuality sponsored annually by ISIS (Internet Sexuality Information Services). Over 400 sex educators, youth program directors, and technology developers (many under the age of 25 themselves) gathered to discuss how to use new technologies to enhance young people’s sexual health.
I spoke about why adults are so frightened about young people’s sexuality, and how many adults are manipulated by cynical politicians and “decency” groups into combating sexual expression rather than poor sexual decision-making.
I talked about the special way adults feel excluded from the lives of young people, who live in a world of mobile devices and apps that adults not only don’t understand, but can’t even use. The result is a terrible moral panic which is gripping the country. It looks like this:
Sexuality + Youth + Technology = Panic
To help make young people’s sexuality less alien, I reminded people of the similarities between it and adult sexuality: both groups are challenged by performance pressure, the desire for validation, insufficient information, and inadequate communication skills. Both groups want sex to provide closeness, pleasure, feelings of being special and desired, and a chance for self-expression.
But when it comes to sex, young people are a repressed minority. They suffer from the systematic withholding of sexual information, health services, and products. They don’t own their own bodies (or images of them), and special laws criminalize their sexual expression. We’d be shocked if anyone suggested these restrictions on the sexuality of any other group in society, such as Blacks, Jews, or the deaf.
I didn’t get a chance to address pornography. I would have said that we need to support young people’s Porn Literacy, teaching them that:
- Porn is fiction, not a documentary
- Hours of footage are edited to make a single video
- Porn features atypical bodies, often doing atypical activities
- Adults sometimes play sex games—which feel very different to the participants than the way they look to viewers
- Since different people relate to porn differently, everyone needs to understand their partner’s views on it.
I also would have liked to address what porn typically omits: Context, Kissing, Communication, Cuddling, and Consequences.
A few words about sexting would have been in order, too. We give teens the most powerful communications device in human history, and are shocked when they misuse it.
Teens need to understand that they simply may not own sexual images of themselves, which are strictly regulated by the government. You can actually go to jail until you’re old and gray just for sending or receiving nude pictures of a teen, even if you’re the teen, or the teen has given you permission. And unlike your refrigerator, in cyberspace things last forever. That’s a long time to put your clit on display.
In reminding the audience that we need to support young people in identifying their values and then making sexual decisions that fit those values, I quoted my mentor Dr. Michael Carrera:
“Young people are not at risk; they’re at opportunity.”
Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today… –John Lennon
Throughout my career, I’ve continually been asked why the U.S. is such a nutty country when it comes to sex.
Consider: No one is debating sex education for teens in Holland. No one is questioning the wisdom of birth control in Japan. No one’s freaking out that prostitution is legal and regulated in Switzerland. If anyone suggested withholding Gardasil (the HPV vaccine) from Germany’s young people for fear of increasing “promiscuity,” he’d be laughed out of town. And in Spain, Australia, Israel, and dozens of other countries, gay soldiers serve openly next to straight ones.
And yet every one of these issues is considered controversial in American politics. Ours is the only industrialized country in the world in which people actually demand fewer rights and more restrictions on their sexual expression.
Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people Living life in peace…
The only reasonable explanation for what separates us from other advanced countries is the toxic form of Christianity that has a stranglehold on our political dialogue, medical institutions, and childrearing.
The Pope has more influence on public policy in America today than he does in Italy. More Americans believe in the Rapture than in Evolution—and while they’re awaiting celestial transportation, they’ve captured our school boards. Pharmacy schools teach future professionals that they can pick and choose which prescriptions to fill—if they make their choices based on religion (rather than, say, obeying the voice of Elvis).
Tens of millions of Americans have actually invented a god that condemns their sexual feelings and behavior. Interestingly, this doesn’t affect their sexual impulses or behavior—it just makes them feel miserably guilty and alone. Some 10 million American teens are taught that this same god is deeply offended that they’re interested in sex before marriage. Instead of shaping their behavior, however, this teaching simply makes them unable to plan for sex, leading to all the messy stuff that happens when you have sex unexpectedly—unwanted pregnancy, misunderstandings, exploitation, etc....
By teaching children that masturbation is sinful, organized Christianity gives sexual impulses and behavior meaning where none exists. It creates an external sexual standard against which people believe they are compared—and are always found wanting, which damages them for life. The very idea that the consensual and responsible expression of sexuality can somehow be sinful is psychotic and abusive. Only because religion has so much cultural acceptance in the U.S. are these ideas seen as a system of “morality” instead.
By the way, I spent the weekend in Bethesda, MD, a guest of the American Atheist National Convention. It was as joyful, as thoughtful, and as irreverent a bunch of adults as I’ve ever met. A thousand of them gave me a standing ovation after my talk.
It was great.
Like they say: religion flies planes into buildings; science flies people to the moon. Religion gives people guilt about their sexual desires, and shame about their bodies; science gives people birth control, lubricants, penicillin, RU-486, pre-natal screening, and post-partum care.
First, why is "slut" considered an insult? After all, it's simply a woman who's willing to have sex with several men with whom she isn't married, and probably doesn't even "love." We know Rush meant it as an insult—loose morals and all that—but do we have to take it that way? Why the hurry to assert Sandra Fluke's status as wholesome? That's very different from saying she didn't deserve to be attacked.
- Demeaning Fluke's sexuality doesn't just attack women—it attacks people.
- Saying birth control is immoral doesn't just disempower women—it disempowers people.
- Requiring vaginal probes before granting the increasingly rare privilege of abortion doesn't just trivialize women's lives—it trivializes people's lives.
Women shouldn't complain as women, they should complain as people.
And men should complain just as much. These women are their loved ones. Not only that, they are being attacked by the government in their role as sexual actors. That makes them someone's sex partner, typically a man. Why aren't these men complaining?
Why men are willing to stand by and let their right to contraception and abortion be swept away is beyond me. And why they're willing to let their wives, girlfriends, and sweethearts (not to mention their mothers, sisters, and daughters) be defamed and disenfranchised is similarly beyond my understanding.
That said, let's stop blaming men ("all-male church," "mostly-male Congress," "male-run Fox News," etc.) for doing all this bad stuff to women.
Women vote to put anti-sex politicians in office; a majority of women voted for Republicans in the 2010 Congressional election. Women support the churches that keep anti-sex politicians in office. Women buy the newspapers and consume the radio and TV programs (like Rush's) that promote moral panics about sexuality.
And let's remember that when women get political power they typically act like men when it comes to sex. Both Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin are aghast about Rush—not about what he said, but about how he's been held accountable for it. And virtually every female Republican governor and Congressmember of the last decade has voted to restrict access to abortion and birth control.
All of which shows that women can be manipulated to vote against their own interests just like men can.
But again, it's a mistake to think of this as a war on women. It's actually a war on sex. Anything that makes sex safer, more comfortable, healthier, or more pleasurable for women or men is under fire. Rush wants Sandra Fluke to have less sex so she needs less contraception. The Family Research Council wants the HPV vaccine Gardasil withheld from the public because it might lead young people to have more sex. Rick Santorum wants to make abortion harder to obtain so that people won't take sex so lightly. The Phoenix, Arizona city council banned swing clubs because they believe people shouldn't use sex for recreation.
Let's call it what it is: a war on sex. That makes it clear that everyone is a combatant, whether they like it or not.