Welcome me back, mate. I've just spent two weeks in Australia training psychologists in sex therapy and couples counseling. (Insert your favorite joke here about the Land Down Under.)
The people there are wonderful, the food is great, and the beaches are gorgeous.
I learned that in Australia adult prostitution is mostly LEGAL, and adult pornography is mostly ILLEGAL—the opposite of what we have in the U.S.. The consequences of each policy are quite instructive for American law-making.
Australia also has a political party called the Sex Party—and people vote for it! Its platform includes:
- decriminalizing recreational drugs
- 24-hour weekend public transportation in major cities
- guaranteeing the right to die with dignity
- giving tax breaks to small businesses
Oh yes, there are some sexual issues in their platform, too:
- developing a national sex education curriculum
- developing a national internet education scheme for parents
- guaranteeing reproductive choice for all women and men
- investigating child sexual abuse in religious institutions
- decriminalizing all non-violent erotica
I love the Sex Party's work, and they appreciate mine. Their brilliant major candidate Fiona Patten held a reception for me, at which I spoke about the Religious Right's influence over U.S. policies regarding sexuality. They reminded me that religion has less overt political influence over there (although still more than the Sex Party would like), but that conservative feminism had a very strong voice that generally tried to control sexual expression.
The Sex Party notes that adult pornography is generally legal in countries with higher living standards and better levels of education. Conversely, countries that ban X-rated films typically have lower living standards and levels of education. And, I might add, there's a huge difference in the rights of women—countries in which adult porn is legal enforce dramatically less discrimination against women and girls.
Adult porn legal: Europe, Canada, Japan, South Africa, USA
Adult porn banned: Iran, China, Turkey, Nigeria, Philippines
The Australian government made it legal to PURCHASE and POSSESS adult porn in 1983. But all Australian states ban the SALE of X-rated video material. Enforcement of these contrasting laws is very low, so there is a gray market—non-rated material is sold by gas stations, convenience stores, etc., putting legitimate adult shop owners at a competitive disadvantage.
There are many other inconsistencies as state-by-state laws try to coexist with federal laws. For example, in many states it's legal to sell an adult magazine—but if you film the magazine it's illegal to sell it.
So what's the result of Australia banning the sale of various adult entertainment? Australians buy it anyway, creating a generation of criminals. The government loses tax revenue, as well as respect.
The foolishness of attempting to ban a popular, victimless activity like watching adult porn is even more obvious when considered in light of Australia's decriminalizing of most adult prostitution in 1992. In most states brothels are legal and registered; sex workers may work privately, although soliciting is illegal. Prostitutes must be at least 18 years old.
What has the result been? Most people do NOT become prostitutes, and most people do NOT hire prostitutes. The divorce rate isn't any higher than America's, which obsessively persecutes sex work.
And what about human trafficking, the latest American moral panic? In the U.S., advocates speculate (with little documentation) that prostitution is an enormous gateway for trafficking; in Australia, the estimates of human trafficking rates are far, far lower than the rates typically suggested for the U.S..
So what have we learned here?
- Criminalizing popular private sexual behavior just drives it underground rather than reducing it;
- Decriminalizing sex work doesn't increase its use, society's debauchery, or human trafficking;
- Adults can take a political party focused on sexual rights seriously;
- In Australia, they really do say "G'day mate" (pronounced "g'dye mite").
I've been saying this for years, and now data reaffirms it—IVF often reduces the quality of life for people who use it to conceive.
IVF—in vitro fertilization—is a process by which a woman's egg is fertilized outside her body. It involves monitoring the ovulatory process, removing eggs from the woman's ovaries encouraging sperm to fertilize them in a laboratory. The fertilized egg is then transferred to the woman's uterus order to create a pregnancy.
Of course, the fact that so many of its participants suffer says nothing about whether or not IVF is a good idea for any given person. But it should be the ethical obligation of every fertility professional—MD, nurse, crystal energy color healer, whomever—to explain this to prospective patients. Unfortunately, too many underplay the negative effects of IVF.
According to a recent study from Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion, females going through IVF were:
- less likely to orgasm
- more likely to have reduced libido
- more likely to have discomfort during sex
- less satisfied in their relationships in general
The symptoms became worse the longer the IVF process continued.
What might be going on here?
Clearly, feeling pressured to have sex on schedule undermines the experience for most people. Because of work routines, this sometimes dictates that people have sex while getting dressed or rushing out the door on a weekday morning. Most couples have enough difficulty making sex meaningful after the initial blush of falling in love; investing an enormous amount of money and energy in baby-making can reduce sex to a mechanical activity that people then do regardless of desire.
What is "infertility" anyway? The World Health Organization says it's two years of intercourse without conceiving (which sounds human and reasonable). But American doctors are pushing definitions of 12 months and even 6 months of intercourse without conception. In the American world of medicine-as-commerce, people nervous about conceiving are easy targets for fertility specialists with a broad array of (expensive) treatments. And so some people are getting involved in IVF way too soon. And this jacks up the anxiety level in a couple unnecessarily, affecting the rest of their life together.
We should give special mention to the drug that most women take during IVF, clomid (to encourage ovulation). It's powerful stuff, and it messes up a lot of people—mood swings (particularly irritability and depression), emotional withdrawal, and reduced sex drive are not uncommon.
At the same time, IVF can cause long-term sex problems in a couple because sex-on-schedule (not to mention masturbation and ejaculation on schedule) can lead to situational erection difficulties which some men and/or women interpret as erectile dysfunction. Worse, some women believe that their male partners' difficulty reflects ambivalence about conceiving, leading to some horrific accusations and defensiveness.
There's also the public policy issue about tax dollars or insurance reimbursement paying for IVF when birth control, not to mention abortion, is so contentious. But that's another issue.
When one of my patients or couples is desperate to conceive—whether naturally or with IVF—I urge them to take a month off from baby-making every six months. If they've been trying hard for longer than that, I tell them to take a month off right away. This way they can remember what their relationship was like before they started feeling pressured, and can remember why they wanted to have a child so much in the first place.
Sexuality often takes a hit during pregnancy; sometimes it recovers, sometimes not. Damaging a woman's or couple's sexuality during what might be the far longer process of creating a pregnancy is unnecessary—and essentially weakens the family the hoped-for baby will be born into.
Patients desperate to conceive respond to my suggestion incredulously: "Waste a month"? they exclaim.
Hardly. Reminding ourselves of why we cherish each other and want to build something together is never a waste of time.
Say there are 50 million weddings a year around the globe. I figure about 85% of those wedding couples contain at least one virgin. At least half of them have two virgins.
I saw one of those couples today in therapy. Mr. A and Ms. B have been married twenty years; when they wed she was a virgin, while he had had intercourse a few times with someone else. Their wedding night was an unconsummated mess, resulting in tears and confusion. Several days later, on their honeymoon, they tried again—"and we failed again," Mr. A recalled. Her vagina didn't get wet enough, he couldn't get his penis in, and eventually he lost his erection. They each took turns blaming themselves; the next morning they took turns blaming each other.
For years, sex was an infrequent, discouraging hassle. Now they can't remember the last time they did it.
They revealed a variety of reasons besides the wedding night disaster. Years ago she refused to let his niece stay in their home during semester break; he was distant and cold during her subsequent miscarriage; she was bitter rather than supportive when he lost his job; his new job required travelling to China, and he started to get massages there with "happy endings." She was crushed when she found out, and brought them to my office.
But no matter what we talked about, it seemed we periodically returned to their unhappy wedding night. "I didn't know what to do," Ms. B acknowledged. "I expected him to lead, to guide, to explain. When he couldn't, I felt abandoned." "Yes, replied Mr. A, "all the pressure was on me, and when things went wrong, you made it clear it was my problem to figure out. And I couldn't." Neither of them has forgiven the other. I don't think they've forgiven themselves, either.
It's too easy to say they got off to a bad start and never recovered, although it's true. Their personalities weren't a very good match, and their sexual visions were mismatched, too. She imagined a gentle, kind, knowledgeable but wholesome man; he imagined a sexy, enthusiastic, curious but wholesome woman. What their bedroom needed was an extra pair of gentle hands—and wise eyes, a confident smile, and an extra heart—but of course none came their way.
I won't say their marriage was doomed by virginity or sexual inexperience. But it certainly wasn't helped. Her virginity provided no reassurance for him, no spiritual haven for her. His inexperience made the wedding night nerve racking rather than "special."
People do NOT need to be sexually experienced before marriage to enjoy sex after it. But "love" and "commitment" generally aren't enough to ensure a happily-ever-after. People who don't have intercourse need sex education as much as those who do. Everyone needs words for their body parts; information to combat common myths (masturbation is dangerous, men don't like to hug, etc.); good decision-making skills; and a sense of empowerment about their sexuality.
When people have good information, feel comfortable with their bodies, can communicate with a partner, and believe that sex is lovely, their virginity is not an obstacle on the wedding night. But too often virgin-until-marriage also means enforced ignorance, unfamiliarity with the other gender, discomfort with one's body, and a pile of taboos so high that people can barely see each other in bed.
I feel bad for Mr. A and Ms. B, who didn't do anything wrong. In fact, they followed all the social rules with which they were raised—and paid the common price.
Here's what I propose: in all cultures that emphasize pre-marital virginity, redefine the wedding night as the start of a couple's sexual life together. That means the first night should just be looking; the second, talking; the third, touching; the fourth, kissing; etc.. If it took God a week to create the world out of nothing, couples need at least that much time to create a sexual connection out of nothing.
You'll also remember that God said "Let there be light." So to enable couples to see each other's naked bodies on the wedding night, let's start a new tradition. How about making it the maternal aunt's honor to give the new couple a bedroom lamp?