As is true every year, 2012 had its ups and downs regarding the public policy aspects of sexuality—this year, perhaps, more than many. Sadly, in 2012 it wasn't simply diverging opinions that made the news—it was extraordinary ignorance and rejection of science. In a country where more people believe in the Rapture than in Evolution, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.
* Science affirms: porn actresses not traumatized
For years the myth of porn actresses as damaged goods has persisted: these women must be victims of horrible sexual trauma—how else could we account for their willingness to undress and have sex on camera? Research published in the Journal of Sex Research now affirms that these women are just like other women of similar age and background—except they started sex earlier, had more partners, and were more spiritual.
* Contraception is covered under Affordable Care Act
Contraception is now included under America's new health care system. That is, when an employer offers health insurance as an employee benefit, that insurance has to include contraception.
The faux horror of religious groups about this shows how little they respect or trust the faith of their flock. Since no one is forced to use contraception, the Church has nothing to lose by its inclusion in health insurance. Unless, of course, Christian women choose to disobey their faith leaders and choose to regulate their fertility like responsible adults.
If there were a heaven, Thomas Jefferson would no doubt be smiling at the reinforcement of Church-State separation this insurance regulation represents. Of course, he'd be shocked that there is a heaven.
* LA voters pass mandatory condoms for porn shoots
Los Angeles County voters passed Measure B, mandating that porn shoots require condoms for anal and vaginal sex. The real story is how this proposition got onto the ballot—via a coalition of anti-porn groups that lied about a non-existent problem and a non-existent concern for performers.
Porn producers could be expected to oppose the measure, but the fact that performers were almost universally against it says it all. With a strict industry-sponsored testing program in place, there has been only one case of HIV attributable to heterosexual on-set sex. Measure B was a solution looking for a problem. If instituted, all it will do is drive porn production out of California and into Nevada.
And it won't change the fact that you're safer having unprotected sex with a porn star (who's getting tested monthly as a condition of employment) than you are having sex with a stranger you meet in a local bar.
The measure would create a new layer of government bureaucracy, as sets are inspected and porn producers take mandatory blood-borne-pathogen training courses. For women who squirt or men who climax unexpectedly, guess we'll call EMTs and first responders pre-premature ejaculators.
* 43 new state restrictions on abortion
The good news: U.S. states passed half as many restrictions on abortion in 2012 as they did in 2011. The bad news: with 2011 restrictions all in place, those 43 restrictions are still the second highest number ever. Literally hundreds of restrictions are in place across the country.
Eight states now require vaginal ultrasounds prior to abortion. That's a doctor forcing a medical instrument into a (frequently) unwilling patient's vagina, and requiring her to look at pictures she doesn't want to see, so she can earn the privilege of a safe, legal medical procedure. If Iran or Russia did that we'd call it barbaric. And we'd be right.
No laws were enacted in 2012 to facilitate access to safe abortion.
* Scientists encourage birth control and Plan B
In contrast to the U.S. Congress, the American College of Obstetricians decided that women have a functioning brain, and could handle birth control pills without the blessing of a doctor. Perhaps they were looking at the dozens of scientific studies showing that illness, injury, and deaths from oral contraceptives are dramatically lower than illness, injury, and deaths from childbirth.
Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics showed itself wiser than America's politicians (and fear-mongering morality groups) by recommending that Emergency Contraception be available for teens. Since hundreds of thousands of unmarried American women become unintentionally pregnant each year, it's logical and humane to make a safe drug available to them to prevent that pregnancy. The pills ought to live in every fertile, sexually active person's home. Anyone with moral objections to little Sally using the damn pills should make birth control free—and stigma-free.
* 50 Shades Of Gray conquers the United States
The good news: this bag of words has shy people talking about sex, tittering about (and even exploring) bondage. The bad news: the book is fiction, not a documentary, so it presents a caricature of bondage, leaving out most of what it's really about.
The really bad news: this collection of syllables sold more copies last year than all of my books combined since 1988.
* General Petraeus loses job because of infidelity
Arguably one of the most important generals of the century, he lost his job because he had an extramarital affair—which is a violation of America's military code. Come on, that simplistic bugaboo "risk of blackmail" is so 1950s. Let's call this regulation what it is: a cruel intrusion into soldiers' private lives that is irrelevant to their fitness for duty. The Taliban has taken over nuclear-armed Pakistan, China is taking over the Indian Ocean, and we're worried about where a general puts his penis? That's not West Point, that's Keystone Kops.
At the moment, single people are obviously a better investment as career soldiers. In fact, gays serving openly should learn from this: if you want a military career, don't marry.
* GOP reveals massive ignorance of female reproductive system
"Legitimate rape?" Ovaries knowing the difference between welcome sperm and unwelcome sperm? "Some girls rape easy"? A Florida bill permitting hospitals to refuse emergency care to some women on religious grounds?
As the 2012 presidential and congressional elections peaked, an amazing number of Republican politicians revealed their ignorance (and hatred) of the female body. The most disgusting include Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, Indiana Congressional candidate Richard Mourdock, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith, Iowa Congressman Steve King, and Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh. They would flunk a high school bio class, and be blackballed at the junior prom.
* Akin, Mourdock, Smith, and Walsh lose their election
As a bonus, Ann Romney, who said that contraception was not an important election issue to women (after her husband and her party made it one), also lost. If, according to Mourdock, a raped woman's pregnancy is "God's gift," at least this horrifying deity gave us Romney's loss as well.
American Ecstasy is a wonderful coffee table book: sexy, funny, artistic, thought-provoking. What else could you ask for?
OK, here's something else: its photographer/author Barbara Nitke raised hell when she sued the federal government a decade ago, challenging the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act, which criminalized the posting of "obscene" content on the internet.
But let's get back to her marvelous new book.
In 1973 Nitke's husband Herb produced the historic film, The Devil in Miss Jones, launching the Golden Age of Porn. Nine years later, as the era was coming to a close, Nitke was hired to shoot publicity stills as porn films were being shot. The industry was filled with energetic young people straight out of film school, all creating a new genre of movie. Many of the performers were creative and self-aware as well.
As Nitke recalls, "Every time [I started a new shoot], I had a fresh feeling of running away to join the circus. I had a ringside seat at the greatest show on earth."
With this book, we do, too.
The photos feature garter belts and boom mikes; naked men and women patiently awaiting the perfect placement of a spotlight; exhausted, gorgeous women catching a nap between takes, hair mussed. There's an astonishing photo of a nude 27-year-old Nina Hartley straddling Damian Cashmere's face—and talking to director Henri Pachard.
All the while, Nitke is telling us what is was like for her—and this woman can write. She's funny, she's insightful, she's compassionate, she's melancholy. A gifted storyteller, she recalls the hard work, the frustration, the triumphs—and the humanity of everyone concerned. She generously adds commentary by the giants of the era. Nina Hartley says some pretty smart things about being in the business. So does Candida Royalle. So do a lot of the men and women involved in creating the images we've been living with for decades. They're the subterranean explorers for a society that has a never-ending thirst for what they do—while marginalizing and damning them for doing it.
American Ecstasy is simultaneously three books. There are the sexy, compelling, sometimes surprising photographs. There's the writing by both Nitke and the various participants. And there's the juxtaposition of the photos and words, which gives heightened resonance to each other. We can read Ron Jeremy's thoughts ("It's a wonderful life…but once in a while, I hate to think that this is all I've done…it all ended in my being a porn actor, and that's as far as I got.") while looking at a photo of looking enraptured with the girl of our dreams. Candida Royalle talks about her years of needing rape fantasies in order to get real satisfaction.
Whether through picture or story, the book features dozens of fascinating people: Sharon Mitchell, Joey Silvera, Nina Hartley, Ron Jeremy, and others. Together they've been involved in hundreds of millions of American orgasms. Millions of hours of American ecstasy.
The production of this book is simply fantastic. The binding, the heavy paper, the voluptuous color all combine to bring these images and this era to life. With all due to respect to Kindles and iPads, if you like actual books, you will love this book.
Some people say a picture is worth a thousand words. As an author, I've always said that a word is worth a thousand pictures. With Nitke's new work, we don't have to choose. Combining words and pictures, she documents an era brimming with outlaw eroticism, fearless experimentation, and youthful innocence. In this unique way she enriches our perspective on something that has become, for many of us, quite mundane. And she entertains us at the same time.
It's a great accomplishment, definitely worth the price, and a highly recommended treat for yourself, or for someone you love.
The Mormon Church has clarified its position on homosexuality, saying that gays and lesbians are almost human.
That's not my self-indulgent hyperbole, that's their straightforward theological position, although with different words.
They now talk about the need for compassion toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction. After all, says their manipulative new website, "The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is." Elsewhere, it says "With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God's children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."
The "all God's children" thing is nonsense. After all, if gay men and women are as much God's children as straight men and women, why aren't they allowed the same divine right of consensual sexual expression? If Mormons now admit that God makes some people gay ("individuals do not choose to have such attractions"), does the Church simply reject the wholesomeness of this creation? Does the Church deem itself fit to judge that gay people should not act within the integrity of how God created them?
Do they think God makes a mistake every time God creates a gay person? After all, every day some 300 American babies are born who are destined to become gay adults.
Mormons celebrate that sexual expression and loving, blessed relationships are the singular domain of humans. By admitting that people are born gay, and then denying them the glories of sexual expression and loving relationships the Mormon Church denies them their humanity.
Some "love and understanding."
Church leaders helpfully state that "they aren't changing the Mormon teaching that same-sex relationships are sinful." Of course, if gays could marry, those couples' sexual expression could be considered blessed by God and they would not be living in sin.
Church leaders say they hope their new project on same-sex attraction will foster a "greater understanding of homosexuality among Mormons and a more civil conversation about the issue." I think people already understand exactly where Mormons stand on this issue, and what they mean by "civil conversation." Just four years ago, the Mormon Church poured millions of dollars into California's Proposition 8, which successfully removed the then-existing right of gays to marry each other in California.
There's your "civil conversation." There's your "We can all come together to foster a climate of goodwill and a determination to understand the workings of God in each individual life." In what ways is this arrogant Church attempting to understand how it seeks to truncate the humanity of gays, denying God's plan for them and their sexuality?
You and I personally subsidized that 2008 Mormon political campaign, through the tax exemptions the Church enjoys on its billions of dollars worth of property. Why their tax-exempt status—contingent on non-involvement in electoral politics—wasn't immediately revoked remains an enormous scandal that never happened.
And just a reminder: the Catholic Church is on the same marketing kick. Last week the Pope encouraged members to treat gays with compassion and dignity, while reminding them that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." So God creates people who desire sex with a partner of the same gender, and the Church judges that inborn desire as pathological. The Church valorizes marriage, sexuality, and the family as part of God's gift to humanity, but firmly opposes those God-given creatures' right to marry, be sexual, and build a family. The Church denies their humanity.
Compassion? Dignity? It's just a marketing slogan. These institutions hate the sin, and loathe the sinner. And now they've even lost the integrity of their hatred by calling it compassion.