Sexual Intelligence, written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
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Each month, Sexual Intelligence® examines the sexual implications of current events, politics, technology, popular culture, and the media.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Certified Sex Therapist and sociologist with a special interest in public policy and sexuality. He has written 6 books and 100 articles. Each year he trains thousands of professionals in North America and abroad in clinical skills, human sexuality, and policy issues.

Issue #156 – February, 2013


Birth Control & Obamacare: Religion Escalates Its War On Sex

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An increasing number of institutions are claiming religious exemptions from the contraceptive mandate of the new federal health care law. There's nothing "moral" about this bruising political battle: it's designed to increase the power of organized religion, and to decrease Americans' options for sexual expression.

The notion that certain institutions can simply opt out of the country's laws because of some "moral objection" is dangerous—particularly when a small group of wealthy religions has seized the power to define which moral objections are allowed this privilege. If YOU find it morally objectionable that you have to pay and promote women the same as men, you still have to do it. If YOU find it morally objectionable that your taxes support a war in Afghanistan, you still have to pay them. And if YOU have a loved one on Death Row, you can't get their sentence changed simply because you find capital punishment morally objectionable.

The idea that a multi-billion dollar, multi-national religious corporation gets to select which laws it will follow is ludicrous.

The health care law doesn't force anyone to use birth control—but to hear the protests, you'd think President Obama was personally putting condoms into boxes of Wheaties, and birth control pills into fonts of holy water.

The original 2010 law exempted the thousands of corporations operating churches and other houses of worship. But now religious charities, universities, and hospitals are loudly objecting as well.

The Catholic Church is the single biggest operator of hospitals in this country; you probably live near one. The Church operates thousands of schools, including colleges in or near your city. Employees of these many institutions should have the same rights as all other Americans. We should expect that these institutions play by the same rules as their competitors, customers, and neighbors.

Nothing in the health care law interferes with an organization's ability to teach that contraception is wrong. The Church's opposition to this regulation is a frank acknowledgement that Catholics reject this teaching (95% of American Catholic women use Church-prohibited birth control). The Church wouldn't fight this law nearly so much if it knew that the faithful were, well, more faithful.

When President George W. Bush developed the notion of funding "faith-based" organizations as a way of funneling billions of tax dollars to his Religious Right supporters (while exempting them from normal administrative oversight or anti-discrimination law), some of us howled that this created a slippery slope. When President Obama continued and even expanded this anti-democratic practice, we howled some more. In today's faith-based challenge to Obamacare (and in the Administration's pathetic, conciliatory response), we have slid even further.

It's a dangerous double-dip: first, organized religion gets enormous tax breaks, so non-believers are forced to financially support their proselytizing and their attacks on secular democracy. Then they demand exemptions from the laws of the country, further undermining its secular nature. The predictable outcome is expanded recruitment through their tax-supported network of madrassas, um, parochial schools, massive home-schooling program, and other institutions.

Organized religion continues to carve out a parallel state within the country: separate rules for taxes, zoning, expression, education, hiring discrimination, and now health care coverage.

And they often use a sexuality-related issue to do it. Our culture's deep ambivalence and shame about sex makes sexuality an ideal vehicle to undermine secular democracy and the separation of church and state. You notice that churches don't talk much about wanting their buses to be exempt from safety inspections. But they talk a lot about wanting to shape our laws regarding sexuality.

When its special exemptions are challenged, the church cries religious discrimination. They mis-read the Constitution: it prevents the government from dictating what people believe or how they worship. But it does not require the government to distort the country's economic, political, and health care system to avoid offending religious sensibilities.

Meanwhile, the church's blatant attack on Americans' rights to sexual expression and sexual privacy continues full throttle. Having all but destroyed the option of legal abortion for most American women, it is taking full aim at contraception, the morning-after pill, and STD prevention such as the HPV vaccine. States are withdrawing support for birth control clinics and peer counseling on college campuses.

Organized religion is working overtime to drag this country back to a time when non-marital sex was shameful, hidden, and punished with unwanted pregnancy. It's bad enough that it wants to do that with its own believers, who are welcome to any private superstition they like. But it's aggressively doing that to the rest of America as well, and our government is doing far too little to resist it.

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Matei Te'o: A Lover For Our Time

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Forget the hoax, forget Notre Dame, forget college football.

What I notice is that this guy was in love with someone he never met, devastated by her supposed death, and everybody thinks that's perfectly reasonable.

Get out the horse and buggy and 'scuse me if I sound like an old curmudgeon, but this is one of the problems with today's young people: high school and college kids don't date. Many don't actually date in their 20s, either. Instead, they show up at clubs. They hope they run into someone at a party. They don't make plans. They tweet "Hey, 'sup?" on Saturday night and wait for a tweet from someone, somewhere.

In short, they don't look forward to being alone together. This is developmentally reasonable—for 10-year-olds.

According to the New York Times, many students and young adults have never been on a conventional date. They haven't experienced the excitement, the disappointment, the longing, the courage, the insecurity, the loneliness, or the triumph of connection that late-20th-century courtship customs (imperfect as they are) require or bring. Young people are thus deprived of the growth such experiences offer.

It appears that many young men and women don't entirely recognize each other as fellow beings. They're just not that curious about each other, and so they don't see face-to-face, personal communication as a wonderful opportunity. Rather than being a familiar, foundational activity, face-to-face talking is an intrusion into what really matters—checking your iPhone.

And that's what I'm here to complain about: we've stopped teaching our children how to communicate face-to-face with other human beings. We take children too young to have fully learned how to participate in relationships, give them the most advanced technology for impersonal, asynchronous "communication" in the history of the world, and let them use these devices at the dinner table, while being driven to school, and any other time they have to interface with adults—people who might actually help them learn something about relationships. And kids naturally use them with each other, too—an average of 93 times per day.

What happens? When the time comes, they have little idea how to date, court, or create one-on-one, face-to-face relationships. They haven't learned how to ask a real person real questions—watching that person's face as they listen to the answer. They've never experienced the risk of reaching out to take someone's hand—and watched that person's face as they agreed or declined.

If we don't teach children to relate, don't demand that they engage, and give them the means for endless solitary entertainment, they cannot and will not learn to relate in a deep way.

For dozens of centuries, people have had their marriages arranged for them, and they've managed just fine. But they never thought they were in love, and they weren't pursuing the grail of "intimacy," which people today claim they desire. In contrast, today's young people (eventually) want to fall in love, and say they (eventually) want intimacy. You need to skills for that. And today's young people simply aren't learning those skills. It's easy to have sex. It's way harder to have a relationship in which you have sex.

Now don't blame porn. While it's true that some men expect women to be porn stars, and some women are trying to compete with porn actresses, that's not the point. If porn now provides a template for the non-relationships that young men (and increasingly young women) value, we have to ask why such a template looks attractive. The answer is that they have nothing more intimate to compare it to. Young people aren't learning to embrace anyone—because they're not learning to want to embrace anyone.

So moms and dads, don't give your kids smartphones and unlimited digital access until they're at least 40 years old.

OK, here's Plan B: demand that your kids learn how to interact with actual people. I'm afraid you'll have to be some of those actual people. Those phones your kids use are your phones, not theirs, so establish phone-free hours in their lives (including between bed-time and breakfast, when millions of childhood text messages are exchanged).

Was Manti Te'o in on the live/dead girlfriend hoax? I honestly don't care. But we're all participating in a much crueler swindle—depriving our kids of the need to see the human face, hear the human voice, and sense the human heart while communicating. That has to be part of learning to love an actual human.

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Memo to Docs (and Patients): Less Viagra, Please

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As a sex therapist, I see men every week who don't get erect when they want to.

They often describe themselves as having ED or erectile dysfunction. I say, "So, you don't get erect when you want to. Let's call it that." Conceptualizing their situation as ED is frequently part of the problem. They think their penis is suffering some pathology; more often, the pathology is in their expectations.

By calling the problem what it is—"you don't get erect when you want to"—we continually focus on the two-sided nature of the problem:

  • the penis—"you don't get erect"
  • the expectation—"when you want to"

So, rather than "fixing" their "ED," I ask these men lots and lots of questions—increasingly personal and detailed as the hour proceeds. More than half the time, we discover that their uncooperative penis is actually behaving in an understandable, fairly reasonable way. For some men, that single hour changes everything, and they need not return. More commonly, we meet for a series of sessions in which we discuss sexuality, gender, personal history, and whatever else seems relevant—always in detail, always clarifying what something means to this particular individual.

Occasionally Viagra (or its cousins, Cialis and Levitra) looks like a good approach. But many of these men have already tried it. Some are currently using it.

Sometimes Viagra is part of the problem—it reinforces the idea that there's something wrong with their penis, which the Viagra is supposed to fix. But if there isn't a problem with the penis, Viagra can't fix it.

In America, you need a physician's prescription to get Viagra. (You can use the internet, of course, but you have no idea what you're getting.) Unfortunately, doctors don't necessarily have the time to find out why someone might not be getting erect when he wants to. That is, a doc may not be able to help a guy find out that he doesn't have ED—that his penis is simply responding reasonably to one or more situations that undermine erection.

Assuming he's physically healthy, why might a man have trouble getting erect when he wants to? Here are just some of the reasons:

  • He isn't being touched the way he likes (or touched at all)
  • He isn't sober when starting sex
  • He's angry at his partner
  • His partner is angry at him
  • He isn't attracted to his partner (for whatever the reason)
  • His partner isn't really interested (and may have perfectly good reasons for this)
  • He believes he has to have intercourse until his partner climaxes (which his partner may or may not demand)
  • He fears the tears or argument that almost always ensues after he doesn't get erect
  • He's in physical pain, or fears triggering physical pain
  • He doesn't expect to enjoy the sex he usually has

Under conditions like these, a healthy penis will have difficulty becoming or staying erect. That's not a dysfunction, any more than a car has a dysfunction when it won't run on Gatorade instead of gasoline.

Of course, I don't see a random sample of men with erection problems. Many concerned men see a physician first, who may diagnose diabetes, cardiovascular problems, medication-related issues, even depression. Or after ruling out such physical factors, the doc may send the patient to me.

I also see a lot of men who'd rather go to a sex therapist than a physician. Or who figure that they're unhappy about sex, so they should see a sex therapist.

Still, I shake my head at the number of men who go to a doc, complain about their erections, and leave the doc's office 10 minutes later with a prescription for Viagra. The doc didn't have time to ask "Does your partner want more sex? Do you like the way your partner kisses? Do you two know how to enjoy sex without intercourse?" Viagra can't fix any of these.

Eight weeks later, problem still not solved, these guys call me.

Of course the problem's not solved; the problem isn't their penis. That's when we start with "So, you don't get erect when you want to. Let's call it that."

There's an important place for Viagra in modern medicine. But for too many men and too many couples, it isn't part of the solution. It's part of the problem.

Sexual Intelligence™ Awards: Nominations Open!

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Each year, Sexual Intelligence Awards™ honor people and organizations which challenge the sexual fear, unrealistic expectations, and government hypocrisy that undermine love, sex, and relationships--and political freedom--today. Previous winners include Dr. Bill Taverner, Sex Educator; Candye Kane, Blues Mama; the National Center for Reason and Justice; and Paul Federoff, Forensic Psychiatrist.

You may submit more than one nomination, and you may nominate yourself. Send one or two paragraphs about your nominee(s) to Klein (at) SexEd (dot) org. Deadline for nominations is February 25; winners will be announced March 4.

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