Many of the most important sex-related stories of 2013 will continue into this year. So it's doubly important that we remember what happened—because in many ways they're still happening.
Condoms mandatory in porn films?
Los Angeles County, the world's porn producer, was Ground Zero last year for an unfortunate battle over the best ways to limit STIs in the industry—or, to be honest, over whether or not the industry will be driven out of California. Filmmakers, performers, and audiences agree that they want condomless porn, but the misleadingly-named AIDS Healthcare Foundation had different ideas.
After dismantling the existing effective testing regime, spreading blatant lies, and cozying up to officials and decency groups only too glad to rid LA of the scourge of porn production, the question still hasn't been settled. If porn producers can't sell condomed films (and performers dislike making them), will they go out of business?
No. That sound you hear is Las Vegas calling—the future capital of America's porn industry, where they don't bother with silly things like government regulation.
We haven't heard the last of this conflict—there's simply too much money involved.
Reproductive Rights: battleground in health care
The Religious Right and other "decency" groups continued their decades-long War On Sex with their absolutely predictable opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Their initial argument—that more health care for more people for less money is a bad thing—didn't go over too well, so they chose another target: the requirement that corporations provide health insurance that covers normal 21st-century medical care, like contraception and abortion.
The argument that freedom of religion means company owners can choose which parts of a law to follow is a perversion of the Constitution. Churches and companies can't refuse to obey traffic lights on the Sabbath, or refuse to let atheist police onto their property. Remember, insurance plans will only cover contraception—not require that people use it.
Birth control is America's dirty little secret: over 95% of fertile women use it at some point, but it's still not considered mainstream. And very few people are willing to stand up and say "I use birth control and I vote," or "We got an abortion and we vote." This trend will continue in 2014. Shame—the Religious Right's greatest contribution to human reproduction since darkness.
The internet girlfriend who wasn't
Men have had their lives ruined by a girlfriend since the beginning of time, but we've turned a historical corner when lives are being ruined by fake girlfriends. I don't mean "she said she loved me but she didn't," I mean "I thought she existed, but she, um, didn't." Matei Te'o was going to be a rich and famous athlete. Now he's simply the canary in the virtual coal mine.
It's happened without the internet. But with the internet it's going to happen more and more. And so will the opposite—men choosing fake internet girlfriends over live ones. In fact, this has become so common in Japan that there's an entire subculture and vocabulary devoted to it. The current film "Her" is about a guy in love with his Operating System.
In just a few years you'll be able to go to Best Buy and purchase computer software to simulate a handjob from anyone with a Wiki page. Soon after, people will start referring to "girlfriends" or "brick-and-mortar-girlfriends."
Requesting permission to watch porn
In the never-ending conflict between those who watch porn (and don't care if others don't) and those who want to prevent others from watching porn (not being content to simply not watch themselves), enter Great Britain.
Yes, the UK has decided that you now have to ask permission to watch porn on your private device in your private home. ISPs are now required to filter "sexually explicit material" (wouldn't you like to be the one who defines that for a nation?) from their service. If you want to watch porn, or anything else that's being blocked (such as information on breast cancer, LGBT rights, or in one ISP's case, the entire British Library), no problem, dearie—you just have to formally opt-in.
You don't want people to know your viewing preferences? Too bad. You don't trust that this information won't someday be used against you—say, in a custody battle, passport hearing, life insurance decision, or criminal case? Too bad. You don't like your government behaving like Iran, Saudi Arabia, or China? Too bad.
Well, this is a problem all the way over the ocean, right? Probably the result of drinking tea rather than coffee.
The policy has been proposed by the Canadian Parliament. And as long as there are votes to be gotten by lying about how porn is destroying America's youth, can the U.S. be far behind? Remember, the American Congress was the first body in the world to censor the internet. There are still people in Congress so techno-ignorant that they think if you unscrew a light bulb, the electricity will come pouring out of the ceiling.
Miley Cyrus: we just can't get enough
…and neither can she. The lass continued to reinvent herself in 2013 as straightforwardly interested in sex, appearing nude for much of her "Wrecking Ball" music video. She received a series of open letters from former celebrity Sinead O'Connor, cautioning Cyrus about getting too involved in manufacturing her image, focusing too much about sex, and wasting her talent.
You've heard of O'Connor, right? The one who launched her career with a shaved head, and tearing up a photo of the Pope on national TV–no image-burnishing there, right?
The story that won't go away isn't Cyrus or O'Connor; it's the spectacle of young women defiantly, or foolishly, carefully, or jubilantly exploring their sexuality while they grow up in public. Those who masturbated to Annette Funicello, Marilyn Monroe, or Madonna in their youth shouldn't stand in judgment of Cyrus now that they're older. And those who think women should keep their clothes on shouldn't watch when they take them off.
Right about now, almost everybody's shopping, hoping to buy that perfect something. There's no shortage of sex gifts, especially for those who have satisfying sex lives: vibrators, lingerie, S/M gear, books, rubber gloves (to each their own, right?).
But the sex gifts most men and women really need can't be bought. Here's my wish list for the gifts I'd like real people—that is, those with imperfect sex lives—to get this year.
To Jason: The courage to tell your wife that you like a finger in your butt while she's sucking or stroking your penis.
To Maria: The realization that you're attractive despite having an imperfect body—and that you don't need to lose a single pound in order to be eligible for sexual pleasure.
To Huang & Sammi: The decision to keep your lubricant and condoms in the night-table, so you're more likely to use them. And if the kids find them, and if they ask about it (the first is far more likely than the second), the nerve to tell them the truth.
To Jose: The sense of entitlement to define "heterosexual" any way you like—including same-gender fantasies.
To the local school district bureaucrats: The information that healthy children are sexually aware, curious, and experimental; that they masturbate, know sexual words (whether they know the meanings or not), and don't always understand school rules against consensual behavior.
To LeSean: The scientific understanding that being unable to get erect when you've been drinking or when you're angry doesn't mean you're impotent.
To Alice: The trust in yourself to do what you and your husband want to do in bed—regardless of what you've been told about the "meaning" of oral sex. Remember, sexual activities have no meaning, any more than our preferences for colors have meaning.
To Dr. Swanson: The patience to ask men who want Viagra if they actually desire or enjoy sex with their partners. And the wisdom to ask these men if they're planning to tell their partners that they're taking Viagra—which is a good indicator of the relationship's communication status.
To Latisha: The faith to stop believing that all men are dogs who will cheat on you sooner or later. I know your dad cheated on your mom a jillion times, as did your first two boyfriends. Plenty of men cheat. Plenty of women cheat. Plenty of people don't cheat. Go find one who won't.
To Sanjay: The good sense to stop comparing your penis to the penises in pornography, and to stop comparing your girlfriend's body to the bodies in pornography. Pornography is meant to entertain, not to document reality. If watching pornography isn't entertaining, stop watching.
To Noor and Ali: The commitment to talk with your kids about sex now, before they ask. I know you grew up in families, and in a culture, in which this was never done. You have the opportunity to give your children something you never had. Give them this gift—and grow along with them.
…And to all my patients, to all our legislators & judges, to all our physicians & health practitioners, and to all morality groups & social activists, I wish you increased Sexual Intelligence this coming year.
To our British cousins:
You needn't have bothered.
When your Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to "protect young people" by requiring your ISPs to impose mandatory internet filters on their customers, we Americans already knew what was going to happen.
See, we tried that a long time ago, and it failed miserably—just like you are now. Our Congress proposed its first such internet filtering law all the way back in 1995, and has frequently attempted to control material "harmful to minors," even criminalizing "virtual child porn" involving no actual children. And to receive federal funding, American libraries and universities must install computer blocking systems (some of which block this blog, by the way), whose blacklists are protected corporate secrets.
Back then, many of us predicted the results—that filters would be over-broad and disruptive. Not surprisingly, sites were blocked that refer to breast cancer, sexual orientation, and rape. Congressman Dick Armey's site was blocked, as was Middlesex County's. And http://www.Maplesoccer.org was blacklisted because it described teams for "boys under 12."
Your British attempts to censor the internet are creating the same results. One of your ISPs blocked access to the website for Glasgow's St. Mary's Cathedral, the blog of its provost. A second ISP blocked access to charity sites including ChildLine, the NSPCC and the Samaritans. Other websites blocked include the British Library, National Library of Scotland,you're your Parliament.
And your best unexpected blocking of all is the site of Claire Perry, the Member of Parliament who campaigned so prominently for the new law. How's it feel, Claire? Oh, your site is legitimate and shouldn't be censored? That's how the owners of every single other site being blocked feel. When simple imagery is concerned, danger is in the eye of the beholder. Some would say that a legislator who doesn't trust democracy or British adults is pretty dangerous.
Even if internet filters could be perfect—which they can't be—their use is still a problem in democratic countries. Democracy demands the free flow of information. Democracy demands that government trust its people. Democracy demands that people, not the government, decide what they want to access themselves. Internet filters are domestic terrorists.
I've been in countries with mandatory internet filtering, like China. And I've just returned from Burma, where until just 2 years ago they didn't bother with filters—they just regulated who could own a computer and a modem. Do you want to be in the same censorship club as China and Iran?
My British cousins, if you want to protect young people, address the real dangers they face: texting while bicycling, texting during school, texting people instead of learning how to talk to them, watching sports instead of playing them.
And did I mention texting while bicycling? It's the single most dangerous junior high-school activity in America. I'd never let my kid play high school football, but its danger pales in comparison to the dangers of driving while texting—which at least 1/3 of American kids do. What's the British data on this?
Porn? Yeah, kids learn the wrong stuff about sex from it, but there's a great, non-censorship approach to that problem. It's called parenting—talking to kids about sex. Apparently, you British need more of that. I know we Americans do.