Don't you agree that people who either murder someone or keep library books overdue should be punished?
"Murderers and library book abusers"—that's an example of a phony category. Other phony categories include "bullies and predators," "porn and child porn," and "S/M and violence."
I've spoken and written many times about phony categories and moral panics (e.g., here). It's a common strategy in public policy discussions—creating a category that lumps two dissimilar things together, and decrying the more serious of the two. We're all in favor of preventing hangnails and heart attacks, aren't we? We MUST do something about that!
Because phony categories prevent meaningful analysis and conversation, they undermine democracy. And so the frontline of intelligent, progressive discourse sometimes has to involve the tedious work of looking behind the claims of a study or of statistics, so we can intelligently discuss their real meaning.
For example, you've probably seen or heard about the video of 24-year-old Shoshana Roberts walking through New York for 10 hours and getting over 100 unwanted comments.
There's a lot to critique about it: she's wearing skin-tight clothes that emphasize her every curve, and the catcalls are almost exclusively from men who seem unemployed, marginalized or even homeless at best. I leave it to the video's producers to explain why they have a shapely young white woman walking through mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods.
The producers and many others call Roberts' experiences in the video "sexual harassment" or "verbal abuse." Clearly, she didn't verbally invite a single one of the mens' comments (although most adults would agree that in any U.S. city, her clothing choice would typically be coded as provocative). And clearly, she didn't respond to the comments.
That said, there wasn't a single comment that threatened or insulted her. No one suggested sex, invited sex, or demanded sex. Essentially, these brilliant comments ranged all the way from 'Wow you look great' to 'Wow, I like looking at you.' Pointless and stupid, an unwanted, frustrating intrusion into her private minute. Multiplied, of course, by 100. Not that she or any other woman generally walks the streets for 10 hours at a time, of course.
Now according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "non-contact unwanted sexual experiences"—a category that includes harassment on public sidewalks—is the most prevalent form of "sexual violence" for both men and women.
How many problems can you spot in that one sentence? These government statistics assume that:
- unwanted verbal contact is harassment
- unwanted verbal contact is a sexual experience
- a non-contact unwanted experience is sexual violence
This sort of methodology creates rates of sexual violence that are enormous. With such a definition, American streets are dramatically more dangerous than those of Moscow, Cairo, Johannesburg, and drug-warring central Mexico. Which is (fortunately) silly, of course. Would you feel safer in one of those places, or the U.S.? Where would you prefer your daughter or sister?
Defining an unwanted "Lookin' good!" (even from a scary-looking guy) as harassment trivializes real harassment. Defining catcalls as sexual experiences trivializes sex. Most importantly, defining words as violence trivializes violence.
Anyone—feminist, bureaucrat, politician, journalist—who promotes such nonsense should be held responsible for misleading the public, creating epidemics of sexual violence, and generating fear. Fear that intimidates and disempowers people. Fear that incites people to demand action, even if that action curtails their own and others' rights.
Remember, the FBI says that today's rates of sexual violence against both adult women and children are their lowest in over a decade
It's important for America to talk about—and reduce—violence, sexual harassment, verbal intimidation, and boorish behavior. It's also important that we use words that help us understand the world and each other, rather than using categories that prevent communication and create fear.
Fear, is a terrible, terrible experience. But fear doesn't necessarily mean we're in danger.
Well, it's actually Croatians. The Croatian medical students with whom I worked in Ravenna last week.
More than once, they asked how sex has changed since the invention of the Internet
It's an important question.
On the one hand, there are some tangible ways:
- Porn is now available everywhere, all the time, in every possible configuration.
- There are new ways to meet people for sex: escort services, apps like Grindr, websites like Ashley Madison and Sugar Babies.
- It's easier than ever to buy sex toys, lube, condoms, and other products, with privacy and low prices, from reliable companies.
- Did I mention porn? That's where most young men and many young women are now getting much of their sex education.
Nothing brilliant about this analysis. "But," I said, "One of the key ways the internet has changed our sexuality centers around the issue of multi-tasking." That's the expectation that people should be able to do more than one thing at a time—like reading email while talking on the phone. Or texting while talking with your kid.
In fact, it's now more than an expectation that we CAN; it's the expectation that we SHOULD. I see an increasing number of people who don't feel comfortable doing one thing at a time anymore. And that's bad for sex.
Because—assuming you're with someone you want to be with, and they're pleased to be with you—there's only thing you actually need to enjoy sex: Focus. Attention. Engagement. In fact, regardless of what your genitalia can do, no matter how great your body is, you won't enjoy sex much if your mind is on other things. You know…multi-tasking
A lot of people I see in therapy have trouble focusing during sex. The problem for most of them isn't the sex, it's the focusing. They can't simply watch a movie, either—they're restless to check their voicemail. They can't just eat lunch, they're anxious about what texts they might have received. They can't sit in my waiting room listening to music or thinking about our upcoming session for five or six minutes, they have to check the security cameras in their home.
One of the criticisms of internet porn is that it makes sex with a real person boring. I'm certain that's totally inaccurate. Rather, I think it's the new lifestyle that has developed at the same time as internet porn: doing two or three things at once, and constantly checking on incoming digital stimulus.
THAT'S what's making people restless or dissatisfied about sex with a real person: it requires them to unhook from their online lives for a half-hour, which is a skill many people have lost (and most young people never developed).
So to enjoy sex with a person more, you don't need better erections, or a wetter vagina, or easier orgasms. You certainly don't need to lose weight, get a boob job, or learn the tricks of tantra or Cirque du Soleil.
You need to focus on your five senses, and to focus so fiercely on THAT incoming data that you have virtually no bandwidth left over to think about anything, or to miss any other incoming stimulation. When you can do that—when you make sex more interesting than any email that might be coming in—sex will seem rich and enjoyable, something to desire and anticipate.
And that aspect of Sexual Intelligence is true whether you're in Italy, Croatia, or anywhere else.
A recent change to California's legal definition of "sexual exploitation of a minor" has created a new set of problems for therapists, while making therapy more dangerous for many patients—without increasing public safety one single bit. Since many states' laws often follow California's, this is an event of national significance.
Psychologists, physicians, and other professionals are "mandated reporters"—they are required by law to report certain things they see or hear in the course of their work. In such cases therapists and doctors are even instructed to violate patient-professional confidentiality. However, mandated reporters are expected to use our discretion in deciding IF something we see or hear rises to the level of having to report it. Properly used, that discretion protects the patient, protects society, and protects the professional.
California's new law, AB1775, requires therapists and other professionals to report if a patient has knowingly downloaded, streamed, or even simply accessed (that is, viewed) an electronic or digital image in which anyone under 18 "is engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct." That's any image that lacks "scientific, literary, artistic, or political" value. This can range from the most egregious child porn to the most playful sexting.
Most importantly, this law gives us NO DISCRETION in judging the potential danger involved in the behavior we are directed to report.
California requires mandated reporters to judge the words and stories they hear in session every week. Does this patient really want to murder his boss, or is he blowing off steam? Does this patient really want to kill herself, or is she dramatizing how depressed she feels? Decisions about whether or not to break confidentiality and report such conversations to the authorities—so-called Tarasoff situations—are the bedrock of therapists' ability to deliver high-quality confidential care to patients, while assuring the public that therapists will help offer protection from people who are likely to harm themselves or others.
This law will punish many innocent teens and adults, and will deprive those who look at child porn of the therapy they may desperately want. It puts therapists in a terrible bind, robbing them of any discretion to judge if a given patient is dangerous. Ironically, therapists retain this discretion when patients talk about murder, arson, suicide, or tricking someone into getting pregnant.
The California legislature created this law with the involvement of every almost conceivable stakeholder—child welfare activists, law enforcement, social workers, etc.—except sexologists. It is shocking and frustrating that a law changing the way therapists handle patients who look at sexual images of minors was designed without consulting a single sex therapist, sex researcher, or sex educator.
Speaking practically, getting this law repealed appears impossible. But there is a growing movement to amend the new law, possibly via one or more clinical organizations like the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists or American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, & Therapists. The goal is to require therapists to evaluate those who look at sexual images of minors—just as therapists do with many other potentially dangerous behaviors—rather than automatically report them.
Research both in the U.S. and abroad shows that a large percentage of people who look at sexual images of minors are not at risk of committing any contact offense. The public, of course, is mostly uninformed that so many people who look at sexual images of minors never touch a minor inappropriately. That's the deliberate result of the child porn hysteria currently sweeping the country.
Of course, a substantial number of consumers of child sexual imagery are dangerous. They need to be helped so that they don't hurt anyone. A law that requires therapists to report such people without evaluating their potential for harm, and without treating them, guarantees that such people will remain invisible. They won't get the help we all want them to get—making this law part of the dreadful problem it claims to want to solve.