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 #179 – January 2015



Is everyone on looking for a match?

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In a word, no.

The problem is, I see a lot of couples in which one partner is caught using Match, or Tinder, or Ashley Madison, or some other dating/hookup website. Partner B flips out, accusing partner A of cheating, or wanting to cheat. Partner A denies it, but doesn't sound convincing: "Uh, I was um, you know, just looking around."

Sometimes that's nonsense—A is cheating, just as B suspects.

But frequently, A is window shopping. We all do it—we look at ads for things we can't afford, look in shops at things we'll never buy, look on EBay at things we don't need. Cashmere toilet paper. Front-row seats at Scarlet Johansson's delivery. A ticket on a rocket to the moon (if you're asking, you can't afford it).

Some couples window shop together, which can be fun: "Wow, imagine being married to that sloppy guy!" "Wow, do you suppose that sexy dish can cook, too?"

But sometimes window shopping takes a more serious turn, as when people start to wonder: at my age, could I attract someone now? If someone desired me, what would they say? What might someone find attractive about me? What about someone of a different race, or someone much younger?

In the old days, there was mostly one way to pursue such thoughts: in person, and very carefully. At church, at the train station, at the market. Light flirting—very light, if you didn't want to get in trouble or get taken too seriously.

Now, of course, the Internet has created endless options for window shopping, through dating sites. Dating sites: where no one knows you're a dog, and where half the gorgeous young women are wrinkled old men. And where, nevertheless, a huge percentage of the nation's dating goes on.

Many people are more or less satisfied in their relationships—certainly not even thinking about leaving—but they're restless. They wonder about the life not lived. They wonder about their market value. They feel loved, but they don't feel desired—and for better or worse, there's something special about being desired by someone who doesn't know you and love you.

If a couple is together long enough, one or both will have feelings like this. Most couples don't discuss it—it's too scary, too unpredictable, and besides, after a few wary sentences and a couple of sighs, what's to be done about it anyway? Most couples are not going to experiment with non-monogamy, or incorporating their fantasies into their sex, or even add a toy, game, or costume.

So for most couples, the "I know you love me but I wonder if others think I'm sexy" or "Haven't you ever wondered what sex with a young stranger would be like?" conversations don't happen. Most people don't really want to do these things—but they wonder. Wondering is part of adult life, especially mid-life, when options begin to close. When the consequences of choices that were gladly made become clearer and clearer.

Enter the Internet: private, cheap, with more possibilities than a mid-life crisis can shake a stick at. Sites on which we can flirt, pretend to be dominant or submissive, and where we can live an alternate life for a minute or two. For a day or two. For a month or two.

It's seductive—a Coney Island of rides, each inviting our attention. And if we do choose a site, and succeed in attracting someone, the magnetism is tremendous. Ironically, IT people say the best of these sites are "sticky," meaning they're hard to leave. And yes, the reinforcement of being attractive to someone in an alternative universe is very, very sticky.

Which brings to mind another thing people do on dating and hookup sites—jack off. Every photo, every little bio represents someone (supposedly) saying "I'm interested in sex—what about you?" Perfect masturbation material. Sticky.

So if you catch your mate on one of the internet's 20 jillion hot websites, how do you know what it means?

Ask. If your partner says it's nothing, ask what it's all about–not as an accusation, but as an exploration, as a way of getting closer. Your mate probably may have a few things to say about him/herself or about your couple. So ask. Gently. Assume your partner's being truthful, and say so (if your partner isn't, you'll find out soon enough). Don't waste this opportunity to build intimacy.

And don't assume that a mate that's on Match is looking for a match. Maybe he or she is just looking for him- or herself.



Aphrodisiac? For What?

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According to The New York Times, the Chinese are buying up the world's supply of maca, an exotic root grown in the Andes. Their demand has driven the wholesale price of maca powder from $4 per pound to $20 per pound. Soon the indigenous Indians won't be able to afford it as a nutritional staple.

Why? Along with the horn of the rhino (now practically extinct), the penis of the tiger (now practically extinct), and the fin of the shark (heading toward extinction), maca is believed to be an aphrodisiac.

That's men for you: searching, century after century, for "aphrodisiacs."

And after 34 years as a sex therapist, my response is—why? Why this mad rush, why this willingness to exterminate innocent species and now to vandalize Peru's agricultural patrimony?

Aphrodisiacs are supposed to increase libido—magically, within minutes after ingestion. They're not about erection or orgasm, just desire (thus Viagra is NOT an aphrodisiac, since it addresses erection, not desire or even arousal).

So guys, let's say you can eat, drink, or chew something to increase your desire. Then what? If your mate (or harem, for that matter) hasn't taken it, will they be so pleased at your explosive libido? If your partner is agreeable but doesn't delight you in bed, will your enhanced libido be a blessing? If your partner typically turns you off with her moods, her words, or her demands, will you really enjoy wanting her?

And if your flesh is weak, once the spirit is more than willing, will your flesh rise to the occasion? That's not generally how things work.

Historically, some cultures (like China) have believed that a big sexual appetite—whether ultimately sated or not—is an expression of masculinity. The philosophical question for men in such regimes is not simply how much sex are you having, but how much are you wanting? How much are you ready for? Bragging about feeling hungry or deprived is an odd definition of masculinity, but by no means rare. We should feel sympathy toward men who are culturally instructed in this direction.

So why the obsessive gallop to increase libido? Do most people want to DESIRE anything more? HAVE, yes; desire? I suppose I would take a pill to increase my desire for exercise, but other than that? Like almost everyone, I want to have more of what I want, not to desire it more.

Now if the traditional male project were "Let's find an aphrodisiac and give it to all the women," at least that would make some sense. But historically, men view female desire as a double-edged sword. Men have wanted women to want sex more, but not too much more. I suppose the traditional male ideal is to find an aphrodisiac for women—which men would administer, rather than letting women themselves control.

There are, of course, plenty of substances that supposedly promote erection, virtually none of which work. Some people swear by testosterone (which, even if it works, is among the world's scariest drugs). And there are two medical products, PDE-5 inhibitors (Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra) and papavarene. But they don't increase desire.

In fact, less than half the men who get a prescription for an erection drug request a second prescription. There's more to most erection problems than not having erections on demand, and erections on demand aren't enough to solve most cases of erection problems.

The solution for low desire is understanding (1) what we actually want, as well as (2) what makes us not want. Each of those typically involves more than sex. That's what makes the search for aphrodisiacs and treatments for erectile dysfunction so complex. A pharmaceutical can give a man an erection, but it can't make him feel aroused; if a drug could give a man desire, it wouldn't make him feel wanted.

Desire without feeling wanted—or friendly, or competent, or connected—may seem like a fine thing, but in real life, it isn't. Especially for grownups.

Especially in a couple. For sex to work, people need more than sex. For desire to be satisfying (and to lead to satisfaction), people need more than desire.

So the question is not what's an aphrodisiac. The question is, why would you want one?

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UK Censors Domestic Porn; No Pattern To What's Banned

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The United Kingdom just passed a law prohibiting domestic filmmakers from depicting certain acts in online pornography. It is an absolutely perfect example of how dangerous, how confusing, how pointless, and how downright stupid such a law can be.

The law now lists thirteen things actors and actresses may not portray in domestically-made online porn films. Here are some facts about these thirteen:

  • The behaviors in every one of them are legal in real life.
  • You (yes, you) have almost certainly done at least one of these, and probably will again. Maybe tonight.
  • Every one of them is done consensually by thousands or millions of people somewhere every day of the week.
  • None of these necessarily causes harm. If consensual, most of these can't possibly cause harm.
  • More than of half of them do NOT involve the genitalia.
  • None of the banned depictions involves children.
  • These criminalized depictions have nothing in common with each other.
  • Each of these can be defined in a wide variety of ways (which will lead to self-censorship and arbitrary enforcement).
  • Did I mention that each of these activities is legal in real life? At least for now.

So why this particular list? Nobody knows. Which means it could change tomorrow.

Are you eager to know what the specific depictions are, so you can decide how you feel about the new limits on Brits rights to create (and therefore to watch) what they want?

It's a common enough response, but it shouldn't be. How do you feel about the government limiting what adult depictions adults can create or watch? The answer shouldn't be "it depends on this image." Why? Here are some depictions the government could add to this completely arbitrary list tomorrow:

  • Same-gender sex
  • Same-gender kissing
  • Anal sex
  • Interracial sex or kissing
  • Sex or kissing between two adults with a large age difference
  • Sex where one partner is in a wheelchair or otherwise disabled
  • Sex between senior citizens
  • Sex with a blindfold
  • Sex where one or both partners have erotic piercings
  • Sex where one or both partners' pubic hair is shaved

Many people think that pornographic depictions that make "normal people" say "yuck" ought to be banned. Let's say that none of the above depictions make you say "yuck"; the truth is, plenty of people would say "yuck" to one or all of these. So who should be in charge of what's illegal—you or them?

That's the same problem with the list that's just been published. There are things on that list to which you might say "yuck"—but others wouldn't. Again, who should be in charge?

Like all censors, the British censors justify their violation of adults' civil rights by saying this makes Britain safer for children—without even bothering to say how. Rather than the porn, it's laws like this that damage British children: they reduce the freedom these kids will have as adults, and will reduce their respect for the law when they eventually watch foreign-made porn featuring material that's banned if made in Britain.

Are you curious about what acts are banned from being depicted?

Does it matter? Does it matter if they make you frown? (Some of them certainly won't; a few might.) Does it matter if the list focuses mostly on one gender? (There's one specifically female activity; the rest are gender-neutral.) Does it matter if the actors are generally smiling while acting? (For most of these depictions they would be.)

Does it matter if the activity doesn't depict physical "sex," but depicts mind games played by people in costume? If person A can watch a mind game on film and not get aroused, while person B gets turned on watching it, should it be considered pornography? And if so, should it perhaps be prohibited just for people like B rather than for people like A as well?

And if certain erotic mind games can't be depicted, does that make them thought crimes?

Pornography is the canary in the coal mine of democracy. No country protects anything less than it protects porn; porn is the bottom threshold of free expression. Raise that bar and we have more artistic, political, and social freedoms. Lower it just to prohibit a picture that lots of people don't like, and the bar for all expression is lowered.

This latest law comes from one of the most democratic, freedom-loving nations in the history of the world. We're not talking Egypt or Russia, where the government is committed to stifling expression; we're talking about a country that has spent centuries investigating the outer limits of free expression.

There is absolutely no reason to think that if it happens in Britain, it can't happen here.

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You still haven't seen the list; do you feel a little teased? FYI, some kinds of erotic teasing are on Britain's updated list of prohibited depictions.

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