It's Thanksgiving, so let's give thanks for sex.
Not just the huffing and puffing, the in-ing and out-ing, the sloshing around and drying off. Let's give thanks for all the sexual rights we enjoy here in the U.S.—which billions of people in Russia, the Arab world, and many parts of Asia and Africa will never enjoy in their lifetimes.
Most of these rights have to do with privacy and autonomy. These always look dangerous to repressive or religiously-driven regimes. Science and technology look pretty frightening to such regimes when they can be applied for sexual purposes—which they inevitably are, throughout history.
So let's give thanks for the many ways we are allowed to use privacy and autonomy to express our sexuality, and to use science and technology to make sex safer and more life-affirming.
Still, we should remember that these rights are stained by the many limitations that our local, state, and federal governments place on our sexual expression. In an era when tens of millions of Americans are calling for "smaller government," it's especially bitter that many of these same people are calling for more government intrusion into private sexual expression.
So let's give thanks that here in America…
* You can buy birth control in almost every community. …Although an increasing number of pharmacists claim they are exempt from state laws requiring licensed pharmacists to fill all legal prescriptions. Christ or Napoleon: does it matter what reason they give?
* Sex toys have become so acceptable that you can even buy them via Amazon.com.
…Although most marriage counselors, clergy, and physicians are licensed without ever learning a single thing about them.
* The internet offers almost unlimited opportunities where people can fantasize about alternative sexual universes and personae.
…Although our federal and state governments spend a huge amount of our tax money entrapping and prosecuting men who enjoy fantasy age role-play in adult chat-rooms.
* You can get tested for many common STDs without having to give a lot of explanation. You can get tested for HIV anonymously and confidentially.
…Although anti-pornography groups continue to lie that the adult film industry is a hotbed of STDs, and have targeted the industry for scrutiny by government safety inspectors.
* Emergency Contraception is now available over-the-counter across the U.S..
…Although many desperate anti-choice activists lie and call it an abortion pill.
* In most big cities, you can still go to swingers clubs, strip clubs, and dungeons.
…Although more and more cities are using emergency ordinances and discriminatory "sexually-oriented business" statutes to close these adult businesses—without having to prove they're dangerous.
* The Supreme Court ruled, in Lawrence v. Texas, that morality alone cannot be the basis of American laws criminalizing sexual acts, such as sodomy.
…Although powerful and well-financed Christian groups continue to demand—and get—laws to curb "indecency," "smut," "secularism," and "the homosexual agenda."
* Many states have developed "Romeo & Juliet" laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for consensual teen-teen sex if the kids are close in age.
…Although most states still treat teen sexting as the felony of child porn distribution.
* Women can dress any way they like without fear of religious or state-supported violence.
…Although men and women still get arrested every year for being topless or nude in America's parks and beaches—unlike our cousins in Europe, where toplessness and nudity are normal at public beaches and parks.
* Senior citizens like Bruce Springsteen, Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, Neil Young, Dolly Parton, and Mick Jagger are still performing, showing exactly what sexuality in old age can look like.
…Although sexuality for residents of nursing homes is still tightly controlled and sometimes punished.
I also give thanks for my 7,000 readers and 4,000 twitter followers, and for your encouraging messages of support throughout the year. You can always reach me at Klein AT SexEd DOT org.
One of the objections that some women have to their partners watching porn is "I can't compete with the women in those videos."
The idea that a woman has to compete with the women or activities in porn films is an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Now some women feel they have to compete with mainstream celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Beyoncé (and before that, with Marilyn Monroe and Sharon Stone, and before that, with Cleopatra). That's a fool's errand that no one should attempt. These are professional; do not attempt to do their job in your home.
If you're smart enough to realize you can't (and don't need to) compete with JLo or JLaw, why would you feel compelled to compete with Candye Kisses or Rosie Cheex?
While making superficial comparisons in life is inevitable, most men know that porn is a fantasy, not a documentary. No one actually expects his girlfriend to pay the pizza delivery guy with oral sex, and no grownup really expects his partner to look or act like a porn star. Like the NFL and Cirque du Soleil, people in porn are selected for their unusual bodies. Very unusual bodies.
Sadly, sometimes it's women, not their men, who are comparing themselves with porn stars. Ladies, you're not competing with a real person, you're competing with a cinematic character—who has the benefit of lighting, editing, a fictional partner with unlimited energy and desire, and a script instructing her to defy gravity while moaning on cue.
You can't compete with that character any more than your man can compete with the Arnold Schwarzenegger character, the Fred Astaire character, or the Sherlock Holmes character.
By the way, let's be honest—plenty of women love to consume images of gorgeous females, too. Who else is the audience for People magazine, E! News, and those award show red carpet previews? And please don't say you're interested in "fashion" or "style" (or "news")—the audience's interest is in beautiful women wearing clothes that reveal more than they cover. Admit it—aren't you a little disappointed when some famous babe shows up in a pants suit, or something that hides her cleavage?
(Note: Shouts of "sexism!" do not constitute a thoughtful critique here. No one ogling Leonardo di Caprio or Matthew McConaughey is thinking "what a fine actor" or "what an expressive artist." No—eyeballing these guys is the same activity as eyeballing Kim Kardashian. Can't we just admit it and get on with our fantasies?)
That said, plenty of porn features women who are not conventionally beautiful. There's amateur porn, granny porn, and in-law porn, to name a few. People who view such things are looking for something other than perfect bodies. They may enjoy watching ordinary-looking people doing ordinary sexual things. They almost certainly enjoy the erotic enthusiasm, whether it's scripted for professionals or authentic from amateurs.
If there's any way your man compares you to porn, it's most likely about enthusiasm—which for almost all men trumps a perfect body any time. This means your less-than-perfect body doesn't disqualify you in bed.
When women are convinced that their partners are thinking about porn stars while having sex with them, I ask how they know this. During sex does he call you the wrong name, does he seem a million miles away, does he keep talking dirty even when you've asked him not to about a million times? Most women answer no. Instead of evidence, they say "Why would he focus on my saggy body during sex when he could be thinking about Ophelia Rump, who's perfectly round and firm?"
Why would he? What about feeling desired, touching and being touched, kissing, nibbling, smelling, pleasing someone else, and feeling part of the ongoing human erotic parade? Sex with Mary FiveFingers while watching porn may provide more perfect stimulation and a more reliable orgasm, but when it comes to sex, friction isn't everything.
So if your question is "Why would he focus on me during sex?" you may need to boost your sexual self-esteem. I'm very sympathetic if you can't imagine why he'd rather focus on the live, imperfect naked woman he has with him rather than a maybe-perfect-looking body in a movie.
We should probably check how much your self-consciousness or despair about your body is undermining your mutual sexual enjoyment. It's not like you're going to wake up next week with the perfect body or boundless energy of a 24-year-old (unless you're 24 right now), so you both need to figure out how to eroticize the conventional body of a person your age, in your condition.
At work, at the supermarket, in the airport, the world is full of beautiful bodies, male and female. Porn or no porn, every man and woman has to figure out how to feel OK with themselves when they aren't as good-looking as others.
And how to feel OK when they don't have as much money as others, don't have jobs as prestigious as others, or don't have kids as smart as others. This is the fundamental existential task of all people who want to enjoy life, and porn didn't invent it.***
Memo to any guy who resentfully tells a woman "Why can't you look like the women in porn," or "Why can't you do what the women in porn do": Dude, the "women in porn" are ACTING. They're following scripts designed to get you hot. Very few people do those things in real life, and very few people look like they do in real life. They're like the characters in Lord of the Rings.
If you want your partner to be more enthusiastic or adventurous about sex, criticizing her and comparing her to fictional characters—like Wonder Woman or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo—is guaranteed to make things worse.
Each of these thoughts deserves a post of its own, but after a day of special foods, special company, and hours of Masterpiece Theatre (about Henry VIII), a few words about each feels just right.
* Real sex doesn't feel like porn looks.
It's usually less intense, less gravity-defying, less taboo-breaking, and more about the people trying to connect. Therefore real sex often has a lot of kissing, hugging, and, well, non-"sex" in it.
And because it isn't scripted or edited, real sex often has moments of frustration, awkwardness, disappointment, clumsiness, and misunderstanding. It's best to laugh together at these moments—another thing you don't see in porn.
* Couples, never say "We're fighting about something silly."
If you're really fighting, it's never silly–you just don't know what the serious thing is. Of course, it's almost never about the thing you're fighting about (socks on the floor, hair in the drain, forgotten birthday card, dent in the car, oral sex).
More likely subjects include power, feeling disrespected, power, loneliness, power, fear of getting old, power, self-doubt, power, shame, and, um, power.
* I understand trying to conceive, and I understand trying to not conceive.
I don't understand "we're not trying to make it happen, but we're not trying to prevent it." This is how you approach the single most profound decision of your entire life?
* When someone says "of course you think that, you're a man," that's a big insult.
And the more you respect the man you say that to, the bigger the insult.
Sometimes a man has such-and-such an opinion because he's a fool, not because he's a man. And sometimes a man has such-and-such an opinion because he thought about it carefully, not because he's a man. If you don't want to be told you think "just like a woman," don't tell someone else he thinks "just like a man."
And if you don't mind, you still shouldn't disrespect someone (of any gender) in this way.
* Of course teens get wrong ideas about sex from looking at porn.
So exactly what are parents doing to help kids deal with these ideas, and with their uncomfortable or upsetting experiences of looking at porn?
Haven't we learned that "just say no" doesn't work? And then parents blame porn for influencing their kids. That's like blaming the rain for soaking your kids when you can't be bothered to look out the window, hand them an umbrella, or teach them how to use it.
* A therapist came to me for a consultation, about a 15-year-old patient who says he masturbates as much as 9 times a day.
He asked if I thought the kid might be a sex addict. I asked what the kid means by "masturbate." He didn't know, which may help to explain the "9 times a day." I asked if the patient uses lube, gets sore, or uses his hand (some guys masturbate by lying face down and rocking on the bed or floor). He didn't know. I asked if he ejaculates when he 'masturbates'.
"OK, OK," said the therapist sheepishly. "I need to ask way more questions before I can diagnose this kid or the situation."
* Let's change the sexual expression "penetration" to either "insertion" or "envelopment."
If you enjoy it, isn't that a more accurate description?
* Is watching porn a form of infidelity?
If two people agree that it is, it is. If two people agree that it isn't, it isn't.
If two people disagree about this, why don't they handle it the same way they handle all their other agreements? If two people disagree about whether or not 10 minutes is "late" or "mostly on time," they may get frustrated—but they rarely end the relationship over it.
When couples ask me to adjudicate this I rarely take sides, preferring to help them talk it through. But sometimes I look at a patient and silently wonder—do you actually believe that if you walked in on your husband having sex with another woman, you'd feel "yes, this is just the same wound as him looking at porn"?
* If a male Muslim suicide bomber goes to heaven and gets 72 (presumably female) virgins…
What does a female Muslim suicide bomber get?