A federal court in Colorado has just ruled that a Fort Collins law banning women from showing their breasts in public is unconstitutional.
Oops, there goes civilization right down the drain. Forget about global warming or North Korean nukes, it's uncontrolled ladies' boobs that are about to do us all in.
The now-overturned law did have an exception for breast-feeding. On the one hand, that's enlightened—allowing breast-feeding in public, and not deriding the activity as indecent. On the other hand, it exposes an age-old, developmentally retarded attitude: breasts are acceptable as long as they're for mothering and nourishment, but not if they're perceived as sexual.
Well, that's not OK. Sexuality doesn't render certain otherwise-wholesome body parts worse or more dangerous. Sexuality isn't some evil, transformative energy.
As for men's nipples being somehow "different" than women's, yes, they're different—for the sole reason that most of us relate to them differently. That's not the fault of the nipples, nor of the women attached to them.
Of course, in some ways this is a trivial issue. Female toplessness is legal in Denver, and you rarely see a topless woman on a Denver street (especially in February). But this case is a reminder that it's often sexuality that is the flashpoint of conflict about critical issues of constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court (in Cohen v California) had to rule in 1971 that a man had the right to wear a T-shirt saying "Fuck the Draft" in a public building. When the U.S. Justice Department (remember Attorney General Ed Meese?) tried to put adult video retailers out of business with extraordinarily expensive simultaneous prosecutions in multiple states, a federal court finally outlawed this practice. The Supreme Court (in Miller v California) had to rule that the government couldn't arbitrarily decide what was obscene and therefore liable to punishment. And the Supreme Court (in Lawrence v Texas) had to decide that a state couldn't criminalize private behavior simply to assert the community's alleged moral standards.
In each of these cases, someone can argue that the rights being denied and pursued were more or less trivial: the right to wear a t-shirt, to sell adult videos, to read dirty books, to have anal or oral sex.
But in a non-sexual context—to wear clothes with anti-government messages, to read or watch whatever we want, to have whatever kind of consenting sex we want—these same rights are far from trivial. For centuries—literally—it's been conflict over sexual expression that has ultimately protected many of our most cherished rights.
So it's the anti-discrimination aspect of the Colorado case—the government's insistence that the law treat male and female nipples equally—that will be cited in future gender discrimination cases of major consequence, say in employment or education.
Once again, Americans should thank sexual outlaws for protecting and expanding their rights of privacy, expression, commerce, and confidentiality.
By the way, you know what they call a topless beach in Europe?
Bob and Anne have been married for 10 years, more or less happily. No kids. Two busy, stressful careers that are still stuck in no-longer-beginners-but-moving-ahead-way-too-slowly mode.
Last month she found an anal toy in the back of her husband's sock drawer and freaked out. She then went through his website searches and found he'd been looking at transgender porn. She freaked out more. She also found that he had searched a few sites looking for "grannies in Toronto," which is where they live.
Calling him pervert and unfaithful, she moved out. She's heartbroken. She's also angry, confused, and "completely, totally mistrustful—possibly damaged forever," she says.
"She's crazy," is his basic response, "without a clue about human sexuality." He isn't sure he can ever forgive her—the intrusiveness, the bizarre (to him) conclusions, the abandonment.
They emailed last week, pleading for a skype session.
They've seen two therapists and a pastor; she's gone to countless websites; and he's gone to several friends (with some substantial changes in the story, of course). All of them agree on one terribly unhelpful thing—that one of these spouses is wrong, one is right, and they need to decide who is which. Not surprisingly, everyone has offered to help in this crucial task.
But that's making things worse, they're now talking about divorce, so they did an internet search and called me.
My approach is different.
I have lots of information—which I didn't discuss very much. I have lots of clinical experience—which I didn't discuss very much.
Instead, I listened. Of course, I have an advantage that they don't: I'm not angry, hurt, scared, confused, or feeling pushed away. They are. Which makes it hard for them to listen to each other.
That's the first thing I explained: that they almost certainly weren't listening to each other—not because they're bad people, or because they don't care about each other, but because they're each just too filled up with feelings. I suggested they could each be a little sympathetic to their partner's current dilemma.
I asked her to explain what she was actually concerned about. She wandered all over the place about people interested in T-porn and T-sex, people who keep secrets, people who are gay but won't admit it to themselves, and about protecting herself from future betrayals.
"Whoa," I gently said. "You have a complex brew of fears, fantasies, and theories here. Let's try and sort that all out. You seem to feel that his fantasies have meaning—meaning that you understand better than he does, or meaning that he's not willing to admit?"
"They're not just fantasies," she said. "He's looked for local grannies. He's stimulating his anus when he masturbates. That's behavior," she said firmly.
"Well, yes and no," I replied. "Going on websites, that could easily be window shopping—you know, 'I wonder what's out there. I wonder what they look like.' Stimulating his anus, the simple explanation is that it's pleasurable. Anything else is a pretty complicated explanation." Which is what people in pain manufacture, of course.
"You're taking his side," she said. I could see him rolling his eyes in the background.
"I don't think so," I said. "Your explanation of his behavior and fantasies gives you great pain. Mine could give you some comfort. That doesn't sound like taking his side."
"Besides," I continued, "I want to talk with him about his hiding." So I asked him, "Would you please tell her the truth—the absolute truth, please—about why you've hidden these various sex-related activities?" This is where I trust the process, and assume I've correctly assessed that this guy isn't totally crazy.
"The truth? The truth is that I was afraid she'd get mad, or misunderstand. I see I was right!" His tone was triumphant, but bitter. "Well," I replied, "You were partly right. Yes, she got upset, and she's even pretty judgmental. But given the strength of her feelings, they're probably about something else."
They were both silent for a moment. I looked straight at her, as softly as I could.
"It's not just the anal masturbation or the porn itself, is it? Maybe you're feeling left out? Maybe you're feeling this is the climax of months, maybe years, of drifting apart, or feeling uncared for or pushed away?"
She burst into tears. "Yes, I felt left out when he used to drink all the time. Then he quit drinking last year, but almost immediately started smoking pot every night…"
"Not every night," he interrupted angrily. I reproached him—"she's talking about feeling left out—if you argue about the details you'll only prove her point," I said.
"…smoking pot almost every night," she continued. "I got lonelier and lonelier. We don't have much sex anymore. I'm not sure why, but it's scary."
"And so finding out this news about his fantasies, his interests, his curiosity, that all seemed to fit into this pattern, didn't it?" She nodded.
"And instead of telling him how you felt, you called him a bunch of names and ditched him for a while?"
She nodded glumly. I turned to him. "And instead of asking her what she was so upset about, you called her a bunch of names and just turned away, right? I imagine you feel abandoned just when you need her reassurance the most. Do you suppose she knows how bad you feel about that? Or have you mostly talked about how unfair and wrong she is? Talking about the first more than the second is way more likely to get you what you want."
I hadn't said much about the facts, so I did want to address one thing. "The range of human sexual fantasy," I said, "is broader than any one person can possibly imagine. The connection between fantasy and actual desire in most people is weak. Why do people fantasize about one thing rather than another? Sometimes they know, and sometimes they don't."
She had to make her point: "I don't want sex with someone I don't love, and I certainly don't want to imagine sex with someone I don't love. He obviously does. What's wrong with him?"
"Oh," I smiled. "After ten years together, have you not noticed that you two are different people? He apparently enjoys fantasizing about sex with someone he doesn't love, doesn't even know. That's a far simpler and more feasible explanation than your psychodynamic one, or your explanation that he wishes to do these various things. I'm certain that if he wanted sex with a transsexual, he could arrange to do so. Look at him, really look at him right now. Do you really think he's done that?"
"Then why…" she started, but I interrupted. "Most people fantasize about people and activities that aren't available in real life. You may not be like that, and that's OK. He seems to be like that. You can decide that's fine, or you can torture the both of you."
I also told him that he could be ashamed of his fantasies and anal self-pleasure, making excuses and attacking her for being a prude. Or he could accept himself, talk with her quietly, and answer every question she had (probably more than once). That would put a human face on what he's doing and feeling and imagining, inviting her away from the baroque story she'd invented about this bizarre person she found herself married to.
"And if she's feeling she can't get close to you because you're stoned a lot," I added, "you might want to look at her reality about that, rather than try to convince her that you don't smoke too much."
As our session drew to a close, she asked for a book recommendation. I pushed just a bit more instead. "You don't need a book about people like your husband. You need to get to know your husband better. Talk to him. Ask him questions—not criticism disguised as questions, but questions that will help you understand his unique lived experience."
He needed the same thing, so I told him "Talk to her about yourself—not what's wrong with her, but about how you feel, how you want to feel, what you've liked and hoped to enjoy from your various private sexual visions." And what you'd like with her if the two of you were to resume sex."
Turning to them both, I said, "When you feel disappointed or confused, start with simple explanations before imagining complicated ones. When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses rather than zebras."
Maybe you're one of those people looking for the perfect gift for Valentine's Day. Something to boost your sex life. Or inject some "romance" into things. Or say "I love you" in a meaningful way.
On the other hand, maybe you're on your own so far in 2017, and you feel like you deserve a treat. Something to make you feel sexy. Or to give you a head start for when you do connect with someone later this year.
Everyone's been getting popups and spam about this for weeks, now—"You can't live without this!" "This stuff will make you irresistible!" "Invented by a mad genius with a formula too good to be true!"
So I won't tell you what you should get for Valentine's Day. Instead, let me tell you what you don't need. These products play on the desires—and anxieties—that we all have.
* You don't need a book with "new positions."
News flash—there are no new positions.
When people are bored, annoyed, or unsatisfied with sex, it isn't because they don't use the magic positions that guarantee amazing pleasure. The problem may be physical pain; feeling disconnected from a partner; too much alcohol; a couple's lack of agreement about what to do in bed; self-consciousness about one's body; guilt, shame, or anxiety; or the simple refusal to relax and communicate about preferences.
People who don't "experiment" in bed don't need suggestions—they need to understand and overcome their own reticence and unnecessary limits (like, "only gay guys like their nipples pulled" or "that part of my body is dirty so I won't let you lick me there").
Instead of getting a book on new positions, –tell your partner you'd like to try something new, or –ask your partner if s/he would like to try anything new, or –think seriously about why you don't want to do either of these—and do something about that.
* You don't need vitamins and supplements to enhance your "sexual energy."
If you're concerned about your lack of interest in sex, see a physician. If a simple blood test reveals your hormones are fine, some exotic stuff from the health food store or the internet will almost certainly be of no use.
There are medical reasons for low desire: the onset of menopause, a deficient thyroid, medication side effects, sleep apnea, chronic illness, the overall aging process, and occasionally—very occasionally—low testosterone. None of these will be cured by a jungle herb or mega-doses of vitamin xyz.
Low "sexual energy" is most often a function of stress, anger, emotional isolation, poor body image, relationship problems, or an expectation that sex will be painful or unsatisfying. You can start addressing each of these with communication and by being honest with yourself.
* You don't need surgery on your vulva or penis.
Unless you were born with an unfortunate deformity (and maybe even if you were), there's nothing wrong with the shape, color, or size of your genitalia. Consider the amazing range of human noses that we know are normal. And surely you know that someone's ability to enjoy their sense of smell has nothing to do with the way their nose looks.
The same is true of your penis or vulva. Very, very few people actually look at their partner's genitalia during sex. Many, many factors predict sexual satisfaction ahead of our partner's penis or vulva.
Oh, and by the way—any medical procedure designed to make your genitalia more attractive or effective is either dangerous, useless, or both.
* You don't need a book or class to learn how to gush when you climax.
It seems there's always some new sexual goal that we're supposed to aim toward—simultaneous orgasm, orgasm from intercourse alone, deep throat, and now gushing during climax. Also known as "female ejaculation," a small number of women do it, and apparently enjoy it. Most women don't do it, and until just a few years ago didn't give it a second thought. Now you can read or go to a class if you want to learn this skill.
Of course, many women have been afraid to wet the bed during sex, which has made both relaxation and orgasm more difficult. Indeed, many women refuse cunnilingus because they're afraid that they'll leak a little urine if their pleasure is too intense. Let your guy (or woman) reassure you about this, and then enjoy the treat if it's available.
Meanwhile, don't drive yourself (or your partner) crazy trying to unlock the magic of gushing like a porn star during sex. Actresses are professionals, and they have the advantage of editing and even of gadgets hidden on the set. And the knowledge that no one will bust them if their climactic geyser is really urine—as long as it looks good on camera.
* You don't need withdrawal to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
The number of safe, effective contraceptive products available to the average person has never been higher. These modern miracles mean that for the first time in human history, people can enjoy sex without worrying about pregnancy—if they're willing to make a little effort to find and use the right product.
The IUD is safe, only needs occasional attention, and doesn't interfere with sex. There are many hormonal products in addition to pills, such as implants (which are completely reversible). The diaphragm has all the health (and financial) benefits of a low-tech device, as long as people are willing to either plan ahead or stop for 2 or 3 minutes before intercourse. And condoms work. When used right, they really work. And with the right attitude (and some lube both inside and outside it), people can have great sex with one.
Withdrawal, on the other hand, is nerve-wracking and unreliable. Other than a leg cramp, a knock on the bedroom door, or being called the wrong name, it's hard to imagine a more disruptive moment during sex. And did we mention how unreliable withdrawal is? That's why people who use it are so often called parents.
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