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 #212 – October 2017


Hugh Hefner, Sexual and Social Pioneer

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Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, died this week at age 91.

Most people alive today don't remember two very important things about Hefner: he was extraordinarily innovative and influential, and he was reviled by a lot of people for exactly those reasons.

These two facts tell us as much about our own times today as they do about the repressed era of Playboy's founding.

When the 27-year-old Hefner started Playboy in 1953, America was a sexually sick country. Adults weren't allowed to hear the words "sex" or "pregnant" on television, nor see married couples in a bed together. Oral sex, contraception, and factual sex education were illegal. A powerful censor reviewed every American film (and TV show) to prevent "offensive" content from reaching adult eyes.

Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by practically everyone, including the field of psychiatry. Female orgasm was virtually never spoken of, and was only considered normal if it occurred in the context of intercourse—which meant it didn't happen very often.

The pornography in circulation at the time was rather crude. Grainy 8mm films and amateurish newsprint magazines both featured bored-looking actresses. Today it would all look like a caricature of "real" pornography. Some people settled for the non-western bare breasts occasionally seen in National Geographic. Others looked at the nude volleyball players in naturist magazines, which were harder to find.

Precisely because sexuality was so repressed in so many ways, this thin gruel of the sexually explicit was popular. And compared to it, Playboy was a banquet.

Hefner took sexuality out of the shadows and presented it unapologetically as part of the Good Life. Yes, he emphasized that Good Life for men (and men of class), but he never presented anything other than consensual, playful, life-affirming sexuality. His assumption that women could and would enjoy sex outraged people as much as anything else he did. His straightforward celebration of the female body—without the redemption of romantic love or marriage–got him in trouble too.

Today many people find such ideas not just acceptable, but a standard to laud. Thank Playboy's unblinking, consistent decades of it.

Unlike virtually all consumer magazines of the time, Hefner felt that ideas and art were part of the Good Life, too. He therefore published articles by and interviews with cultural giants like Alex Haley, Bob Dylan, Ayn Rand, Salvador Dali, Kurt Vonnegut, and Margaret Atwood.

While Playboy contextualized nudity and sexuality in a commercial, commodified world—the magazine also celebrated high-class cars, stereos, clothes, and alcohol—from the very beginning it also saw sexuality in a political context. This seems obvious now—think gender activists, gay activists, sex educators, sex offender rights groups, and challenges to zoning laws eliminating strip clubs—but back then the Politics of Sexuality was a radical idea.

Hefner understood that giving people more sexual choices would be part of a sexual revolution, which was part of a broader struggle for civil rights. He gave a platform to crusaders like Dick Gregory, James Baldwin, and Martin Luther King. He understood the toxic effect that religious training and hypocrisy had on American sexuality, and so he gave a platform to ahead-of-their-time critics such as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor.

In fact, for many years Playboy was one of the most important places to read about the politics of sexuality. Before blogging and tweeting became ubiquitous, freedom of the press really did belong to those with a press—and American magazines were incredibly vapid about sexuality. Playboy ran the first substantive article critiquing the then-new drug Viagra (I know, because I wrote it).

Playboy also ran one of the very first articles critiquing the then-new concept of sex addiction (I wrote that as well). And Playboy's interview in which Jimmy Carter acknowledged he had "lusted in his heart" for other women (a serious sin to Carter and his evangelical community) established a meme that continues to this day.

Outside the magazine, Hefner walked his talk. He established a foundation to support Americans' First Amendment rights. He generously funded a wide range of sex-positive causes, including the founding of the International Academy of Sex Research, a crucial organization that still thrives today.

So Hefner was an innovator.

And he was caustically attacked from many directions throughout his entire life. Playboy was accused of encouraging infidelity, of disrespecting women, of trivializing sex. It was described as immoral, harmful to both the men who bought it and their adolescent sons who masturbated to it. Playboy was seen as a challenge to religious sexual morality—the one charge Hefner would gladly acknowledge was true.

For all the controversy, for all the doom-saying, for all the descriptions back then of Playboy as destructive filth that obliterated contemporary standards of decency, how is it described now? "Today's porn," say today's anti-porn activists, "is not your father's or grandfather's porn. It isn't wholesome like Playboy."

That's the real measure of Hefner's foresight and legacy—the vision he so doggedly pursued for more than half a century was considered radical at the time, yet mainstream today.

He did it his way—which, when it comes to sexuality, is exactly what he would encourage the rest of us to do.

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Is Fear of Social Media Rage Censoring Your Sexuality?

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On this day in 1789, Congress approved the Bill of Rights. We're also in the middle of America's annual Banned Books Week.

Which makes this a good time to think about how we express—or don't express—ourselves. Especially our sexuality.

For the length of the 20th century, restrictions on our sexual expression came from every level of government. The feds censored movies, you couldn't mail contraceptives (or buy them if you were single), local sheriffs busted strip clubs and adult bookstores, and bureaucratic Alcohol Beverage Control commissions had enormous power over the hospitality industry. Police busted gay hangouts and entrapped prostitutes. Police busted Lenny Bruce so many times it eventually killed him.

Organized religion—primarily Christianity—also drove a cruel anti-sex agenda throughout the century. The most harmless, normal sexual behaviors and thoughts were crushed in Catholics, Mormons, and other believers. Masturbation was out, oral sex was sick, fantasizing was infidelity, and same-gender sex put you on the VIP line for the fires of hell.

Media companies were complicit. Television refused to use words like "pregnant" and even "sex." Women's magazines wouldn't use words like "orgasm" and "clitoris;" no one (including Ms.) would take ads for vibrator shops like Good Vibrations.

Government, religion, and the media are still major obstacles to healthy sexual expression. But now social media and an extraordinary meanness in public discourse has led to a dangerous self-censorship. People loudly criticize things they haven't actually read, lying about them across cyberspace. The words "I disagree" have been replaced with forceful insults ("misogynist," "rape apologist"), attempts to get people censured or fired (Laura Kipnis, John McAdams, Trent Bertrand), and violent action to prevent people from speaking in public.

As a lifelong "liberal" it breaks my heart to say this, but more of us need to: "liberals" and "progressives" are making it harder and harder to write about things that matter. While I want my writing and speaking to have an impact, I don't want to risk aggressive pickets and physical threats just for the privilege of expressing myself. I've (warily) lectured in Communist Vietnam, mainland China, and the old Soviet Union; it shouldn't be scary like that here in the U.S.

Here are examples of what I (and many other progressives) hesitate to write about, for fear of dangerous repercussions:

* Why the statistic that "1 in 5 (or 1 in 4) college women are sexually assaulted" is (fortunately!) an enormous exaggeration, exclusively a result of obvious junk science;

* Why discouraging college women from getting blackout drunk is NOT "blaming the victim"—but since it would absolutely reduce sexual assault, why is it not being tried?

* How most sex offenders are at very LOW risk of re-offending—and how sex offender registries do NOTHING to reduce sexual violence or child molestation;

* How many post-operative transsexuals are dissatisfied with transitioning their gender, and how this fact is being withheld from the public by trans activists afraid that the truth will undermine their rights;

* How the federal program to reduce sexual violence on campus is actually designed to dramatically favor those claiming to be victims, rather than mandating neutral investigations—an exception to the American legal assumption of innocent-until-proven-guilty that protects every person and community off campus;

* How training programs in psychotherapy now focus disproportionately on non-traditional sexuality when most professionals don't know how to deal with the traditional sexuality of a majority of their clients.

In 2006 I wrote America's War On Sex, which showed how the Religious Right has effectively undermined secular democracy by criminalizing a broad range of sexual expression.

Today, writers, speakers, and professors are choosing to self-censor—not so much because of bluenoses or religious zealots, but because of "liberals" and "progressives" who are ready to ban ideas they hate, rather than challenge them. And who are ready to silence—and even harm—the writers and speakers behind those ideas.

This methodology doesn't promote truth—it bullies people into silence. That's bad no matter who the bullies are.

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Why Is Alcohol The Number 1 Sex Drug? And Does It Matter?

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To make sex more compelling, Americans take huge amounts of Viagra, anti-depressants, hormones, and various exotic things from health-food stores. Asian societies have hunted sharks and rhinos to near-extinction for the legendary (and nonsensical) sexual properties of the fins and horns.

To improve sex, people also use street drugs, primarily marijuana and cocaine. But the largest-selling sex drug by far is alcohol. That's true for all ages, genders, and income levels.

It's apparently been true since the beginning of recorded time. Who ever heard of a Roman orgy without wine, or an ancient Greek celebration without Dionysus? Even Shakespeare noted that drink "provokes the desire," although he also cautioned "but it takes away the performance." And today, a fraternity party without alcohol is, well, study hall without the studying.

Why exactly is alcohol such a popular sex drug? For better or worse, here are some common reasons (note: this is NOT an endorsement of alcohol use!):

It reduces inhibitions

We become less choosy about partners ("beer goggles"), less self-conscious about our bodies, more willing to do things that we otherwise feel anxious or moralistic about. We also become less concerned about the consequences of our behavior, regarding both others and ourselves.

It helps us forget

Forget ourselves, our past experiences, our resentments toward our partner, our resentments toward every member of the other gender (or same gender if you're gay); forget what we promised ourselves we wouldn't do, forget what happened the last time we drank a lot before sex; forget why lube is worth whatever hassle it takes to find and use it; forget to check what time it is.

It's an analgesic

Alcohol reduces our awareness of physical pain ("I was feeling no pain!"). Not only does that help increase range of motion, short-term stamina, and willingness to have sex, it also helps people with chronic pain feel younger and more graceful. Or at least less old and stiff. Of course pain is a warning sign, so we ignore it at our peril. The tissue around a penis or vulva can get very, very sore in a very short time when we're not appropriately aware of those delicate nerve endings.

It makes us more suggestible & impulsive

We're more likely to go along with someone else's suggestion without thinking, and more likely to follow our own impulses uncritically. For people who are uncomfortable with admitting their own sexual desires, this allows them to do things without a sense of responsibility ("I didn't decide, the alcohol decided").

To put it another way, alcohol is an effective way to get someone else to have sex when they don't especially want to.

So that mostly sounds pretty positive, right? Aside from the calories, then, what's the problem with alcohol as a sex drug?

Well, there's no such thing as a free lunch. It turns out that the very qualities that make alcohol a popular sex drug also make it a troublesome sex drug.

Alcohol numbs us emotionally and mentally

That is, both our feelings and our thoughts. Enjoyable sex is about increasing our mental presence, not decreasing or obliterating it. Of course, that's what's problematic about sex for many people—all that extraneous thinking and disempowering feeling before, during, and after it. But the solution isn't being less present.

Impulsivity is a poor method of decision-making

Of course, acknowledging what we desire, deciding to pursue it (and to refuse what we don't want), and actual planning require identifying ourselves as sexual beings. And possibly "perverts," too (that's my patients' judgments, not mine). Having sex while taking little or no responsibility for our sexual choices is an important (if not entirely conscious) goal for many people. Self-acceptance is a far better solution to this existential challenge than alcohol-induced loss of control.

Emphasizing contrasting agendas

We all know how convivial it looks when people drink together. And we all know how quickly the geniality can turn ugly. Tiny misunderstandings can become huge insults, and small disappointments can become scary threats. When one person responds no when the other says yes, alcohol can magnify the difference into a big problem that can't be resolved with calm talk.

Difficulty negotiating verbally

Almost everyone agrees that "communication" is a key element of enjoyable sex. Since no one makes as much sense after a few drinks as they do when sober (unless they're incoherent when they're sober), drinking has to undermine sex. In particular, those half-conversations of "um, a little more to the left, please," or "I'm not quite ready for that, let's keep doing this a little longer" invariably get lost in the shuffle of alcohol sloppiness.

This is also where consent can get problematic: "I didn't know you meant no," "Why didn't you just say stop," and "C'mon, you were having a good time, too" get all mixed up in the haze of drinking. Judging what someone means when it's dark and you've both been breathing heavy and the music is loud is hard enough. When one or both people have been drinking, it's much, much harder.

In fact, the sexual assault problem on college campuses is completely tied up with male and female binge-drinking.

It turns out that verbal communication contains a certain amount of subtlety that quickly gets lost after just a couple of drinks.

Difficulty controlling body parts

No one says "let's drink a whole lot before playing tennis" or "drinking makes me a better swimmer." And no sober person thinks their driving improves after drinking.

That's because alcohol affects every aspect of our physicality: our reflexes, our visual perception, our control of our hands, feet, body, and head. If you use any of those in sex (and who doesn't use all of them?), control of them is compromised after drinking. Simple rule: anything that makes it harder to thread a needle or change your car's oil also makes it harder to have sex the way you intend.

Waking up…

…next to…who? 'Nuff said.

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"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence , copyright © Marty Klein, Ph.D. ("
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