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 #216 – February 2018


Janet Jackson's Nipple Returns

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Way back in 2004—before YouTube, before Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, before today's junior high school students were born—there was Superbowl XXXVIII. The halftime show featured P Diddy, Kid Rock, and Nelly before the main event: a Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake duet.

Kid Rock wore an American flag poncho, the rappers wore gangsta outfits, Timberlake wore what guys wear in Denny's, and Jackson wore a black leather bustier over a red lace undergarment. Of course.

After strutting and grinding (his pelvis, her butt) for a few minutes, Timberlake and Jackson closed their song with Timberlake dramatically pulling off the bustier cup covering Jackson's right breast (fyi, it appears to have been pre-cut—there were no loose threads or bits of lace). For exactly one-half second (I am NOT making this up), half the planet saw her nipple.

Well, would have seen it if they could have adjusted their eyes in time, which of course no one could. That's less time than a blink.

So people who had TiVo'd the game (look it up, kids) raced to watch the recording in slow motion. People who missed it searched the internet, or their friends' TiVo. These millions of men and women, of course, lack any organized political clout.

And then the outrage started.

Most of it was orchestrated by Morality in Media, the watchdog group obsessed with sex. No mention (or image) of body parts is too trivial for them to make a federal case out of. In fact, that's what they did—they demanded the U.S. government punish CBS for this horrendous abuse of the airwaves.

And it did. The Federal Communications Commission not only fined CBS a half-million dollars, they changed their rules—retroactively—so that any similar future events would get punished, too.

The Big Victims of this half-second boob shot were, of course, The Children: eyeballs burned, minds forever warped. Kids apparently looking at their parents forlornly, wanting an "explanation," and suffering from the lack of one. Yes, that's really what Morality in Media (and many Republican Congress members) said on every news show in America the following week.

Fast-forward to 2018. Justin Timberlake will perform at the Superbowl tomorrow. The Harvey Weinstein Effect has changed the world. How will the 2004 history be rewritten?

Jackson as a victim. Jackson as a woman, sexually violated by a man. Nipplegate as an example of everything wrong with the entertainment industry.

And while sexual violence and gender discrimination are to be condemned without reservation, that's the wrong story to tell about this event. Jackson is a powerful woman who has chosen to highlight her sexuality for three decades. As consumers, we've eaten it up. That's her choice as an artist, and ours as an audience. She and we have both enjoyed the arrangement.

Retroactively calling Jackson a victim to advance a legitimate agenda of reducing sexual violence and gender discrimination is dishonest opportunism. It's rewriting history to suit today's moral climate, and that's immoral no matter who does it. It also reinforces the idea that sexuality is a problem, best made invisible and removed from pop culture. This is NOT feminism. This is bad social philosophy.

The legacy of this 2004 Superbowl event

Various religious and political figures exploited it to reinforce their version of morality—and to increase the government's financial support for their inane lobbying, which you and I are still funding.

The parents who protested that the event "forced" them to have an "unwanted conversation" with their children were apparently ill-equipped to support their kids' upcoming adolescence. Many of those information-deprived teens grew up to have sexual guilt, shame, and the unwanted pregnancies that often result. I see these young adults for therapy. As their generation ages, more of them will need help.

The protest campaign orchestrated by Morality in Media gave cover for the FCC to expand its domain over "indecency." Our President, his cabinet members, and various Congress members are still trying to expand government censorship over mass media and the internet.

The event also provided a convenient diversion from America's war on Iraq. A nipple threatening our great nation? Mission Accomplished.

We're still struggling with the criminalization of breastfeeding in public.

And America retains its humiliating position as the world's most prudish "advanced" country.

You know what they call a topless beach in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and every other civilized country?

A beach.

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Infidelity, Affairs, and Broken Hearts

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I presented a training webinar to therapists across cyberspace last Friday (my birthday, if you keep track of such things). The title was Infidelity: After An Affair, Who Owns the Relationship?

I offered some ideas that are contrary to much conventional wisdom in the therapy field. Here are some notes from the presentation.

~ Common clinical assumptions about infidelity

Many therapists believe that monogamy is the gold standard of relationships. They see it as a reasonable, "normal" goal for adults; and consider people who dislike it, don't want it, or have trouble with it immature. This is terribly unfair to the tens of millions of adults we pathologize in the face of overwhelming evidence of monogamy's difficulty.

Many therapists also believe that healthy sexual desire is driven by love—despite the extremely common experience that in long-term relationships, as love deepens, desire declines. We perpetuate the myth that lack or loss of desire is a "problem" that can be explained and fixed—despite our extremely low success rate with this issue.

Thus, the therapy field takes human dilemmas, problematizes them, and then claims they can be fixed with the right amount of therapy and patient sincerity.

~ Remember, monogamy is a radical new idea

Most Americans know and care little for history, and therapists are no exception. When we assume that monogamy is "normal" for healthy people, we ignore the fact that long-term monogamy is a radical experiment—which has never been tried on the mass level that American culture takes for granted.

Sexual exclusivity is a tremendously complex undertaking in a society where both partners live and work in mixed gender worlds; where sexual satisfaction is promoted as crucial to happiness, and supposedly available to everyone; where virtually everyone is taught to feel ashamed of their bodies and sexual impulses; and where "long-term" relationships now last fifty years rather than the 10 or 20 of a century ago.

For this daunting project, almost no American is sufficiently prepared.

~ After infidelity, the Betrayed doesn't own the relationship

Neither patients nor therapists like to hear this, but even while people are in pain, they are responsible for how they express themselves (which, by the way, is what we tell our kids on the playground).

So, for example, even if your spouse has broken your heart, you don't suddenly acquire the right to destroy their reputation with their family, friends, boss—and most importantly, with their (that is, your) children.

Similarly, the Betrayed doesn't suddenly get to tell the Betrayer where he or she can sleep, or when/if he or she can see the children. The Betrayed doesn't suddenly get the right to sleep with their spouse's best friend (or worst enemy), buy a Mercedes, or harass the person their spouse had an affair with.

In short, while the Betrayed has absolutely no responsibility for the Betrayer's behavior, the Betrayed has full responsibility for how he or she responds to it—and trashing one's dignified adult values to gratify feelings of anguish or rage will almost always have consequences that the Betrayed doesn't want.

~ How do I know you won't do it again?

Everyone considering reconciling with a mate who has had an affair eventually asks the same question: Why should I trust you—how do I know you won't do it again?

Here's a very common answer that should be unacceptable: I'll try harder.

First, a person who has promised sexual exclusivity should have been "trying" to maintain their agreement all along. Second, people need emotional skills in order to say no to themselves—whether about food, shopping, sex, wasting time, or anything else. And third, the next "temptation" may look quite different than the last one.

The best answer to why the Betrayed might want to eventually trust the Betrayer is if the Betrayer does the internal work to (1) understand why they were willing to break their commitment, (2) outlines the process by which they intend to acquire new emotional skills to help them through complicated situations; and (3) enthusiastically create and maintain open communication with their mate.

Yes, that's a high standard to meet.

Attention to the couple's sex life is usually a good idea, too. If a couple is going to reconcile, do they want to resume the exact sex life they had before the infidelity was disclosed/discovered, or do they want something different?

~ Monitoring the Betrayer may feel good, but it prevents development of trust

Many Betrayed people demand the Betrayer's digital keys: e-mail passwords, GPS settings, texting records, etc.. Most therapists support such demands, and many Betrayers are eager to cooperate.

I generally discourage this. While the Betrayed typically says this information will help them regain trust, I think it prevents the development of trust. After all, trust is belief without data. When the Betrayed can collect data whenever they want, they have no reason to develop the admittedly difficult skills of trust.

Both supplying and collecting this information undermines the dignity of both partners, which just adds more emotional churn to an already overheated situation.

~ Don't acquiesce to another contract of monogamy

For all its well-documented difficulties, monogamy is still the default setting in committed heterosexual relationships. As a result, there is usually little or no conversation after infidelity about the exact sexual configuration a couple will endorse moving forward. Particularly when the Betrayer is desperate to keep the relationship together, he or she will agree to practically anything, whether explicitly said or just assumed.

This includes acquiescing to a contract of sexual exclusivity. I'm not against such agreements, of course, as long as they are done thoughtfully. For many couples, the future sexual arrangement is the most radioactive topic of the entire infidelity experience.

We should discourage our patients from assuming future monogamy too soon. But when couples appear to be reconciling, no one—least of all the therapist—wants to throw a wrench into the works. At that point, everyone wants to wrap up the case in a neat package.

We therapists should be willing to be the grownup in the room, gently encouraging the couple to look at exactly what they'd rather avoid. That's why the existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom good-naturedly calls himself Love's Executioner.

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How the "Porn Addiction" Movement Disrespects Women

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The "porn addiction" movement (along with other anti-porn movements within religion, feminism, and politics) claims that one of the biggest problems with pornography is the way it disrespects women. But the movement itself is what's really disrespectful to women.

The porn addiction movement, of course, is focused on male consumers. Although there are millions of women who regularly use pornography, their spouses almost never complain about it. Similarly, the partners of gay porn users rarely complain. Therefore the porn addiction movement focuses almost exclusively on male consumers, and it assumes that their partners are women.

That's why the book I wrote about this dynamic is entitled His Porn, Her Pain.

The porn addiction movement looks at the female partners of porn users with a combination of pity, dismay, shame, and frustration.

In fact, many "treatment" programs (such as The Ranch and The Meadows) are eager to involve the female partner in treatment. But whether she participates or not, she is usually described as a pathetic creature whose head and heart have exploded because of the catastrophe of their man's porn use.

In every website, brochure, and article, the porn addiction movement's words to porn users' spouses are a toxic brew of patronizing assumptions. They express the lowest possible expectations of women's internal resources, thinking, and decision-making. While this movement says it aches with empathy for the poor women who are casualities of their spouses' selfish porn using, it really sees them as pathetic creatures—overwhelmed by the phenomenon of their partner's porn use, and powerless to have a few sober and collaborative conversations with their mates.

The porn addiction movement sees women as incredibly narcissistic adolescents—they take everything personally, have incredibly intense emotions, and are powerless to negotiate on their own behalf. It sees them as victims—of forces and people far more powerful than they are.

In the guise of helping them, here are actual disempowering, insulting assumptions the porn addiction movement makes about women who discover their partners are porn users:

~ Assuming women must compete with porn images—and inevitably lose
Women need to reject this idea, and to decide for themselves that they don't have to compete with any media image. After all, we don't assume we'll be as smart as Sherlock Holmes, as strong as Wonder Woman, or as tenacious as Harry Potter.

It isn't just men who compare real women to fictional porn characters. Men need to stop—but women need to stop, too. The porn addiction movement says they can't control themselves, and then blames porn users for the pain their spouse feels when she can't control her own thoughts. That insults women too.

~ Assuming women will feel unattractive and lose their self-esteem
Unless she dies young, every woman ages and loses her youthful looks. How she deals with this is an important life skill that's necessary for enjoying adulthood. Porn didn't invent this problem. And women whose partners don't watch porn face the same issue.

Self-acceptance is crucial for every adult. In a world without porn, we'd still know that there are people out there with more money, a better golf swing, nicer hair, and better behaved kids. How does anyone manage to enjoy living in such a cruel world?

~ Assuming women will feel betrayed by their partner's porn use
Women can hate their partner's porn use without the dramatic decision that this use is a "betrayal." Of course, if they demand that their spouse promise to never watch again, they're inviting that he do it in secret. When he later gets "caught," they'll wail that he's broken his word, which will be true. That's why I tell porn users to be very, very slow in promising they'll never use it again. While there may be nothing wrong with watching porn, there is something wrong with breaking a promise.

Some women ratchet up the drama by referring to "his girlfriends," "his whores," and "his orgies" when talking about porn use. Imagining that masturbating to pictures of women is somehow a real relationship is a choice. A bad choice.

Women can dislike their mate's porn watching without such drama. In fact, creating drama like this makes it far more difficult for a man to hear his girlfriend's pain about the subject.

~ Assuming a marriage with a porn consumer can't be intimate
What a terrible idea—holding a couple's intimacy hostage to a zero-tolerance demand for no porn. The porn addiction movement assumes that women are so fragile, and their interpersonal attachment is so contingent, that they can't possibly continue relating deeply with a partner they love under less-than-optimal conditions.

How about honoring both a woman and her relationship by suggesting she negotiate with her partner: "Well, if you're not going to stop using porn right now, how do we make sure that our marriage is intimate? How can we address my misgivings?"

~ Assuming women can't have (much less enjoy) sex with a porn-using spouse
The idea that a woman is too hurt, angry, or traumatized by her partner's porn use to want sex with him is nonsense. Everyone in a long-term relationship has to figure out how to want and have sex with someone who is imperfect. And everyone in a long-term relationship has to decide what's an irritation, what's a frustration, and what's a deal-breaker.

She can't stop thinking about his porn while they have sex, and so she can't enjoy it? Instead of assuming that he must change, she could develop some mindfulness skills to improve her sexual experience.

If a mate's porn use is the biggest obstacle someone faces in maintaining a long-term sexual connection, they are indeed blessed.

~ Assuming she'll become controlling and hyper-vigilant
Every couple has disagreements, and every spouse has to cope with the daily knowledge that their partner may be doing things of which the first partner disapproves. It could involve how a partner overeats, flirts, drives too cautiously, sneaks a cigarette (or a joint), communicates with his family, blows off the gym, spends money, or a thousand other things.

How adults deal with this knowledge helps determine the mood in a couple. When one or both spouses nag, intrude, interrogate, play gotcha, or expect betrayal, closeness and bonhomie quickly fade.

By assuming women will collapse into this role upon discovering their mate's porn habits, the porn addiction movement disempowers them and promotes a destructive definition of dignity—"if you don't feel compelled to be obsessively intrusive, you're letting him walk all over you." What an awful—and completely unnecessary—corner to back women into.

* * *

Having described the partners of "porn addicts" as pitiful non-adults who fall apart at the discovery of their mate's habits, the sex addiction movement promises to release them from their scathing self-criticism, self-loathing, shame, and despair. How? By teaching them their spouse has a disease—and insisting he get it treated (not cured, of course—enrolled in life-long treatment). But ironically (deliberately?), this just serves to encourage and normalize these awful feelings in the spouses of porn users.

It would be far more respectful to tell these women "you don't like that he looks at porn? That's a reasonable position. Go talk to him about it. Find out why he looks at porn, tell him how it makes you feel, explain why you want him to change, and work together to either modify his porn viewing, or to establish an intimate, sexual connection despite his objectionable habit."

But there is no money in that—only integrity. Integrity is something that the porn addiction field talks a lot about—but only regarding its customers, and never about itself.

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