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 #220 – JUNE 2018


Not Everything is a #MeToo Moment

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Not Everything is a #MeToo Moment

Sometimes a man is just a person.
Sometimes a woman is just a person.

I go to the gym yesterday, doing my best to slow down the aging process. As usual, I'm going to ride a stationary bike ("The bike to nowhere," a friend calls it) in a quiet studio outfitted with four bikes, two treadmills, and a lot of stretching space and equipment (mats, balls, etc.).

The room's about 25 feet square, and around the perimeter are mounted a total of four fans, which get a little air moving in the stuffy studio. Each is turned on or off by an old-fashioned cord. People working out turn them on or off as they wish, although when there's six or seven people in the room, people try and cooperate.

There's no official policy governing this little room off to the side of the gym. The unofficial etiquette gives slight precedence to the fan arrangement (one or more on or off) that exists when you walk in. Some people care about the fans, others don't.

So I walk in and the room is empty except for this one guy (also in his 60s) riding a bike. One of the four fans is on. The room is warm but not awful.

I settle in next to the guy, pull out my New York Times, and start peddling. I'm still on page one when someone (apparently named Pat) about my age walks in, places keys and an iPod on a treadmill, then reaches for the only fan that's on.

"You don't mind if I shut this, right?" she says.
The other guy and I each reply, "Wait, please don't shut it."
Pat says, "But I don't want it on."
"Well, it's on," the guy says matter-of-factly.
"It gets really stuffy in here with no air conditioning or fan," I say, "especially with three of us sweating."

Neither of us mentions the 12 other treadmills in the gym's main room.

"But I want it on," Pat says. "This isn't fair."

I'm done talking, but the other guy responds, "It's two against one, majority rules. It's democracy."

"No," Pat says, "That's not democracy." I don't know what this means, but I'm busy Peddling to Nowhere. "Besides," Pat says, "What about me? What about MeToo?"

What? Pat's really grasping at straws, I think. This is just a normal, not-unfriendly bit of negotiating that's common in everyday life when people want stuff. What's "fair?" What's "reasonable?" What's "graceful?"

But #MeToo?

Oh, I get it: Pat's a "woman" being oppressed by two "men."

Funny, I hadn't thought of Pat as a "woman." I'd thought of her as a person. A person annoying me, but a person. A sixty-something-year-old person who has either learned to navigate the world or not. The world is full of "people" (including me). We're all doing the best we can with whatever charm, intelligence, flexibility, and gratitude we can muster.

What if I and the other guy were women, and we both wanted the fan on? What if I and other guy were women, and Pat were a man? Would this incident involve gender, or just "people?"

What if she were a black man, and the other guy and I were white men—would that make this a racial incident? What if she were Jewish and we weren't—would that make us anti-semites?

What if she were transgender, and the other guy and I weren't? Geez, for all I know the guy on the other bike IS transgender. Or the person on the treadmill is.

I don't care.

If the woman were male, black, transgender, Jewish, or anything else, I'd advocate—briefly—for the fan to be on. And if that person started to yell or cry, I'd acquiesce. It's not that big a deal.

But either way, this is about people—not gender or any other kind of identity politics.

At some point, we have to stop thinking of ourselves as members of a tribe, and we have to stop treating others that way. Tribal identities divide us, and they declare that the everyday decisions, annoyances, and negotiations that life requires have profound meaning.

History documents that while human cooperation is common and glorious, cooperation is rare when people self-identify primarily as members of a tribe or clan.

We've seen how this works: the horrifying civil wars of modern Yugoslavia, the genocide in Rwanda, the century of European religious wars after the Reformation. In each conflict, people transformed their neighbors—Adrien, Maria—into members of a tribe—"Hutu," "Catholic." These human beings became "other," and they had to die.

We're seeing it now in America, as people argue about who is or isn't a "real American." A football player kneeling during the national anthem? According to our President, he's "a son of a bitch" who should lose his job and leave the U.S.. A physician who performs legal abortions? "Pro-life" people continue to decide that "abortionists" deserve to be murdered.

Men and women are more than the sum of their gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and any other demographic-identifier-du-jour. People are individuals. And while culture and economics matter, each of us makes individual choices. Not tribal choices—individual choices.

Every time I say something that generates any controversy, someone inevitably dismisses it (without having to say anything thoughtful) by saying I'm speaking from White Male Privilege—not knowing if I've been blind since birth, or Muslim, or struggle with bipolar disorder, or have watched my sister get shot.

I also sometimes get criticized for being a jerk, or other names that I won't reprint in case you're reading this at work. I much prefer this honest dismissal, rather than an arrogant, pretend-to-be-intellectual dismissal that simply says "My tribe is better than your tribe."

Not everything is a #MeToo moment. Unless you want to trivialize #MeToo until it's just whining that happens to be done by a woman.

Which would be a tragic dismissal of women's genuine suffering.

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Philip Roth Dies—Survived By A Great Sexual Mirror

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Philip Roth has died at age 85. The New York Times obituary calls him "a pre-eminent figure in 20th-century literature."

Winning the National Book Award at age 27 with his very first book (Goodbye, Columbus), Roth spent his incredibly productive career portraying and discussing sexuality. Our sexuality: our irrational lust, our solipsistic passions, the messy surprises.

These feelings and experiences are both universal and intensely private. That Roth could capture them so well is near-miraculous. That he would be excoriated for revealing them is absolutely predictable. Roth endured over half a century of blistering outrage by readers and non-readers alike–outrage not that he was incorrect, but that he was impolite.

Roth said the unsayable, and he never apologized. He held up a mirror, and some people didn't like what they saw. Shakespeare and Sophocles did the same thing–but their characters lived so long ago they don't feel nearly so subversive today. Roth took sexuality seriously in our time. Outrageous.

Here's the blogpost I wrote when he retired a few years ago:

* * * *

After 31 novels, Philip Roth has announced his retirement.

With all due respect to the person who channeled Fifty Shades of Grey, Roth is America's greatest sex writer.

He covered sexuality in almost all its manifestations. The masturbation in Portnoy's Complaint made him a household name. A quarter-century later, Sabbath's Theater brought us a grief-stricken old man masturbating over his dead lover's grave.

The Breast parodied men's obsession by bringing us a man turned into a giant mammary. More seriously, Deception used a brilliant device to examine an equally common obsession. In it, a novelist's wife discovers the diary in which he describes his affair—no, he says, it's notes for his next novel, about a novelist who has an affair.

In book after book, Roth examined longing—not the romantic, wonderfully melancholy version of second-rate novels, but the longing that erodes self-respect, that creates resentment (at both self and other), that challenges self-image. Over and over, Roth examined a particularly cruel version of longing: older men needing younger women, even while they know that day by day, they have less and less to offer their would-be lovers.

Roth talked about sex as it really is for people—messy, irrational, loaded with contradictory feelings and needs. He described the kinds of arousal that "normal" people are not supposed to feel: over sniffing used panties, over hearing about one's lover's lovers. He knew "normal" sexual sadism inside and out. When Mickey Sabbath's lover of 13 years suddenly insists he become monogamous with her, he insists she resume sleeping with her loved-but-undesired husband—an equally repulsive and ridiculous demand.

Perhaps most impressively, Roth wrote unblinkingly about the ways people use sex to distance death. "With the lover, everyday life recedes," he writes in Deception. As I often see with my patients, many of Roth's characters pursue sex not primarily for its pleasure, but to push away loneliness, to feel youthful or special, to remember who they are in the unrelenting face of a pitiless aging process.

Because Roth didn't write about every sexual perspective equally, he was sometimes branded a male chauvinist—a critique that has recently become more popular (and which ignores how brave it was to write about female sexuality 30, 40, and 50 years ago). That's like criticizing Shakespeare for not writing chamber music, or the Rolling Stones for not writing, well, chamber music. Let genius do what it will do. No mirror is large enough to show everything at once.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day, and the National Football League proudly showed its support by weakly urging viewers to…"get more information." Apparently, our great nation is not prepared to hear the word "condom" even on World AIDS Day. Roth did not respect any such taboos, and for this we are the richer. His complete disrespect for propriety has been honored with the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award (twice), and the Man Booker Prize.

He also received the first Sexual Intelligence Award in 2001.

It was an easy call.

* * * *

The only recognition Roth never received was the Nobel Prize in Literature. It was not awarded this year because of a sex scandal, which festered for years because people simply couldn't talk publicly about sex. How perfectly ironic. With a body of work that exclaims "I told you so," this year's Nobel Prize in Literature is clearly Roth's.

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Is Your Therapist Sexually Literate?

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While virtually all therapists mean well, and many are quite skilled, most don't get enough training in sexuality. Learning about sexual violence and sexual orientation (the most common sex-related topics) isn't nearly enough to help us understand the sexual experiences, hopes, and difficulties of most people.

As a result, many therapists are not sexually literate—and they can harm people unintentionally.

Sexual literacy includes topics such as:
* Anatomy
* Physiology of desire, arousal, and pleasure
* Cultural differences in sexual beliefs
* Causes of common sexual difficulties—and best practices in addressing them
* Self-awareness about therapists' common prejudices and judgments (for example, about pornography or BDSM)

Here are some things a therapist who lacks sexual literacy might say. If your therapist has said one or more of these things, you might want to think about changing therapists:

* "Of course, sex sometimes hurts. You just have to bear it."

For many people, sex occasionally hurts—and then you should stop immediately. The pain—like all physical pain—means something. It could be a herpes outbreak, involuntary muscle spasm, insufficient lubrication, or a dozen other things.

But the pain is never meaningless.

On the other hand, here's what the pain NEVER means: the vagina is too small; the penis is too big; the woman is "frigid;" the woman "takes too long to get ready", someone is "lousy in bed."

In my opinion, recommending a topical anesthetic to dull the pain borders on malpractice. Using such a product could result in tearing delicate genital tissue during sex. And, of course, it avoids the underlying reasons for the pain.

When a therapist tells a patient to ignore sexual pain and do it anyway, the therapist is usually saying they don't know what's wrong, or don't know how to be helpful. A good therapist will admit that, and suggest a referral.

* "Orgasm is the deepest fulfillment of sex"

Orgasm, of course, can be quite delightful. But it's not part of every sexual encounter, and it doesn't guarantee that the other ten minutes (or one minute or one hour) of sex will be enjoyable.

Besides, most people can have orgasms on their own.

So what parts of sex require a partner? Kissing; hugging; closeness; smelling, tasting, and viewing another; feeling wanted; and the pleasure of giving someone a gift. It's these things that motivate most sex, not orgasms.

Other things that motivate sex include the desire to feel youthful, graceful, manly or womanly, "sexy," and to participate in something that has no rules.

A therapist who focusses too much on orgasm has only a limited grasp of what sex is all about—and how profound it can be. They're unlikely to understand the majority of sexual complaints they hear.

* "You need to understand men"
* "You need to understand women"

Actually, no you don't. "Men" is a gigantic, heterogeneous category—with all SORTS of people who have nothing in common besides anatomy. The same is true of "women"—a huge category that contains every sort of sexual person imaginable.

You do need to understand the person(s) with whom you're sexual. The best way is to ask him/her/them whatever questions you have. It doesn't matter if "men" like their balls stroked a certain way. It doesn't matter if "women" like their hair pulled a certain way. What matters is the preferences of your partner(s) and you.

Telling you what a billion men or a billion women are supposedly like is a lazy and very unhelpful form of therapy. Discussing why you feel inhibited asking your actual sexual partner(s) questions—and then resolving those inhibitions—that's real therapy. It's a lot harder to do, and so it's a lot harder to find.

* "Monogamy is the most mature kind of relationship"

This is one of the most entrenched sexual prejudices in the fields of psychology and marriage counseling.

Almost every therapist is taught that the desire for sexual exclusivity is the hallmark of fully developed adults. Those who don't want monogamy—or aren't very good at it—are variously pathologized as immature, afraid of intimacy, insufficiently attached, even sex addicts.

There is absolutely no data to support such judgements.

The modern expectation that adults will live into old age, AND be sexually exclusive that whole time, AND enjoy sexual desire and fulfillment with one person is a radical social experiment. So far, the results aren't encouraging: enormous rates of both divorce and infidelity, alongside tens of millions of middle-aged and older people who live with little or no sex.

Of course, promising to be faithful and then lying about being unfaithful is far from ideal. Most people don't feel they can actually suggest a consensual non-exclusive sexual arrangement.

Therapists who sympathize with people for whom monogamy is difficult are rare and desperately needed. On the other hand, therapists who say that monogamy is "natural" or "mature" and attempt to mold (or squeeze) every patient into that relationship model are ignorant of anthropology, naïve about sociology, and sexually illiterate—and dangerous.

* "There's no reason to masturbate if someone's having 'real' sex"

Sure there is. Masturbation isn't a substitute for sex, it is sex. It's a form of self-soothing and of autonomy that most people never "outgrow."

If someone would rather masturbate than have sex with a partner, the problem is NOT that masturbation is so attractive, but rather with the partner sex or the relationship (or the person's discomfort about intimacy in general).

Therapists who are wary of masturbation in adults are often concerned about the appeal of many forms of sexual expression. They fear that the "wrong" kind of sex will pull people away from the "right" kind of sex. Such therapists hesitate to trust people—including their patients—to evaluate their sexual choices. Instead of discussing and teaching sexual decision-making skills, they tend to tell people what to do and what not to do.

* * *

The sad truth is that your therapist almost certainly received very little training in sexuality. And there's absolutely no guarantee that he or she is comfortable with sex in their own lives, or has had much positive experience around sexuality.

As I travel the country training therapists, I regularly hear that "patients are uncomfortable talking about sex" or that "As soon as patients bring up the topic, I address it." Attitudes such as these are why therapists need more training in human sexuality—and why you should NOT give your therapist the benefit of the doubt if he or she seems uncomfortable talking about it.

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