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 #222 – AUGUST 2018


How much sex do people need?

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Old therapy joke:
Q: What's the difference between defense mechanisms and sex?
A: You can go a whole day without sex.

Actually, we can go without sex for a lot longer than that.

But you wouldn't know it from listening to some of my patients. Or their partners. It generally sounds like this:

"So I just need a lot of sex. I can't help it, that's just how I am—I need a lot of sex, preferably every day. By the way, I'm willing to spend as much time as it takes to please my wife—you know that's true, Valerie, right?"

I want this person (usually a man, sometimes a woman) to feel heard, so I usually respond "Yes, I understand you want a lot of sex—practically every day."

He almost always corrects me: "Doc, it isn't that I want sex every day. I need it." Oh? "Well, if I don't have enough sex, I can't concentrate at work, it's hard to deal with the kids, I get cranky/sullen/withdrawn/sad/nervous/whatever. So you see it isn't simply that I want it—I need it."

"I understand that sense of urgency," I respond, "the terrible feeling of being out of balance, and that sex is the one thing that will restore your sense of well-being. And you want that relief as soon as possible, preferably today."

The guy is usually nodding at this point. So I add, "whether we want to describe that as a need or a want or even something else, we don't have to decide now. I know that 'need' is the way you've usually described it. The word has both advantages and disadvantages; let's just come back to that question."

We've already started to change the story—from a need that's wired into the guy, to a feeling he'd like to change. Or to put it another way, we've taken the first step toward understanding his "need"—that it isn't for sex, it's for an internal state that he assumes can only be regulated by sex.

Imagine being the partner of this man or woman. That person deserves sympathy—sex becomes the center of a power struggle, or they endure constant criticism, or struggle knowing that they're the cause of their beloved's suffering. Ideally, such a situation would be handled by a sophisticated, honest negotiation culminating in a consensus that both partners can thrive in. In real life, this is unusual. That's where therapy can make a difference.

I think it's important for the lower-octane partner to talk about their experience—the pressure, self-criticism, hopelessness ("nothing is ever enough, because tomorrow he wants it all over again"). And the knowledge that whenever he initiates sex, the most likely outcomes are either sex or conflict.

Under such conditions, most people's desire eventually collapses altogether.

Part of my job is to arrange for her to express her distress in a way that he might be able to hear. And part of my job is to arrange for him to hear it—without defending himself or criticizing her. While that's usually difficult, it can almost always be done, although it may take many sessions. And the reverse is true—he needs to learn how to express himself better, and she needs to hear it without defending herself.

In my experience, unravelling this mess requires her to stop having sex when she doesn't want it. This can be harder than you think. A lot of these women are self-described "people pleasers." Or they say they just can't stand to see hubby suffer. Or their cost-benefit analysis says that periodic unwanted sex is better than a house filled with conflict, or a hubby withdrawing from parenting or chores.

Whatever the reason, these lower-desire partners are unintentionally training their mates to keep insisting on sex, to imagine that both of them are enjoying it, and to ignore the subtle (or explicit) ways they express "I don't really want to be doing this." Until then, this woman can't be herself during sex–and I tell the higher-desire partner that he's missing out on that authenticity. He may get sex, but not her authenticity—which I suspect he really wants, especially if he wants to feel loved.

Of course, if I suggest she stop saying yes when she doesn't want to, both partners often gang up on me: How is less sex going to help? Am I simply taking her side? Maybe I don't believe in someone having high desire for sex? Two or three of these cases in a row makes for a long work day.

While we're working on this angle, I ask the "need it all the time" partner what's so special about sex that it's so central to his life. These people talk about pleasure, feeling euphoria (not the same thing, of course), the blessed interruption of weekly routine; sometimes they talk about feeling close to their partner (whether that person feels close to them during sex is, of course, another story).

What else, I keep asking, what else is so great about sex (especially with someone who may not want it)? We eventually get to the validation he feels from sex: "I'm OK. She accepts me. I'm safe. I'm loveable." When men finally say this, they typically feel sad, and may even cry.


And that's the beginning of the end of "I need sex every day." When these guys (or women) start saying "I want to feel loved every day," we can start discussing how to wrestle with that feeling, other than by having sex.

These high-desire guys deserve sympathy. They're attempting to feel whole despite:
* Using a narrow (i.e., sexual) vocabulary;
* Not knowing how to regulate their internal state;
* Feeling dependent on others for that internal regulation;
* Their partner criticizing them for their emotional deficits.

So we keep talking about their emotional needs, and keep talking about various ways those needs can be addressed: cuddling, talking, cooking together, hand-holding in public, a surprise text message, watching a movie together without either person using any devices or doing busywork. Or whatever a couple decides works for them.

These cases can have pretty good outcomes if the couple (or higher-desire individual) sticks with therapy and wrestles with the issues. It turns out that we can go way more than a day without sex; but most of us need a steady diet of connection, validation, touch, and feeling noticed, whether we can express that clearly or not.

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Trans Activists Reject Scarlett, Destroy Trans Movie

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Hollywood production companies recently announced they'd be making a film called "Rub & Tug." The biopic tells the story of Dante "Tex" Gill, a real-life crime boss who used a Pittsburgh massage parlor as a front for prostitution in the 1970s and 1980s.

An interesting angle to the story is that Gill was trans—born and lived as a female until about age 30, but eventually identified as male.

Great—a trans person as the central character in a mainstream film. Even better—cast in the role of Gill was Scarlett Johansson, a world-famous actor who would bring world-wide attention to the film.

Unfortunately, the trans community lit up social media, savaging non-transperson Johansson for agreeing to play the part. All too predictably, they decreed a transperson should have been given the role; some actually blamed Johansson for "taking" the role "from" a trans actor, completely misunderstanding how the movie business works.

Trans actress Trace Lysette even tweeted, "I wouldn't be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis [non-trans] roles, but we know that's not the case."

As a professional, Lysette should know better—Lysette doesn't get in the same casting rooms as Lawrence and Johansson because Lysette can't bring in the box office money they can. Lysette, whether you're talented or not I honestly don't know. But I'm certain that the reason you don't get in the same casting room with superstars has nothing to do with the fact that you're trans.

There are far more non-trans actors than trans actors who can't "get in the same rooms." And it's for the same reason.

Naturally, most of the online comments about this argued that the role should have gone to a trans actor. But surely that's because non-trans people don't care about the gender identity of the performers they watch. (Memo to trans activists: such people can still be allies of trans people while not caring about the casting choice in this or any other film.)

Should only a Jewish actor star in a Holocaust film? If a Christian actor can get filmgoers to cry over the Holocaust, I don't care that she's Christian. If a Jewish actor can't get those filmgoers to cry, replace her with one who can–preferably someone who will pull in a huge audience, an audience beyond those who typically go to Holocaust films.

If anything is going to prevent mainstream America from seeing trans people as regular people who happen to be trans, this kind of issue is it. If trans advocates insist that trans people are a separate tribe who must be identified and treated differently from everyone else, whose story is not part of the familiar human story of pain and joy, longing and loving, greed and fear, the rest of the world will go along with that—and continue to judge and marginalize trans people.

After a week of angry postings from members of the LGBT community, Scarlett Johansson quit the transgender role, as they had demanded. She apologized for being insensitive. "I understand why many feel [Gill] should be portrayed by a transgender person," she said, adding that she appreciated the conversation about diversity in film.

Meanwhile, no replacement for Johansson has been announced, and it's entirely possible the film won't get made at all. Who in their right mind would risk $20,000,000 to make a movie that most people will ignore if it doesn't feature a big star? Would you invest $20,000,000 in a business enterprise that deliberately refused to present itself in the most commercially attractive light?

And which actor is going to sign up for this kind of scrutiny? Only someone no one knows or wants to see, someone with nothing to lose. Certainly not a big star with very little to gain and everything to lose.

So if the film is made at all—and there's no guarantee it will—it will be a very small film with far less viewership and attention than it would have had with Johansson. Trans activists currently celebrating should understand what a tragic, Pyrrhic "victory" this is.

And by the way, this bodes ill for any minority group insisting on a purity agenda—after this fiasco, films about their stories are far less likely to be made or seen. Again, which big star will be willing to gamble their reputation in this way?

And we're all the poorer for that.

According to LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, none of the 109 movies released by Hollywood's seven biggest studios in 2017 included a transgender character.

GLAAD and other activists have done their best to continue that shameful record.

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Steam-Cleaning Your Vagina–and Other Insults

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There are a million ways to fix our sexual bodies—none of which are necessary.

New wellness entrepreneur Gwynyth Paltrow has proposed the latest: steam-cleaning your vagina and uterus.

While the practice was part of some indigenous cultures many centuries ago, these days virtually 100% of Western health experts say it's a bad, bad idea (and regarding the uterus, simply impossible). Either your vagina is sick and needs medical attention, or it's healthy and needs absolutely nothing.

With a few exceptions, it's pretty easy to tell which yours is—an unpleasant smell, taste, or discharge generally let you know. Itching and burning are pretty clear signs, too.

At the other end of a woman's body, there's renewed interest (primarily commercial interest) in the drug Addyi (flibanserin), supposedly addressing low desire in younger women. In clinical trials it worked for a few respondents, but for most women its results are negligible—primarily because low desire in pre-menopausal women typically has lifestyle, relationship, and/or psychological components.

And sometimes a woman's "low desire" is well within the typical range, and her desire for more desire may simply be unrealistic. Or the "problem" is the contrast with her partner's higher desire level.

Steam-cleaning is only the latest means of addressing non-existent female sexual issues. Others include anal bleaching, labiaplasty (reduction surgery), and vaginal "rejuvenation" (tightening or removing wrinkles, or both). And let's not forget good old-fashioned breast enhancement, now the most common cosmetic procedure. Last year some 290,000 got it—the equivalent of every adult woman in San Francisco or Austin.

Unfortunately, instead of activists criticizing Gwynyth Paltrow for promoting the idea that vaginas need special exotic cleansing, they're mostly repeating the tired old idea that female sexuality is SO much more pathologized than male sexuality.

That encourages the false and politically damaging dichotomy between women who have it hard and men who have it easy. Instead, men and women should appreciate each other as having to constantly fight against the consumerization of our bodies, particularly our sexual bodies.

Seeing women as a special class of victim also relieves them of responsibility for ingesting harmful cultural myths and pathologizing their own bodies and sexuality. You feel bad about your labia? Don't blame the patriarchy. Your partner pressures you to lose weight or get a boob job? Don't blame the patriarchy. You're ashamed of your fantasies? Don't blame the patriarchy. Your church shames you for your kink or your abortion? Don't blame your church for your inhibitions—quit your damn church.

* * *

It's a political, psychological, and relational mistake to competitively measure who has it worse, men or women. Both genders age, and are discarded as sexless (and don't tell me about George Clooney—how many men are George Clooney?). Both genders struggle with access to sex education and contraception.

Like women, men are confronted with social pressures about their sexuality. Men are taught to feel sexually inadequate, and are constantly encouraged to fix their bodies and sexuality.

Look at how Viagra is handed out every single day to men who do not have erectile dysfunction (ED). Docs giving a man Viagra are saying "your expectation of getting rock-hard on demand regardless of circumstances is reasonable; your body is the problem."

It's a rare MD who asks simple questions like, Are you drinking when you're trying to get erect? Do you really desire the person with whom you want an erection? Are you simply trying to have sex with a total stranger at a club or party? Are you angry with your would-be sex partner? Is there a disagreement about contraception?

Simple questions like these would cut the prescription rate of Viagra dramatically—while educating and comforting men in the process.

Then there's the penis enlargement industry. Devices, drugs, creams, and exercise programs promise glorious expansion—and are you sure you don't need this? Don't you care about your partner's ultimate pleasure? It's a hard pitch to resist, especially when most men are watching pornography featuring genital freaks of nature.

Circumcision reversal is another industry promising higher self-esteem, more pleasure, and more partner satisfaction—all of which can be developed with exactly the penis you have, circumcised or not. The same is true for devices and exercises that promise to stretch your scrotum.

Finally, there is enormous pressure on men to ingest testosterone—via pills, shots, creams, patches, and non-prescription crap you can get at health food stores, late-night television, or the internet. It rarely helps with sexual function, although it can cause a lot of other health problems.

Again, doctors don't ask enough questions before prescribing T. But too many men are searching for the Fountain of Youth. Or the Fountain of Better Sex Without Better Communication.

Just as I sympathize with women about their besieged sexual bodies, I sympathize with men as well. As time marches on (stomping all over our aging bodies), as a primary relationship gets more difficult, or as other life challenges appear, the relentless cultural questioning of a man's sexual adequacy continues.

For all but a tiny sliver of medically compromised people, none of these "improvements" is necessary. Human sexual bodies are mostly fine, if we leave them alone. Most of us could express our sexuality in perfectly enjoyable ways if we accepted ourselves. But of course we don't.

Religion works hard to make us feel guilty about our sexuality. Government works hard to shape (and often condemn) our sexual fantasies. Politics works hard to limit our access to miracles that could make sex easier and safer, like the morning-after pill. The media work hard to persuade us that we must fix our sexual bodies, and every week shows us exactly how.

These undermine male and female sexuality alike.

Yes, capitalism goes after female sexuality like a hungry dog pursues a meaty bone. It goes after male sexuality as well. If men and women could see each other as allies in attempting to overcome this—and yes, that includes the patriarchy—we could make some actual progress and all be better off.

But if women insist they have it worse, and men have trouble generating a reasonable level of empathy about it when they themselves feel unending cultural pressure, the patriarchy—and the church and the government—win.

And that's no good for anybody.

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