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 #223 – SEPTEMBER 2018


Now's the Best Time to Discuss Sex at a Catholic High School

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As you may know, I lecture around the country on various aspects of sexuality: from how couples can have better sex, to how therapists can work with issues such as infidelity, to innovative public policy.

I love presenting "Talking with your kids about sex," which I do for various parent groups—including at Catholic high schools.

Except right now, Catholic high schools think they have too much going on to bring me in. And if they want a speaker about sexuality, they think they need something focused on exploitation, consent, and recovering from trauma.

Um, no.

More than ever, right now Catholic high school parent groups—like every other high school parent group—need my usual talk on the subject. "Talking with your kids about sex" is just about the most effective way to keep kids safe, and to encourage good sexual decision-making at every age.

So what do we need to tell kids about sex, and why is that more important than focusing on predatory priests or others who want to exploit them?

Because most kids won't be victims of sexual exploitation. But all kids need to deal with their sexuality.

We need to teach our kids, no matter what their age, to relate to sex the way they relate to other important things—to be smart, to plan, to know what they want; to communicate clearly and not just go along with peer pressure or gossip; and to ask adults questions when they need to.

Yes, kids, there are people out there who may want to hurt you or take advantage of you—and not just sexually. So let's talk about that. Fortunately, most people aren't like that. Of course, these goals will be different depending on a kid's stage of development. "Be smart" for an 8-year-old might mean not giving a stranger your phone number, while for a 15-year-old it might mean not making out with someone who's drunk.

If you help kids clarify what they want; if you support kids' self-esteem, and teach them that they have more value than just their sexual value; if you teach kids to expect respect from everyone they meet, and how to respond when they feel disrespected or bullied; if you teach kids that their bodies are fabulous and wholesome, and a source of pleasure when they create the right circumstances; and if you teach kids that males and females are not opposites but people who are far more similar then different; then you won't have to scare the hell out of them about predatory priests, teachers, or strangers.

And to motivate them to take care of themselves, you won't have to tell them that sexuality—their own, or others'—is dangerous.

* * *

These days every parent is concerned about porn. Professionals are always urging parents to talk with their kids about it (which parents too often translate into "Porn is crap and it will damage you; stay away from it"). But if one of the key messages we want to give kids is "porn isn't like real sex," we need to tell them about real sex—first.

And not just once—many, many times. That's what we do with every important issue, such as nutrition, bike safety, and study habits. As kids get older we talk about the same subjects again and again, each time in a more sophisticated way. That's what we need to do about sex.

And then, when it's time to talk to your kids about porn, you already have a vocabulary in place, and the norm that in this family, we talk about sex. You can include some pretty grownup stuff, such as "Many adults enjoy sex more when they feel really close to the other person." You can tell kids "Porn isn't made for you, and you'll probably find some of it confusing. It may look like real sex, but it's made by paid actors following a script, pretending to be someone they're not. And their characters do stuff that a lot of people simply don't do."

* * *

As for the sexual scandal in the Catholic Church, it seems clear that whatever ideas they've been rigidly peddling for centuries simply don't work. Catholics—and everyone else—should worry less about following others' rules about sex, and focus more on sexual decisions and behaviors that fulfill noble values such as integrity, honesty, responsibility, and consent.

If you care about God's judgement of your sexuality (which somehow almost always leads to guilt, shame, and secrecy), try living up to those values. It's hard to see the point of following a bunch of rules promoted by an institution that apparently can't live by them itself.

* * *

To help you talk to your kids about sex or porn, I've created two enjoyable 70-minute video programs. To either purchase or download them, click here.

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No Orgasm? Lots of Good Reasons

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Just about every week I see a new patient who complains that he has trouble having orgasms.

Of course, I ask lots of questions. Does this happen only with a partner, or with masturbation too? What medication is he taking? How much alcohol is generally involved before and during sex? How does his partner usually respond? How does he usually respond?

And if he's been bothered about this for a while, why is he coming in now?

I want to eliminate medical issues first, so I always ask if he's seen a physician. Since many of these guys are referred to me by a doc, let's skip over the possible health issues (such as diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and possession by the devil) and get to my specialty.

To start with, not orgasming every time you have sex isn't a problem, it's a fact of life. It's our expectation (or our partner's expectation) of 100% orgasmic certainty that often creates the perception of a 'problem.'

Also, as men get older, fewer and fewer sexual encounters involve an orgasm. Almost all our reflexes slow down with age, and orgasm—this isn't romantic, I know—is just another reflex. Plus that pesky, ever-enlarging prostate (enlarging only slowly, we hope) can interfere with orgasm.

So does the medication that many middle-age men take as we wrestle with the pesky gland that gives us increasing grief.

Some men orgasm less often as they masturbate more—and some men are masturbating more than they used to, now that internet porn invites our attention throughout the day. Our bodies have a refractory period—a mandatory re-loading period—that increases with age. At forty, the days of coming three times a day are over. At sixty, coming even once a day may be a thing of the past.

Another part of the story often involves the circumstances in which a man expects to climax. Is he getting the stimulation he wants? How erect is he when he's wanting to orgasm? Is he feeling pressure? Does he believe his partner is having a good time with him? Does he want to be there in the first place, or is he having 'duty sex'? These all make climaxing more difficult, maybe even impossible.

To put it a slightly different way, is the guy getting really excited? If not, orgasm may not happen—especially after age 40. And there are plenty of reasons that people don't get really excited during sex.

Effective treatment addresses these psychological and lifestyle issues. Some men are disappointed, wanting a medical treatment or a pill. Other men are relieved that they don't have a horrible disease, and work with me to explore the architecture of their sexual encounters. After a while they may realize how they create sex that isn't centered on pleasure or intimacy, but rather on performance or placating a partner.

When younger men complain of not orgasming, I ask lots of these lifestyle questions. This includes an inquiry about birth control. A surprising number of young guys say "she's using something" or "I don't know" or "she says she isn't fertile." Fear of unwanted pregnancy is a powerful disincentive to orgasm, whether conscious or not. And ignorance about contraception often comes along with poor sexual communication, or other inhibitions about creating a satisfying sexual event.

Young guys often have sex in a chaotic way, especially if it's a casual hookup. Little talking, little attention to preferences, physical discomfort, even emotional concerns (such as guilt or lack of privacy) can diminish pleasure so much that expecting to climax is just unrealistic.

Pornography makes it look like guys orgasm (and ejaculate, which isn't the same thing) pretty easily under every condition imaginable. Many porn consumers forget that what they're watching is edited—either several events stitched together to look like one, or a long session that's edited down into a short one. A porn actor may look like he can orgasm in front of a crowd, on a cold floor, thrusting like mad in an uncomfortable tangle of limbs, hair, and body fluids. Most civilians can't.

And that means orgasming during your average college hookup—drunk, deafening music, a virtual stranger, an uncomfortable, non-private place—is simply not a reasonable expectation.

But guys do hook up, and do expect to come.

It keeps me in business.

And when I ask guys (of any age) why they're so distressed about not coming, they usually give one of two answers: my partner's pressuring me to prove that she's good in bed and that I'm attracted to her; or I want to be "normal."

There are lots of good reasons to want to orgasm. Neither of those is a good one. And so we talk about what actually makes sex satisfying, and why orgasm isn't the most important part of sex.

That isn't why anyone comes to therapy. But it's one of the greatest treasures that therapy has to offer.

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Pornography: What We Can All Agree On

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There's a lot of passionate talk about pornography these days. The loudest voices involve a lot of false assumptions, a lot of fear and rage, a lot of predictions about porn's destructive aspects.

Some of us insist on looking at the science of it all—exactly how much (or how little) violence there is in porn, about porn's effects from both the neuroscience and marital counseling side, about the nature of human sexual fantasy.

We're often shouted down. We're often accused of being "pro-porn." When I toured after my 2016 book (His Porn, Her Pain) was published, that was usually the first question everywhere I spoke—"are you pro-porn or anti-porn?" My answer frustrated a lot of people: "I'm neither pro-porn nor anti-porn; I'm in favor of thinking clearly about porn, and understanding the science about it."

I also think the debate should include the voices of pornography consumers. These consumers are actually the only group whose voice is missing from this very contentious dispute.

Imagine having a public debate about limiting or eliminating Little League baseball, because people were afraid it was bad for kids. Now image this debate without any input from scientists or Little League participants or their parents. It would never happen.

But of course it is normal for public debates about porn—no science, no consumers.

To help us out of this dichotomy, here are a handful of key issues on which virtually all sides in the porn wars can agree. And we—people from a range of views—should be talking about these issues every time we get a chance. We should all be framing the porn debate by making these issues central to the question.

So what do we all agree on?

* There's a lot of porn out there, and it's easily available

The needs of the porn industry built the consumer side of the internet—the shopping function, the video-synched-with-audio, the high speeds—because porn was by far the most popular use of the early internet. Of course porn is still incredibly popular, and so there's a huge amount of porn out there. And now it's available on devices as well as computers.

* Some of the content is extreme

We can disagree on the meaning of "extreme": cunnilingus? Threesomes? Ejaculating on a woman's face? A high heel grinding a testicle?

But no matter what standard you use (and without saying "extreme" means "bad"), we can all agree that there's some pretty exotic stuff on internet porn.

How much exotic (or "violent") stuff? Actually, it's only a small fraction of all porn sites—because most consumers don't want to watch women gagging, men gagging, or anyone pretending to be in serious pain. But a very small fraction (extreme stuff) of a very large number (all porn sites) is still a big number. There's no need to deny that, just as there's no need to inflate its proportion of all porn sites.

* Lots of couples argue about porn-related behavior

As a couples therapist, I know only too well just how many couples quarrel about pornography.

They argue about whether porn use is infidelity; whether it makes consumers less interested in their own wife or girlfriend; how much porn use is "normal;" and whether porn use leads to violence or disrespecting women.

A lot of arguments that look like they're about porn really aren't—for example, most women who are sexually satisfied don't care much about their partner watching porn.

In any case, lawyers, therapists, clergy, and popular magazines and websites all agree that there's a lot of porn-related conflict out there. Whether that conflict should be blamed on porn use or on other factors—unrealistic expectations, inability to talk honestly about sex, defensiveness about not looking or behaving like porn actresses—is another matter.

But if everyone agrees that a huge number of couples argue about porn, there's clearly a need for a new way to talk about it. Most people are not looking for that.

* We're all concerned about what kids are learning from it

Nobody thinks porn should serve as sex education, especially for young people with little or no experience. Kids don't have the media literacy to understand that they're looking at unusual people with unusual bodies who have been hired to do unusual things.

They also don't understand that some adults like to play sex games—like "let's pretend you're forcing me," or "let's pretend I'm jealous," or "let's pretend you really want sex with that stranger." Pornography shows actors and actresses pretending to play those games, which of course aren't labelled "games."

Just like tennis, these games have rules and boundaries, and they don't reflect how people behave outside the game. You may hit the ball so your opponent can't reach it, but when the two of you have lunch afterwards, you don't keep the salt away from him or her.

While people may disagree about strategies for limiting kids' exposure to pornography, and people may disagree about how kids should learn realistic and important facts about sex, we can all agree that young kids shouldn't be turning to porn to learn about sexuality.

For that matter, neither should adults.

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