Sexual Intelligence
An Electronic Newsletter

Written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.

Issue #28 -- June 2002

Contents

1. A Really Important Prom Night
2. Against Married Sex, Too?
3. Celibacy? Follow the Money
4. Court Lifts Library Internet Restrictions
5. Auto-Erotic Death Really An Accident
6. AASECT Takes Position on Abstinence
 
 

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1. A Really Important Prom Night

Like millions of other North American kids, 17-year-old Marc Hall went to his high school prom this year. Unlike other kids, he went because the Ontario (Canada) Superior Court said he could--with his male date, Jean-Paul.

The legal battle resulted from a decision by Pereyma Catholic Secondary School near Toronto to bar Hall from attending the prom with his 21-year-old boyfriend. The principal says having a gay couple at the prom goes against Catholic teaching on homosexuality because the dance is a form of romantic activity. Justice Robert McKinnon has ruled that when institutions accept public funds they agree to follow public regulations, including non-discrimination.

A coalition of prominent public figures and civic groups supported Hall's case, including Health Minister Allan Rock (a Catholic), the Canadian Unitarian Council, and the Canadian Auto Workers. Hall was represented by David Corbett, a leading civil-rights attorney.

It's easy to be sympathetic to the school, which wants to set its own standards. But the most logical explanation for the board's desire to bar Hall and his date are discrimination and hypocrisy. The Catechism doesn't prohibit dancing per se, or even "romance," so gay couples should be allowed. On the other hand, if when the principal calls the prom a "form of romantic activity" he really means "sexual activity," shouldn't it be prohibited for unmarried male-female student couples as well?

Similarly, the school board accuses Hall of demanding approval for his "lifestyle." But Hall says all he wants is the same rights as other students. Are others kids' sexual relationships outside of school "approved of" because they're allowed to dance together at the prom?

The school board's real problem with Marc Hall is that he is not ashamed of being gay. One day we'll shake our heads and wonder how we ever missed the fact that justice for sexual minorities is part of the West's long, honorable fight for human rights and dignity for all.

Finally, let's remember that sexual orientation is fluid. Ideally, older teens could participate in whatever consenting and responsible sexual relationships seemed appropriate, deferring the question of what they "are" until they felt confident they knew themselves. While millions of people, like Hall, are certain of their homosexuality by their early teens, others are not. Demonizing homosexuality and bisexuality, and thus forcing kids to label themselves the second they start dating or playing around sexually is counterproductive, possibly pushing them to adopt a sexual identity prematurely. This serves no one.

Serendipitously, I was in Toronto teaching the day of the court decision. I bought a newspaper with a huge full-color photo of the happy young couple going to a news conference. Counting my change in French, I was mistaken for Canadian. Looking at the photo, wanting to share in the pride of the country's progress, I didn't mind a bit.
 

2. Against Married Sex, Too?

Perhaps you've seen the commercial: A man is sitting at one end of a formal dining table. A French maid, complete with little black skirt and frilly white apron, serves him yogurt. He's surprised--yogurt for dessert? In French-accented English, the maid extolls the yogurt's virtues in increasingly seductive fashion as she feeds him with a spoon: "Mmm. Sweet and creamy. Very creamy. Yes?" He happily replies "Mmm, yes, very creamy." She perches on the table, feeding him, as they get warmer and warmer. What will happen next?

"My parents...they are so weird," we hear off-camera. We then see two teenagers, one looking particularly impatient. Cut back to man and maid. Still sitting on the table, the maid turns to the teens, and in an everyday American voice, observes disappointedly, "You're home early."

The commercial is better than good, clean fun: it's good, naughty fun. It acknowledges that married people enjoy sex--still a radical idea on American television--and shows how imagination can transform virtually anything into an erotic interaction.

Sex within marriage, and the ultimate safe-sex organ--the mind. What more could conservatives want? According to Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, the answer is no sex. The AFA has organized a campaign demanding the commercial's withdrawal, angry that a sales pitch is based on sex more than on a product's intrinsic qualities. So they must be upset about a lot of things, yes?

Yes. They are also boycotting Ford (for supporting Will & Grace), Midas Mufflers (for an ad depicting a horny middle-aged woman), VW (for supporting Boston Public), Nickelodeon (for "promoting homosexuality"), ABC (for airing Saving Private Ryan--"using the f-word 21 times"), and others. But before you write them off as harmless crazies, note that the AFA has tens of thousands of members, and takes credit for influencing the advertising policies of companies like Honda, Burger King, Sears, and Procter & Gamble. More to the point, AFA is trying to select which programs you'll have a chance to watch.

At least Wildmon is honest about one thing: he admits he wants to eliminate all sexuality from television. The idea that this would make all of us healthier and safer is exactly what we should be frightened about.

The sexy yogurt is Dannon's. To tell their president how cool the commercial is, write Thomas.Kunz@dannon.com.  He needs the support.
 

3. Celibacy? Follow the Money

While debates rage about maintaining, modifying, or eliminating the Catholic Church's requirement for priestly celibacy, let's remind ourselves of the history of this requirement--a history less than half as long as the Church's.

By the medieval period, European kings and princes were donating property to the Church in exchange for faithful service and for indulgences--guarantees of time off in purgatory. Married priests in turn were leaving this property to their heirs--that is, the property was returning to secular control.

Several 11th century popes attempted to control the disposition of this wealth, climaxing with Gregory VII's decrees of 1075: married priests couldn't say Mass, and new priests had to vow celibacy. Celibacy became mandatory for all priests in 1139, ending the possibility of priests having legitimate heirs to whom they could bequeath Church property. There was nothing theological in Pope Gregory's directive.

Serious proposals were introduced at 15th century Church councils to reinstate clerical marriage. They were fought by conservative church leaders who suggested that celibacy was foundational, of apostolic origin. The inaccurate idea became popular, even though Jesus had chosen Peter, a married man, as the first pope.

Just as the Church's fundamental positions on sexuality were decided through an internal power struggle during its first two centuries (wonderfully documented in Ray Lawrence's book The Poisoning of Eros), clerical celibacy is also the result of political dynamics within the Church.

Protestant churches do not favor clerical celibacy, arguing that it would go against Godís plan of creating male and female to complement each other in marriage. In contrast, Pope Paul VI's 1967 encyclical said clerical celibacy must continue because it follows Jesus' example. Each is a postmodern interpretation of ancient stories.
 

4. Court Lifts Library Internet Restrictions

In a blow to the government's continual attempts to censor the Internet, a federal court has rejected a law forcing public libraries to install filtering software on its public computers. Bill Clinton signed the law as one of his last presidential acts (see issue #12), and its enforcement has been a priority of the Bush-Ashcroft government.

Ruling that sections of the law were "facially invalid under the First Amendment," the court unanimously called filtering software a "blunt instrument" which cannot effectively screen out only material deemed "harmful to minors." Thus, the law would limit adults' access to Constitutionally protected material--"at least tens of thousands" of web pages wrongly blocked, according to the court, including websites for the Knights of Columbus, a Buddhist nun, and a Christian orphanage in Honduras.

But don't celebrate too much. The court has made a good decision for a bad reason. The problem with the law isn't that filters aren't efficient enough at eliminating material dangerous for children. The problem really is the idea that children need protection from certain images, and that those images are so ubiquitous and so dangerous that we should eagerly sacrifice everyone's free expression to protect kids from them.

Politicians and activists eager to sacrifice the free exchange of ideas on the altar of children's supposed vulnerability to "smut," "hard-core porn," "filth," and "cyber-perversion" are the dangers from which children and adults need protection.

Even jubilant library director Ginnie Cooper, the lead plaintiff in the ACLUís lawsuit, said, "No one wants children to be exposed to pornography on the Internet, on television or anyplace else. What's important is finding effective solutions to this problem." So what will happen when filters are perfected, or considered adequate (as software company executives and politicians already claim)? When we can efficiently deny either children or adults access to a group of websites, who gets to decide what shall be blocked? Information about condoms, homosexuality, S/M? America's culture wars about sex are still raging. Ask Donald Wildmon and Thomas Kunz.
 

5. Auto-Erotic Death Really An Accident

If you die while partially strangling yourself during masturbation, can your widow collect on your accident insurance policy? Yes, said a federal court recently. The big deal here is that the Court recognized that autoerotic asphyxiation is neither suicide nor self-inflicted injury, because the intention is pleasure rather than harm.

Even more interesting is the court's reference to four other federal trials that have ruled on deaths resulting from this sexual activity. It's hard to know exactly how often people die from this, because the families of the deceased often sanitize the death scene before calling 911. The American Psychiatric Association estimates 250 deaths per year; law enforcement estimates go as high as 1,000 per year. Still, of course, a long way from drunk driving or firearms territory.

One could easily argue that if this insurance policy would have paid off on someone dying while skiing or rock climbing, it should pay off for death during sex. All involve a certain degree of risk.

By validating that some people do accidentally hang themselves in pursuit of pleasure, the Court makes it easier for society to see various S/M activities as sexual rather than violent. With millions of S/M practitioners around the country, this is important. As it is, there are already several people in American jails from cases involving either autoerotic asphyxiation or consensual S/M. The American courtroom still needs to catch up with the bedroom.

For more information about autoerotic asphyxiation, see Jay Wiseman's article at www.members.aol.com/Oldrope/breath.htm.
 

6. AASECT Takes Position on Abstinence

AASECT is the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, & Therapists, one of a handful of professional societies of American (and international) sexologists. Last fall its Board of Directors took the historic step of adopting a position favoring comprehensive sexuality education. Last month the board continued this appropriate move into the public policy arena, specifically responding to government suppression of healthy sexuality. To that end, it sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urging it to defeat new funding for abstinence-until-marriage school programs. Excerpts of that letter follow (emphasis added):

"The current law provides medically inaccurate information through unproven programs that are unrealistic and harmful to the heath of our youth...Since 1996, one-half billion of federal and state funds have been spent on these dangerous programs...

"The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior stated that "informing adolescents about contraception does not increase adolescent sexual activity, either by hastening the onset of sexual intercourse, increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse, or increasing the numbers of sexual partners." Similarly, the latest report of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found "there do not currently exist any abstinence-only programs with reasonably strong evidence that they actually delay the initiation of sex or reduce its frequency."

"Simple solutions to complex problems must be ended, as our youth deserve honest and balanced information to protect them from disease and the inherent poverty of early pregnancy."

With this letter, AASECT "comes out" as a voice of professional expertise. The government wouldn't dream of formulating health policy without guidance from the AMA. It's about time it stopped formulating sexological policy without the expertise and experience of professional sexologists. Today's youth--who are being told, with your federal tax dollars, that premarital sex ruins adulthood, and that condoms don't work--deserve government policy based on fact, not special-interest lies.

Speaking of sexual science, the new issue of the Journal of Sex Research is out, with state-of-the-art research articles about childhood sexual development, and the impact of sex education. Treat yourself--buy a copy and send it to your Congressmember now, during the funding debate on abstinence-until-marriage school programs, and request a reply. It's published by the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality: 610/530-2483 or  thesociety@inetmail.att.net.
 


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