Sexual Intelligence
An Electronic Newsletter

Written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.

Issue #30 -- August 2002


1. When Head Leads to A Head Shot
2. Obit: Sex Educator of the Century
3. It's Just TV, Folks
4. Book Review: "Harmful to Minors"
5. The New Anthrax: Juicy Panties


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1. When Head Leads to A Head Shot

Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has a new policy: pictures of convicted prostitutes and their clients will be published on government-access cable TV. The city's website will even have a search feature to locate people by name. The idea is to shame both men and women out of future transactions.

The nearby city of Aurora doesn't bother with the trivial question of guilt or innocence; it publishes pictures of men and women simply accused of involvement in prostitution. The mayor is unmoved by questions about punishment prior to conviction; 25 "johns" were busted in 1995 before the program started, while only 8 were busted last year. That kind of result--and the gratitude of the business community--justifies his shredding of the American system of justice.

Other cities such as Eugene, Kansas City, St. Paul, and Orlando have similar programs. That's right: in cities across America, convicted murderers and rapists remain anonymous, while whores and johns are put on Shame TV to discourage them from re-offending.

One would think that participating cities had already eliminated crimes such as murder, robbery, and extortion, freeing up resources to make fighting prostitution a priority. Sadly, this isn't the case. Denver's jails are so crowded, for example, that they had to prematurely release 191 inmates this spring. The Denver Post reports that the city's "overburdened courts and prosecutors routinely cut plea bargains in cases of murder, armed robbery, drugs, and gambling," decrying Mayor Webb's new policy eliminating plea-bargaining for prostitution.

It's always interesting to speculate on the reason public officials become obsessed with sex. Of course, no one describes it that way. If you use porn or nude beaches, you're "obsessed" with sex; if you fight the existence of porn or nude beaches, you're a civic leader. But Webb and his ilk are, in fact, obsessed in every classical sense of the word: they spend enormous amounts of time and (taxpayers') money pursuing it, see it where others don't, want others to pay attention to it, and feel anxious when they're not relating to it. Individuals' obsessions with fighting victimless sex crimes such as prostitution are a cry for help. Removing these people from government or organizational office would be a blessing, but they need much deeper help than that. It's a pity that they don't get it.

By the way, what about exhibitionists who get off seeing themselves identified as johns on a city's website--are they committing a crime every time they tune in? Or say you watch Denver's Shame TV and get aroused thinking about the furtive quickies, seeing the hookers' pictures, imagining which john did what with which woman. If you masturbate to the stuff, is that a sex crime?

2. Obit: Sex Educator of the Century

Eppie Lederer died on June 22, and her last Ann Landers column ran just a few days ago. Her death gave people throughout the world a chance to talk about how meaningful her 47 years of advice had been. For 3/4 of that time she was, for better or worse, the most powerful sex educator in America. Oprah, of course, now wears the tarnished crown.

Although we know relatively little about Eppie, we can say that Ann Landers changed with the times. By the year of her death she was telling the wives of cross-dressers that their husbands were more or less normal. She had come to accept or embrace sex education, non-marital cohabitation, sexual activity for the elderly, and homosexual relatives.

Despite such radical (if squarely sensible) positions, America somehow never cancelled her or abandoned her; they followed her. But why? That's the great mystery of popular culture. Perhaps it's the same dynamic we saw with lovable Dr. Ruth, who was also able to say things no one wanted to hear, but loved to be titillated by. And yet this sort of thing is schizophrenic. People could love Ann Landers, maybe even see the wisdom of her advice ("MYOB," she often said; if only the Right would do so and leave most of America alone to its private sexual pleasures), and somehow not generalize to the rest of erotic life. It's as if people could accept her saying "men wearing red panties is OK," but couldn't then tell themselves that men wearing orange panties is OK.

On the negative side, Ann's views of childhood sexuality, sexual exploitation, and date rape were simplistic. Her views of desire were overly romantic; her advice on desire discrepancies--to "compromise"--was unrealistic. Her view of monogamy was standard twentieth-century Americana foolishness: true love makes it desirable, possible, and satisfying. And her view of unnecessary sexual guilt--just get over it--was perfect for today's Dr. Laura-style masochistic self-help, and equally valueless.

Ann Landers quoted me on December 20, 1983. I had written about high rates of unprotected intercourse and unwanted pregnancy among American teens, which pointed to a desperate need for comprehensive school sex education. To Eppie's credit, she wrote about this more than once. To America's shame, we needed her to. And still do.

3. It's Just TV, Folks

HBO's Sex & the City began its fifth season last week amidst great hoopla. As always, the show will feature pretty ladies talking about sex, using words like "dick" and "cum." This, apparently, still excites a million or two viewers. But wait, there's more: this year two of the four characters are pregnant. Naturally, episodes will be driven in new directions, focussing more on issues of security, commitment, and the beauty of "mature" women. So--creative writing, or the beginning of the show's decline? Well, remember Murphy Brown's kid? Hardly anyone else does, either. His creation was a creative bomb that killed the show.

What jams my VCR is the way the mass media--from USA Today to Newsweek to yes, The New York Times--are hailing Sex & the City's population explosion as reflecting changes in post-9/11 American society. It's part of the supposed nesting we're all now doing, eating macaroni and cheese and playing backgammon as we mourn our lost innocence--a non-existent "change" that has been completely fabricated by the media. The fact that swing club membership, for example, is now the highest in history is just an inconvenient fact that trend-spotters either don't notice or don't discuss.

So let me remind the hundreds of untrained wanabee sociologists who write magazine and newspaper articles: it's just TV, folks. Sex & the City is a bunch of made-up stories, invented by a few people to entertain us. It may reflect what they think we think, or they feel we feel. But that's a long way from "reflecting" America's mood. I'm sick to death of reading about trends that don't exist, or cultural truths gleaned from the tea leaves of a sitcom or drama written by a few millionaires sitting on redwood decks.

No wonder the government refuses to fund meaningful sex research. We have fiction writers to tell us what we want to believe about ourselves.


4. Book Review: Harmful to Minors

Journalist Judith Levine has written a wonderful new book, subtitled "the perils of protecting children from sex." And in an odyssey worthy of a David Mamet script, America's reaction to this book has been a perfect reflection of the very panic, hostility, and ignorance the book discusses.

A month before publication by the University of Minnesota Press, word of the book began to get out, starting an increasingly ugly journey for Levine. Minnesota House majority leader (and candidate for governor) Tim Pawlenty denounced the book as promoting the victimization of children, and pressured UMP to stop its release. TV host Bill O'Reilly called it an “evil book that excuses pedophilia." In the Boston Globe, Judith Reisman called Levine part of an insidious clique of "academic pedophiles."

Levine's book is under attack because it dares to state that:

It's truly frightening that responsible researchers, academics, and clinicians who write such things are denounced in public as pro-pedophilia, their work systematically distorted, often by people who haven't read it. Levine is simply the latest in a distinguished line--which includes Drs. Bruce Rind, Theo Sandfort, Vern Bullough, and James Elias--to be personally attacked in the national media for the content of their sober, well-documented, and socially valuable work.

Levine's book is a massive accomplishment of research and scholarship. She demonstrates the way our laws are aimed not at supporting healthy kids or safe communities, but at suppressing and punishing sexual behavior. She shows how conservative activists and the media collude in creating monstrous cultural images of "the molester," "the pedophile," and "the internet predator," terrifying everyone and demanding ever-more stringent laws (as described in issues 9, 19, 22, 26, & 27 of Sexual Intelligence). Levine even documents the betrayal of America's kids by the sex education profession, which has evolved from supporting “comprehensive” education to “abstinence plus.” Levine is the only progressive writer who has raised this critical point.

In a world of priest-minor sex, internet filtering debates, and the criminalization of granny's bathtub photos of little Jennifer, this book is an important contribution to a sane dialogue about childhood sexuality. Levine presents helpful facts, historical context, and a sociological framework to counter today's cultural hysteria.

5. The New Anthrax: Juicy Panties

21-year-old Clemson University student Christine Vetter was recently arrested for "mailing indecent and filthy substances"--her worn panties. This may sound like the opening line of a Saturday Night Live skit, but it's very real to Vetter, who's facing a five-year prison term for making a few thousands bucks.

Vetter was busted for, essentially, participating in long-distance commercial sex. What if her mailing was part of a university study on bacteria growth? Or the development of a perfume manufacturer's secret formula? Ah, science and commerce, no problem. But the sexual interest of the package's recipients transformed the physically "filthy" panties into morally "filthy" substances, hence the bust. And so at heart, this is a thought crime.

That's why American postal authorities have the right to prevent you from mailing soiled underwear to people who will jack off into it: because they're legislatively empowered to protect America's morals, and that means patrolling its sexual interests. The authorities have one thing right--you never know what someone is going to consider sexual. Stamping out all sexual expression other than traditional intercourse is a growth industry. Suppress it in one form, and people just invent another form. Censors never go out of business.

Oh, investigators learned about Vetter's business when they spotted a letter addressed to her labeled child pornography. Inspectors said the envelope contained no child pornography; the sender of the letter was a disgruntled customer of Vetter's website. He knew exactly how to get her in trouble.



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