Sexual Intelligence
An Electronic Newsletter

Written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.

Issue #54 -- August 2004


1. Portugal Bans Anti-Gay Discrimination. Period.
2. Heads Spin Over Vibrator Sales Ban
3. National Underwear Day--In or Out?
4. Internet Censorship Defeated--For Wrong Reason
5. Bush: Anything's Better Than Using Condoms
6. You're Everywhere!

1. Portugal Bans Anti-Gay Discrimination. Period.

We're pleased to share the historic news sent us by Helmut Graupner, an Austrian attorney active with the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the European Parliament.

This year's Constitutional Amendment Fever is apparently not confined to the U.S., although it has very different features elsewhere. Last week Portugal amended its constitution to become the first country in Europe (and fourth in the world) to explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Article 13 of the Portuguese Constitution now states:

  1. All citizens have the same social rank and are equal before the law.
  2. No one shall be privileged or favored, or discriminated against, or deprived of any right or exempted from any duty, by reason of his or her ancestry, sex, race, language, territory of origin, religion, political or ideological convictions, education, economic situation, social circumstances or sexual orientation.

This in a country, by the way, that is 95% Catholic. Shows you what Christians can do when they put their minds to Godly pursuits.

2. Heads Spin Over Vibrator Sales Ban

The Alabama sex-toy wars continue. As previously reported (#s 39, 33, 9), the state's been trying to ban the sale of vibrators--yes, vibrators--for almost a decade. A U.S. District Judge has twice ruled against the state law banning sex-toy sales, saying it violates the constitutional right to privacy. The state appealed both times and has won again.

In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals said the state Constitution doesn't include a right to sexual privacy. Thus, Alabama has a right to police the sale of devices that can be sexually stimulating.

The court indicated that finding a right to sexual privacy could lead to even worse outcomes, such as being required to give that right to future cases "including, for example, those involving adult incest, prostitution, obscenity, and the like."

Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett disagreed, saying the decision was based on the "erroneous foundation" that adults don't have a right to consensual sexual intimacy and that private acts can be criminalized to, ostensibly, promote "public morality."

Actually, both sides are right. It is, of course, a perversion of our democracy that American adults don't have the right to private consensual sexual behavior, and that their government decides which sexual activities they may legally engage in. It is also frightening that private behavior can be criminalized if it is deemed to challenge "public morality," a political philosophy we associate with the Taliban, Iranian Mullahs, and North Korean police state.

But the court speaks a kernal of truth when it says that "giving" (there's the problem right there) people private sexual freedoms sets society on a slippery slope. Why should private interactions such as prostitution, so-called obscenity, consensual adult incest contraception, and sex clubs be under the state's jurisdiction?

On the other hand, if they are, what private interactions shouldn't be the state's business? It's a slippery slope, too, from controlling our bedrooms to controlling us everywhere. For proof, look at politicized zoning committees, school boards, and CDC decisions that have censored sexual information across your community.

In two related matters...

1. "Sex Shops Infiltrate Small Towns," screamed the headline in USA Today this winter. Were they describing terrorist cells sneaking in, or "Rebel Without A Cause" gangs shrieking in? No, just the predictable capitalist trend of adult stores moving into a dozen scattered Midwest towns after being zoned out of larger cities down the freeway. "Infiltrate" is hardly a neutral word to describe retail stores bringing jobs and sought-after consumer goods to Main Street, is it?

2. Attorneys have entered not-guilty pleas for an adult store in Abilene, KS on 29 counts of promoting obscenity (i.e., selling sex toys). The case is unusual because the indictment came from a Grand Jury impaneled by a petition drive, and several people who signed the petition ended up on the Jury. Can these jurors really be impartial when they've already announced their position before the trial? Would this be tolerated if huge fines and jail time were involved for any non-sex related offense? Or does the sexual content justify the traditional frontier justice of "Let's give 'em a fair trial before we string 'em up"?

3. National Underwear Day--In or Out?

You and I, and the rest of America, spend $13 billion per year on underwear. As you've noticed, skivvies have gone beyond white, beyond cotton, and beyond being "unmentionables." They're now colorful, in a variety of sensuous fabrics, and not only are they mentionable, they're now showable.

One retailer, predictably, has launched National Underwear Day. This August 11 we're being encouraged to talk about, think about, and show off our undies. There's even a petition being circulated to get the Day "official recognition," whatever that means.

There definitely has been a change in our relationship to our underwear--not just in what we wear, but in how we wear it. Madonna challenged us all by wearing inside stuff on the outside, and millions of young women followed. Now it's hard to tell a camisole from a tanktop from a tankini. Soon after, Calvin Klein brought men's underwear out of the, um, well, their pants. He photographed Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus on a Greek island, with bare torso, legs spread, and eyes focused on the camera. The New York Times says this marked "the beginning of major changes in the conventions of masculine presentation." One retailer says that Klein "raised underwear to another level and added sex." We say that his models looked proud in their underwear, not dorky. Today, young guys show as much of their shorts as the laws of physics allow. How do they keep their pants up when they're so low, anyway?

Now there are bra straps showing everywhere, even on soccer moms. It's hard to tell who's flaunting, who's showing accidentally, and who just doesn't care. Thongs are showing everywhere, too. In fact, women are now buying panties which, if they fit properly, show above their jeans or little skirts. Those old jokes about janitors unintentionally showing their butt-cracks are way stale.

And what does it mean? Does every 14-year-old young woman want sex? For that matter, does every 25 year-old? Nah. Underwear is the new tattoo. Each generation looks for something to show that previous generations wouldn't. In the sixties it was the outlines of nipples; bralessness was a surprisingly potent form of social protest, although it now seems incredibly innocent. Today's women not only admit they have nipples, they accessorize them.

The confused people aren't the young ones--it's we older ones, who look at old symbols, newly-defined, with our old eyes. Only a few years ago, a woman deliberately showing her panties, or sporting a black bra under a white top, or wearing lingerie as a blouse, was obviously very horny, socially inept, or both. Now it's a fashion statement. Or it's a powerplay--young women focussing others' eyes on their sexiness without promising sex. We may regret that teens (even younger ones) don't feel the freedom to ignore their eroticism when they present themselves. Many seem to feel compelled to compete with adults as erotic beings. Still, many show a self-possession about it, a determination to not take the sexual aspect of their erotic presentation too seriously--and to not let others take it too seriously either. There's a liberating aspect to this.

The underwear-as-outer-statement represents a change in the boundary between public and private. The idea fits right in with the current Administration, which is confiscating our private lives while privatizing our public wealth. They are most at home grabbing control of our reproductive systems and reading choices, while giving away our national forests and precious airwaves.

Periodically, some of their supporters inadvertently point out the flaws in their own position. The American Decency Association is, of course, squarely against National Underwear Day. President Bill Johnson sneers that it's "...unfortunate we have a company going to such an extent to sell products, and that's all this is about." Of course it's about the money, silly. That's how America also got National Rollercoaster Day, Watermelon Day, Flower Week, and Chocolate Lovers Month. So Bill's a typical conservative--in favor of the marketplace unless he disapproves of the product.

Johnson grumpily predicts that many people will cheerfully celebrate their underwear. "Naïve people will just jump right in line and join in the day," he says. "They don't have the personal dignity to avoid such commercial trickery." Presumably, Mr. Johnson is less disdainful of the Decency Association's "commercial trickery." Cleverly raising their audience's anxiety and then offering to soothe it--for a price--their website sells a book, CD, and audiotape entitled "Does God Really Care What I Wear?"

4. Internet Censorship Defeated--For Wrong Reason

In one of its last cases of the season, the Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. ACLU, upheld an injunction against the Child Online Protection Act, which attempted to give the government sweeping powers to restrict what Americans can post and read on the Internet.

When censoring, the government is required to do so with the least restrictive means, and filtering now appears to be it. The Court also sees filtering as more effective, as it claims that 40% of the Internet's sexual material comes from abroad, a number that would surely increase if consumers can't buy these highly-desired products domestically (talk about outsourcing).

So get ready for more people pushing harder for internet filters. But this Pyrrhic victory gets worse.

Unfortunately, the Court once again validated the unproven idea that sexual imagery is "harmful" to minors. And the Court demanded to know why the government isn't enforcing existing anti-obscenity laws better, encouraging the Attorney General's religious crusade (his expression) to damage the porn industry. There's absolutely nothing good about 9/11, but it probably has kept Mr. Ashcroft from completely decimating our sexual freedoms. Justice O'Connor apparently suggests the government rev up its crusade while continuing to refine COPA.

The fact that most progressives consider the Court's decision a victory shows how defensive this fight has become. But here's what SI takes from the decision:

5. Bush: Anything's Better Than Using Condoms

You're forgiven if you think we're making this up, but we swear it's true.

We've already reported (#50) that President Bush has asked the FDA to put warning labels on condoms, saying they don't protect 100% against genital warts.

The Bush administration has now proposed a plan to eliminate HIV/AIDS education that includes accurate information on condom use.

Published in the June 16 Federal Register, the proposed CDC guidelines will be mandatory for any organization that does HIV-prevention work and receives federal funds--even if the federal money isn't spent on an HIV program. Nearly every agency that offers HIV-prevention education receives some federal dollars. Without that money, they'll have to slash programs or even close.

These new regs require the censoring of any "content"-- including pamphlets, posters, photographs, slides, advertising and websites. All "content" must eliminate anything even vaguely "sexually suggestive"--like teaching how to use a condom correctly. Even worse, all materials must include information on the "lack of effectiveness of condom use" in preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs.

In other words, the Bush administration wants programs that fight AIDS to tell people that condoms don't work.

Every HIV education program will have to have a Policy Review Panel named by state and local health departments (i.e., political appointees). These panels must approve every brochure and other "content" before their release, so any program can be held up indefinitely for mentioning sex or being insufficiently anti-condom.

As a final, perfect insult, it will be impossible to track the spread of unsafe (or safe) sexual practices, because questionnaires about people's sex lives are defined as "obscene" and thus forbidden.

The CDC can't even say the case about condoms and abstinence is still open. An increasing number of large-scale studies now confirms that abstinence-only programs increase both sexual activity and risk-taking. For example, a 2003 Minnesota Health Department study of the state's five-year, abstinence-only program found that sexual activity by students taking the program actually doubled. And a five-year study of 12,000 adolescents by Columbia University found unsafe sex much greater among youth who had pledged to abstain from premarital sex. Not surprisingly, and as we have discussed before (#42), 88% of those who had pledged chastity broke their pledge.

Each month, SI publishes information that begs for readers’ action. We rarely urge such action explicitly. This story is an exception. The CDC rules are about more than HIV, as important as that is. They're about the deliberate exclusion of science from public policy, the extreme politicization of public health management, and a crucial step in the continuing march of government censorship around sexual issues. Recall that the government is already withholding federal funding from public libraries that won't filter their computers (#s 28, 12).

Please join us in challenging the new CDC censorship rules. There's a small but perceptible window in which to do so: public comments will be taken until August 16. That gives you two weeks to do two things that will take 5 minutes. Write a few sentences (feel free to excerpt this article without credit) and send them to the CDC (, or fax 404/639-3125) and your Congressional representative. It's very late, but not too late.

Not convinced? To summarize: The government intends to require all HIV programs receiving federal money to state that condoms don't work to prevent HIV and STDs.

6. You're Everywhere!

In our fiftieth issue we asked where you receive SI, and we've been having fun with your responses ever since. We're now being read in 48 countries, including Finland, Belarus, Costa Rica, and South Korea. Periodically we'll share a few more countries in which we're being read. International readers, please alert us!


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