"Pfizer Made Me Do It"
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is suing Pfizer for allegedly promoting "recreational use" of Viagra. They say that such promotion has led to risky sexual behavior, leading to an increase in HIV and other STDs.
There is some evidence that men who have sex with men are increasingly using drugs like Viagra to overcome the erection problems caused by alcohol, ecstasy, and crystal meth. Nevertheless, the lawsuit is a chance to revisit some questions we think are raised by erection drugs.
For starters, what exactly is "recreational use" of Viagra? No one "needs" an erection (not even to conceive, although it makes it easier), and in that sense virtually every use of Viagra is "recreational." Of course, some men--such as diabetics--have erection problems for reasons beyond their control, while others choose the circumstances in which they can't get it up or keep it up. But this is hardly the way to allocate health resources. We don't say, "your knee operation is less important--'recreational'--because it was necessitated by too much tennis rather than arthritis or a car accident."
Any time a man wants an erection but can't get one, there's a reason. Physicians and psychologists disagree on whether physical or emotional causes are more common, but all agree that something is interfering, whether it can be diagnosed or not. In that respect, use of erection drugs can be seen as either all legitimate or all recreational.
The great sin of the pharmaceutical erection cheerleading squad is not that they imply that most men can have great erections (and therefore great sex); it's that they imply that most men need great erections for decent sex. They also imply that the ultimate solution to unreliable erections is reliable erections. It isn't. For most men (i.e., those with intact vascular and neurological systems), the ultimate solution is resolving whatever emotional, relational, spiritual, or cultural issues make getting erections difficult. If hating your wife, your body, your priest, or your life makes it hard to get erections, you don't need better erections. You need something much more important. And you can't get it at a drugstore.
Some people say that Viagra is more proof that men run the world, and that our culture's default model of sexuality is the male model. That's exactly wrong. Men are participating in their own exploitation, believing that when they're too anxious, sad, lonely, angry, or conflicted to get an erection, getting an erection will make them ready for sex. It won't.
Emotional connection and self-acceptance will get you through times of no erection better than erections will get you through times of emotional isolation and self-rejection.
Film Review: This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Imagine a small group that controls what movies a country's citizens can see, what films can be advertised, what pictures and words filmmakers are allowed to use. Imagine that the names of the group's members are strictly secret, as are the rules they use to determine what filmmakers can do and what the public can see.
Is this Russia's KGB? Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis? Castro's revolutionary censors?
No, it's the Motion Picture Association of America, the private board that chooses a film's rating--which shapes who can see it and where it will be shown. Their control extends to DVDs too, because chains like Blockbuster and Wal-Mart restrict the sale of R-rated films and won't carry films rated NC-17 at all. That's why the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated won't be carried in the 10,000 U.S. stores the two companies control. It's also why newspapers won't accept ads for the film, even ads that are completely tame.
This Film... is an entertaining, 90-minute documentary available through Netflix. It features interviews with many well-known movie people, such as director John Waters, Newsweek critic David Ansen, and "South Park" producer Matt Stone. All agree that the MPAA is a corrupt, secretive, punitive organization that damages both American cinema and American freedom. Even these huge names have been unable to get straight answers from the MPAA.
In repeated interviews, MPAA President Jack Valenti is shown to be self-deluding, hypocritical, or both. When he claims the ratings board helps filmmakers and families, he offers no evidence of either. The board's chair says the board is composed of ordinary "parents," and that experts in psychology, sociology, art, and child development are simply unnecessary. Yet the board regularly consults Christian clergy. And by the way, almost none of these "parents" have children under 25.
An intriguing story line keeps the film moving. Filmmaker Kirby Dick actually hired a private investigator to uncover board members' names, and we follow her as she stakes out the MPAA building, follows and secretly photographs staffers at lunch, and even steals information.
The film exposes the lie of "liberal Hollywood" when it shows that 90% of the film industry is controlled by just six gigantic corporations, like Viacom and Walt Disney--hardly leftist revolutionaries.
The film also shows how the ratings board cares way more about sexuality than about violence; for example, stabbing a woman in the half-naked breast is considered acceptable for children to see, while caressing even a clothed breast is not (nor is the word "tit"). The MPAA is not required to justify this, and they don't. They don't even have to admit that they do this, even when confronted by data collected by social scientists or filmmakers.
The MPAA is fond of saying that the ratings system isn't "censorship," because filmmakers are free to make what they want, as long as they accept the restrictive rating that will damage or destroy their production. That's like saying a sheep is free to hang out with wolves. The problem is not the choice, it's the consequences.
Of course, "non-censorship" comes in many insidious forms: PBS losing funding for including a gay character in a cartoon show; teachers losing jobs for answering "unauthorized questions" in sex education class; publishers who won't publish a book that Barnes & Noble and Borders deem "controversial." Government and university employees around the country report that their computers refuse to accept Sexual Intelligence ("unauthorized sexual content"), and cannot be reconfigured.
This film ratings system is so secretive, so corrupt, and so powerful that a government ratings board--which we condemn 100%--would actually be an improvement. At least it would have to be somewhat transparent: we'd know who was on it, everyone could read its rules, and there'd be a rational appeals process. Imagine--American film suffers with a censorship system so fraudulent that government censorship would be an improvement.
This Film… climaxes with its own application for a rating. When it's slapped with an NC-17 for "general sexual content," we listen in on Kirby Dick trying to get information about the process from the board's chair. When he appeals the decision, he can't show us much--not only is the appeals hearing closed, transcripts or other records are forbidden. If the appeals board bases its decision on personal vendettas or a film's political content, there's no way of ever knowing.
Newsweek critic David Ansen says of the MPAA's puritanism and unaccountability, "Even though it's supposed to protect children, it's turning us all into children." The film raises a simple question: Is there a place in our culture for movies someone doesn't want your kids to see?
Beyond Pharmacists: Moralism on Wheels
Once again, we modestly admit, we've accurately predicted where religious politics are taking us.
An increasing number of pharmacists are claiming their "right" to refuse to serve people if they disapprove of their behavior--generally their sexual and contraceptive behavior. These druggists demand the government support their right to practice their personal religion--which requires them to control others' personal decisions.
You may recall reading our horrified response (#68, 63): "Shall there be any limit on people's right to enforce their morality on others? If pharmacists demand this right, what about other people demanding their rights? These might include:
* A cab driver refusing
to take you to a Planned Parenthood clinic;
* A 7-11 clerk who won't sell you alcohol because you shouldn't drink;"
* (we listed a dozen others)
Welcome to 21st-century Minnesota.
At the Minneapolis airport, almost 3/4 of the taxi drivers are Muslims from Somalia. These drivers have been refusing to drive passengers carrying alcohol, such as gift wine or liquor purchased at duty-free shops. Over 5,000 airport passengers have been left stranded in this way. The drivers claim that carrying alcohol is as sinful as consuming it. A local fatwa by the Muslim American Society has confirmed this interpretation.
In virtually the same words as anti-contraceptive Christian pharmacists, the Muslim cabbies claim that America's freedom of religion (which of course doesn't exist in Somalia) allows them to impose their beliefs on others.
Cabbies who won't drive legal passengers are like pharmacists who won't dispense legally-prescribed drugs--they are not qualified to do their job. When you apply for work as a cabbie you must disclose disqualifications like epilepsy, blindness, and a dangerous driving record. Anyone refusing to carry certain passengers because they disapprove of their (legal) behavior is similarly disqualified.
The real question here, of course, is about pluralism--something unknown in Somalia, most of the Muslim world, and in the society envisioned by America's evangelical Christians. Pluralism is a radical idea: I tolerate your private behavior that violates my beliefs and tastes, in exchange for the privilege of behaving in ways that you find distasteful. Or disgusting, wasteful, sinful, or self-destructive.
The lack of this covenant drove continuous religious warfare in Europe for 300 years. It currently enslaves 2 billion people in the Middle East, China, and Africa. Establishing this principle has enabled the glories of Western art, political freedom, and radical scientific thought.
Pluralism even allows people to choose not to work at a job that compromises their beliefs. And they don't have to justify their decision to the authorities or anyone else.
But if cabbies have the right to choose whom to serve based on their judgments of others' behavior, what else might they demand--refusing to transport women with exposed arms or hair, homosexuals, unmarried couples? Hindus, atheists, bartenders, bankers?
What if they become bus drivers, train engineers, pilots? The transportation system would be crippled. Couldn't happen? Tell that to someone freezing just trying to get a cab at the Minneapolis airport.
Why is it that so many true believers believe in a god who is both so insecure and so severe that he/she/it demands they destroy any social contract of tolerant cooperation? The old religious divisions--Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.--are now obsolete. There are only fanatics scared of everyone else, and everyone else scared of fanatics. James Dobson and Osama Bin Laden are the same person with different weapons.
National Condom Week Is, Er, Coming
National condom week is February 13-20. Buy them, use them, talk about them, leave them lying around the house for your kids and friends to see. Admire them: they are a modern miracle, something people have been searching for longer than they've been searching for gold.
This is our chance to mention the American Social Health Association. Their website at www.ashastd.org is a spectacular resource, especially helpful if you want more information about herpes, warts, chlamydia, or HPV.
Correspondence: Manipulation in Massachusetts
Reader Sandra Seaman writes,
Clicking through a google ad for a website suggesting that "Porn Hurts Women" took me to a page dedicated to the eradication of "adult" businesses in a town, based on secondary effects claims. Since this town is nowhere near me, I don't feel that I'd be particularly effective in any public support of the business owner. However, I thought perhaps any readers of yours near Northampton, Massachusetts might be concerned about this particular brand of zealotry.
Indeed, www.NoPornNorthampton.org wants to keep an adult store out of the town. They repeat the same tired arguments--opinion, emotion, irrelevant claims ("pornographers are just in it for the money"), and the old story that porn leads to child molestation. No science. No data.
And not enough integrity to say, "We can't prove that this store will hurt our community or our kids, but it makes us feel really, really nervous. We want to feel better, so we want to take away their right to operate a legal business, and take away our neighbors' rights to patronize this legal business." That could be the basis of an honest conversation, instead of making up scary stories about how looking at pictures of adults having sex turns people into child molesters.
Correspondence: Cheney's Continuing Dilemma
Last issue (#83) we discussed the Right's scathing criticism of lesbian Mary Cheney's pregnancy. The Right's continuing hellfire prophecies have put Vice-President Dick Cheney in a deliciously uncomfortable and embarrassing position. After making private homosexuality a public policy issue for six years, he even had the nerve to tell newscaster Wolf Blitzer that a question about it was "out of line."
Frequent Portland correspondent (and self-described 'Nam Brat) Darklady writes, "You ever notice that it's only lesbians who leave a "gaping hole" in their child's life by not having a father present... but not military families with fathers (or mothers) killing and being killed in a foreign war?"
Dick Cheney has a lot of nerve endorsing a near-genocidal government policy about gay lives, and then demanding that his daughter be respected for her choice, while he be allowed to "love my soon-to-arrive new grandchild" in peace--a peace he has aggressively and deliberately denied others for years.
Call For Awards Nominations
Every year, Sexual Intelligence Awards™ honor individuals and organizations which challenge the sexual fear, unrealistic expectations, and government hypocrisy that undermine love, sex, relationships and political freedom today.
Here's your chance to submit suggestions; just email us with a couple of sentences about your nominee. Feel free to nominate yourself. Awards will be announced in the March issue of SI. Last year, our 6th annual awards honored:
Bill Taverner, Sex Educator
Ricci Levy, Administrator & Activist
Roumen Bostandjiev, Bulgarian Sexologist
Mark Kernes, Journalist & Legal Analyst
Canada, the Country
Drew Mattison, Sex Researcher, Clinician, Autho