Sexual Intelligence
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Each month, Sexual IntelligenceTM 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 #93 -- November 2007



Time To Come Out, Gay OR Straight

October 11th was National Coming Out Day.

Coming out isn't just for gays and lesbians, and gay people aren't the only ones who need support in coming out. In America, We all do:

  • People who are afraid their genitalia smell or look weird
  • People who fear their fantasies
  • People who hide their masturbation
  • People who ache to be touched differently, but won't tell their partners
  • People who wish sex didn't hurt
  • People who have an STD
  • People who fake desire or arousal
  • People who fake orgasm (women and men)

Why do so many of us hide our sexuality? Because as we're growing up we're told that it's bad, it's weird, it's dangerous. We learn to reject our own sexuality, so we project that onto others and assume that they will reject our sexuality as well. We learn to fear that if we honestly expose our sexual feelings, desires, or bodies, we'll be judged and abandoned.

Every week, my patients, lecture audiences, and anonymous correspondents ask me the same question--"sexually, am I normal?" And every week, my heart aches for them. It aches for the men and women who have a divine gif-t-their sexuality--and they can't accept it, much less enjoy it. They can't embrace it, so they can't share it.

So October 11 was--and every day is--a good day to come out. It doesn't have to be all the way--just a little. Take the time to tell a lover something about your eroticism. Or at work, confront a sex-negative joke you don't like--say, something about certain women being frigid, or about certain men needing Viagra. Challenge someone's inaccurate stereotype about a sexual variation you're familiar with--like 'S/M is all about men beating up women,' or 'couples who swing are afraid of intimacy.'

And by the way, have a moment's compassion for gay people, for whom coming out can also mean jeopardizing their jobs, residence, healthcare, religious support, or their family's love. Not to mention having to deal with a bunch of politicians building their careers by demonizing gay men and women.



Supreme Court Silences Alabama's Vibrators

Three weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Alabama law criminalizing the sale of sex toys.

For nine years, the law has been in and out of District, Appeals, and Federal courts (issues 9, 33, 39). The ACLU had asked the Supreme Court to review Alabama's right to control products perceived to threaten the moral health of their users and the public. Six states currently have various restrictions on sex toys.

Alabama controls the sale of sex toys because the legislature believes they promote a "prurient interest in autonomous sex" through "the pursuit of orgasms by artificial means." Actually, I totally agree with that. But where legislatures and courts may find this dangerous, I find it life-affirming, healthy, and good clean fun.

In fact, it raises an interesting question--how do we define "artificial" and "non-artificial" orgasms? Penis = natural, while fingers = artificial? "I love you" = natural, while "I'd like to lick you on Times Square" = artificial? Non-intercourse sex was criminalized in America for over a century precisely because it was considered "unnatural." That's why the right to sodomy is such a big deal, whether you do it or not-because it overturns the paradigm that divides sexual behavior into "natural" and "unnatural." The problem isn't that the wrong things are put into these categories--it's that the categories exist.

The Alabama law allows people to buy sexual devices with a "bona fide medical purpose." If we wish, we could list the medical benefits of virtually every sex toy:

  • Dildo: strengthens pelvic floor muscles, especially after childbirth
  • Butt plug: helps men ejaculate, increasing fertility
  • Cock ring: helps men last longer, facilitating intercourse, increasing fertility
  • Vibrator: helps prevent atrophy of vaginal tissue after hysterectomy or menopause; also reduces menstrual cramps

But why should we have to do this? It's demeaning to pretend that sex toys are like flu shots, dental floss or laxatives--of interest only to promote our health, and used grudgingly at best.

And how can a state legislature get away with arguing that "pursuing orgasms by artificial means for their own sake is detrimental to health and morality"? This is not a statement based in science, criminology, or medicine. It sounds more like nutty propaganda out of Nazi German, North Korea, or right-wing survivalists. Actually, using sex toys while voting might actually enhance everyone's health and morality.

It's easy to be snide-but-serious about this law:

  • If an Alabaman makes a dildo from a cucumber, can the grocery store be arrested for peddling obscenity?
  • Does Alabama plan to sue the U.S. Patent Office for patenting orgasm-producing machines?
  • Will Alabama start monitoring people's orgasms to make sure they're "natural" and not "artificial?" If you get off on a fantasy of Newt Gingrich or Britney Spears, isn't that about as unnatural as you can get?
  • In Alabama, you can buy a gun but not a vibrator. Why do they feel the second is more dangerous than the first?

We can laugh, but this extraordinary erosion of personal liberty, coupled with the massive disrespect and fear of sexuality, is no joke. States have a "rational interest" in "prohibiting autonomous orgasm"? Is Pamela Anderson now a terrorist?

We really are living through a War On Sex. The Supreme Court has declared our orgasms a battlefield, and sex toys are another casuality.



Genarlow Wilson Freed; Teen Sex Still A Crime

Last week, Georgia's Supreme Court ordered Genarlow Wilson released from prison, where he has already served 2 years of a 10-year sentence. As we wrote this summer (issue 89), Wilson, 17 in 2003, was convicted of having consensual oral sex with a then-15-year-old.

The release is great news for Wilson, tragically held hostage to adult fears of teen hormones.

The larger American tragedy continues, however, in inconsistent age-of-consent laws, statutory rape convictions, and the new crusade against teens circulating erotic photos of themselves on the internet.

In 2002, for example, Todd Senters had consensual sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend, which the oh-so-romantic couple videotaped. As we wrote back in 2004 (issue 57), because the age of consent in Nebraska is 16, the sex itself was legal--but Senters was busted for creating child pornography, and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

The whole idea that human beings don't get to own their sexuality until they reach some magic age is repulsive.

Statutory rape and age-of-consent laws are very old. They were intended to protect the chastity of young women, whose value as brides would plummet if they weren't virgins. Of course, a medieval or Victorian woman's body was the property of her father or husband. Rape was considered a crime against the man who owned her, not against the violated woman. In tribal cultures like Syria and Nigeria, this is still often true.

American legislatures and "morality" groups who champion age-of-consent laws claim they are for the good of the teens. True, sexual intercourse is not advisable for many teens. But punitive laws that criminalize teen sexuality not only damage the teens who get caught; they contribute to an environment that demonizes sexuality for everyone, sowing confusion, anxiety, and powerlessness about sex among teens and grownups alike.

If legislators, parents, and "decency" groups really want to protect teenage "children" (who can typically drive, hold jobs, fire guns, and after 17 even enlist in the military) from sexual exploitation, they should establish laws that criminalize exploitation, not sex.

Proposal: decriminalize all consensual sex between young people whose ages are within four years of each other.

That means that teens could legally have sex with each other, and older high school kids could have sex with a college sweetheart. The law would prohibit adults from having sex with actual children.

And if anyone found an 8-year-old involved in sex with another kid, the question would be about consent: were the kids in a position to understand what they were doing (hello, sex education calling)? Was the 11-year-old coercing the 8-year-old?

Parents who don't have the stomach to handle their kids' sexuality need to grow up. Churches, state legislatures, and "morality" groups declaring that the problem is sex are simply colluding with inadequate parenting. The "abuse" is not when a 17-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old, it's when the parents of either one are so unable to deal with their kids' sexuality that they want the state to criminalize it.

And protecting kids from a broken heart? Was Genarlow Wilson's blow-job Juliet protected by jailing Wilson? Does anyone imagine she has no guilt, shame, or self-criticism about how much he paid for a moment of her attention?

Kids can handle broken hearts. We all did. Kids are horribly damaged by the instruction that their sexuality is evil.



Cheerio From London and Charles Darwin

I recently returned from 4 days in London. Great monuments. Lousy food. Charming people. How do they stay so charming eating that lousy food?

Say what you will about the Brits (the food isn't their only fault), they gave the world parliamentary democracy. Not to deny their imperialism and funny hats, but they have often been an island of sanity (literally) in a world gone mad. And every day of my visit last week, I had some of that sanity in my hand.

Their 10-pound ($20) bill features a picture of Charles Darwin on the back.

Can you imagine that in the U.S.?

Twenty-five years ago, people who were against sex education, abortion, pornography, and premarital sex were straightforward and honest about it: "it's immoral," they would say, "it's just not right." They might even add, "the whole thing makes me uncomfortable."

Now people lie about these things: "Abortion causes sterility or cancer" (it doesn't). "Sex education encourages kids to have sex" (it doesn't). "Premarital sex leads to depression and divorce" (it doesn't). "Pornography makes men rape women" (it doesn't). Science has disproven each of these assertions. They're opinions, not facts. Opinions that control U.S. public policy.

This is exactly as if the Defense Department were controlled by people who believe that the world is flat--and refused to sail our navy across the ocean to prevent our ships from falling off the edge of the Atlantic.

I call these opinions lies because when confronted with the evidence that they're wrong, these people almost always say, "I don't care about your so-called facts. I know what I know." Worse, they spread these lies via government websites, "decency" campaigns, and TV shows.

One of the most tragic accomplishments of the Bush Administration is the cultural devaluation of knowledge. Facts are no longer seen as special. In a single decade, the scientific enterprise--the thought process that lifted human beings out of caves, cannibalism, and the fear of fire--has been nakedly politicized, reduced to the level of just another opinion.

As teacher Bob Riggins says, "Do you believe in evolution?" is the wrong question. It suggests that there is a choice. It implies that "believing" and "not believing" are, on some intellectual level, equivalent. But they aren't.

Evolution's history and contemporary processes have long been established as knowledge. In fact, you can see evolution easier than you can see intercourse causing pregnancy or the moon causing tides. The next time you get a drug-resistant flu or infection, you're seeing evolution in action. And when you drop your pen, does it fall because of "gravity," or the floor god Calvin? Does not believing in gravity make it any less real?

In England, people don't discuss whether or not they "believe" in Darwin or Evolution. And millions of them are good Christians.

But in today's America, more people believe in the coming of the Rapture than in the reality of Evolution. As Richard Kliman says in Philip Roth's new novel, Exit Ghost, "these are people who don't believe in knowledge."

I love England for bragging that it's the home of Charles Darwin. I cherish America for the vision of liberty that it offers the world. I would love America even more if the 100,000,000 of my neighbors who don't "believe" in Evolution grew up and admitted that there's an actual world out there, sex included.

Every day that America denies science we are one day closer to the barbaric, medieval society Al-Qaeda dreams of. Why are we going there voluntarily?



Women Who Diss Women Who Wax

Some women get tattoos or nipple rings, or bleach their anuses or shave their pubic hair, for the wrong reasons--say, pressure from a boyfriend, or a belief that their bodies are ugly or non-feminine.

Some reasons aren't wrong, just inane--"I dunno, we were all drunk and Mary did it, so I figured what the hell."

But plenty of women do this stuff because they want to--it feels good, or they think it looks good, it makes them feel sexy, it's a form of rebellion, their sex partner likes it, it makes wearing a thong easier, whatever.

Unfortunately, a rising chorus of so-called feminists and gender theorists are criticizing women who make the "wrong" choices about these things. Claiming they know women better than they know themselves, they decry women who shave, wax, implant, bleach, pierce, or otherwise change their sexual bodies.

These body-modification fascists say all those activities are a response to "cultural pressure" (especially from selfish, obsessed, insecure boyfriends and husbands), and that no adult woman could possibly decide to do these things on her own. They say that any woman who pierces her labia or gets breast implants has been "manipulated." Oh, you know women--unable to think for themselves. Unable to think, period.

Well, I'm tired of it.

I'm tired of the idea that there's only one way of being sexually liberated, only one way of accepting your body and your sexuality. I don't care what that way supposedly is--the problem is the concept that there's only one way.

Of course, nowadays we have a second villain besides selfish, women-hating men: we have selfish, women-hating porn. Yes, everything that women want to do sexually that neo-feminists mistrust-anal sex, clitoral hood piercings, threesomes (with two women or two men!)--it's all supposedly because of "pressure" from porn. In an impressive bank shot, even women who don't watch porn are supposedly controlled by it because their male partners watch it and persuade them to hate their bodies. And if their male partner doesn't watch it, well his buddies do, and their desire for balloon-breasts or garter belts is somehow contagious, ultimately "pressuring" a woman they've never met.

The final stupidity is the idea that women who shave their bushes do so in order to look like young girls--which all those bad men want, because deep down they desire sex with little girls, or want to take away adult women's power. Would we put up with Europeans thinking the same nonsense about American women shaving their legs or underarms?

Only someone who thinks women have nothing between their legs would think a shaved adult woman looks like a little girl. She may look like a million bucks or a plucked chicken--it's all in how she sees it. She may prefer the way her panties and jeans fit or look, she may like the way oral sex is easier, she may be stating "I'm a rebel" or "I'm comfortable with my sexuality." She may like that her partner (male or female) likes the way it feels or looks. She may simply think it's fun, or she may just like being in style--the way many women choose their cellphone or hemline.

Or she may know, as a friend recently told me, that "the ice age is over," and decide that a bunch of fur around her vulva is just not necessary.

I'm willing to believe that for some women, shaving, waxing, bleaching, implanting, and piercing themselves would be shameful or self-destructive. But these women--whether they are Mormons, Ann Coulter clones, or respected academic feminists--have no idea what their sisters are thinking or feeling when they make the same choices. Assuming that women can't express lust or embrace their own sexual bodies is bad for everyone, male or female. Whether the assumption comes from the Right or the Left is irrelevant.

For centuries, American men said women couldn't think clearly. While not entirely gone, this idea is much less accepted today than ever before. We don't need self-righteous women picking up this archaic idea, criticizing other women because their sexual choices discomfort the critics. When neo-feminists and "women's advocates" find themselves aligned with anti-sex, anti-women "decency" groups, you know they've made a dreadful mistake.



Blog Continues

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