My Work In Delhi
Surprise! I am in India lecturing and vacationing.
Yesterday I lectured to the staff of an international NGO on challenges in sexual and reproductive health, a great experience.
Monday and Tuesday were my days to meet with the executives and staffs of various NGOs promoting sexual and reproductive health. The work they're doing in both urban and rural settings is inspirational and instructive. They deal with challenges both similar to and beyond the ones I and other American professionals deal with.
These Indian programs are often tied to work in women's rights; reducing domestic violence; HIV prevention; and promoting the rights of sex workers. One program was producing radio dramas for rural listeners, which were designed to promote discussion in "listening clubs." Several were helping people who had recently moved from village to big city, with the accompanying psycho-social dislocation. This goes on both within India, and via immigration from Nepal into India.
I lectured about assumptions that sexual health care professionals make, assumptions that client populations make, and how one reinforces the other--making social change more difficult. I talked about the need to reinvent the wedding night ,which is a source of horrible tension for both men and women in arranged marriages. And I talked about the psychodynamics of ignorance--the emotional states that must be addressed in order to overcome people's natural resistance to education and therefore to change. I also discussed the necessity to change India's cultural narratives around sexual feelings and behavior, to provide a framework that people could relate to if they were interested in change.
The professionals with whom I spoke seemed genuinely grateful. They appreciated that I had studied Indian culture enough to generate ideas relevant to their work, and that I could frame my sociological perspective in ways that they could apply it to their unique situation.
My pleasure, folks.
And yet...I couldn't escape the melancholy feeling that I was often failing in the U.S. where they were often succeeding in India (they would object to both if I said this to them!).
It was hard to stay cheerful when I observed first-hand how the U.S. government makes its family planing foreign aid conditional on following its archaic ideology that denies the way normal human beings actually feel and behave (an abhorrent policy about which I have written several times in Sexual Intelligence.
And I was frankly embarrassed that Indian sex education and HIV prevention programs could successfully challenge religious and political hierarchies in ways our American programs can't. Of course that has a lot to do with the difference between Hinduism and Christianity--Hinduism is a religion of diversity whereas Christianity is one of dogma--but still, whereas American progressives are dealing with decades of conservative anti-sex or anti-woman prejudice, Indian programs are dealing with centuries or even millennia of it--and they're making strides no smaller (and sometimes bigger) than ours.
My Indian colleagues were very curious about my work, which they asked about in great detail. Many had read my website, newsletter, articles, or blog. My latest book was news, though. When I told them the title, America's War On Sex, they typically smiled and nodded. "Oh yes," said one. "We have battles here, but you have a war over there. I hope your book is good ammunition."
Lick A Dogs Butt, Go To Jail
If you don't already watch the Sarah Silverman Show, stop reading this and go to www.ComedyCentral.com to see when it's on next, and watch whatever episode is playing.
The half-hour show is very funny, very smart, and totally fearless. In its pursuit of tackling hypocrisy, idiocy, and plain human foibles, it holds back nothing.
A recent episode, for example, had Sarah's character (named Sarah) betting a black man that anti-Semitism was worse than racism. Another had Sarah joining this nice group of suburban women who wanted to stop murder--until she found out they were an anti-choice group who demanded she promise she'd never have another abortion. This is not your grandma's sitcom.
This week's episode started as usual, with Sarah talking to her little Chihuahua (an unusually non-neurotic and friendly dog named Doug). He keeps turning around to lick his balls while she talks, however, and eventually Sarah gets fed up with his inattention (a recurring theme--how dare anyone be interested in anything besides Sarah!).
Saying "what the hell's so terrific about it," she lifts up the pooch and licks his butt. She's not at all pleased with the taste, and that would be that--but a neighbor sees her, and the horrified lady reports Sarah to the authorities. A few minutes later, several commandos break down her door, roughly search the place, and take Doug into protective custody. Sarah has become a pet abuser, and Doug a poor victim.
The caricature of America's child abuse panic and compromised justice system is screamingly funny. It's heartbreaking too, but it's so over-the-top that we're able to keep watching, eager to see what we're going to laugh at next.
Sarah is now required to register as a pet abuser, and must go door-to-door telling her neighbors that their pets are at risk from her and should be carefully monitored whenever she walks the street. People in the local diner scorn her, and feel entitled to say nasty, humiliating things to her.
Sarah goes to a group rehab session, where she doesn't exactly fit in, either("I'm Joe, and I kill people"). But comparing herself to these thugs and psychopaths energizes her to call a lawyer, visit Doug in dog detention (which is filled with "bitches" getting humped) and insist on a trial. The inept lawyer puts Doug on the stand, and well, I don't want to spoil the ending for you.
The brilliance of the show lies in its willingness to address truths rarely mentioned, and to play them out in a real-yet-absurd way. Viewers can read as much or as little into the black comedy as they wish it works no matter how it's approached. Sarah's gay neighbors, for example, talk about a recognizably real thing--one wants to marry the other, but the guy is commitment-phobic, so he says they can't marry because of the law, and they should always obey the law. This, while they smoke dope from an enormous bong.
Sarah's closing rap about the world's need for eccentric, curious people who don't always observe society's niceties is brilliant writing--especially in the context of her having been busted for raising sexual paranoia in the people around her.
We live in a country in which people are jailed--and their kids taken from them--for things like taking bearskin rug photos, letting them run around the backyard naked, and being told the proper names for their body parts. This is no joke. Watch as Sarah Silverman lampoons this extraordinary injustice while making you laugh.
Now that's entertainment.
Uncle Sam Wants You--to Marry
The United States government wants YOU to get married. As soon as possible, and certainly before you have sex. It doesn't much care who you marry, as long as it's someone of the other gender.
And it's spending billions of your tax dollars to convince you to do so.
According to a new SIECUS Special Report, the Bush Administration has created a "federally subsidized industry" through which Washington and the states give money to conservative and religious groups to persuade people to marry.
Progressive voices decry this institutionalized discrimination against people who can't get married--i.e., gays and lesbians. But the problem with this marriage gravy train goes way beyond that.
Portraying itself as a program to reduce teen pregnancy, poverty, and single-parent families, marriage promotion leaves young people unable to make good decisions about when and whom to marry, and when or whether to have children. This, of course, is the same fundamental problem with abstinence-only-until-marriage programs: they provide a one-solution-fits-all approach without teaching any decision-making skills.
Not only do these marriage-promotion programs assert that gay relationships are unhealthy and morally inferior, they assert that ALL relationships other than marriage are. And those are MOST of the sexual and intimate relationships that Americans will ever have.
If the government's true motivation were to increase the number of children raised by two parents, they would have included support for gay families and encouraged long-term gay relationships. Social science research clearly shows that the kids of gay parents grow up with the same strengths and deficits as the kids of similar heterosexual parents.
The government doesn't even care if all these marriages it's encouraging are happy ones. They just want all those sex-crazed singles domesticated into sexually-controlled spouses. The government apparently believes its own propaganda about marriage turning immoral people into moral ones. Moral ones like David Vitter, Rudy Giuliani, and Larry Craig.
Our country is justifiably proud of its diversity. It is disgusting that our government should promote one kind of relationship and one kind of family as the ideal, and give billions to right-wing groups to accomplish this ideological agenda.
Along with abstinence-only, internet censorship, hatred of contraception, and a war on adult entertainment, marriage promotion is another program that must be dismantled when the Democrats assume the Presidency in 15 months. Our government has systematically undermined our sexual and intimate expression long enough. A systematic ending of the means for doing so is essential--and it won't happen by itself.
Let's remember to demand that victorious politicians start 2009 by cleaning up this immoral intrusion into our lives.
Rocky Raccoon and Gideons Bible
It's an official trend: upscale hotels are removing their in-room Bibles, often replacing them with "intimacy kits" containing condoms.
The American Family Association, noting that the number of luxury hotels with in-room Bibles has dropped 18% since 2001, is predictably outraged: "Without action now, it is simply a matter of time before other chains remove the Bibles."
And the problem with that is what?
The AFA press release is just the latest reminder by the religious-industrial complex: organized religion deserves special privileges everywhere. Why a religious text in every hotel room? And why a Christian one? As the Sofitel chain explains, they're removing Bibles because guests are asking for other religious texts. This threatens to dwarf the whole smoking/non-smoking room thing; "will that be a Bible room, Koran room, Book of Mormon room?" Knowing the sex habits of many tired travelers, perhaps hotels should offer the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Of course, it's exactly the AFA and their fellows (Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, etc.) who demand that hotels eliminate pay-per-view in-room porn. They say people just can't ignore the stuff, which apparently leads viewers to rape, murder, and pillage.
Of course, many people are offended by finding an unwanted Christian Bible in their hotel room. They are supposed to just ignore it and celebrate America's religious diversity, while anti-porn crusaders can't imagine anyone just ignoring the in-room porn that a person has to pay for. What hypocrites. What a disgusting, patronizing view of human beings these "decency" groups have.
I guess atheists' ability to resist the sex and violence in the Bible (for free) is better than the sex-o-phobes' ability to resist it on-screen (for ten bucks).
Suggestion: keep the Bible (and dozens of other religious texts) in hotel rooms, but charge for them, like hotels do for porn or diet coke. And as with porn and diet coke, people can bring their own; pay for them; or do without. This would put the Good Book on a level playing field with the Good Orgasm.
In case you're interested, this week marked the 99th anniversary of Gideons International placing their first Bible in a hotel room. For all their effort, I don't notice the world becoming a better place, although hotel rooms have gotten much better.
Anyway, why regret replacing Bibles with condoms? Despite their claims, Bibles are obviously not preventing unwanted pregnancies. Condoms do. And we all want that, right?
Ending the Scourge of Strip Clubs
Sarasota County, Florida is the latest community to realize that destroying the U.S. Constitution is a small price to pay for protection from the scourge of strip clubs.
The County--inundated with exactly one club--has decided that adults watching other adults take off their clothes is bad for people. Not just bad for the strippers (who are otherwise considered Trash); not just bad for those watching them (otherwise known as Perverts); but for every one of the 379,000 residents (better known as Good People Who Deserve Protection).
The County is attempting to pass an ordinance that restricts what dancers can do, when they can do it, where they can do it, and how much they must wear while doing it--restrictions so radical that they will eliminate strip clubs.
A country bumpkin might ask the County, "um, what's the problem yer fixin'?" A city slicker might ask, "um, aren't Americans allowed to do what they want in private?" This shows just how much the exotic dance industry and their fancy lawyers have confused people.
The County doesn't need to show that there's a problem--the new ordinance says in black and white, "The Board of Commissioners finds that sexually oriented businesses are associated with a wide variety of adverse secondary effects," such as "lewdness, litter, and the potential spread of disease," along with various crimes. It's a good thing the Board can declare that there's a problem, because the police can't document a problem.
Since some local people don't want their neighbors looking at naked ladies they're not married to, the County has decided that those neighbors have no rights to their private shows, and that nobody has the right to make a living taking off their clothes for strangers.
And that's that.
Some people are smart enough to want constitutional rights that their neighbors approve of. Rights to stuff like going to college football games (where girls get assaulted) or bars (at which people get drunk and then drive home). The police do have data on how dangerous those activities are, you know.
Well, those people just better hope that the County doesn't decide that their entertainment is bad for other people. In which case the Constitution won't apply to them anymore, either.
That's what you call law and order.
Parents, Porn Isn't the Problem
If porn were the problem, we'd all be in big trouble. Because there's more porn out there than ever.
And there's more porn hysteria than ever. It's a PornPanic, fed by a 24/7 machine of "morality" groups, crime shows, right wing talk shows, misguided neo-feminists, and everyday wives and husbands whose relationships are struggling while porn sites prosper.
For example, America just finished WRAP--White Ribbon Against Pornography Week. (It used to be Pornography Awareness Week, until porn retailers started using it as a marketing slogan to increase sales. Now that's guerrilla theatre worthy of Paul Krassner.)
Like all anti-porn efforts, WRAP's goal is to scare people, especially parents, about the monster stalking the nation--porn--and the damage it supposedly does. Last week, co-sponsor Morality in Media (MIM) presented a typical creative mix of fact and fiction:
* MIM Facts:
Porn is almost everywhere, lots of people consume it, and many couples with poor sexual relationships contain a man who looks at porn.
Yes, those are true. So?
* MIM Fictions:
Men who look at porn commit sexual violence against women and children; men in terrific relationships get seduced away by porn; most porn portrays violence; looking at porn makes men think bad things about women.
No, those are lies. Not opinions--lies.
Anti-porn forces are particularly dangerous when they talk about kids' exposure to porn. There is NO evidence that seeing naked breasts or couples having sex is bad for kids; there's even less evidence that seeing pictures of such things is bad for kids. Four generations of European children have spent every summer at topless beaches and seen sex on TV, and they're not any worse off than our kids, who are obsessively shielded from even glancing at nipples.
So--parents, is porn a danger to your kids?
Unless kids are told that they're bad or endangered if they stumble onto porn, seeing it won't hurt them. If they're really young they'll ignore it; middle-schoolers will quickly get bored with it; older teens will get titillated or turned off, and get on with the rest of their cultural lives--celphones, tattoos, fashion, and that noise they call music.
Here's what dangerous to your kids:
* Kids being told their sexuality is bad
* Kids being told they shouldn't talk about sex
* Kids being told that God or Jesus or you know and judge their sexual fantasies
* Kids being told that condoms don't work
* Kids being told there are lots of bad people out there who want to kidnap them and touch their private zones
These dangers aren't theoretical--they're real. They lead to shame, guilt, anger, confusion, and dread. And those lead to unwanted pregnancy, fear of intimacy, inability to communicate, and a belief that sexuality is a problem that's going to undermine their lives.
And they lead to one more danger: parents who don't want to talk to their kids honestly about sex, because they feel panicked about the whole subject.
There are predators out there, people who want to hurt others. Fortunately, there aren't very many. Of course, when CNN, FoxNews, night-time TV dramas, and your local paper focus obsessively on sex crimes, it's hard to remember that there aren't that many.
And it's hard to remember that the rate of sex crimes in the U.S. has gone down every year since 1993.
It's scary to think that most adults who sexualize children are known to the kids. They're not strangers standing on street corners with candy. And they're not in internet chatrooms posing at teens.
They're people trusted by both parents and kids.
It's so scary to think about this one fact, that most parents would rather focus on scary strangers--who pose very little real threat at all.
Actually, it's not kids who are the most vulnerable here. It's scared parents who are the most vulnerable to being hurt by strangers--like the anti-porn, anti-sex people behind WRAP, who make their living lying to and scaring parents.
Scaring parents out of nourishing their kids with information, reassurance, and protection from anti-sex propaganda--now that's really dangerous.
Follow Me In India
As mentioned above, I am in India lecturing and vacationing until December 13. Do check out my adventures at www.MartyInIndia.com.
Give Sex for the Holidays
Actually, that's a tease for "give sexuality books,
CDs, and audiotapes for the holidays." See the descriptions
Take 10% off anything you buy in December by using discount code SI10. Of course that includes my new book, America's War On Sex. You can return anything you buy for a full refund, no questions asked, within seven days. Your purchase is a great way to support Sexual Intelligence, too.