Camille Paglia: Wrong About Sex Ed

April 20, 2014

We never know which Camille Paglia is going to show up: brilliant intellectual, freelance anti-Christ, or tunnel-visioned provocateur.

It was the latter Paglia who wrote a recent piece in Time Magazine cleverly titled “Put the sex back in sex ed.” Of course, we sex educators have been urging this for decades. But that’s not what her article is actually about. She says we should inject gender politics into sex education. As a bonus, she also exposes her ignorance about a number of common sex education issues.

Harking back to the world of Leave It To Beaver, Paglia demands that “The genders should be separated for sex counseling.” More stunningly, she says that boys need lessons in sexual ethics, “while girls must learn to distinguish sexual compliance from popularity.” Hello Camille, this is 1955 calling, they want their stereotypes back.

Besides, if that’s the key mission for sex education, wouldn’t it be more effectively accomplished by teaching the boys’ and girls’ lessons to both groups, in front of each other?

Paglia describes “the liberal response to conservatives’ demand for abstinence-only sex education” as simply condemning “the imposition of fear and shame on young people.” She then snarks that “perhaps a bit more fear and shame might be helpful in today’s environment.”

Paglia thus makes three mistakes in a single paragraph, which is not surprising when she willfully ignores the science. As a reminder, peer-reviewed, replicated studies from across the country prove:
* abstinence-only programs don’t accomplish their stated goals (abstinence);
* abstinence-only programs create substantial disadvantages (e.g., reducing the use of condoms at first intercourse);
* fear and shame are correlated with lower contraceptive use, less communication with parents about sex, and more unwanted pregnancy.

Paglia does get a few things right: America’s present sex education system is a crazy-quilt of programs, whose content is vulnerable to local political pressure. Sex ed teachers are not always adequately trained, especially those presenting abstinence-only programs. And Paglia, along with the entire rest of the world, correctly notes that young people are bombarded with sexual images and messages, and that young women are ill-prepared to negotiate the sexual attention they attract (adults don’t handle this stuff too well, either).

But Paglia sympathizes with religious conservatives who are concerned that sex ed is “an instrument of secular cultural imperialism, undermining moral values.” In demanding that public schools “not promulgate any ideology,” does that include proper names for body parts like the clitoris? Mention that masturbation is the most common form of sexual expression, and is physically and emotionally harmless? Data that the medical dangers of abortion are lower than the dangers of childbirth?

Describing religious objections to sex ed as fear of cultural imperialism is exactly how the Chinese justify censoring the internet: they equate truth with ideology.

Here’s perhaps the nuttiest of Paglia’s assertions: “Too often, sex education defines pregnancy as a pathology, for which the cure is abortion.” Here’s a more accurate version: “The best sex education notes that pregnancy is a common outcome of unprotected intercourse, explains how to prevent it, and acknowledges that abortion is one common response to unwanted pregnancy.”

Paglia ends with her prescriptions for improving sex ed. As if she thought them up herself, she demands things we professional sex educators have been urging for years:
• Objective biology, taught by qualified teachers;
• Accurate, health-oriented information about STDs, including information about condoms;
• Non-judgmental answers about the health implications of various sexual practices.

Welcome to our professional world, Camille Paglia, we’re glad to have your support. To get closer to the goals you say you share with us, please support teaching males and females in the same room (beginning the mutual communication they’ll need for their actual sexual interactions), and please trust that humans can learn better decision-making without being shamed or guilt-tripped.

But get out of the way if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin’.

Does Pornography Cause Rape?

April 13, 2014

Imagine it’s New Year’s Eve, 2000. A bunch of us are sitting around with a good Cabernet, and someone wonders—“what do you suppose would happen if the U.S. were flooded with free, high-quality pornography?”

Opinions, of course, would vary:
“Some people would quit their jobs and watch porn 24 hours a day.”
“People would be horny all the time.”
“Everyone would go on a diet to compete with porn actors and actresses.”
“There would be an epidemic of rape and child molestation.”
“Divorce would skyrocket.”
“Nothing would happen at all.”

Just weeks later, America did the experiment.

That’s when broadband internet started bringing porn into almost every home in America. With mobile devices, porn was soon in everyone’s pocket, too.

Before the internet, pornography had been attacked as immoral. Some Senators even said it was part of a Communist plot to weaken the character of America’s youth and husbands.

But morals change. Drugs and rock music—not to mention Vietnam and Watergate—changed the entire landscape of morality. And the birth control pill changed the definition of what “good” girls did.

What, then, to do with pornography?

Invent a public health menace.

And so the government, churches, and decency groups switched the narrative from porn is immoral (bad for users) to porn is dangerous (bad for everyone). Americans started hearing that viewing pornography caused consumers to rape and molest. This justified the demands (continuing to this day) that porn be restricted or even criminalized.

Porn became a legitimate civic concern, and still is. A good citizen has to be concerned about a product that leads to violence, coercion, and perversion.

The only trouble is, there has NEVER been conclusive evidence of this. There still isn’t.

Lyndon Johnson’s commission couldn’t find this evidence. Richard Nixon’s commission couldn’t find it. And in 1986, the Meese Commission—specifically chartered by President Ronald Reagan to find porn dangerous—couldn’t, either. The report stated the opinion that porn is dangerous, but they admitted there was no evidence to prove it.

Later lab studies—still cited today—gave undergraduates forced choices after showing them porn, and came to narrow conclusions about porn changing attitudes about rape. But no one has been able to replicate these studies, and there’s no proof that supposed rape-supportive attitudes lead to an increase in actual rape.

Today there’s talk of America’s “rape culture,” and how our society has to acknowledge and challenge it, using every tool from eliminating porn to eliminating rape jokes.

But here’s the inconvenient fact: while there’s still too damn much rape, the rate of rape has gone DOWN since internet porn flooded America’s homes. Documented by the government, reported in the Journal of Sex Research, the rate of forcible rape in the U.S. has steadily declined since the explosion of internet porn. (Yes, rape is under-reported—now, as it has been every year.)

So how can people claim that porn viewing leads to rape? Only by ignoring the facts.

And so Morality in Media and other groups point to “violent porn.” They’re right of course—there’s some very disturbing stuff out there. Makes you wonder how someone can maintain an erection while watching it. But how does this affect the viewer when he walks out of his house? Science says “not very.”

And what exactly is “violence” in pornography?

Periodically, American society wants to assess violence on television. Estimates of its occurrence always vary wildly, depending on how violence is defined: news shows? War movies? Westerns? Horror films? Gone With the Wind? It’s a tough call.

And so is identifying “violence in porn” (and porn that’s “demeaning to women”). Consider these activities commonly depicted in porn:

Two women and one man;
Two men and one woman;
A woman being watched masturbating;
Fellatio;
Cunnilingus;
Anal sex;
Spanking.

Which of these should be coded for violence? Some people would say all. Others would say some, while most viewers would say none. Hence the wildly different estimates of how much violent porn there is.

To put it another way, someone’s opinion about what’s violent in porn says as much about their concepts of sex as it does about the porn they’re describing. And since so many women enjoy these activities, it’s reasonable—not damning—that actresses are smiling during these depictions. That’s not abuse they’re smiling through, it’s pleasure.

Finally, let’s remember that adults play sex games. Pretending to force a lover to do what you both enjoy (while he or she pretends to resist) is a common one (it’s called teasing). So is biting or holding someone down.

To know if porn is depicting a sex game or a character coercing another character, you’d have to watch enough of the film to get the context. Researchers don’t. You’d have to ask the director and actors what scene they think they’re playing. Researchers don’t.

Nevertheless, here’s a final inconvenient truth: millions of men and women (gay, straight, and bisexual) like to pretend they’re involved with violence when they make love. Are we not allowed to portray this in porn? In the absence of real scientific evidence that watching “violent porn” makes consumers commit sexual violence more than watching “non-violent porn” or a college football game, how can we justify today’s hysteria about “violent porn”?

To repeat: the rate of rape has gone down as the availability of porn has gone up. That effect has also been documented in Germany, Denmark, Croatia, China, and Japan. Whether or not Americans live in a “rape culture,” whether that culture is being increasingly glorified, there is no epidemic of actual sexual violence.

Instead of blaming porn for a non-existent epidemic, people should be wondering what we can learn from the good news about the decrease in the rate of rape.

Hobby Lobby’s Dangerous Quest

March 29, 2014

What do a fetus and a corporation now have in common?

Legally, they’re both people. And in some situations, their rights take precedence over those of actual people.

I hope you won’t turn off to the upcoming Hobby Lobby Supreme Court battle thinking it’s just a boring, incomprehensible conversation about that distant thing called the Constitution.

To summarize the case: Hobby Lobby’s owner (remember, Hobby Lobby is a corporation, not an actual person) says the company shouldn’t have to follow the new federal requirement to include no-cost birth control in employee health-care insurance. Note that Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to dispense or encourage birth control, and employees are not required to use it.

But the company’s owner says the company has a right to not follow the law if doing so would violate his religious beliefs. “Freedom of religion, free of government interference,” is the rallying cry.

You don’t see companies refusing to provide legally-required handicap parking or accessible bathrooms because of religious beliefs. You don’t see companies refusing to obey food safety regulations in company cafeterias or worker safety regulations on factory floors because of religious beliefs.

No, “religious beliefs” are always about sex.

The Religious Right says the Hobby Lobby case is about freedom of religion. Their deliberate misinterpretation of our Constitution is shameful.

The Bill of Rights guarantees that government will let PEOPLE worship however they wish, and won’t force PEOPLE to worship in ways they don’t want. It’s the most radical promise of its kind in human history, of which every American (including atheists) should be proud.

But under the guise of religious freedom, Hobby Lobby and other “conscience clause” believers want to opt out of government regulations that have nothing to do with worship.

Contraception is not about worshipping. You want to worship, go ahead. You want to preach against contraception, go ahead. You want to try to dissuade others from contracepting, go ahead.

You want your company to be exempt from a law that allows other people to do things you disapprove of? No. That’s how they run things in Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, not in a modern democracy.

Hobby Lobby says it can’t obey the law because it would be helping others behave in ways it finds unacceptable. That’s like saying you can’t stop at a red light in front of a mosque because you’d be enabling people to pray to Allah. Or that your taxi company can’t pick up people in Black neighborhoods and take them to White neighborhoods because you’d be helping the races mix.

Religious beliefs should not give anyone—or any corporation—an exemption from following civil laws.

And consider: What about companies with all white employees who want to discourage contraception not because of religious belief, but because they fear people of color are taking over the country? Is one reason really better than another?

Privileging religious belief over other “sincerely held beliefs” is anti-democratic at its core. It suggests that some people’s beliefs are more important than others. I think Napoleon says I shouldn’t provide clean bathrooms for my employees, the law says I’m wrong. I think Jesus wants me to reject America’s new health insurance regulations, that should be OK?

And let’s talk about those bathrooms. It apparently says right there in the Bible (as well as the Koran) that women should not be too damn uppity (I’m paraphrasing here). So what if an employer decides to provide bathrooms for male employees but not for female employees, who really should stay home? Or if an employer decides that pregnant women shouldn’t work, and claims the right to fire a woman as soon as she becomes pregnant? Or if an employer decides that the Bible demands obedience in children, and insists on hiring 13-year-olds despite child labor laws?

Once you let “sincerely felt beliefs” exempt people, there’s no limit to how much they can challenge a democracy’s laws.

And that affects all of us. That’s why the “freedom of religion” argument is bogus. This isn’t about challenging a law that prevents people from worshipping or believing as they will. It’s about challenging a law whose democratic, scientific ideology they reject—and hiding behind Mary’s skirts to do so.

A year of living in Saudi Arabia or Nigeria might help these people understand what it really means to lose freedom of religion.

Hobby Lobby is dishonest. Jesus wouldn’t like that. But then again, very little of the Religious Right’s behavior is about what Jesus would like. It’s mostly about economic and political power—which Jesus apparently understood quite well.
************
I cover this issue extensively in my book America’s War On Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust, & Liberty, recently released in an updated edition.

The Myth of Porn’s Perfect Bodies

March 24, 2014

Among the complaints I repeatedly hear about porn is that it features perfect female bodies, which supposedly makes male consumers lose interest in normal, imperfect bodies. Normal imperfect bodies, of course, are what most men are limited to in real life.

People who watch a lot of porn don’t say this. Only those unfamiliar with actual porn say it, because it simply isn’t true.

Sure, many porn consumers seek out and enjoy conventionally perfect bodies—young, blemish- and wrinkle-free, incredibly round where they’re round, as smooth and firm as polished teak where they’re smooth and firm.

But an enormous percentage of internet porn features adult bodies different from that altogether. If you don’t watch porn you wouldn’t know this. But if you watch adult porn, you know what’s out there, including:

~ Amateur porn: Porn posted by non-professionals, usually made in their homes or hotel rooms. These men and women look like you and me—unless, of course, you look like Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson.

Amateur porn not only features the non-gorgeous, it sometimes features the downright average-looking. And that’s what consumers of amateur porn want—regular people looking regular, doing really hot things. It’s the genuine enthusiasm that the consumer loves, combined with the idea that the film could have been made by neighbors just down the street. Now if only we could get those neighbors to vacuum the living room before making their next video.

~ Non-silicone, often non-perky: Critics who claim that every porn actress is puffed up with silicone are full of, um, hot air. While the eerily perfect silicone look has lots of fans, so does the natural look.

And so many of the top models feature exactly what they developed on their own, glorious imperfections and all. And some have less than they were born with—whether they’re called hangers, droopers, suckers, or saggers, there’s an audience for breasts that are definitely not youthfully perky. What a great country—whatever breast type you like (even flat-chested), there’s porn made exactly for you.

~ Fetish: While many porn sites feature videos for the mainstream, others cater to niche markets. Fetish sites aren’t for everyone, but one by one they feature everything you can imagine, and plenty you don’t: women on their periods, women who don’t shave their legs, women with giant clitorises, women with bald heads, women amputees, women who are lactating, women wearing diapers, women a little overweight, a lot overweight, and so overweight they have trouble navigating a doorway.

No Emma Watson look-alikes need apply here.

Why do some consumers like to wank to pictures of pregnant women or women finger-painting with their menstrual blood? People who enjoy it answer exactly the same as everyone else describing their favorite visual arousal: “I dunno, it just works for me.” That’s the same answer you give when asked why you prefer the flavor of ice cream that you do, right?

~ Old: There’s mommy porn, granny porn, grandpa porn, in-law porn, mature porn. That’s a lot of gray hair.

Some crusaders say that watching videos of old people being sexual is even more disgusting than watching “normal” (albeit objectionable) porn. But these days we all believe it’s OK for older people to be sexual, right? So how are videos of their sexuality any more perverted than videos of young adults having sex?

The decency critics want to have it both ways—they demonize porn for featuring unrealistically beautiful young actresses, and then they cringe when porn features more normal-looking middle-aged actors and actresses.

* * *
[Reminder: in this piece we’re discussing legal adult porn. Don’t change the subject and talk about illegal child porn, whose viewership is a tiny fraction of the audience for legal adult porn.]
* * *

So what does this all mean?

First, people who don’t know porn should stop talking about what porn shows. For critics who say, “But I don’t want to watch that crap,” fine, don’t watch it—but then you don’t get to be a critic. If you insist on being an ignorant critic, at least preface every third sentence you say with, “Of course, I don’t know what actual porn is like, because I haven’t really seen any.”

Second, people surprised with the real content of porn should ask themselves—if it isn’t just the perfect bodies, what else do people want from porn? Why do they watch stuff that I wouldn’t watch in a million years if I wanted to be aroused?

That’s where things get interesting, because people watch and get excited by an incredibly wide range of sexually explicit material.

Many anti-porn crusaders (and even smart people like the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts) make the mistake of assuming that what arouses people on video indicates what they want to do in real life. But that’s wrong: people watch Matrix or The Terminator and don’t go crashing their cars; people watch RoboCop or Natural Born Killers and don’t go out and kill; heck, people watch Olympic curling and they don’t go out and curl.

So why does our human family love watching images of things they don’t want to do themselves? Consider common video choices: straight men like to watch men fellating men. Inhibited people like to watch orgies. Assertive women like to watch submissive women.

We are a perverse species.

Different people watch porn for different reasons. We shouldn’t be surprised that different people like different kinds of porn, including porn that you or I might find boring, disgusting, stupid, or way too much like our first marriage.

If we thought of porn the way we think of everything else—TV, novels, clothes, kitchen appliances—we would have predicted this. In porn, as in everything else, American consumers have a wide range of choices, and vote with their eyeballs. Every eyeball likes perfect images. Intriguingly, every person with eyeballs imagines perfection differently.

If a decency crusader doesn’t watch porn, and thinks that people engage with porn differently than they engage with everything else in their lives, he or she wouldn’t—couldn’t—imagine this.

And if a decency crusader knows nothing about everyday life, he or she could easily overlook the simple fact that all of us are surrounded by gorgeous bodies—at work, at the grocery store, in the airport, at the gym, on the street—and have to figure out how to stay interested in our imperfectly-bodied mate at home. Porn is the least of that problem, which has existed in the West since the Greeks and Romans.

Finally: Normal Sex Revealed

March 17, 2014

I know you really want to know. And I know how hard it is to find out. We search the web, we look at porn, we read self-help books and listen to podcasts. If we’re bold we ask our best friend.

Almost everyone wants to know what sex is like for other people. Or to put it another way, what is sexually normal? How often, how many minutes, how many orgasms, how many inches, how many partners, how much, where, when? And how?

I’ve spent decades not answering the “normal” question—from patients, the media, from my readers, radio listeners, lecture audiences.

Why? Because people inevitably use the information in terribly non-helpful ways. Both men and women want to compare themselves to some “average,” and judge themselves: either “I’m/we’re like other people, so I’m/we’re OK,” or “I’m/we’re not like other people, so I’m/we’re not OK.” Worst of all is “I told you you’re not normal.”

Those are all mistakes. If a sex life works for those involved, it’s fine. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. What others do is irrelevant.

Nevertheless, after 35 years of refusing to answer the question, today I’m going to tell you—although not with numbers. In America, here’s what’s sexually normal:

~ Adults have sex when they’re tired.

After the first blush of horniness wears off, most people save sex for when they’re too tired to do anything productive. Very few grownups (again, after the first 6-18 months of a relationship) say, “Honey, let’s spend Saturday night making love,” or “Oh, your parents are taking the kids tomorrow night? Let’s have sex instead of going out.”

When we’re tired the sex is more likely to be short, perfunctory, goal-oriented, and mechanical. Little energy for kissing. No patience for stroking, nibbling, or whispering. And if something goes a little unplanned—a foot cramp, an erection that comes and goes, an uncooperative condom package—we’re more likely to say “You know what? Let’s just forget it.”

~ Many people are not sober during (or before) sex.

That’s usually because they’re nervous, or they want to reduce their partner’s inhibitions (or simply calm them down) by inviting them to drink. Or because sex is physically or emotionally uncomfortable.

When people are under-the-influence, of course, their decision-making is compromised. They’re less likely to use birth control, and less likely to communicate clearly. And they have less of that fine-motor coordination that makes touching and kissing gentle, graceful, and pleasant. Being clumsy in bed (and not realizing it) doesn’t exactly motivate one’s partner.

And it can be harder to climax, too. It depends on which drug, and how much.

~ Even intimates are often unsure what their partner likes.

It’s quite interesting that after five or six months together, two people know each other’s preferences in food, music, movies, driving styles, and Operating Systems. But sex? Many people hesitate to say (“I like to climax from oral sex more than from intercourse”), hesitate to show (“see, softer, like this”), hesitate to ask (“like this, or like that?”).

And some people are so nervous that even after they’re told repeatedly, they still forget. They squeeze their partner’s balls too hard time after time. Or they still use rough language when they’ve been told it’s a turn-off.

~ Many people using Viagra hide it from their partner.

I first predicted men would do this in 1999, and they’ve been doing it ever since. Partly it’s a pride thing (“I don’t want her to know I’m not man enough without it”), but partly it’s self-defense (“So Joe, I don’t turn you on enough?” “Sam, maybe you don’t really love me?”).

It’s true that a substantial percentage of erection problems are about the guy’s emotions or the relationship (or both). Even if that’s true, the way to explore this is not with accusations, mind-reading, or defensiveness. And if an erection problem has organic causes, recriminations are completely pointless.

I don’t say that everyone who takes Viagra has to tell their mate. But most relationships don’t need one more secret.

Talking Mary Out of a Boob Job

March 10, 2014

I’m seeing this couple, John & Mary. Very nice people.

They came in last summer because he’d hardly ever have sex with her. Periodically she would get so depressed or angry that she’d get blind drunk and behave poorly—humiliate him in public, black out at parties, spend a few days in bed eating donuts.

“I wouldn’t do this if you’d have sex with me,” she’d say. “You can’t expect me to have sex with you when you periodically behave so badly,” he’d say.

They’d been doing this for over two years. Lots of anger, almost no sex.

But after six months of therapy, Mary changed: she stopped drinking. She treated him respectfully. No more blackouts, no more rages, no more days in bed with Krispy Kreme.

John changed, too: he became more relaxed, more complimentary, and he started discussing their future together. But one thing didn’t change: he still wasn’t interested in sex.

Mary didn’t know what to do. Neither did John, although she was in far more pain about this than he. John started individual therapy. For the first month he neglected to tell his therapist he wasn’t having sex with Mary. They’re finally talking about it.

Recently, Mary’s therapist called me for our monthly check-in. At the end of the call, she said “By the way, Mary’s planning to get a boob job.” It was the common couples therapy whack-a-mole—you take care of one thing here, another issue pops up there. Every couple really is a system, its elements all connected.

A few days later Mary & John came in, and we had a friendly, productive session. When we came to a natural stopping place about 10 minutes before the end, I said “So, I guess we need to talk about Mary’s breasts?” “You talked to my therapist,” she said, “Right?” Right.

Mary gave the usual reasons—wanting her clothes to fit differently (“and I get to buy new stuff, too!”), wanting to look like some of the other women in her gym, and then what she thought was the clincher: “Besides, he’s always been a big boob man.”

I asked him what he thought of her surgery idea. He was lukewarm. I asked why he hadn’t expressed that more clearly by trying to discourage her. “It’s her body,” he said weakly. And it is, of course. But I told John that as part of her decision-making process, Mary needed a clearer picture of how he feels. Even at age 40, John was still getting the hang of this relationship thing.

Turning to Mary, I gently said, “Many women get their breasts surgically changed because they assume it will increase their mate’s sexual desire. Is that a reason you want to do this?” She protested weakly, but reminded him, “You told me you’ve always loved busty women.” “Yes, I generally have,” he said. “But your breasts are fine, more than fine. Really,” he said.

“Mary,” I said, “When you were drinking and being mean, John could blame his low desire on that. And you did something about it. Now that you don’t drink or act out, how can we explain his lack of sexual interest in you? If his low desire turns out to be about him, and not you, there won’t be anything you can do about it. That must very scary. Is that perhaps what this breast surgery might be about—you trying to do something, anything, rather than just sit there and maybe nothing changes?”

Tears, meaningful looks, awkward silence.

“John, do you think if Mary has a bigger chest you’ll be more interested in sex with her?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“She’s already beautiful. Don’t you think so, Doc?”

Indeed, she actually is very attractive.

“Mary, what do you hear John saying?”

“I hear him,” she sniffled. “It isn’t me…OK, then what is it? What should I do? Did I change for nothing? Are we ever going to have sex?”

We were already over time, and this was a good place to stop. They had a lot to talk about. The next part of the therapy—and more importantly, of their relationship—had just started.

Seven Good Reasons People Don’t Initiate Sex

March 2, 2014

I’m still in New Zealand, travelling from North Island to South Island by (gorgeous) ferry and (fabulous) train.

And I’m pondering the four days of training I just provided the country’s sex therapists and marriage counselors. As is the case in every country I work in, everyone here wants to know more about desire. Why does it decline in loving couples? How do we enhance it?

One seminar participant brought up the subject of initiating. Indeed, we all have patients who want sex but don’t initiate it. We also have patients who are ambivalent—if their partner initiates they’ll have sex, but if not, they’d just as soon skip it.

So rather than pathologize men or women who don’t initiate sex, I always assume they have good reasons, whether medical, psychological, relational, or some combination of these. Here are some.

* They don’t expect to enjoy it: not initiating sex you don’t expect to enjoy isn’t a pathology, it’s common sense. It’s the same reason I don’t order broccoli in restaurants—I don’t expect to enjoy it.

* They don’t expect their partner to accept: everyone needs to be able to hear the word “no” without collapsing. But when experience (or bitterness or even guilt) predicts that “no” is the likeliest answer, not asking is understandable.

* They anticipate criticism: “Oh, you’re finally initiating?”; “Suggesting sex? I guess you want something from me”; “If you’re inviting me to have sex, it better be more than a quickie”…if this is what someone expects when they initiate, it’s no wonder they don’t.

* They’re tired of initiating: Some people are fine doing virtually all the initiating, as long as the answer is usually “yes.” But some people feel such a pattern is humiliating, and they’d rather break the cycle, even if it means less sex. Or at least that’s what they think when they stop initiating.

* They don’t feel attractive or desired: When people think “sex is for other people” or “my partner would prefer sex with someone else, but settles for me,” that can drain the energy out of any erotic situation—and discourage someone from translating sexual feelings into sexual interest or initiating.

* They experience “foreplay” as a chore or as one-sided: if you don’t enjoy the kissing, hugging, and transition from not-sex to sex, initiating what lies beyond “foreplay” typically seems like a lot of effort for low return.

* They’re waiting to feel incredibly horny: When beginning our sexual careers, desire generally feels overwhelming, unambiguous, irresistible. Ten or twenty years into a relationship, desire typically feels calmer, more rational, more easily directed or postponed. If people in long-term couples are waiting until they feel sexually ravenous, they may wait forever—and never initiate again.

Suggesting sex is an invitation to connect. If connection is not what someone expects or experiences, they’ll be slow to initiate sex—and with good reason. If that applies to you or your situation, some clear communication (accompanied by affection) is definitely in order.

Better Sex: Tight Hand or Loose Vagina?

February 28, 2014

I’m in New Zealand this week training a marvelous group of psychologists and sex therapists. In addition to issues such as intimacy, menopause, power dynamics, and medication side effects, we’ve spent some time discussing pornography.

Inevitably, someone raised one of today’s most popular myths: that there’s an epidemic of young men with erection problems. This is supposedly caused by all their masturbating to porn—getting accustomed to the perfect stimulation from their hand, thereby reducing their interest in, and satisfaction from, sex with a real woman.

I told my Kiwi audience that that’s one fact, one misunderstanding, and one complete inaccuracy.
* Yes, men are learning about sex from masturbating to porn, which is unfortunate.
* No, there is no epidemic of ED in young men.
* No, there is no epidemic of young men preferring masturbation to partner sex.

Seriously: go to any high school or college campus anywhere, and ask a bunch of male students what they dream of sexually. None of them will say “I dream of the day when I can masturbate to porn anytime I want, and never have to mess with dating or having sex with an actual person.” Young men today want what young men have wanted since the beginning of time: a willing young woman (or young man) with whom to kiss and hug and have sex.

(Yes, there have always been a few guys too shy, inhibited, guilt-ridden, or even disgusted to want partner sex. That hasn’t changed, and there’s no reason to think it’s increased.)

Where’s the data about young men’s increasing erectile problems? It doesn’t exist. While some people think only middle-aged and older men have erection problems, scientists have known for at least 60 years that some 10% of men age 29 and younger have erectile dissatisfaction. I haven’t seen any increase in this number since I started practicing sex therapy in 1980 (some 20 years before internet porn became popular), and neither have any of the urologists or psychologists with whom I work.

But a huge number of young men jack off to internet porn, so how about the competition between the perfect hand and the imperfect vagina?

I think it’s simple. If sex were about only one thing—physical stimulation—one’s own hand would provide better sex than anything else, no question. But sex is about more than friction: it’s about feeling desired, touching and being touched, kissing, nibbling, and smelling, pleasing someone else, and feeling part of the ongoing human erotic parade.

Sex with Mary FiveFingers may provide more perfect stimulation and a more reliable orgasm, but when it comes to sex, that isn’t everything.

Most young men want to have sex not only with a vagina, but with the person at the other end of the vagina. Of course, most young men are missing some of the skills they need to enjoy both a vagina and its owner. And yes, internet porn is definitely giving its consumers unhelpful ideas about sex. But the rhythm of modern communication—texting, email, social media—is also undermining everyone’s ability to read facial cues and voice tone, as well as have the longer conversations that enjoyable (sexual) relationships inevitably require.

So yes, a vagina alone (tight or loose, moist or dry) can’t compete with the world’s most perfect hand—your own. But sex with an actual female? If a person can relax, communicate, and participate, partner sex offers way more than perfect friction. It offers connection, excitement, validation, arms, legs, hair, smiles, and a chance to explore the universe with a companion. Our hands are great, but they aren’t very good company.

Internet porn has a lot to answer for, but not for ruining the enjoyment of sex with a live woman (or man). Imperfect as the friction might be, that’s still among the best things life has to offer. And as pornified or textified as most young men might be, it’s still what they want.

Sex Abuse: Truth, Lying, or False Memory?

February 9, 2014

Recently, an unusually personal and lengthy exchange in the New York Times has raised the question: Did Woody Allen molest Dylan Farrow when Dylan was a child?

I have no idea.

But millions of people have an opinion, many of them quite strong. Across the blogosphere, comments about the subject have been loud, and dominated by three views.

One group—including many survivors of such victimization—believes children never lie about this, and accuses American society of not wanting to hear about its enormous rate of sexual exploitation. Another group—including many people with a very different experience—notes that in bitter child custody battles adults will do and say practically anything, including accusations of abuse, and coaching kids to hate or fear. A third group examines the “he said, she said” facts and allegations, and comes to its own conclusions—giving itself permission to have an opinion despite having no actual knowledge about the alleged event.

America’s attitudes about childhood sexual exploitation are deeply troubling. The troubling attitudes start with ignorance—of the structure of human memory, of the incidence of false accusations, of distinctions between kinds of exploitation. It continues with indignation and moralism, claiming that objective attempts to understand and parse this phenomenon ultimately disrespect all victims, and at worse, hide a tolerance of molestation.

It climaxes with pop psychology and sloppy journalism which claims that “1 out of 3 females is molested in her lifetime,” lumping together physical coercion, psychological pressure, bullying, bad parenting, and shame induction, so that the category “child molestation” loses its value to describe or explain much of anything—thus trivializing the horrific crime the term is meant to define.

Many general facts about child sexual exploitation are known:
• Many children are sexually exploited
• Many children who complain about molestation go unbelieved
• Many abusers go unpunished
• Many accusations of child molestation are false
• The most common situation in which false accusations occur is a divorce—and tragically, the children are often coached by one parent to accuse the other. Some children are coached by investigators—sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently through unprofessional techniques.

Many activists, policymakers, and the public seem unaware that, proven beyond any doubt, the structure of human memory does NOT resemble videotape—recording everything accurately, and playing back everything accurately under the right circumstances.

If anything, human memory is more like a digital photo that is constantly being photoshopped—by exposure to others’ memories, others’ opinions, cultural norms, and subsequent events that seem to contradict or confirm the memory. It’s surprisingly common for people to believe that certain things happened to them that actually didn’t. And it’s surprisingly easy to implant false memories in both children and adults. For more on this, see the work and Ted talk of world-renowned scientist Elizabeth Loftus.

Too many of the comments about the Allen-Farrow situation say that Ms. Farrow should be believed because (1) the millions of victims out there are damaged when any molest accuser is disbelieved and (2) not believing an accuser discourages victims from coming forward in the future.

This logic transforms the Allen-Farrow situation involving two actual people—about whom we know nothing—into social forces, about which we all have opinions and desire particular outcomes. It’s a call for retributive “justice” similar to the calls to convict Rodney King’s tormentors and to acquit OJ Simpson because African-Americans have historically been mistreated by Caucasian police.

And too many of the comments about the Allen-Farrow situation come down to “If you doubt that she’s telling the truth, you obviously hate women, tolerate rape, are blinded by male privilege, and/or are a molester yourself.”

Consider the crime of murder: most people agree that professionals can study it, differentiate among different types of it, know that some people are falsely accused of it, and study how that happens. Yet no one discussing these points is accused of not taking murder seriously, or not believing that it happens.

We should be at least that smart about child sexual exploitation. Intelligent people not involved in a situation should be willing to say “I don’t know what actually happened”—without having their integrity or compassion questioned.

And if an intelligent person is unsure whether something heinous happened in a particular situation, s/he shouldn’t have to hastily add that “of course, these heinous things do happen way too often, and of course I’m totally against them.”

When those are the ground rules—that doubting that X was molested or harassed or raped is a legitimate (although possibly incorrect) viewpoint—then we can have an actual, serious conversation about this serious subject.

Superbowl A Magnet for Sex Trafficking? Super Nonsense

January 31, 2014

Sex trafficking—the real thing, not the political consumer product or object of sloganeering—involves kidnapping or manipulating someone out of their community, forcing them to engage in sex acts somewhere else, and not allowing them to leave at will.

It’s horrendous.

It’s not simply prostitution, not even underage prostitution (which is, of course, illegal and awful). It’s not making porn films, even under onerous conditions. It’s not stripping or being an escort.

An increasing number of groups are intent on persuading Americans that we have a terrible and growing problem with sex trafficking. Their data is virtually non-existent, elided with words like “experts agree” and “shameful epidemic.” The new phrase is “youth at risk of being trafficked”—which is, tellingly, ALL youth.

The media reports anti-trafficking conferences and gigantic, grisly estimates; politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.

The favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to claim that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. In 2011, Texas attorney general Greg Abbot said “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human-trafficking events in the United States”—without any data. He strengthened a unit to pursue those involved with child prostitution (not the same thing as trafficking, of course). The result—at the Dallas Superbowl there were 113 arrests for adult prostitution, and none for trafficking.

The same is true for the three Superbowls before that: grim predictions of upcoming trafficking disasters, and none materializing. Says Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, “The Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes.” The absence of such time-specific trafficking is perfectly logical: it makes no sense to spend all that money dragging victims across the country for a single weekend of illicit income.

Nevertheless, promoters of SexPanic are at it again this year. Congressmember Ed Royce (R-CA), citing no data whatsoever, announced this week that “any high-profile sports event that brings a large influx of visitors to a new locale can also create circumstances conducive to human trafficking and sexual exploitation,” and of course introduced a bill increasing penalties on traffickers.

Every year, the NFL has to deny that they’re the center of an odious international sex slavery ring. NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy says the super bowl sex slave story is a simply an urban legend.

But that doesn’t stop those who are feeding—and feeding off of—America’s latest Sex Panic. One week before hosting the 2014 Superbowl, for example, Indiana’s legislature unanimously passed a law that makes recruiting, transporting or harboring anyone younger than 16 for prostitution a felony punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison. The law was passed without a single documented case of sex trafficking in the state. You now get less jail time in Indiana for murdering a teen than for pimping her.

The dozens of groups “fighting” trafficking rarely report actual successful interventions, which shows exactly how pointless most of what they’re doing is. “Raising awareness” would be harmless if it didn’t cost money, encourage fear and anger, or spread misinformation.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly why “raising awareness” about sex trafficking in America ISN’T harmless—it’s diverting money, time, and attention to a barely-existing problem, encouraging politicians and the public to ignore more important issues—like unintended pregnancy, domestic violence, and a lack of prenatal medical care for poor teens.

Calling prostitutes of any age victims of trafficking is an insult to those who really are kidnapped or tricked into sexual slavery. And lying about the Superbowl’s magnetism for the worst kind of criminality—when the numbers clearly show otherwise—is a disservice to every parent, every teen, and every taxpayer. It’s the latest example of the Sexual Disaster Industry expanding its product line.

To repeat, real human trafficking is horrendous. We should be grateful that with all of America’s problems, sex trafficking victimizes such a tiny number of people.


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