World Sexual Health Day 2014

September 4, 2014

According to the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS), today is World Sexual Health Day. Adopted along with the UN, here’s their definition of sexual health.

Some of the key challenges to sexual health in the U.S. today include:

* Childhood sexual exploitation:
It can alienate people from their bodies and from sex, entangle sex with coercion, entangle attention with shame and pain, and create lifelong secrets or hatred.

* Shame about our bodies, learned from an early age:
No baby is born ashamed of her or his body. And no baby thinks their genitalia is any different than any other body part. Young children have to learn to feel dirty, to feel guilty, to feel ashamed. Too many parents are eager to teach these lessons (and too many others do it inadvertently). Thirty years later, children trained to have these feelings end up in my therapy office. Note to world: it’s a penis, not a woo-woo or a willie; it’s a vulva, not a woo-woo or down there.

* The deliberate withholding of sexual information and health services from young people:
American sex education is better than what kids learn in, say, Muslim Saudi Arabia, Catholic Croatia, or psychotic Russia. But that’s setting the bar pathetically low. Our sex education is simply third-rate (usually incomplete, often inaccurate) compared with other modern countries like Sweden and Holland.

* The criminalization of and other obstacles to safe reproductive services and information:
It’s astounding that a modern democracy still privileges “religious” ideas about private behavior over humanist, secular, and frankly crazy ones. Maintaining unwanted pregnancy, mandatory childbirth, and disease exposure as the price for sexual activity disapproved by organized Christianity helps maintain an underclass of poverty, unemployment, and domestic violence.

* Binge drinking in college:
It allows women and men to have sex about which they feel ambivalent, it make contraception difficult, it makes communication almost impossible, and it invites conflict about whether the sex was consensual.

* The cultural refusal to acknowledge and validate masturbation:
Masturbation is the primary sexual expression of virtually all children and adults. Instilling fear and shame in people for this most basic activity undermines partner sexuality.

* Moral panics about pornography, sex work, and sexual entertainment:
A great deal of scientific knowledge exists to show that these adult activities are mostly harmless–except for the iatrogenic effects of laws that invite shame, isolation, and criminal elements into consumers’ lives. Moral panics thrive on emotion, reject science, and demand simple answers to complex problems.

* Religious teachings about sexual normality, proper reasons for or configurations of sex, the value of our sexual bodies:
Every traditional religion attempts to control the sexuality of its adherents, almost always by saying that sex itself is dirty unless redeemed by religious rituals (such as marriage or post-menstrual purification). If there is a god or gods, it/they are surely too busy—and too sophisticated—to care about which orifice or sexual partner people enjoy.

* * *
How is anyone to develop sexual health—the information, emotional skills, physical self-awareness, capacity for pleasure and intimacy—in such an environment?

From the far left (anti-porn activists, campus speech-code activists) to the far right (anti-sex education forces, anti-birth control forces), groups of Americans are successfully controlling other Americans’ sexual expression, health care, and access to information. With Election Day coming up, feel free to ask candidates, to comment on blogs you read, and to write letters to the editor about a sexual health topic you care about.

Closer to home, how’s the state of your sexual health? To improve it, what conversation do you need to have with your partner or health care provider?

When Sex Isn’t About Sex

August 31, 2014

“Everything in the world is about sex, except sex, which is about power.”

Yes, sex is sometimes about power. But sex can be about many different things. For some people it means “I can still get sex,” or “I can still get sex from a good-looking man/woman, or “I can still get sex from you.” I guess these are about power in a way, especially that last one.

Here are a few more reasons that people want sex: to get attention, to get touching, to feel taken care of, to feel attractive, to challenge taboos, to assert autonomy. For some people, there’s no better way to say “you are not the boss of me” than to have unauthorized or ill-advised sex. It doesn’t matter if the “you” is alive, dead, or knows about the sex.

So why does this matter?

It matters because if what you want is touching, or attention, or validation, there are many other, usually more effective ways to get them than sex. We all need a variety of ways to get our emotional needs met. Then, if one way doesn’t work—like our partner doesn’t want sex at a given time—we still have other ways of asking for what we want.

I’ve had patients who asked their partner for sex when it was obvious their partner was going to say no—but they asked anyway. They were so desperate to feel noticed or wanted that they just couldn’t hold back from asking, even when they knew they’d probably be turned down. Besides, they all say, “there was a one-in-a-million chance that he or she would say yes, and I didn’t want to miss it, no matter how unlikely.”

That kind of “reasoning” makes sense when you’re desperate—not for sex, but to fill an emotional need.

Let’s say that what you really want is to feel connected to your partner. How many ways do you have to create that feeling? Possibilities include giving him or her a small gift (say, watching their favorite show with them); offering to help do one of their chores (say, cleaning out their car—with them, not for them); bringing up a favorite shared memory (“hey honey, remember when we…”?); and simply asking for some connection in a friendly, direct way (hey, could we both stop doing our own thing now and pay a little attention to each other now?).

Sex can be very enjoyable under the right circumstances. That includes being honest with your partner about the kind of experience you want to have, and not using sex to fill one emotional void after another. That makes sex way too complicated, and sets people up for disappointment when sex can’t deliver the goods.

So to help make sex more enjoyable, don’t turn it into your all-purpose go-to for every emotional situation. Find other ways in addition to sex to connect, to express yourself, and to feel validated, so sex can be simpler and easier.

After all, what’s the difference between sex and feeling cared about? People can go for days without sex.

Ten Problems With Purity Balls

August 25, 2014

Purity Balls are more popular than ever. That’s the religious ceremony in which a girl (usually about 12) pledges her “purity” to her father and to God until she marries. Balls are like group weddings: dozens of dads wear tuxedos, girls wear (typically white) ball gowns, dads put gold bands on their daughters’ wedding finger, and then the couple has a First Dance together.

The average age of first marriage in America is now over 27. That would make the non-sexual Purity Zone (from pledge to marriage) some 15 years long. If we adjust the figure for the demographics of highly religious communities, a typical age of marriage would still be 20. That would make the Danger Zone—um, I mean Purity Zone—eight years long, still plenty of time to develop massive guilt or shame about the sexual feelings and even mild experimentation that’s almost inevitable in such a situation.

And just to make the Purity Challenge even more interesting, Purity means no kissing. Not just no genital sex—no anything. Compared to this standard, “Lie back and think of England” was a coke-fueled Vegas orgy.

If you’re not completely creeped-out yet, here are ten problems that this medieval arrangement invites:

* It places all the emphasis on female virginity and none on male virginity.
* It puts one’s future marriage at unnecessary risk by preventing any inquiry about sexual compatibility—or even about whether people like each other’s smell.
* Because very few people actually keep virginity pledges until marriage, guilt or shame for breaking this promise is almost guaranteed.
* It supposedly precludes the need for proper sex education, and so teens go through puberty completely unprepared. Instruction about contraception is not just unnecessary, it’s offensive to God, which increases the chance of unintended pregnancy.
* It eroticizes the father-daughter relationship without allowing any balance from dating or a boyfriend. And it privileges the father-daughter relationship without a comparable mother-daughter relationship.
* It sees virginity as the crucial measure of a female’s worth.
* It sees sex as impure and immoral, something to be avoided at all cost for many years.
* It creates unrealistic expectations of marriage: that the husband will somehow create an ideal sexual relationship for the couple, and that he’ll feel thrilled that his new wife is sexually ignorant (and often quite frightened).
* It creates unrealistic expectations about how adolescents and young women will deal with their urges to kiss, be touched, masturbate, or feel like a couple: pray the urges away.
* It forces most young women to eventually choose between satisfying their own desires or their father’s, and between denying their own desires and disappointing God.

According to a study in the Journal of Public Health, fully half of 14,000 adolescents who took virginity pledges broke them. Another study revealed that almost 2/3 of undergraduates broke their virginity pledges—and that a significant number of the self-identified abstainers had oral sex.

At the Purity Ball’s climax, father and daughter sign a Covenant: that as High Priest of the household, he will now protect her virginity. The ceremony’s wording is explicit: “Keep this ring on your finger. You are now married to the Lord, and your father is your boyfriend.”

Creating a Generation of Young Porn Criminals

August 3, 2014

I recently received the following inquiry:

I just found out my 9-year-old daughter has been looking at hard-core adult porn (“Ramrod butt busters,” “Sweet on teacher,” etc.).
She spent a weekend at my sister’s, who let her use her laptop. When my sister and I reviewed her internet history, it was obvious; then I looked at my daughter’s iPad, and was shocked all over again. I don’t want to shame my kid about sex, but I want her to be safe. The thought of her absorbing this stuff makes me sick.
What should I do?

Should 9-year-olds be looking at porn? Of course not. Porn is a product specifically made for adults, and young kids can’t possibly consume the product in a healthy way. They’re bound to find the images confusing at best, frightening at worst. If they feel guilty about watching the images, they may obsess on them, strengthening the negative effects.

And yet as truly distressing as this is, the issue of how little Mary processes these adult pornographic videos may be, unfortunately, the least of Mom’s problems.

Here are a few nightmare scenarios Mom should consider for a moment:

* Mary sending porn URLs to other kids;
* Mary showing some porn to a friend;
* Mary sending a nude photo of herself to a friend (or receiving one).

Each of these could get Mary into enormous trouble. Mary could be arrested for distributing porn to a minor, or for creating and distributing child porn. There are children all over the country who have been busted for various porn-related reasons. Mary could be next.

Neither our law enforcement nor our social work systems are up to speed on how kids use digital media. And so laws designed to protect kids from sexual exploitation are now used in ways that ruin kids’ lives. In many states, minors caught sexting are considered both perpetrator and victim of child pornography, and often taken into custody. Since in most states it’s illegal to show minors porn, a clueless judge or social worker can consider any kid who does so guilty of illicitly enticing a minor. Yes, that would be crazy—but remember, America is the country that charges schoolchildren with sexual harassment for hugging their classmates.

The above outcomes would be disastrous for poor Mary—but things could get even worse. Imagine that Mom’s sister is nervous, angry, or piously judgmental. She could report Mary’s porn-watching to county Child Protective Services. Or imagine that Mary’s iPad goes into a repair shop, and a tech person sees the porn history and reports it to the police. On top of either scenario, the authorities could question Mom or Dad about their porn-watching.

The ultimate tragedy following any of these?

Mary could be taken away from her parents and put into protective custody. Or Mom could lose custody of Mary for some indeterminate amount of time. Or Mom/Dad could be arrested for neglectful parenting for watching legal porn—if some welfare staff person or judge decides that this had somehow encouraged Mary’s interest in porn.

Fortunately, each of these scenarios is highly unlikely. But none of them is impossible, and most have happened many times in the last few years.

America’s sex offender registries are already bursting at the seams, now boasting tens of thousands of people whose non-violent “crimes” were never intended for inclusion. That trend is nowhere near peaking. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually there are so many non-violent juvenile “offenders” that an entire new criminal Registry is created for them. When one of them sues both the government and Harvard for discriminatory non-admission it will be a whole new day.

As scary or confusing as it might be for a 9-year-old to look at hard-core sexual imagery, there are far worse things. One is being taken away from your law-abiding, loving parents. Another is having your loving parents taken away from you. A third is being put on a sex offender registry or being formally labelled as a potential child molester.

Sorry, no simple answers today. Just a reader’s question with some very upsetting implications.

********

In the 1960s and 1970s, laws criminalizing the use of marijuana and other common street drugs created an entire generation of criminals. It helped radicalize a generation of college students—and their middle class parents—who had never had anything but respect for the law.

We’re about to see something similar, except with even more disastrous consequences for those young people caught in the traps of America’s War On Porn.

*******

For help on how to talk to kids about porn, see my blogpost “Your kid looks at porn—now what?” at http://goo.gl/pG4jGN
For my DVD or download on “Helping young people develop porn literacy,” go to http://www.martyklein.com/books-cds/cds/

Beware Popular Lies About Sex

July 29, 2014

Not “myths,” but lies.

Katie Couric recently embarrassed herself during an interview with psychologist David Ley about pornography. When he calmly described to her what a range of scientific studies say about porn’s effects on behavior and our brain—that it’s minimal—Couric raised her voice, rolled her eyes, and said she was sick of science. “Can’t we use some common sense here?”

Actually, no. Common sense clearly tells us that the Earth is flat. Want some science with that, Ma’am?

In contrast, Couric believed the fact-less, emotional rantings of her other guest—because they fit Couric’s existing beliefs. Like all morning TV hosts, her job is to say bland things, not to think. At least Couric didn’t lie; she’s just uninterested in facts.

Some people do lie. Here are some popular lies about sex that are easy to believe because they make “common sense”—and because some people are making a lot of money and maintaining large support bases promoting these lies.

* LIE: Porn causes rape
In 2000, broadband brought porn into almost every home in America. Result: the rate of sexual violence decreased. And each year since then, as Americans consume more porn, the rate of sexual violence has continued to decrease. (Source: FBI & U.S. Department of Justice.)

Too much rape in America? Absolutely, positively, without question. A consequence of people watching porn? Obviously, clearly, not.

* LIE: Abortion leads to depression, breast cancer, or infertility
Anti-choice activists claim that women who get abortions fall apart, both physically and mentally. They don’t. Most feel they made the right decision (source: University of California study); rates of depression are the same as in the general population (source: U.S. Surgeon General); rates of breast cancer are the same as in the general population (source: American Cancer Society.).

Thirty-five states require a woman getting an abortion to listen to a lecture about what a mistake she’s making (no lectures are required for heart transplants or brain surgery). Many of these lectures are filled with lies; for example, South Dakota requires doctors to tell patients that having an abortion will lead to an “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide”—based on a single, completely discredited study.

* LIE: Consumers of adult porn eventually desire child porn
This one is simple: Assuming you don’t already watch child porn, exactly what images of adult sexuality could you watch—no matter how taboo—that would make you search for pictures of adults having sex with children? The answer for you is almost certainly “none.” And that’s how it is for pretty much everyone.

There are people—actually, a very small percent of the population—who want to see child porn. They look for it, they find it, they consume it. Very few of them want to look at adult porn.

And porn companies? They make tons of money creating and selling a legal product. None of them is so stupid as to create a product that isn’t just illegal, it’s radioactive. And so porn companies are the last ones to encourage people to watch child porn. They want you watching adult porn, and they’re pretty good at promoting it.

* LIE: Condoms aren’t reliable
The abstinence-only sex ed crowd, the sex-will-kill-you morality crowd, the contraception-is-against-god’s-will crowd all agree: they’ll do anything to keep you away from condoms.

They’ll even lie about how poorly condoms work. James Dobson, head of the powerful “morality” group Focus on the Family, even famously said: “If the public can be convinced that condoms offer nearly certain protection from pregnancies & STDs, [proponents] can argue that the only thing holding people back from free sexual expression is outdated, irrelevant religious restrictions.”

But plenty of people lie about condoms. In 2003 the Vatican stirred international controversy with its false claim that the HIV virus can pass through condoms. (source: America’s War On Sex)

Do condoms work? When used consistently, the effectiveness rate is 98%. (source: Guttmacher Institute.) They’re a modern miracle available in every town in America.

* LIE: Strip clubs are centers of crime
Dozens of cities across the country have banned strip clubs or limited their operation. This is more or less unconstitutional unless legislatures do one of two things: prove that strip clubs are a public health or safety problem, or declare that there’s an emergency.

No city has been able to prove, with data from its own police department, that strip clubs attract more crime than other similar entertainment venues. And so the country is littered with emergency ordinances declaring that strip clubs present problems–without demonstrating them. Similarly, when states like Texas and Illinois single out strip clubs for taxes that don’t apply to any other form of entertainment, they never demonstrate any actual problems.

Ignorant legislators pontificate about family values, self-labelled feminists claim that clubs objectify women (so do the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, but who’s criminalizing that?), and rape crisis centers greedily line up to collect their share of the booty, but no one offers actual data.
That’s because it doesn’t exist.

* * *

Who’s spreading these lies?

Some are people who mean well, trying to make the world a better place. They just don’t know the science, or don’t care about it. Some are lazy journalists—they repeat “facts” they’ve heard (e.g., 1 in 5 American women are raped, the average kid starts looking at porn at age 8, most porn actresses were molested as children, etc.) without checking.

Other people who lie about sex, however, are activists (often religious zealots) who deliberately manipulate the public through category creep. They create phony statistics by, for example, including unwanted kissing in “sexual assault.” Or including all prostitutes as “victims of sex trafficking.”

When you hear about how sex ruins lives, beware. Not of the sex, but of those promoting the latest moral panic about it.

Open Letter To College-Bound Kids About Sex

July 21, 2014

Some three million young people will head off to college next month for their freshman year. If one of them was my son or my daughter, here’s what I’d want them to know about sex.

Parents, feel free to copy and hand this to your teen of any age. Or print and leave it laying around the house.

To all incoming freshmen at the University of Anywhere:

* If you want to have sex, don’t get drunk. If that makes sex less appealing, wait until you can arrange a sexual situation that’s appealing when you’re sober.

* Even if you’re sober, do not have sex with someone who’s drunk. Not only will it be less enjoyable, you have no way of predicting what they’ll say the next day–or the next year. If the only way you can arrange to get sex is to get someone else drunk, that’s pathetic. Stay home.

* If you have penis-vagina intercourse, you need to be 100% responsible for birth control. This is true whether you’re drunk or sober, gay or straight, whether you climax or not, and even if the intercourse only lasts 10 seconds. There will be a million unintended pregnancies in the U.S. this year, and nothing—nothing—can destroy your life like having one.

* No matter what you do, if it involves a penis or vulva, use plenty of lube. Even more than you think is necessary. No one ever died from too much lube.

* Pee before you have sex, even if you don’t really need to. Trust me, you don’t want to stop to do it in the middle of sex.

* Very few heterosexuals actually enjoy vigorous penis-in-anus sex. These days it seems a lot of young men want to try it and a lot of young women are acquiescing. True, you get to violate taboos and play with erotic power, but there are far safer and more comfortable ways to do that. Unless you both find it easy and really enjoyable, leave it to the pros.

* I know that some people say “no” to sex when they really mean “I’m not sure, ask again,” or “I’d like to, but I’ll feel better about myself if I say no first.” Since you can’t tell a real “no” from a “maybe” no until it’s too late, you must assume that every “no” means “no.” If you do this you may miss out on some consensual sex you could have had, but you’re also less likely of being accused of non-consensual sex.

* Real sex is not like porn. It’s actually much better: when you do it right, it’s more relaxed, friendlier, funnier, it lasts longer, involves kissing and hugging, and then you get to hang out together when it’s over.

* The first few times you have sex with someone, do the simpler, more basic stuff. Save the complicated positions, games, and toys for when you’re already sexually compatible with someone and can easily talk to each other during sex.

* Before deciding to have sex with someone, find out if they’re kinda crazy. Obviously, you can’t do this if one or both of you are drunk, or if you don’t talk to each other first (and listen to what they say), or if you’re in a big hurry, or if you’re in a group situation where everybody is acting kinda crazy. Having sex with someone who’s kinda crazy can be fantastically enjoyable–but what they do afterwards can ruin your life for years. That’s what kinda crazy people do.

* Never use sex to hurt someone, either physically or emotionally. Don’t use sex to get revenge or to punish someone or to prove something. Most people who use sex in these ways end up hurting themselves.

* Take your body seriously. If sex hurts, STOP.

Young people sometimes act like there’s a scarcity of sex out there, making it essential to do it whenever there’s an opportunity—even if it’s a terribly unsatisfactory opportunity. Trust me—there will always be another chance to have sex. Passing up sex that could be unpleasant, dangerous, or the focus of legal action is one of the most adult things you’ll do at college—and possibly the most important.

Hobby Lobby Decision Puts Government in the Religion Business

July 2, 2014

The Supreme Court decision allowing a corporation to exempt itself from the law—in this case the Affordable Care Act—does two very bad things at once:

* It privileges religious beliefs over other deeply-held beliefs
* It puts government in the business of deciding what are legitimate religions and religious beliefs.

We can also bemoan the content of this case—contraceptive access, healthcare affordability—but the religious issues actually create larger, longer-range problems for America.

The First Amendment, of course, guarantees that “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. But even before that, it says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. That is, the American government is not allowed to say “you can be a Christian but not a Muslim.” Or “you can show devotion to Allah but not to Jehovah.”

This new “right” was a radical innovation back in the eighteenth century, when governments routinely insisted that people believe and practice the same religion as the King—and executed or exiled people who disobeyed.

But the Hobby Lobby decision now puts government in the position of deciding what’s a “true” religion, and what are “reasonable” religious beliefs. If Hobby Lobby, for example, refused to hire African-American people because the Bible says they are Satan’s people, or are destined to be slaves (both can be inferred from the text), the Court would not have allowed this. That is, the government’s laws would be applied based on the CONTENT of the religious belief.

Similarly, consider the United Church of Bacon, a duly registered religious corporation in the state of Nevada, with a charter, officiants, members, etc.. If this Church petitioned the government to be exempt from slaughterhouse or meat inspection regulations, would the Court support their right to religious freedom? I suspect not. That is, the government would be deciding which religions are “legitimate” and which are not. And what about those who hear Napolean’s holy voice? What differentiates a “religion” from deeply beliefs, anyway?

This profound question should be decided in people’s hearts, not in government hallways.

While we’re on the subject of religious freedom, look again at the First Amendment. It grants these rights to PEOPLE. Corporations don’t and can’t have beliefs—they are a legal abstraction that exist only on paper. Referring to Hobby Lobby’s “beliefs” makes as much sense as referring to a table’s “beliefs. And the owners of Hobby Lobby? They received enormous tax and legal advantages when they created a corporation. Legally, they distanced themselves from the company—if they are personally sued (say for libel or personal negligence), the multi-million dollar corporation is protected. If the Corporation is sued, they have great personal protection.

That legal distance they created must work both ways. The benefits they gain already require relinquishing some personal rights—for example, the government is allowed a whole new level of financial scrutiny. Similarly, the corporation doesn’t inherit its owners’ right to religious belief. The owners can express their religious beliefs any (legal) way they like. But the corporation, as a fictitious entity enjoying many privileges, doesn’t have the rights of “belief” that its owners do.

So Hobby Lobby should obey all laws, including laws that offend its owners. Exempting the corporation from obeying certain laws because its owners wish to exercise their personal rights will most certainly invite more corporations to break more laws under the guise of religious liberty.

And so this Court decision gives even more power to people with deeply-held irrational beliefs—SOME people, with SOME beliefs.

And yet they have the nerve to say that religion is under attack in America. Talk about an irrational belief.

Gay Pride—A Reminder

June 29, 2014

Today is Gay Pride Day. Across the U.S. and many other countries, colorful parades mark the 45th anniversary of the riots around New York’s Stonewall Inn, credited with launching the gay rights movement.

The riots were a series of violent reactions to yet another then-completely-legal police raid on gay bars. Today it’s almost impossible to imagine that only four decades ago, being gay was grounds for harassment, arrest, and jail time. And, of course, losing one’s job, one’s apartment, and custody of one’s children.

A lot has changed since then.

And a lot hasn’t.

A huge number of Americans still think that gay people choose to be gay—that it’s the expression of a defiant personality, or a hostile statement to Dad, or a pathetic decision to look for fun in perverse places.

That idea, frankly, makes absolutely no sense. As long-time gay equality activist Brian McNaught said over thirty years ago, “When did I DECIDE to be gay? When I decided it would be fun to have my car trashed, my religion throw me out, my apartment taken away, and some of my loved ones turn their backs on me.”

And yet the issue of sexual orientation “choice” is now a crucial public policy issue. Anti-discrimination policies are aimed at protecting classes of people with features that are inborn (like race or gender) or biologically thrust upon (like age or dis/ability). If sexual orientation is a choice, like poor hygiene or wearing shorts in wintertime, it’s easy to argue that gay people just have to deal with the results of their choices—such as not getting jobs or rentals from people they discomfit.

If sexual orientation is as inborn as eye color, however, gay people have the legal expectation of being treated exactly like non-gay people in public life.

An issue that gay people face even more now than they did in 1969 is the idea that they are responsible for social problems in America. Today, very powerful voices blame “homosexuality” for the decline in childrens’ school performance, for the increase in out-of-wedlock births, for the tenacity of the abortion rights movement, and for the alleged increase in both child molestation and divorce (neither of which has actually increased in over a decade).

This would, if true, represent a tremendous influence by a group of less than nine million adults—who have no army, no church, no senators, no political party, and no TV stations.

But the fundamental, excruciating issue that non-heterosexuals face is the idea that they are different from heterosexuals in some meaningful way: that their relationships are different, their parenting is different, their fear of death is different, their love of ice cream is different, their disdain for slow drivers in the left lane is different, their boredom with flossing is different, or their creativity on their income taxes is different.

If anything makes gay people different than heterosexuals, it’s dealing with that common belief day after day, year after year. It has to be a corrosive, embittering experience, an experience that makes it hard to feel normal.

Your average Gay Pride parade features lots of half-clothed people, men wearing dresses, leather lesbians on motorcycles, and rainbow-faced people smooching far too enthusiastically. And yet ironically, the Gay Pride movement isn’t about showing how different gay people are. It’s about reminding gay people that they’re normal. That Broadway or Main Street are just as much theirs as anyone else’s.

Every gay adult in America grew up with a profoundly shameful, confusing secret. They desired, but could not share their yearning; they loved, but could expect no support; they lost, but could expect no sympathy. Many gay adults have spent 10, 20, 30 years closeted from employers, friends, and family, attempting to craft meaningful relationships out of sight from almost everyone who mattered.

Think for a second what that must be like. And what it must be like for a few million gay teens, young adults, and middle-aged men and women living lives of secrecy.

Gay Pride? The Straight world’s shame.

Reasons People Have Affairs—Besides Sex

June 26, 2014

Cheating, infidelity, adultery—no matter what you call it, it’s a staple of popular culture. Articles with titles like “Why he cheats,” “Affair-proofing your marriage,” “Too sexy to cheat on,” and “Secrets of wives with faithful husbands” litter the self-help and “lifestyle” landscape.

These articles—which mostly advise readers to be as sexy as possible, and just a tiny bit mistrustful—generally treat infidelity as if it’s primarily about sex. But while some affairs are just that, a large percentage of affairs are not about sex. In fact, many unfaithful men and women admit that the sex at home is good, or the sex in the affair is mediocre.

So if not for the sex, why do people have affairs?

* Touching and physical affection
We can live without sex far easier than we can live without touching. An hour’s visit with a lover might include just 10 minutes of sex and 50 minutes of cuddling. Or no sex at all. Some people would risk everything they value just to have someone stroke their face without being asked.

* Someone to talk with
It’s sad, but many couples don’t talk much; if they do, it’s often about the kids or, um, the kids. Ask any prostitute: many clients want the opportunity to talk after sex more than they want the sex (and some prostitutes will tell you that talking and listening are a lot more work).

* Feeling manly or womanly
Sex is about more than pleasure. At its best, people have experiences of validation—being a “real man” or “real woman,” whatever that means to them.

* Escape
When people feel trapped in routine, when they can’t create joy or delight, when the future looks exactly like the unsatisfactory present, an affair can be an escape, an oasis in the desert of life. It doesn’t fix anything of course—your job is still dehumanizing, your kid still has learning disabilities, your belly hasn’t gone away—but for an hour every month or two, it all disappears.

* Anticipation
All those things marriage counselors advise long-term couples to do to keep sex fresh? People do that when they’re having an affair. They make a date to get together, they look forward to it, they talk about how great it will be, they think about what they’ll wear, they eat moderately that day, and most importantly, they plan on to enjoy it.

If married couples did that regularly, sex therapists would lose half our business.

* Feel desirable, attractive, or desired
It’s entirely possible to feel loved and to not feel attractive or desired—it happens in many, many otherwise intimate relationships. And although most grownups very much appreciate intimacy, respect, and love, many people yearn to feel desired. For some of them, an affair is where they have this experience.

Sex in the affair may not be great or even frequent, but the experience of a lover lighting up when he or she watches you undress is, for some people, priceless. It’s no substitute for love or dependability, but some people will do almost anything to feel desired.

* A sense of danger?
Pop psychology says that people having affairs love the sense of danger and the possibility of getting caught. I’ve had a small handful of people like that. What’s more common is people who are unconsciously inviting discovery, which will blow up a relationship they want to leave but somehow can’t.

Most common of all? People who dread getting caught, feel terribly guilty, and even have trouble enjoying their affair because they’re always wondering if they’ve covered their tracks successfully. Very few adults say that risking their marriage, home, and relationship with their kids is exciting. But many do it—and not necessarily for sex.

Sex Offender Board Tries to Protect California; California Refuses

June 1, 2014

Psychologists periodically tell patients that in life, you sometimes have to choose between being right and getting what you want. Unfortunately, many people settle for the first instead of acquiring the emotional skills to get the second.

The people of California currently face a similar situation—would we rather FEEL safer or BE safer?

When the subject is sex offenders, of course, feelings dominate public policy. And so the California Sex Offender Management Board faces an almost impossible task in overhauling and improving the way the state handles its 100,000 Registered Sex Offenders. The Legislature is going to vote no.

California is one of only four states that require all sex offenders, regardless of offense, to register for life. That includes over 800 people whose last sex crime was more than a half-century ago. The enormous amount of money spent keeping track of these people is mostly wasted, and could be far better spent on actually protecting Californians.

And so the Board is recommending to the state Legislature that only high-risk offenders, such as kidnappers and violent predators, should be required to register for life. Others could be removed from the registry 10 or 20 years after their offense. Not 10 or 20 days, weeks or months. Ten or 20 years.

The Board’s chair is no Pollyanna—she’s the District Attorney of Alameda County, a densely populated, ethnically diverse area which includes Oakland and has more than its share of violence and poverty. She knows her science, though, and says the proposal “won’t jeopardize public safety or unleash sex offenders who are dangerous into the community.”

As with smoking, nutrition, and alcohol, our understanding of science (and therefore of risk) has improved greatly in the 70 years since California’s Sex Offender Registry was created. We know now that:

* Most sex crimes are NOT committed by people who are Registered Sex Offenders;

* Sex Offender Registries do NOT decrease the number of sex offenses;

* Sex offenders have the lowest rate of same-category re-offending of any group of felons.

We also know that sex offenders are a heterogeneous group with vastly differing risk profiles. And of course different sex offenses pose different risks to the community. But most Sex Offender Registries, including California’s, make little distinction between people who (1) make obscene phone calls, (2) have consensual sex with a teenager three years their junior, or (3) kidnap a child.

Similarly, neither the justice system nor the Registry generally distinguish between adults who offend with their own child and adults who offend with a convenient child they don’t know. From the perspective of risk to the community, the two adults (they’re rarely the same) are vastly different.

The mass media make things worse, by using the words “child molester,” “pedophile,” “child porn collector,” and “sex offender” synonymously. Newspapers, magazines, and blogs are obsessed with lurid stories of sexual torture and exploitation; they rarely note the vicious mob mentality that metes out life sentences to the tens of thousands of our harmless brothers, sons, and fathers rounded up for public masturbation, consensual sex with high school sweethearts, computer repairs that uncover child porn installed by malware, and consensual sex between two drunk people that ends with regret, shame, and accusation.

Politicians, of course, are hesitant to consider the facts rationally, fearing they’ll be described as “soft on crime.” Some politicians are honest about this, saying their constituents are concerned and easily angered. Others, however, insult even the profession of politician. One example is State Senator Jim Neilsen (R-Gerber), who says “This proposal concerns me enormously…I think the risks are too great to try to intellectualize this stuff.”

“Intellectualize”—this elected public servant actually says that attempting to formulate public policy by using science or thinking is a mistake.

Mr. Neilsen should stay out of airplanes. You know, the risks are too great to try to intellectualize how they actually work.


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