Want to watch a lot of porn AND have good sex?

November 11, 2014

Say you watch a lot of porn.
Say you want to have really enjoyable sex.
Some people say you have to choose one or the other.

Some say that porn changes your brain so you can’t enjoy sex with a real person. Nonsense. If you don’t want sex with a real person, it’s either because you don’t desire the person you’re with, or because you have issues about sex or closeness. That’s when watching porn is a lot easier than creating good sex. But let’s not blame the porn.

Some say that porn gives you unrealistic ideas about sex. Yes, that happens—unrealistic ideas about what people look like, sound like, do, want, and about how communication and hugging have very little place in sex. Unrealistic ideas about sex—whether you get them from porn, from religion, from Cosmopolitan, or from your father—make it hard to create enjoyable sex.

And some say that porn provides such powerful images that we inevitably compare our own sex to the images—and of course we seem pretty lame in comparison. Yes, that happens. That even happens to people who don’t look at porn, who have sex with someone who does. They imagine you’re thinking about porn when you make love, which makes them think about porn when they make love, and that’s bad for sex all the way around.

Some people say the solution is to stop watching porn. Probably not gonna happen.

Instead, I say the solution is to make love consciously, and to watch porn consciously. That helps to keep the two activities separate, which is the key to enjoying both.

So if you want to watch a lot of porn AND have good sex:

* Remember that porn is fiction. It’s not a documentary, it’s a highlight reel. It involves lighting, editing, and off-camera preparation. It’s planned ahead of time so that everything looks perfect.

* Learn how to focus your attention on your body—how your partner’s hair smells, how your partner’s nipple tastes, how your partner’s skin feels, and so on. Center your sexual experience in your body rather than in your head.

* Don’t expect sex to feel how porn looks. That’s like expecting driving your car to feel like a Maserati looks. Or expecting playing tennis to feel like Wimbeldon looks. Reality can’t compete with created images. We have to value reality for itself.

* Know what your partner likes and wants. That won’t match what people do in porn films. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Budget plenty of time to explore your partner’s desires, and find the ones that you love.

* Remember that unlike watching a porn film, orgasm isn’t the point. The goal of sex is enjoy yourself and to feel glad you’re alive. Orgasm lasts maybe five seconds. Do the math—five seconds out of 20 minutes isn’t much. Learn to enjoy the rest of the sex.

* Be flexible if things don’t go exactly as you want. You can be ashamed, angry, or afraid, or you can move closer to your partner, gently smile and say, “Well, on to Plan B, right?”

* In general, talk more and screw less. You’ll get more out of the experience, and you’re more likely to get more experiences. Kiss more and screw less. Caress more and screw less. Laugh more and screw less. Whisper more and screw less. Sex—and whispering and kissing—is for people. Porn is for paid professionals. Make love, not porn.

* Ask a friendly question every time you have sex. People don’t do that on camera—which is part of what can make real sex better than porn.

So sure, you can watch a lot of porn and enjoy sex with a real person. You just have to know which is which.

Bad Categories Prevent Smart Conversations

November 2, 2014

Don’t you agree that people who either murder someone or keep library books overdue should be punished?

“Murderers and library book abusers”—that’s an example of a phony category. Other phony categories include “bullies and predators,” “porn and child porn,” and “S/M and violence.”

I’ve spoken and written many times about phony categories and moral panics (e.g., here). It’s a common strategy in public policy discussions—creating a category that lumps two dissimilar things together, and decrying the more serious of the two. We’re all in favor of preventing hangnails and heart attacks, aren’t we? We MUST do something about that!

Because phony categories prevent meaningful analysis and conversation, they undermine democracy. And so the frontline of intelligent, progressive discourse sometimes has to involve the tedious work of looking behind the claims of a study or of statistics, so we can intelligently discuss their real meaning.

For example, you’ve probably seen or heard about the video of 24-year-old Shoshana Roberts walking through New York for 10 hours and getting over 100 unwanted comments.

There’s a lot to critique about it: she’s wearing skin-tight clothes that emphasize her every curve, and the catcalls are almost exclusively from men who seem unemployed, marginalized or even homeless at best. I leave it to the video’s producers to explain why they have a shapely young white woman walking through mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

The producers and many others call Roberts’ experiences in the video “sexual harassment” or “verbal abuse.” Clearly, she didn’t verbally invite a single one of the mens’ comments (although most adults would agree that in any U.S. city, her clothing choice would typically be coded as provocative). And clearly, she didn’t respond to the comments.

That said, there wasn’t a single comment that threatened or insulted her. No one suggested sex, invited sex, or demanded sex. Essentially, these brilliant comments ranged all the way from ‘Wow you look great’ to ‘Wow, I like looking at you.’ Pointless and stupid, an unwanted, frustrating intrusion into her private minute. Multiplied, of course, by 100. Not that she or any other woman generally walks the streets for 10 hours at a time, of course.

Now according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “non-contact unwanted sexual experiences”—a category that includes harassment on public sidewalks—is the most prevalent form of “sexual violence” for both men and women.

How many problems can you spot in that one sentence? These government statistics assume that:
~ unwanted verbal contact is harassment
~ unwanted verbal contact is a sexual experience
~ a non-contact unwanted experience is sexual violence

This sort of methodology creates rates of sexual violence that are enormous. With such a definition, American streets are dramatically more dangerous than those of Moscow, Cairo, Johannesburg, and drug-warring central Mexico. Which is (fortunately) silly, of course. Would you feel safer in one of those places, or the U.S.? Where would you prefer your daughter or sister?

Defining an unwanted “Lookin’ good!” (even from a scary-looking guy) as harassment trivializes real harassment. Defining catcalls as sexual experiences trivializes sex. Most importantly, defining words as violence trivializes violence.

Anyone—feminist, bureaucrat, politician, journalist—who promotes such nonsense should be held responsible for misleading the public, creating epidemics of sexual violence, and generating fear. Fear that intimidates and disempowers people. Fear that incites people to demand action, even if that action curtails their own and others’ rights.

Remember, the FBI says that today’s rates of sexual violence against both adult women and children are their lowest in over a decade.

It’s important for America to talk about—and reduce—violence, sexual harassment, verbal intimidation, and boorish behavior. It’s also important that we use words that help us understand the world and each other, rather than using categories that prevent communication and create fear.

Fear, is a terrible, terrible experience. But fear doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in danger.

What Italians Want to Know About Sex

October 30, 2014

Well, it’s actually Croatians. The Croatian medical students with whom I worked in Ravenna last week.

More than once, they asked how sex has changed since the invention of the internet.

It’s an important question.

On the one hand, there are some tangible ways:
* Porn is now available everywhere, all the time, in every possible configuration.
* There are new ways to meet people for sex: escort services, apps like Grindr, websites like Ashley Madison and Sugar Babies.
* It’s easier than ever to buy sex toys, lube, condoms, and other products, with privacy and low prices, from reliable companies.
* Did I mention porn? That’s where most young men and many young women are now getting much of their sex education.

Nothing brilliant about this analysis. “But,” I said, “One of the key ways the internet has changed our sexuality centers around the issue of multi-tasking.” That’s the expectation that people should be able to do more than one thing at a time—like reading email while talking on the phone. Or texting while talking with your kid.

In fact, it’s now more than an expectation that we CAN; it’s the expectation that we SHOULD. I see an increasing number of people who don’t feel comfortable doing one thing at a time anymore. And that’s bad for sex.

Because—assuming you’re with someone you want to be with, and they’re pleased to be with you—there’s only thing you actually need to enjoy sex: Focus. Attention. Engagement. In fact, regardless of what your genitalia can do, no matter how great your body is, you won’t enjoy sex much if your mind is on other things. You know…multi-tasking.

A lot of people I see in therapy have trouble focusing during sex. The problem for most of them isn’t the sex, it’s the focusing. They can’t simply watch a movie, either—they’re restless to check their voicemail. They can’t just eat lunch, they’re anxious about what texts they might have received. They can’t sit in my waiting room listening to music or thinking about our upcoming session for five or six minutes, they have to check the security cameras in their home.

One of the criticisms of internet porn is that it makes sex with a real person boring. I’m certain that’s totally inaccurate. Rather, I think it’s the new lifestyle that has developed at the same time as internet porn: doing two or three things at once, and constantly checking on incoming digital stimulus.

THAT’S what’s making people restless or dissatisfied about sex with a real person: it requires them to unhook from their online lives for a half-hour, which is a skill many people have lost (and most young people never developed).

So to enjoy sex with a person more, you don’t need better erections, or a wetter vagina, or easier orgasms. You certainly don’t need to lose weight, get a boob job, or learn the tricks of tantra or Cirque du Soleil.

You need to focus on your five senses, and to focus so fiercely on THAT incoming data that you have virtually no bandwidth left over to think about anything, or to miss any other incoming stimulation. When you can do that—when you make sex more interesting than any email that might be coming in—sex will seem rich and enjoyable, something to desire and anticipate.

And that aspect of Sexual Intelligence is true whether you’re in Italy, Croatia, or anywhere else.

New Law Undermines Therapy

October 6, 2014

A recent change to California’s legal definition of “sexual exploitation of a minor” has created a new set of problems for therapists, while making therapy more dangerous for many patients—without increasing public safety one single bit. Since many states’ laws often follow California’s, this is an event of national significance.

Psychologists, physicians, and other professionals are “mandated reporters”—they are required by law to report certain things they see or hear in the course of their work. In such cases therapists and doctors are even instructed to violate patient-professional confidentiality. However, mandated reporters are expected to use our discretion in deciding IF something we see or hear rises to the level of having to report it. Properly used, that discretion protects the patient, protects society, and protects the professional.

California’s new law, AB1775, requires therapists and other professionals to report if a patient has knowingly downloaded, streamed, or even simply accessed (that is, viewed) an electronic or digital image in which anyone under 18 “is engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct.” That’s any image that lacks “scientific, literary, artistic, or political” value. This can range from the most egregious child porn to the most playful sexting.

Most importantly, this law gives us NO DISCRETION in judging the potential danger involved in the behavior we are directed to report.

California requires mandated reporters to judge the words and stories they hear in session every week. Does this patient really want to murder his boss, or is he blowing off steam? Does this patient really want to kill herself, or is she dramatizing how depressed she feels? Decisions about whether or not to break confidentiality and report such conversations to the authorities—so-called Tarasoff situations—are the bedrock of therapists’ ability to deliver high-quality confidential care to patients, while assuring the public that therapists will help offer protection from people who are likely to harm themselves or others.

This law will punish many innocent teens and adults, and will deprive those who look at child porn of the therapy they may desperately want. It puts therapists in a terrible bind, robbing them of any discretion to judge if a given patient is dangerous. Ironically, therapists retain this discretion when patients talk about murder, arson, suicide, or tricking someone into getting pregnant.

The California legislature created this law with the involvement of every almost conceivable stakeholder—child welfare activists, law enforcement, social workers, etc.—except sexologists. It is shocking and frustrating that a law changing the way therapists handle patients who look at sexual images of minors was designed without consulting a single sex therapist, sex researcher, or sex educator.

Speaking practically, getting this law repealed appears impossible. But there is a growing movement to amend the new law, possibly via one or more clinical organizations like the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists or American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, & Therapists. The goal is to require therapists to evaluate those who look at sexual images of minors—just as therapists do with many other potentially dangerous behaviors—rather than automatically report them.

Research both in the U.S. and abroad shows that a large percentage of people who look at sexual images of minors are not at risk of committing any contact offense. The public, of course, is mostly uninformed that so many people who look at sexual images of minors never touch a minor inappropriately. That’s the deliberate result of the child porn hysteria currently sweeping the country.

Of course, a substantial number of consumers of child sexual imagery are dangerous. They need to be helped so that they don’t hurt anyone. A law that requires therapists to report such people without evaluating their potential for harm, and without treating them, guarantees that such people will remain invisible. They won’t get the help we all want them to get—making this law part of the dreadful problem it claims to want to solve.


October 1, 2014

It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to one of the best sex education websites in the history of the world: http://www.MyBeautifulSexLife.com.

Designed for high school and college students—and terrific for grownups of all ages—it’s accurate, relevant, and funny.

The producer is psychologist and college lecturer (the NCAA even asked him to speak to college athletes) Dr. Paul Joannides. The author and publisher of the famous Guide to Getting It On, Paul has been experimenting with various ways of educating young adults about sex for a very long time.

Believe it or not, the material on this website changes daily. Paul’s idea is to use catchy phrases, accurate line drawings, and brief, often-funny paragraphs to convey a single message at a time. Topics include what young people care about most: orgasms, “performance,” consent, anatomy, and communication. Here’s a sample of today’s items:

* Enough with the anal obsession! (Contradicting porn’s depiction that everyone’s doing, and loving, anal sex.)
* Guys describe how their up waking-up vs. hot-for-you erections feel
* A reminder about the effectiveness and convenience of IUDs
* The relationship of the vagina, bladder, and uterus—via a TSA image
* Most women’s breasts are 2 different sizes

The site is steadfastly oriented toward enhancing pleasure and closeness rather than preventing disease and disaster. Which do you think people pay more attention to?

I love that this site talks about sex as it really is, discussing topics that people really want to know about. That’s a big contrast to the watered-down abstractions that so many sex ed and self-help programs use—which reflect society’s discomfort with using proper adult words for body parts and common activities.

There isn’t a euphemism to be seen here. The site’s incredibly simple design encourages people to forward the helpful drawings and wry slogans to friends and lovers. For real expertise on real subjects (as a bonus, you’ll smile, too), check it out.

Banned Books Week Ends, But Censorship Doesn’t

September 28, 2014

You may not know it, but Banned Books Week just ended.

Sponsored each year by the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, and other groups, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read. It highlights the value of free and open access to information—access that is currently limited in some way in every single state.

Each year, hundreds of books and plays are banned in American schools, libraries, and theaters. Some of the most frequently-banned are classics of Western civilization, such as 1984, Catch-22, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—all, coincidentally, about the dangers of following authority blindly. “Dangerous” books like these are surely banned in Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia as well.

But U.S. censors don’t simply want to keep adult books out of people’s hands; each year, the most-often banned books are wildly popular books written for children. These include Robie Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal, the Harry Potter series, Judy Blume’s books, and this year’s “winner,” The Adventures of Captain Underpants.

It’s easy to deride the impulse to censor as the product of paranoid or repressed Right-wing minds. But the Left has a strong impulse to censor as well. Let’s look at some of the institutions of censorship championed by the Left on college campuses these days:

* Trigger warnings
Professors are being increasingly pressured to warn students of any words they may hear in lectures or read in books that “trigger” strong feelings in students, including incest, virgin, Holocaust, and yes, tornado. Predictably, some professors are whitewashing their lectures and reading lists to accommodate, rather than challenge, students’ lack of abilities to handle life. Rather than demanding personal growth, this policy will assure that such students remain victims.

* Speech codes
Most universities now have speech codes prohibiting students or anyone else on campus from saying things that hurt others’ feelings. While often described as creating a “safe campus environment,” this restricts spirited debate, makes sure students won’t be challenged, discourages anyone from learning rhetorical skills, prevents students from learning how to deal with hurt feelings, and gives the Administration the power to expel almost any student they wish.

* Challenging controversial campus lecturers or graduation speakers
The heckler’s veto is a key tool on campus these days. It is now dressed up as political speech. Condoleeza Rice withdrew from speaking at Rutgers after a student sit-in involved police and a shattered glass door. The Consul General of Israel was prevented from speaking at a San Francisco area college by a small group of pro-Palestinian students. Warren Farrell was prevented from speaking at the University of Toronto by a group of so-called feminists who misunderstood his truly feminist message—before he spoke.

Apparently none of these groups who so passionately oppose “oppression” and “privilege” see the irony in their oppressive bullying of their fellow students.

* Ignoring female students’ binge drinking
While RAPE IS NEVER THE VICTIM’S FAULT (is that clear enough?), it is baffling that tens of thousands of college women drink to the point of incapacity weekend after weekend when this behavior is a proven risk factor for rape. It is even more baffling that anyone who mentions this is attacked as a rape apologist.

We helpfully tell each other to stay out of certain neighborhoods at night because they are dangerous (especially to women traveling alone). So why is it wrong to say “don’t deliberately get roaring drunk in certain neighborhoods at night because that’s dangerous”? Yes, of course, men need to be sternly addressed and they need to change. But at the very same time we can ask women to think about how and why they deliberately risk putting themselves in harm’s way.
* * *
For short videos of John Waters, Whoopi Goldberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others participating in Banned Books Week, including a wonderful clip from Dav Pilkey about what to do if you hate a certain book, click here.
* * *
For more on campus censorship (including their devastating critique of how the U.C. Berkeley Chancellor has dishonored the Free Speech Movement), see http://www.TheFire.org.

Attacking Sex Trafficking by…Attacking Who?

September 25, 2014

How many people do you think are sex trafficked in the U.S. every year: 200,000? 300,000?

If your blood’s boiling about what sounds these days like an epidemic, here’s good news: According to the U.S. Justice Department, the actual number of people trafficked into the country for all reasons (mostly for labor rather than sex) is about 17,500 people year. In a rare show of bureaucratic consensus, the U.S. State Department’s estimate is between 14,000-17,000.

“But,” you say, “surely that’s too low? What about the numbers I hear from all these anti-trafficking organizations?”

Good question. And here’s the answer: if you define trafficking broadly enough, it does look like there are a million or more victims. The numbers also sound enormous if you’re vague about whether the trafficking involves the U.S. or semi-functional countries like Moldova, Haiti, and Bangladesh.

Some non-profit organizations define sex trafficking to include all prostitutes. Others include all porn actresses. Still others include anyone giving hand jobs in a massage parlor. Forced marriage of teen girls and older men is ugly—and virtually unknown in the U.S.. But some anti-sex trafficking activists count these young people as well. No wonder these activists or “researchers” get such enormous, scary, numbers.

Most manipulative of all, activists keep warning of the number of people “at risk” for being sex trafficked—millions of women and children. “At risk” because they’re poor, or unloved, or drug-addicted, or have trouble with English. Using that logic, 45 million Americans are “at risk” of dying in plane crashes every month, and twenty million Californians are “at risk” of dying in car crashes every week. No one’s in a panic about that, of course, because such definitions of “at risk” are meaningless.

The results of this muddled thinking are great for fund-raising but bad for public policy. Our anxiety increases at a far greater rate than the supposed problem we’re being told to fear.

Which brings us to the SAVE Act, passed overwhelmingly this year by a proud Congress and now being considered by the Senate. It supposedly criminalizes the advertising of trafficking. But because of the way that activists define “trafficking,” it actually criminalizes the advertising of all erotic services, such as escorts (neatly undermining that pesky First Amendment at the same time).

This extends to websites like BackPage.com and MyRedbook.com (both recently seized by the federal government), which not only advertised erotic services and other businesses, but also served to create and focus a vibrant social networking and information-sharing community. Websites like these are places for escorts and other service providers to get emotional support and medical information, and to alert each other to dangerous clients and helpful public resources. Countless escorts have been spared misery by the safety tips and advice shared in these forums.

And so the SAVE Act attempts to protect us from a very small amount of sex trafficking by undermining the health and safety of a fairly large number of working women. It would be hard to design a worse system if you tried.

Let’s review the differences between escort work and sex trafficking.
Sex Trafficking: Always involves coercion. Generally involves being removed from one’s home. The person is always being controlled while not working, often hidden from the public. A person can’t voluntarily leave this situation.

Escort Work & Erotic Services: Mostly done by choice (while many have only limited life choices, that still doesn’t make it coercion). Typically stay in or near one’s home, and usually still connected with loved ones such as children, parents, or spouse. The person generally has a near-normal private life when not working. Most such persons can voluntarily leave if they choose to do something else.

These are completely different phenomena—except in the minds of many anti-trafficking activists, who can’t seem to imagine treating escorts as actual human beings making adult choices about their lives.

The SAVE Act takes resources earmarked for ending trafficking—a horrendous crime of coercion by truly evil people—and instead uses them to undermine escort and erotic services—dramatically different activities that primarily involve willing adults, most of whom are ordinary people. As are their customers.

It’s simply immoral to take money and time that could be used to fight evil and spend it instead to fight a moral crusade that most people don’t care much about—unless activists spread the myth that escorts are victims of sex trafficking who must be rescued.

The SAVE Act actually undermines the fight against trafficking in these other ways:

* By eliminating U.S.-based websites, it pushes escorts and other providers to use offshore-based websites (just as Americans moved to offshore gambling websites when domestic sites were criminalized in the U.S.). Historically, these offshore sites have been much less cooperative with American law-enforcement than domestic sites in pursuing and catching real traffickers. This is predictable, given the difficulty of the U.S. asserting legal jurisdiction over foreign website operators.

* It creates a heavy incentive for advertising networks and third-party hosts to obtain identifying information from every person using their internet service. Given escorts’ and other providers’ reasonable fears of police action, hacking, blackmail, and public exposure, compromised privacy is the last thing any of them wants.

* It undermines everyone’s rights of free expression, creating a new class of speech that would lie outside the First Amendment’s protection. This is almost never good, particularly for people whose lifestyle or political ideas attract criticism.

The people the SAVE Act is supposed to help—erotic service providers “at risk” for trafficking—oppose it almost unanimously. They know it will make them less safe, less able to vet customers, less able to control their own lives, and less able to maintain a community where they help and support each other. When a law designed to help a group is opposed by that group, you know it’s a bad law—almost certainly passed by cynical (or ignorant) politicians trying to score points with a gullible public.

The SAVE Act will save no one and benefit no one—except those determined to inflate the number of individuals supposedly trafficked year by year until we have the (media-driven) “epidemic” they claim to be committed to preventing. As each online advertising forum is shut down, expect activists to proudly note the number of “at risk” people it has “saved.”

So get ready for the alleged trafficking epidemic the SAVE Act is supposed to eliminate. In our perverse world, the larger the alleged epidemic gets, the more it will be used as “evidence” that activist efforts are somehow very necessary—and effective.

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.”


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