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.

African-American Pastors Call for Discrimination

May 22, 2014

A coalition of conservative Christian groups has petitioned a federal court to support Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.

No big surprise.

Here’s what should surprise: the coalition includes hundreds of African-American pastors and churches. Gay marriage would “destroy the backbone of our society,” said Flint’s Reverend Stacey Swimp at a local rally of Black ministers.

Uh, no. Here’s what’s destroying heterosexual marriage in the African-American community: Heterosexual African-Americans. They marry at a dramatically lower rate than any other ethnic or racial group in America.

“We love everybody, but we don’t love the [gay] lifestyle,” said Reverend Rex Evans of Ypsilanti. “There’s a small group of people trying to destroy [America’s] foundation, and it’s time to take our nation back.”

Take our nation back from whom? While one-quarter of American children live in a household without their biological father, more than half of Black kids are burdened with such parental behavior. The failed war on drugs and our dysfunctional penal system are part of the problem, but what about community norms and individual responsibility? For Hispanic and other non-Black children of color, the number of kids living without their biological father is 28%, comparable to Whites.

This coalition of African-American pastors needs a history lesson, too. Until I was 17 years old, interracial marriage was illegal in this country. White pastors defended these laws, citing centuries of tradition and the Bible—the same justification now being used by Black pastors against gay Americans.

“We believe in the Judeo-Christian conception which America was founded upon,” says Bay City’s Reverend Rader Johnson. Yes, the tradition which has legitimized slavery for 2,000 years. You’ll recall that white pastors cited the Good Book in the years before the Civil War. They cited it in opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Every American is free to dislike whomever they want. But every American is NOT free to select who should get the rights (you know, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) that they get. These African-American pastors are complaining that Michigan voters passed a law denying marriage and its accompanying privileges (regarding taxes, insurance, hospitals, inheritance, etc.) to gay people, which the courts should respect.

Shall we take a vote on which ethnic, racial, or religious group should get which rights? Wasn’t it only recently that the bloodiest war in American history was fought over who could vote on whose rights? Isn’t that how the ancestors of these Black pastors were enslaved in the first place—by popular consensus?

These self-righteous Black pastors who use the Bible, religion, and tradition to justify their demand for discrimination against others should blush with shame. They have failed their communities, whose behavior repudiates their better values. Now they fail their communities by descending to their worst clannish instincts. And like all strongly religious people, they blame sex for their moral collapse when confronted by their own fear and ignorance.

Training Women to Have No Eyes

May 14, 2014

I’m in New York training psychologists this week, and as I always do here, I visited a neighborhood with a professional guide.

On previous trips I’ve toured Harlem, Wall Street, Brooklyn Heights, Midtown, Upper Park Avenue, and several other neighborhoods. This year we went to Williamsburg, home to the most insular and religious community of Hasidic Jews in North America.

The group is called the Satmars, who came to this country from Eastern Europe after WWII. They dress meticulously like the nobility of 18th century Lithuania/Poland. Even in summer, the men wear long sleeve white shirts, black vests, long black coats, and black fur hats (along with thick religious underwear). Women cannot show their arms, legs, or collarbones, so they wear long dresses over thick flesh-colored stockings. Upon marriage they shave their heads and wear wigs, and often wear hats.

They speak Yiddish, a language brought to American from Eastern Europe in late 19th century. Working on Friday night or Saturday is strictly forbidden (and “working” includes driving, phoning, cooking, and turning electricity on or off). 100% of their children go to private religious schools. Every family is strictly kosher. Except for work, the internet is forbidden, and all internet usage (including passwords) must be logged with the head rabbi (I saw two different memos directing this. There are almost no smartphones here.

Marriage and all other social relations are strictly regulated; community matchmakers are used, and betrothal by age 17 is not uncommon. Childbearing begins immediately upon marriage. The average family has some ten children.

Formal learning is considered far more important for males than for females, and so many girls do not graduate high school. Math, science, logic, and languages are not stressed, as they are considered less important than homemaking and Jewish law. Few women have cellphones or computer access; they rarely own property, have limited right to divorce, and rarely leave the neighborhood (the main exceptions are well-organized shopping trips to a few select stores and visiting relatives or neighbors in the hospital). Satmar families don’t go out to eat very much, so food shopping and cooking are a full-time female occupation.

Which brings us to the women, the women who have no eyes.

I admit that I am not welcome in the Satmar neighborhood. As a tourist, I dressed modestly—long pants in 85-degree heat, with a broad-brimmed hat. I brought no camera, no notebook, no food or water. And I certainly didn’t come on a Saturday. If I had, I would have been encouraged (in Yiddish, with much gesticulation) to leave. And if I had insisted on my right to walk New York’s public streets, particularly if dressed as almost an ordinary American might on a hot day, I would have been forcefully encouraged to leave by the local neighborhood association.

So my guide and I quietly and respectfully spent 90 minutes walking Keap Street, Bedford Avenue, South 4th Street, and the rest of Old Williamsburg. I passed men talking on old internet-free flip-phones, and women pushing strollers. I passed groups of girls (all the boys were in school, studying Torah). I walked by bakeries and schools and wig shops.

The men either looked at me or ignored me. The women, however, had no eyes at all.

You know how you walk down the street, see a stranger come toward you, and you either nod, smile, or (more often) look away? Even the looking away is an acknowledgement of the other’s existence.

The Satmar women did none of these. As we approached and then passed each other, they all had the identical, studied look: chin tilted about 5 degrees down from horizontal, just enough so they didn’t have to see my face or body. Moreover, their eyes were completely unfocussed, a dead stare you’d expect from someone deeply autistic, profoundly depressed, or in total shock. Even when a pair of them were talking to each other normally as I approached (often with two strollers and 3 or 4 other young kids in tow), when we had to momentarily negotiate our en passant, their eyes died and I ceased to exist.

(And it’s not just because I’m a man. They relate to non-Satmar women the same way.)

For the first few blocks I was respectful, and even lowered my eyes once or twice. Then I smiled at a few. Of course, there was no change in their expressionless expression. Then I started to smile when I passed groups of girls, starting with adolescents: same dead eyes. Schoolgirls: same dead eyes. Six-year-olds: a few looked back at me, although always without smiling (a rather creepy experience). And almost immediately an older sister would intrude to fuss over the kid or pull her away. Finally I smiled at a few babies in strollers at red lights. When the babies laughed or smiled, they were quickly wheeled away or covered. They’re only a few years from learning to deaden their eyes.

The afternoon tour was fascinating in many ways—I even saw a crowd gathered (actually, two crowds, men on one side of the street, women on the other) watching a rabbi praying loudly over a coffin. According to a nearby Hispanic cop, a 12-year-old girl had died the night before.

But my enduring image of Williamsburg, the very last person I encountered before crossing Broadway and leaving the neighborhood, was an eight-year-old girl. She and two friends (cousins?) were standing on a street corner handing out yellow fliers. They were in Yiddish, and I obviously wasn’t going to participate in whatever they were announcing, but I was curious. And I thought I might actually have a momentary interaction with this young person.

So as I approached, I smiled warmly, and held out my hand, gesturing for a flier. And I didn’t get dead eyes. Instead, I got the most disdainful, disgusted, derisive look I have ever gotten from a human being. She was eight, and she’d already learned to look down on me.

Soon enough, she’ll learn to express this disgust with dead eyes. Meanwhile, I guess she forgot that I’m created in the image of her god, too.

National Day of Prayer: Unconstitutional & Anti-Sex

May 1, 2014

To give America an extra edge during the Cold War against godless Communism, President Harry Truman designated the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Every year since, that’s when government officials from city council to president ask citizens to join them in the most blatantly religious activity there is: pleading to a divinity to suspend the laws of the universe, and to bend destiny on behalf of the petitioner.

In response to the unconstitutionality (and sheer offensiveness) of such a public ritual, the American Humanist Association created the National Day of Reason in 2003. The National Day of Prayer clearly violates the First Amendment of the Constitution because it asks federal, state, and local governments to use tax dollars and taxpayer resources to engage in admittedly religious ceremonies.

The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of rationality and logic in human affairs and their positive impact on humanity, including in science and good public policy. Unlike a day of prayer (which excludes the 20% of Americans who are non-believers, as well as religious people who think it’s inappropriate), every American can celebrate reason, as we all use (or attempt to use) it on a daily basis in settings ranging from the supermarket to our careers.

The National Day of Reason is a good moment to examine the way religion is actively undermining sexuality in America today:

* Deliberately conflating contraception and abortion: It’s bad enough that they’re obsessed with criminalizing abortion for non-believers; they manipulate believers (and put them at risk for unwanted pregnancies) by mislabeling some kinds of birth control as “a kind of abortion.” And they simply lie about how Emergency Contraception works.

* Undermining medically accurate school sex education: Under President George W. Bush, organized religion successfully funneled hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into abstinence-only sex education. Curricula were blatantly sexist, wildly inaccurate, and religiously oriented. By 2008, dozens of high-quality studies across the country had documented the failure of these programs to reduce teen sexual behavior or unintended pregnancy. But an entire generation of children learned that sex can kill you, males can’t control themselves, condoms don’t work, and young people who “give in” to sexual urges are bad.

* Claiming religious piety makes people morality experts: Whenever public policy focusses on sexuality (pornography, strip clubs, library books, internet filtering, art in museums, etc.), religious institutions insist they deserve a special seat at the decision-making table. They repeatedly make three false claims: if it’s about sex, it’s about morality; if it’s about morality, they’re the experts; and non-believers are less moral than believers. And so, for example, organized religion has successfully limited the number of pre-teens getting vaccinated against HPV by transforming it from a public health issue to a moral issue.

* Lying about the effects of pornography use: Organized religion has led a disinformation campaign aimed at persuading believers that looking at adult porn destroys marriages and families; makes men rape women; and leads men to look at child porn. Indeed, organized religion spreads the lie that the very desire to look at porn is evil. This encourages couples to fight about porn as adversaries, rather than examine their sexual dissatisfaction as partners. It also makes organized religion a primary recruitment tool for the porn addiction (and sex addiction) industry.

And like the boy who kills his parents and then asks the court for leniency because he’s an orphan, the Church today has the nerve to use “freedom of religion” as a cover for discrimination, special government favors, or people breaking their civic covenants. And so they turn the public’s health insurance opportunities into a moral issue about “supporting” birth control; they turn the professional oaths of physicians and pharmacists into matters of “conscience;” and they reject marriage equality for all Americans because treating everyone fairly goes against their religious “values.”

People have a right to pray both in private and in the public vehicle of their (tax-supported) houses of worship. I fiercely defend my neighbors’ right to their religious freedom. But I’m exasperated that believers can’t see how wrong it is to have the government sponsor an admittedly religious activity.

According to the National Day of Prayer’s vice chairman John Bornschein, “This is purely about prayer and praying for our leadership and asking for God’s wisdom and blessing over our leaders.” I’d prefer leaders who are too wise to believe in a god who can be prayed to. I’d prefer leaders who understand the results of praying to a god who supposedly creates sexuality, then fears and hates it, demanding that we diminish it.

I prefer leaders who strive to be wise, using reason and collaboration instead of asking for it and then waiting around, hoping it drops onto them from the sky.

As a nation of adults, it’s time we replace the National Day of Prayer with the National Day of Reason.

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;
Anal sex;

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.


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