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:

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

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 and (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.”

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
For my DVD or download on “Helping young people develop porn literacy,” go to

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.


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