Archive for the ‘sexual intelligence’ Category

Giving Thanks: Teen Pregnancy, Sex Abuse, Rape All Decline

November 24, 2011

Mandatory disclaimer: Sex abuse is gruesome, rape is horrifying, unintended teen pregnancy destroys lives. One single case of any of these is way, way too much.

Now to the science: there’s been a dramatic drop in child sex abuse and rape for several years. And while these two crimes are obviously under-reported, there’s no reason to think they’re more under-reported today than 10 years ago. If anything, the reverse is true.

Teen pregnancy has also decreased dramatically. And although teen marriage is far more common in some American subcultures than others, the decline in teen pregnancy has occurred in every kind of group—racial, ethnic, income, educational.

Nevertheless, the media, fundraising appeals, politicians, and conservative (and some feminist) doomsayers cry endlessly of dysfunctional epidemics, of out of control behavior, and of our country’s very fabric being destroyed by sexual violence and compulsivity.

(Pornography is often cited as the “cause” of these non-existent epidemics. Claims that these social pathologies are getting worse are then used as proof that pornography is dangerous and must be controlled or eliminated. But let’s not digress.)

So since it’s Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks. There’s little enough to cheer about in our battered republic these days, and this is legitimately good news, fantastic news.

And while giving thanks, let’s note:
1. America should be cheering the apparent success of various programs that tackled these three problems. Increased awareness, empowerment of the less powerful, and other interventions may actually be working. Those working with children are subject to more background checks; women are more assertive about their boundaries; teens are using more contraception, starting sex later, and having fewer partners.

Instead of talking about how nothing works and problems keep getting worse, let’s build “things can and do change” into our national story. And let’s demand that more resources go toward maintaining those changes, possibly helping people rather than giving in to our culture-wide despair.

2. We should be very curious about why so many people are claiming that things are getting worse and worse when the data shows that they’re getting better. This phenomenon is killing our country, and we should examine it as carefully as drunk driving, cancer clusters, high school dropout rates, and similar dangerous trends.

3. Why are we so eager to embrace the demonstrably false myths about socio-sexual pathologies getting worse and worse? Why do we resist the good news about a drop in sexual violence or childhood exploitation?

Sexuality seems to be a magnet for this kind of mass delusion. Look, for example, at teen sexting. As online safety expert Dr. Larry Magid says, there’s an epidemic of good decision-making about sexting—practically no kids do it. “It’s important to acknowledge that NOT sexting is “normal,” he says. Otherwise, we’re practically begging kids to join the “everyone’s doing it” mentality, turning a false perception into an accurate one.

An article like this inevitably receives a flood of hate mail, angry that I “don’t take these problems seriously.” To which I sigh, “please see this post’s first and last sentence.” But the question is, why must taking a problem seriously require either cooking or ignoring the facts? Why is cheering the improvement of a problem perceived as trivializing it?

We who care about social problems like sexual assault and sexual abuse should be working overtime figuring out exactly how these decreases occurred, so we can promote and enhance them (they may actually have little to do with programs or interventions). And we should be studying what perversity in human (or American) nature makes people insist that things are worse than they are, ignoring documentation of the very changes our hearts desire.

And now I’ll repeat sentence number one: Any amount of sexual violence or teen pregnancy is a bad amount. But some bad amounts are bigger—i.e., worse—than others. Exaggerating how terrible things are in order to generate attention or create more funding (or to prove piety—that one really, really cares) isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.

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Yale Bans “Sex Week”

November 16, 2011

Yale University President Richard Levin has announced that the school is discontinuing “Sex Week” in its present form. Since 2002, the program has brought speakers to campus to discuss a variety of sex-related topics. But as it grew, it involved corporate sponsors such as Pure Romance (in-home sex toy sales parties) and porn stars such as Sasha Grey.

President Levin has done the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.

He could have assembled the student Sex Week producers and said “we need to do this differently.” They could have proposed substantive changes (or not), and let things unfold from there. But no, he dropped the atomic bomb.

Sex Week will, in fact, return in a different form next year, although neither sponsored by nor located on Yale facilities. But regardless of the outcome, the reasoning behind the fuss is highly troubling. It indicates a continuing trend of American sex-negativity dressed up as concerns about public health.

A group called Undergraduates for a Better Yale College complained that Sex Week was too focused on porn. That may or may not be true. But they go on to demand, “Tell Yale that a pornographic culture does not create respect, but degrades…[the campus should focus on] relationships based on true love between partners, not transient lust.”

As is often the case, people who want sex intertwined with “love” believe that that’s the only correct form of sexual expression—for everyone, not just for themselves. These students apparently want Sex Week to be Intimate Forms of Affection Week. That kind of narrow-minded thinking and discomfort with lust is why students need Sex Week in the first place.

Another troubling aspect of the situation is the way President Levin received the recommendation to shut down Sex Week. It came from the report of a committee investigating whether the campus environment is hostile toward women, which is illegal under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.

The committee’s report suggested—with absolutely no data or even theory—that because Sex Week had become too focused on titillation and porn stars, it was part of a bigger problem of sexual assault and harassment, and thus should be banned. This is the familiar libel of those angry about how sex is misused to hurt others: sexual entertainment and the frank admission of lust in the human psyche somehow lead to sexual violence against women.

These people ignore two FACTS:
* Cultures around the globe that experience an increase in legal porn enjoy a decrease in sexual violence;
* Since free porn flooded American homes via the internet in 2000, sexual violence has decreased.

That said, I can easily agree that Sex Week has evolved in some unfortunate directions. As a lifelong sex educator, I have watched as porn stars have been hired to lecture college students across America. I have seen representatives of Ashley Madison and other dating sites presented as experts on conference panels. I cringed as Ron Jeremy went on a national tour debating the XXXChurch on the effects of porn. I even lived through Kim Cattrall publishing a book of sex advice called—gulp—Sexual Intelligence. Her credentials? Playing a sex-loving woman on the show Sex And The City.

I admit it—I’d rather be giving those lectures myself (shameless promo: see the link to my 2012 lecture schedule at the right of this page). Or that they be given by my esteemed colleagues, such as Debbie Herbenick, Jay Friedman, Judith Steinhart, Paul Joannides—there are dozens of qualified (and entertaining) sex educators out there.

But the problem with campus Sex Weeks goes beyond having porn stars as “experts” (although at least we can depend on these people to use grownup words like clitoris and ejaculate). It’s a matter of addressing what students actually need.

The three biggest sexual problems facing students are:
* Unintended pregnancy;
* The inability to communicate before, during, and after sex;
* The fluidity of the concept of “consent.”
(Note: Life is NOT as simple as “no means no.” While coercion IS black-and-white—it’s always wrong, regardless of circumstances—pressure, self-doubt, ambivalence, misunderstanding, fantasy, hope, low self-esteem, and the trading of sex for prestige or other nebulous goods is far more common in college student sexuality, complicating sexual interactions even before we get into issues like alcohol and privacy.)

These three issues are inextricably linked. They all relate to questions of accepting one’s own sexuality; feeling a sense of agency in shaping sexual experiences; having a wide range of sexual options, not simply intercourse or even genital sex; and making sexual decisions based on one’s core values (which requires knowing them, of course).

This is the stuff that Sex Weeks should focus on—not positions or techniques, not why porn use devalues or addicts us, not why sex-with-love is the best sex. The three Cs of enjoyable sex—communicate, communicate, communicate. A frank discussion of why men enjoy porn (and keep it secret), and why women feel queasy about it would be great too—not a discussion of how porn affects “people” or “society” or even “users,” but a venue for students to discuss their feelings and their fantasies about each other around porn.

While the Yale community debates “appropriate” ways to learn about sex and love, I note with grim irony their widespread acceptance of two of the world’s most violent, body-objectifying institutions—NCAA football and ROTC.

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The Pleasures of Sexual Science

November 10, 2011

Last week I had the honor of addressing the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Everyone was very nice to me, and my talk was received enthusiastically.

But that wasn’t nearly the best part. For four days I got to listen to the country’s best sexual scientists. It was a festival of fact, tested hypotheses, and replicated data—actual information.

Leslie Kantor discussed sex education outcomes, demonstrating that scare tactics do not motivate young people, that accurate information is not dangerous, and that parents can shape their kids’ sexual behavior—if they’ll talk to them.

William Fisher dissected common government strategies for fighting HIV/AIDS–and showed why most common approaches are wrong if we want to minimize the spread of the disease.

Debbie Herbenick talked about why promoting sexual satisfaction is an important part of getting people to make responsible sexual decisions. She also showed that policy-makers underestimate men’s willingness to use condoms.

Mickey Diamond presented his long-term study on how children develop a sense of gender—and what happens when physicians or parents ignore this.

There was plenty of other science to go around, with data on the effects of pornography in real life (quite small), the dynamics of sex offending (very low recidivism), the most effective ways to teach medical students about sex, the impact of social media on sexual decision-making, and so on. Even former Surgeon General David Satcher gave a talk.

While sexual scientists were examining the fine points of sample size and research design, Republicans wanting to run for President were running away from science as fast as they could.

Rick Perry dismissed evolution as “just a theory” with “some gaps in it.” He also dismisses climate science as a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart.”

Newt Gingrich, a brilliant, well-educated man who surely says different in private, calls himself “agnostic” on the question of climate change: “I actually don’t know whether global warming is occurring.”

Mitt Romney, who would gladly say Rhode Island is bigger than Texas if he thought it could help him get elected, now says he’s “unsure” about climate change.

Michelle Bachmann—who makes Sarah Palin look moderate, intelligent, warm, and conciliatory—has never met a scientific fact she couldn’t ignore or disagree with. On the “Today” show, she attacked vaccination. In speeches, she calls Emergency Contraception “the abortion pill,” even though a pregnant woman taking EC continues to be pregnant.

Gravity? Unfortunately, these candidates are not being asked if they believe in it. I’d love to hear them either deny that it’s real, or actually say the words “yes, I acknowledge the science.”

Of course, this is a country in which more people believe in the Rapture than in Evolution. Half of today’s Americans are like cavemen confronting fire for the first time—pointing at it with a combination of fear, wonder, and rage.

It all helps explain why sexual scientists spend so much time talking to each other, getting so little time to speak with policy-makers, bureaucrats, and elected officials. Maybe after the Rapture takes all the anti-intellectuals, it will be easier for the voices of scientists to be heard.

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Mississippi Personhood Amendment Fails

November 9, 2011

People in the state of Mississippi just spent a few cool millions of dollars arguing about how many fetuses can writhe on the head of a pin. That is, they just voted on a ballot measure that would decide the simple question of when life begins. How many textbooks, hepatitis shots, firefighter salaries, and fresh vegetables would that money buy? Well, who cares about that when you can invest in shackling some stranger whose pregnancy you’ve made your business?

And “when life begins”! Only in America, where “democracy” is the pitiful excuse for mobs, religious zealots, the powerful, and the terrified to enforce their morality on others, would adults actually get to vote on the mysteries of the universe. And only in America would people think they deserve to vote on such a thing.

The internet and “interactive news” (now there’s a modern abomination—let’s vote on the news) have pushed this trend to the point where people feel deprived if they don’t get to comment on everything that interests them. Michael Jackson’s doctor gets convicted of manslaughter, and instead of a serious conversation about medical ethics or family responsibility, newspaper (and blog) readers are invited to “vote” on the verdict—right or wrong? It’s yet another exercise in fact-free self-expression. Where do I click for “How the hell do I know?”

The Mississippi ballot measure conferring personhood on a tiny random blip of carbon is not, of course, about sponsors’ awe of biochemistry; rather, it’s a cynical ploy to outlaw other people’s abortions (and much of their birth control). After all, even though every Mississippian with a heartbeat can own a gun, these people revere “life”—i.e., the ability to control what you do with yours.

Fortunately, the measure failed (although over 40% of voters approved it. Maybe Secession wasn’t such a bad idea). Similar campaigns, however, will be pursued next year in at least six other states. These ignorant, flag-waving “patriots” don’t understand the first thing about “democracy:” it isn’t three wolves and a lamb voting on who’s for dinner.

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Fourteen Ways to Observe Pornography Awareness Week

November 1, 2011

Coinciding with the horrors of Halloween, this is Pornography Awareness Week.

Sponsored by groups including Concerned Women for America (CWA) and Morality in Media (MiM), the goal of the week is “to educate the public about the extent of the pornography problem and what can constitutionally be done about it.” These are powerful groups lobbying Washington and state capitols to adapt Biblical principles for governing, and to weaken what they label the “so-called separation between church and state.”

Their suggested activities for the Week include urging the Attorney General to enforce obscenity laws; demanding that convenience stores stop selling X-rated mags or DVDs; and pressuring presidential candidates to promise to prosecute “illegal pornography.”

They also pledge to “raise awareness” of how pornography harms every single person in every single community. In other words, their goal is to lie, cheat, misinform, frighten, confuse, and manipulate. So far they’re doing a great job.

One strategy is the White Ribbons Against Pornography (WRAP)—literally wearing white ribbons to invite conversation about pornography. (They presumably considered but discarded the White Garter Belt Campaign.)

I totally agree with the idea behind WRAP. I support increasing everyone’s awareness of pornography use in this country: how many people watch it, who these people typically are, how it affects them and their relationships, how pornographers work hard to screen out underage performers, what Americans’ rights are regarding possession of erotic material, etc.

Of course, I have a fact-based approach to this phenomenon rather than WRAP’s emotional, say-anything-to-get-people-to-stop approach, so I propose a different set of activities to observe Pornography Awareness Week.

To counter the obscene lies that our media and legislators will be hearing this week, perhaps you could do one (or more!) of the following:

* If you use porn, talk about it with your partner.

* Thank the clerk in your local convenience store for carrying porn magazines or DVDs.

* Thank your local hotel for carrying pay-for-porn, even if you personally have never stayed there. Alternatively, write to a national chain that carries pay-for-porn (and has been bullied about it by groups like Citizens for Community Values), such as Marriott or Westin.

* Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper explaining that most people who use porn have no problem with it.

* Write about this on your own blog. Tweet about it: “I use porn and my sex life is fine,” or “I use porn and my sex life isn’t very good—but it has nothing to do with porn.”

* Invite your partner to share her/his concerns about porn with you.

* Instead of a White Ribbon, wear a Plaid Ribbon. When people ask, say it’s for Porn Awareness Week and your gratitude for the First Amendment.

* Start a conversation with someone: “Did you know that the Bill of Rights says NOTHING about exempting porn, obscenity, or indecency from our Freedom of Speech?

* Send a few bucks to the ACLU, National Coalition Against Censorship or Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance. They protect your right to read, watch, and jack off to whatever adult material you like.

* Write your mayor or governor reminding them that you vote–and that you have no problem with porn.

* Memorize this fact: in the real world, porn is NOT connected with violence against women, child molestation, or divorce. In fact, the FBI says these have all declined since the country was flooded with internet porn in 2000.

* Memorize this fact: the adult industry NEVER knowingly creates or distributes child porn. They’re smart business people, not clueless idiots. The government has only identified two underage performers in professional films—both of whom produced sophisticated false identification—in over twenty-five years.

* Memorize this fact: using porn does NOT cause brain damage, erectile dysfunction, or loss of sexual interest in one’s mate. Other things do that, but not porn.

* Use some.

Bonus: What to say to people who say that pornography causes most of America’s problems:

* “Of course some rapists and wife-beaters use pornography. So do 50,000,000 other Americans, and it doesn’t make them rape or beat anyone.”
* “Of course some people watch way too much porn. Other people watch way too much football, reality TV, or the Weather Channel. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with any of them.”
* “Porn doesn’t make men withdraw from their wives and girlfriends. Men withdraw for a variety of reasons. No pictures or stories can compete with a satisfying sexual & emotional relationship with a live person.”

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Abstinence Sex Ed? “I’m Baaack…”

October 7, 2011

Like a bad penny—or like an abusive ex-husband, or a public policy cancer—abstinence is back, just when we thought it was gone.

Through the 1970s, U.S. policy was to reduce teen pregnancy. In 1981 the goal was changed, to funding programs to reduce teen sexual activity. During the Bush Administration, $1.5 billion was spent trying to get kids to have less sex. These programs failed completely (other than transferring federal case to Bush supporters).

In 2009 the federal government ended most funding for abstinence (although states and school districts continued funding abstinence programs locally), and began funding comprehensive sex ed. But that was just a brief tease. Because last year, in addition to authorizing $75 million to implement evidence-based comprehensive sex education, Congress also provided $250 million over five years to implement abstinence programs. As under Bush’s abstinence regime, the money cannot be used to teach about contraceptive effectiveness or healthy decision-making.

This week, House Republicans slashed 81% of the comprehensive sex ed money, and removed language requiring funded programs to be medically accurate and supported by rigorous research.

Abstinence is baaaack.

America’s public policy goal is again to prevent teen sex, not to reduce teen pregnancy and support healthy decision-making—despite unambiguous scientific proof that this leads to more pregnancies and STDs, not less. It’s tragic that a country which used to produce the world’s finest scientists and scientific projects is now being run by tea partyers and other Republicans for whom science is just another opinion.

These people think it makes sense to systematically prepare kids for what they won’t experience—adolescence and young adulthood without sex—and to leave kids completely unprepared for what they will have: Sex. Sexual feelings. Sexual relationships. Sexual decision-making.

Abstinence proponents claim they love their kids and don’t want to abandon them to dangerous sexuality. But their behavior is aggressive and hateful. They are throwing their kids under the public policy bus for completely selfish reasons: for political gain, and to sooth their own feelings about their kids’ sexuality—their anxiety, sadness, resentment, and sense of loss.

We know how we would describe a parent who’s uncomfortable about his own teeth, and therefore refuses to teach his kids about brushing, flossing, and soda. Imagine that this parent also prevents his kids from learning anything about oral hygiene, and forbids them from going to the dentist.

We’d call this parent neglectful. I’d add irresponsible and unforgiveable. And if this parent got in the way of my kid learning about toothpaste, I’d say he’s dangerous. That perfectly describes adults who desperately need to live in a world without teen sexuality–and selfishly fantasize that they can.

I fantasize about a world in which people who refuse to believe in science are disqualified from public office. In real life, Americans elect them to Congress, and beg them to be President.

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When a Chicken is Too Sexy, We’re Really in Trouble

October 5, 2011

Here’s an old therapy joke:

A new patient comes to see a psychiatrist. The doc decides to give the patient a Rorshach Test, and shows him a series of cards with different inkblots on them.

“What do you see on the first one?” asks the shrink.
“That’s a man and a woman making love.”
“And the second one?”
“That’s a couple who just finished making love.”
“And the third one?”
“That’s a man asking a woman to make love, and she’s deciding what to do.”
The shrink asks, “Don’t you think it’s interesting that you see sex in every card?”
“Don’t blame me,” says the patient “they’re your cards.”

Playing the role of that patient this week is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The animal rights group is upset with a photo in a recent New York Times food section. Accompanying a story on the guilty pleasure of crispy chicken skin, the photo shows a raw chicken posed jauntily—even seductively.

It’s funny, eye-catching, and sexy in a playful way.

But PETA went way over the top in objecting to it: “It’s downright offensive, not just to people who care about animals but almost to everyone,” said the group’s president Ingrid Newkirk. “It’s a plucked, beheaded, young chicken in a young pose. It’s necrophilia,” she concluded.

I’m certainly not the only one to note that perhaps PETA objects to someone stealing a page from their playbook. They’ve publicized their work by showing semi-nude models who’d “rather be nude than wear fur;” showing nude porn stars pleading with owners to spay their pets; and they’re even planning to start their own porn site, which will “reach a whole new audience of people,” according to PETA’s director of campaigns.

But this latest, um, catfight, goes deeper than mere hypocrisy.

Newkirk is complaining that a raw chicken—the kind you buy in the supermarket—has been posed in a way that’s too sexy. Worse, she invoked the archetypal monster of our time—the child molester. Newkirk said the photo showed a “young chicken in a young pose.”

She might as well have called the photographer a terrorist. For nostalgia, throw in “Communist.”

We live in a country where some people see sex—and therefore danger—everywhere.

Where you or I might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about penis size, those uncomfortable with sex feel assaulted. Where you might ignore a tampon or douche commercial, they feel assaulted. Where you might be bored (or intrigued) by a Katie Couric episode about teen hookers, they feel assaulted. That’s a lot of assault.

If you’re not obsessed with sex, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casually observe “dumb joke + health product + social problem (exaggerated or not).” But they perceive “sex + sex + sex.” And for them, it never stops; people obsessed with sex that they resent never have a nice day.

When people are obsessed by sex—not about doing it, but by the subject—they see it everywhere. Like a four-year-old in a candy store or an eight-year-old at a scary movie, they are simply not emotionally equipped to ignore what they see. We should feel sympathy for these people, but they make it difficult, because they deal with their upset in such an aggressive way. They want to strip the public sphere of sexuality—and they imagine the public sphere as practically the whole world. It includes Greek statues in City Hall, radio ads for birth control, string bikinis on the beach, vanity license plates, lube in the drugstore—the list is almost endless.

I’m tired of people obsessed with sex seeing it everywhere, feeling assaulted, and wanting to protect themselves from it by stripping my world of art, fashion, words, products, and, ultimately, eroticism. Let’s give these people compassion, not political or organizational power.

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World Contraception Day Comes and Goes

September 27, 2011

Today was World Contraception Day. Sponsored by organizations from most parts of the globe, its goal is straightforward: to create a world in which every pregnancy is wanted.

So simple. So life-affirming and life-enhancing. Such a dramatic, proven program for reducing poverty and domestic violence. Who could be against such a thing?

Unfortunately, way too many people:

* Religious adherents who think their god is against it;
* People who don’t want women to have more power in their relationships, families, and lives;
* People who see children as a source of family labor or national wealth;
* People so obsessed with abortion that contraception has become controversial;
* And some American presidential hopefuls.

That’s right: some Americans are actually considering whether to elect a President who opposes contraception. Kinda makes you yearn for the progressive days of, say, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Yes, familiar names who are against reproductive rights aren’t just against abortion. They’re against birth control. One example is Michelle Bachmann, who recently trashed Obama’s health-insurance bill by referring to “contraception and the so-called morning-after pill, which some researchers say are abortion-inducing drugs.”

“Some researchers say” is a handy rhetorical device that allows a speaker to lie without having to take any responsibility. Concluded Bachmann, so “people who have a moral issue about supporting abortion and paying for other people’s abortions will be forced to do so…”

Presidential hopeful Rick Perry one-upped Bachmann’s rhetoric with his recent actions as Governor. Together with the Texas legislature, he cut funding for family planning clinics by two-thirds. Asked if this was part of a “war on birth control,” state Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Nacogdoches) said “Of course this is a war on birth control and abortions and everything—that’s what family planning is supposed to be about.”

Civic groups, decency groups, religious groups, and just plain screwball groups are all out there, fighting against contraception—again, not abortion, contraception. One well-funded organization is the American Life League, which supports state legislatures in criminalizing birth control pills.

The believe that “separating lovemaking from procreation” leads to a couple’s, and a nation’s, death. A recent honored speaker repeatedly made the bizarre claim that “Contraception feeds the abortion industry.”

Websites like thepillkills proudly distribute lies about the effects of various forms of contraception. With a public whose scientific literacy is in tatters, readers of such sites are easily misled and inflamed. For them, the tea party awaits to channel their anger, fear, and alienation.

Fundamentalist religious groups have been challenging the scientific advances of contraception for a century. Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, and evangelical Protestants use eerily similar words to describe their opposition to family planning for not only themselves, but for all members of their tribe—and yours. It’s one more way in which fundamentalists of various religions are more like each other than they are like the moderates of their own faith.

In America, the massively destructive expansion of homeschooling has been a godsend to evangelicals, whose children are virtually untouched by secular culture. Sexuality, gender roles, and the Satanic intentions of contraception are central issues to sects like Quiverfull or the United Apostolic Brethren, whose adherents routinely have 10 children per family. Only last month such a fundamentalist couple with 9 kids spanked their 7-year-old to death, persuaded they were divinely instructed.

The choice to bear a child is without question the single most dramatic action most humans ever take. To believe that humans should take no responsibility for this “decision” is reprehensible and immoral, whether the belief comes from interpreting the Bible or channeling Napoleon. There’s nothing quite so disgustingly disingenuous as a Catholic or other pious couple claiming their “religion” forbids contraception—while they tolerate divorce, premarital sex, or women working outside the home. How convenient to treat religious dogma as a bunch of suggestions on Monday, and rigid guidelines on Tuesday.

Of course, if religious people taught their children to masturbate, and supported each couple in enjoying various forms of non-fertile sexual expression, their impact on society would be less damaging. Instead, people who oppose contraception refuse to teach their kids about it—who predictably still have sex like their peers, but without doing it safely. Why anti-contraception parents can’t see that they’re increasing their kids’ chances of unplanned pregnancy is a mystery for the ages.

While hosting his 1960s quiz show, Groucho Marx famously interviewed a woman with a dozen kids. “That’s a lot of children,” he said. “Well, my husband and I love each other very much,” replied the woman.

“I love my cigar, too,” said Groucho. “But periodically I take it out.”

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Morality in Media Admits They Lack Facts, So They Lie About Porn

September 4, 2011

The lobbying group Morality In Media wants to eliminate adult pornography. But they have a problem: adult pornography is one of the most successful consumer products on earth, and it is generally protected by the Constitution.

So MiM has resorted to a desperate measure—repeatedly connecting adult pornography to a reviled product (child porn) and a reviled behavior (child molestation). Of course there is no evidence linking adult porn with either of those things, but MiM has never let facts stand in the way of their Big Lie.

In their latest press release, they admit that they have no evidence of this connection—and, incredibly, they demand that the government find one: “No researcher has yet published a study that uses empirical science to validate the [alleged] link between adult and child pornography…the U.S. Department of Justice doles out hundreds of millions of dollars for crime research, ostensibly to discover ways to make us safer. The link between adult and child pornography should now be a top target of research.”

Clearly, anyone documenting this link would get the Religious Right equivalent of the Nobel Prize and MacArthur “genius grant.” If that link hasn’t been established yet, it can’t possibly be for lack of trying. If anyone could show it, they would. Social scientists have all the necessary research tools; if it hasn’t been credibly shown by now, it won’t be.

Having admitted that the link doesn’t exist, MiM blithely goes on to repeat its Big Lie over and over:

Viewing adult porn –> viewing child porn –> molesting children.

Therefore, says MiM, “the U.S. Department of Justice must change course and begin vigorously to enforce adult as well as child pornography laws.” The “therefore,” of course, is based on enthusiasm and lying, rather than any documented facts.

In last week’s press release, MiM continues its familiar lies:

* “The predatory pornography industry targets children with their teaser material.”
Nonsense: the industry wouldn’t waste money on consumers who have no money to spend on its products. And the industry doesn’t want the attention that would come with such stupid commercial behavior.

* “Federal laws prohibit distribution of hard-core adult pornography (called obscenity in law).”
Adult pornography is NOT legally “obscene”—unless a jury decides that a particular indicted production meets very special criteria. MiM bemoans the fact that this hardly ever happens.

* “The average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is 11.”
This 12-year-old claim was debunked by Forbes Magazine five years ago, yet “decency” groups still use it. No one has ever documented this nonsense, and for starters, you’d have to publicly define “pornography” (which to some people includes sex education books, “sexting” by childhood peers, and mainstream magazines like French Vogue).

* “There is evidence that the rise in child-on-child sexual abuse appears to flow from consumption of Internet pornography.”
The “evidence” MiM cites is speculation by Australian officials who define such “abuse” to include “explicit swearing,” “inappropriate rubbing,” and “reports of sexual behavior among children.” Psychologists across America and the U.S. call this behavior normal.

So how does adult pornography supposedly pose a danger for kids?

MiM cites the usual freaky comments: ten years ago, an official of a Bangkok NGO said that “Men with perfectly normal sexual proclivities become seduced, then involved, and finally addicted to child pornography…the addiction leads many men into seeking out children to abuse.” Three years ago a Spanish “expert” (no credentials listed) offered the dubious “the majority of pedophiles develop the tendency later on…[after] looking for pornography on the web as their stimulation threshold rises, they feel the need for stronger and stronger material until their search leads them to child pornography.”

These officials and others citing their “observations” apparently have no clue about developmental issues in pedophilia or child porn consumption. Neither results from boredom with adult pornography. What could lead YOU to masturbate looking at photos of a four-year-old? What could make YOU desire sex with a four-year-old? “Boredom?” “Saturation?” “Needing stronger material?” That just defies logic.

MiM’s latest ends with this demand: “Candidates for president must pledge to protect our children from pornography, and that means committing to the vigorous prosecution of illegal adult pornography as well as child pornography.”

If anything, we need a president who understands the difference between adult pornography and child pornography. The first is legal, the second illegal; the first shows consenting adults doing things most American adults do, or wish to do (ask any marriage counselor); the second portrays activities that interest very few people, and is often the record of a crime.

We need a President who knows simple arithmetic: with adult pornography consumed by some 40 million adults each month, the overwhelming majority of them obviously do not commit sex crimes, do not consume child porn, and do not abuse children. In fact, those 40 million adults are similar to the American population that doesn’t use pornography—similar in levels of religiosity, income, marriage & divorce, and, for better or worse, in the way they vote.

If MiM really wants to protect children, rather than simply promoting itself through fear-mongering, it can champion comprehensive sex education—to help young people make good sexual decisions, including protecting themselves from those who want to exploit them. And it can acknowledge childhood sexuality, so ignorant people will stop seeing kids’ sexual experimentation as “abuse” that requires an explanation—inevitably focused on pathology.

Oh, and they can model an important value for our young people: you shouldn’t lie.
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Deep In the Valley: Going to a Porn Shoot

August 29, 2011

I’ve been on movie sets and I’ve been on network TV, but in all these years I’d never watched a porn film being made.

So last week while I was in L.A., I finally accepted an invitation. After lunch I drove out to the San Fernando Valley, parked in a neighborhood of modest homes and small warehouses, and walked into the studio of Brash Films. I spent about two hours there, watching and occasionally chatting. Everyone involved made me feel welcome.

The most interesting thing I have to say about it all is—nothing.

But maybe not for the reasons you think.

* * *

Sooner or later, watching the same people having sex is repetitive and boring—unless, of course, you’re adding to it via fantasy, imagination, arousal, and voyeurism. I didn’t do much of that, because I was there working (yeah, I know—nice gig). So yes, watching the shoot did reduce the sex (along with the filming itself) to a technical craft. She used her left hand when the camera needed it, even though she’s right-handed. He stopped right in the middle of licking her when some sweat dripped into a bowl of fruit.

Some people condemn how watching porn at home supposedly does the same thing—it reduces sex to “mechanics.” But the critical difference between watching a film being made and watching it at home is what the consumer brings to the experience. And that transforms the “mechanics” into something stimulating.

Those who say that watching porn reduces sex to mechanics aren’t adding anything to the film. Nothing positive, that’s for sure.

This is the same dynamic when consuming any media—whether it’s Seinfeld, or Guernica, or Star Wars. In fact, both Bach and the Beatles are just noise unless the listener adds something to them. Ever listen to Chinese music and think “This isn’t music”? I went to China last spring, and sure enough, their tunes sounded like noise—because I didn’t know what to add to the sound to turn it into what I recognize as “music.” The Chinese architecture looked like art to me, because I was able to add something to it. But I couldn’t make the Chinese music sound like “music,” so it sounded like noise. The same is true with Coltrane or Miles Davis, if you’re not conversant with their hum.

What I brought to the porn shoot was nothing. And because of the situation, I was perfectly willing to have a bland, non-erotic experience.

What a consumer brings to a porn film is imagination, privacy, a little time, maybe lube or a toy. And that gives the images meaning—erotic meaning. When anti-porn crusaders take the same film and add fear, anger, and a sense of helplessness, they also give the images meaning—but distinctly un-sexy ones (such as “exploitation” and “immorality”). So:

Porn + nothing = neutral meaning
Porn + privacy + time + imagination = positive meaning
Porn + fear, loneliness + anger = negative meaning

* * *

In all, it was just like being on any other movie set: a bunch of people wearing t-shirts and shorts (except for Her, Him, and Him), intensely concentrating and cooperating for short bursts of time—and then stopping to adjust a light, mop a brow, snip a loose thread, or find the damn beeping that only the sound guy can hear. Then another burst, maybe stopping when a scene is completed. Or when an actress really needs to pee.

Of course, the focus was on the people having sex. Her underwear was gorgeous, and she had exactly the body it was designed for. The guys had abs and muscles on top of their abs and muscles, and pretty fair penises, too. But what I admired most about all the bodies was their backs. You gotta have a strong back to thrust and thrust and keep thrusting. You gotta have a strong back to twist around and service a guy at each end, changing positions without missing a beat.

I imagined what these people do in their spare time—a little bit of sex, and a lot of time at the gym.

* * *

I wasn’t there on a political mission—in fact, I had no agenda at all except to just be open to whatever happened. But I finally couldn’t help asking myself—what exactly is the problem here? Crew, actors, actress: they’re all adults, they’re all getting paid, they all know exactly what they’re doing. No one’s exploited, no one’s been tricked into thinking they’re making Art. They know they’re not working with Pixar or Spielberg, Natalie Portman or the Coen Brothers. And they’re also not working the graveyard shift at 7-Eleven.

They’re making a living. Like most working stiffs, they’re not brilliant, they’re good enough.

I saw a few orgasms (perhaps), spoke with a couple of tech people, and thanked the director. Several people on break thanked me for coming. I gave them a copy of my book America’s War On Sex, which they admired.

They have their craft, I have mine. Different in some ways, not so different in others.

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