Has the Internet Really Changed Anything About Sexuality?

September 2, 2015

Nothing could be more modern than the rise and fall of Ashley Madison: millions of world-wide members linked by a single website, the central promise of cyber-confidentiality, millions of phony profiles generated by algorithm, and the whole thing brought down by hackers—exposing not just the criminal business behavior, but the email addresses and IP information for millions of accounts, both real and fake.

This ultra-modern story is also a reminder that the human heart hasn’t changed. I’m not talking about the good old-fashioned greed of unethical businessmen. I’m talking about the customers. People still want to connect. People still find it difficult. People still have trouble talking to their mates about sex. People still want what they can’t have.

People still fantasize about infidelity; some pursue it, and some indeed do it. Some do it out of lust, some out of anger, some out of despair. Some do it because they want what comes after the sex: a hug; a note that says “you’re great;” the feeling of belonging, or of being desired. Some do it, as Olympia Dukakis told Cher in the film Moonstruck, because they know that one day they’re going to die.

Most of all, people still lie about sex.

As a 30-year resident of (and therapist in) Silicon Valley, I hear every single day that the internet has changed everything. And I have a front-row seat for the latest ways that people use technology as part of dating, mating, and long-term coupling.

I hear about Grindr, Tinder, Match.com, and yes, Ashley Madison. I know about meetups, flash mobs, and Group-on. I know people continents apart masturbate together on Skype, and I seem to hear about sexting every week. There’s an amazing amount of information on line about everything from clitorises to sexual side effects of drugs to the number of calories in semen to whether olive oil is a good lubricant.

Caitlin Jenner’s story—which many people find personally liberating—would be just private gossip without the internet. So would Miley Cyrus’s self-declared “pan-sexuality”—which, again, many people find personally meaningful.

And yet…

  • People are still wondering if they’re normal
  • People are still getting pregnant unintentionally
  • People are still inhibited talking about what they like in bed, and hesitant to say what they don’t like
  • People still insist on sex, or withhold sex, as part of marital politics
  • People still have sex when they’d rather hug
  • People still lie about their past experience
  • People still want sex to be “natural and spontaneous,” even though nothing else in their lives is.
  • People still look at porn. For the same reasons they always did
  • People still think men and women are “opposite” sexes, whose perspectives are inevitably different.
  • People still have sex because they’re lonely. Many people still feel lonely during and after sex.
  • People still have sex—or join Ashley Madison–because they want to feel young.
  • People still regret what they see in the mirror, and lose their appetite for something that could soothe them.

So has the internet changed anything about sexuality?

Only this: our obsession with the constant, intense, novel stimulation of the internet has rendered real sex with an actual person a bit less all-compelling than it used to be. We actually have to remember to pay attention during sex now—since it doesn’t grab us like colorful, noisy websites do, and since it doesn’t promise us the entire world every moment the way our smartphones do.

Actually, sex does make that promise. It can even deliver on that promise—but only if we pay attention. And in the age of the internet, that’s a big if.

Ashley Madison: Playing Around, or Just Playing?

August 30, 2015

We’ve learned two things from the Ashley Madison hack-a-thon:

  1. “Internet security” is an oxymoron—like working vacation, compassionate conservatism, science magic, free speech zone, and the one true religion.
  2. You can make a lot of money pretending to offer men a chance to meet strangers for extramarital affairs.

What we have NOT learned is that tens of millions of men actually want to arrange extramarital affairs with virtual strangers.

That’s because we don’t know how many men joined AM specifically to get laid (yes, of course many did), and how many joined for other reasons. These could include:

“I wonder who might pick me.”
“I wonder who’s available.”
“It’s so much fun pretending I’m available.”
“I wonder how it would feel to be young, handsome, and single.”
“I wonder what a horny woman sounds like.”
“I just want to talk about my sexless marriage with someone.”

It turns out that both groups—the “I wanna get laid” crowd and the “I wanna talk or imagine” gang—were systematically cheated. Of five million supposed female members of AM, over 99% of their profiles were fake, manufactured by the site to lure male (i.e., paying) customers.

Surprise, surprise—a business model that exploited sexual desire, arousal, curiosity, loneliness, and dissatisfaction was wildly successful. AM swindled virtually every customer who was shopping for real sex, and virtually all customers who were pining for validation, conversation, or information (about women or their own marketability).

It’s easy to scorn customers who were cheated while they participated on a website for cheaters. Poetic justice, some might say.

I disagree—the two are completely unrelated. We expect that people who crash while driving drunk should get quality medical care, right? And we expect that convicted criminals should be treated in a civilized way while jailed, right? (Parenthetically, let’s remember that virtually none of the 31 million male members actually cheated via AM; we can say that many tried, which would make them akin not to convicted criminals, but rather suspected criminals—who, in America, have tremendous legal rights.

If any good comes out of this mess (besides CEO Noel Biderman losing his job, along with, one hopes, everything else he values), it would be the two cultural conversations it launches: one about internet privacy, the other about sexual fantasy and infidelity. However, the question is NOT “why do 31 million men want to cheat,” but rather “why are so many men inhibited from talking about sexual or emotional issues with their partners?”

The topics involved range from “I don’t feel attractive anymore” to “you don’t seem to desire me much” to “how am I supposed to live without oral sex for another 25 years” to “can’t we pretend X or Y before or during sex” to “I don’t think this monogamy thing works for me.” Whether they want to cheat, flirt, talk, listen, or masturbate, every one of AM’s 31 million actual members has something to say to his partner at home.

The fear of data exposure is a dystopian new twist on guilt and the fear of being known. But if that gets some of these 31 million men talking more honestly with their partners, it will be a step forward after all.

Limiting Abortion to Healthy Fetuses?

August 23, 2015

Mark Twain once groused that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” Ohio has proven once again that no one’s freedom is safe when conservative politicians are up for reelection.

Within a few weeks, Ohio’s legislature is expected to criminalize any abortion if the pregnant woman’s intent is to avoid having a baby with Down syndrome.

Of the six million pregnancies each year in the U.S., fewer than 20,000 are carrying a fetus with Down syndrome. Some 2/3 of those pregnancies will miscarry, leaving a maximum of some 6,000 Down’s pregnancies in America continuing to term (and thus potentially to abortion). But even assuming that all 20,000 Down’s pregnancies are viable, Ohio (with 3.6% of America’s population) would have about 720 of them.

That’s what this law does—it criminalizes abortion for these 720 pregnancies.

It’s an election year after all. Governor John Kasich is running for president, and 2/3 of the legislature is endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee.

Of course, Ohio isn’t the only grandstanding U.S. legislature. In 2013, North Dakota criminalized abortion because of fetal genetic anomalies, including Down syndrome. Seven states ban abortions if the reason is gender selection; Arizona’s law even forbids abortion when the doctor knows “that the abortion is being sought based on the sex or race of the child, or the race of a parent of that child.”

Arizona passed this law without a single example of gender-selection or race-selection abortion anywhere in the state. The law prevents something that doesn’t exist. So one imagines Arizona criminalizing abortions taking place on February 30; banning abortions if the father is Elvis; and not allowing abortions if the mother is married to a kangaroo.

Supporters of the Arizona race-selection abortion law note that a high percentage of abortions are being sought by minority women, who are disproportionately poor. Apparently, they don’t realize that reducing health care options, sex education, and contraceptive availability for poor people leads to more unplanned pregnancy. Anti-choice legislators are against abortion almost as much as they’re against reducing unplanned pregnancy. Maybe they don’t know where babies come from.

The Arizona law raises an interesting question. If a Hispanic couple wants an abortion, will they be challenged as wanting an abortion because the fetus is Hispanic? After all, it’s not a White, Black, or Asian fetus they’d be aborting. And what about a White couple who wants an abortion—when they know darn well the baby they don’t want is White? Are these “abortion because of race?”

Arizona, Ohio, and other states can, of course, make the experience of a simple abortion as miserable as possible for residents who have the nerve to pursue a legal medical procedure. And states can throw a fit and just invent reasons that people can’t have abortions.

Sex-selective abortion has indeed created complications in India and China, both dramatically different cultures from America’s. Some American legislators seem to have their states confused with these two ancient societies, historically tormented by radical gender- and racial beliefs.

Ohio and other state legislatures, to their eternal frustration, can’t simply make abortion illegal. Their phony “conservative” Republicans want to shrink “Big Government” just small enough to fit under people’s bedroom doors.

Fetal Tissue Research Benefits Everyone, Even Hypocrites

August 3, 2015

If you believe in miracles, scientists’ ability to study and cure human disease by looking at microscopic cells from aborted fetuses is indeed a miracle. If you don’t believe in miracles, it’s an extraordinary human achievement. Miracle or not, this science is extending the length and quality of your life, and the lives of your loved ones. And the lives of anti-choice activists.

In order to be used, these cells have to get from an abortion clinic to a research lab, hundreds or thousands of miles away. Federal law regulates this procedure, which has been going on for decades.

Anti-choice activists recently climaxed a three-year infiltration of the commercial world of fetal tissue donation and distribution. The videos they illegally shot, dishonestly edited, and illegally distributed purport to show Planned Parenthood (PPFA) breaking the law while participating in a trade they consider evil.

While PPFA denies any wrongdoing, these activists acknowledge the various laws they broke—counterfeiting drivers’ licenses, creating a phony company (CMP) with a website and history, signing non-disclosure agreements to get private meetings that they agreed to not record, and recording them.

They also got access to the personal information (such as home addresses) of abortion providers, which of course they have now distributed on the internet. These details have predictably led to grisly death threats—which CMP says was one of their goals.

You probably wouldn’t want people sneaking into your workplace, videotaping you, claiming your work is evil, and then publicizing your kids’ names and school location. CMP Board Treasurer Troy Newman is president of Operation Rescue, which ultimately helped murder Dr. George Tiller in his church. In 2003, Newman said that the murder of abortion provider Dr. John Britton was “justifiable defensive action.”

The transfer or scientific use of fetal cells does nothing to facilitate abortion, and fuming over it is a clever propaganda ploy by anti-choice activists. Once an abortion is completed, it’s over. What’s done with the fetus at that point is totally irrelevant. Opponents are using the little-known issue of fetal cell use simply to reiterate their hostility to abortion.

And like the details of virtually every medical procedure (amputation, breaking bones to do heart surgery, installing a colostomy bag, etc.), it’s not for the untrained faint-of-heart. So a couple of Planned Parenthood staff sounded “indelicate” or “insensitive?” Isn’t that what you would sound like at work if people outside your industry heard your slang, your necessarily casual attitude about your work with frustrating customers, dangerous situations, or awful boredom?

If donating your organs for medical research after you die is honorable, why is donating your fetus’ organs less honorable? The tired old “but fetuses don’t get a vote on ending their own life” is a sophomoric distraction; neither does the victim of a car accident. A fetus is aborted (for better or worse); shall we use its cells to advance human life or not?

Anti-choice people should applaud this miraculous assist in the cycle of life, rather than hypocritically deploring it because they disagree with the choice that creates the opportunity in the first place.

To discourage clear thinking about this, anti-choice activists use grisly language, such as “cutting up babies and selling their body parts.” After a deadly car accident, no one complains “You let Harvard Medical School chop up Aunt Lucy for science experiments.”

If these people were honest, they’d distribute the UNEDITED videos they took. For example, the Planned Parenthood (PPFA) Senior Director of Medical Services told CMP ten different times that they would not profit in any way from fetal tissue—and all ten instances were cut out of the video released by CMP. Similarly, the President of the PPFA Medical Directors Council stated clearly that any tissue donation program would have to meticulously comply with federal law—which was also edited out.

CMP Board chair David Daleiden states that his and CMP’s goal is to end safe access to reproductive health services in the United States, and to discredit lawful fetal tissue donation programs. Of course, these are the same people demanding that Congress de-fund  comprehensive sex education, which is proven to reduce unintended pregnancies (and therefore abortions), and to fund only discredited abstinence-based programs. This proves that their main agenda is limiting sexual expression, not “preserving life.”

Last year, the National Institutes of Health distributed $76 million for research using fetal tissue to more than 50 universities, including Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Yale and the University of California. Researchers say fetal tissue is a uniquely rich source of the stem cells that give rise to tissues and organs, making them crucial in finding cures for diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and leukemia.

This long-running criminal conspiracy by phony researchers must not end funding for real scientists whose work saves the lives of people who have already been born—including anti-choice activists. Planned Parenthood should stand up and proudly say yes, we do this work, whose blessings the public enjoys every day.

If anti-choice activists find this research so ghastly, they should refuse to use every medical advance it has helped develop in the last quarter-century.

What I Know About Your (Hetero) Man’s Sexuality

July 30, 2015

How do I know about male sexuality? I’ve been a sex therapist and marriage counselor for 34 years. From listening to thousands of people talk about their most intimate experiences and desires, here’s what I’ve learned about most men:

* He wants to please you.

He actually cares whether you enjoy sex with him. And his own experience is affected by yours. So if there are things that would make sex more enjoyable for you, tell him. That includes not just positions, but things like hygiene, timing, and language.

Perhaps he initiates by saying “Hey baby, let’s play hide the salami” when you’re tired and he hasn’t shaved in a week. If you like that, fine; if that’s a turn-off, he really needs—and wants—to know. Tell him—and if necessary, tell him why you’re telling him.

* Touching is a big part of sex for him.

Some people have a pretty narrow sense of what “sex” is. But most men enjoy touching and being touched as an integral part of sex. Assuming you like it, caressing you is both sensual and erotic for him, and it’s a great way to get your two bodies in synch.

So if you like to touch or be touched, do plenty of it, and don’t worry that he’s getting impatient.

If you don’t enjoy it, of course, you won’t want much of it, and so you’ll either prevent it or pull away as soon as you can. Your guy will probably find this confusing or disappointing, and you’ll undoubtedly find the whole interaction awkward. So if there’s a way you like to be touched, tell him. Be really specific. If he says he doesn’t like being told what to do, ask him if he wants the information or not. If he doesn’t, you have a much bigger problem than touching.

* Sex is about more than intercourse for him.

The behavior and bragging of teenage males (and the stupid movies they like!) has led to a common misunderstanding about adult men—that they’ll stick their penises into anyone or any place, and hardly notice the details.

Fortunately, that generally isn’t true for grownups.

Most adult men like to feel emotionally connected during sex, even if they find it hard to talk about. Most men like to kiss or hug (or both) during sex; if your guy doesn’t, there’s probably a good reason, so you might want to ask about it. And most men like for sex to involve their hands, your hands, and often their mouth and your mouth. So don’t rush to intercourse, and don’t let him, either.

If he does head toward intercourse faster than you’d like, ask what the two of you can do to make the stuff before (or even instead of) intercourse more entertaining.

* He may like to be bitten

Human eroticism includes the instinct to bite. Any woman who’s ever nursed a child remembers that.

If you don’t like being bitten, ever, you shouldn’t have to endure it. If it comes up, say “no thanks” in a friendly yet firm way, and that should be the end of it. But if you’re intrigued, or you know what you like (especially when you’re really excited), don’t be afraid to mention it. Or, at the appropriate moment, to press your shoulder, arm, breast, or other body part against you partner’s teeth. He’ll get the message pretty quickly. If he doesn’t, he’s almost certainly not interested.

* He’d love to answer your questions.

What does your guy like in bed? I’m glad you’re curious, and I encourage you to speak to the world’s expert on that—him. If you lead with the truth—“I’d like to know what you like so we can both enjoy sex more”—chances are he’ll tell you. And if he’s too shy to tell you, invite him to show you. He can, for example, put your hand on his penis or nipple, put his hand on top of yours, and move both hands the way he likes.

If he says he doesn’t know what he likes, that’s the perfect chance to suggest you explore his body together. Start with a hand or foot caress, look at and talk to each other, and move on to other body parts from there.

Nine Absolutely Untrue Myths About Porn—And One Fact We Can All Agree On

July 12, 2015

Opinions about porn are like noses—everybody has one. But varying opinions are so contradictory, they can’t all be right.

We actually do know a lot about contemporary porn’s use and effects, so let’s get some knowable facts out on the table.

* Myth: Porn is mostly violent and misogynist.
* Fact: Most porn shows happy, smiling people doing fairly ordinary things. A lot of porn shows happy, smiling (and perhaps sweaty) people doing exotic things. And some porn shows adults pretending to play dominance and submission games. Pretending? Yes. The actors and actresses are acting.

* Myth: Watching porn causes erection problems.
* Fact: (1) There has been no documented increase in erection problems, so there’s no “epidemic” for porn to cause. (2) Of course most young men with erection problems watch porn—because most young men watch porn.

* Myth: Porn destroys good intimate relationships
* Fact: (1) No one chooses to watch porn instead of being in a vibrant sexual relationship. People do back away from the chance for a good sexual relationship for many reasons, such as anger, guilt, fear of intimacy, depression, and anxiety. The fact that such people may get involved with porn is not the problem.

(2) Sexually unsatisfying relationships are caused by many things, such as misinformation, medication side effects, hormone problems, anger, childhood trauma, fear of abandonment; a refusal to discuss the sexual disconnect is common. Just because one or both partners look at porn doesn’t remotely mean that porn is the problem.

* Myth: Most men hide their porn-watching from their partner because they know they’re doing something wrong.
Fact: Most men hide their porn-watching for one or more reasons: (1) they believe their partner would be uncomfortable about it and might insist they have a right to a porn-free house; (2) like most Americans, they are uncomfortable discussing sexuality in general; (3) they don’t want to confront the reality of their partner’s or their own sexual dissatisfaction; (4) when someone tells their adult partner “I forbid you from watching that in our house,” they are really instructing, “You better keep it secret.”

* Myth: Only a man would enjoy porn; women simply don’t like it
Fact: (1) Millions of women watch internet porn—some by themselves, others with their partners. Some women watch porn specifically made for them, while others watch the same videos that men do. (2) Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book in history. It’s porn. Its readers are almost exclusively women.

Myth: Watching adult porn leads to watching kiddie porn
Fact: (1) The adult porn industry doesn’t make kiddie porn, doesn’t promote kiddie porn, and doesn’t want its customers to watch kiddie porn. (2) Can you imagine any adult porn that would lead you to want to watch sexual videos of children? Kiddie porn isn’t something anyone gradually develops a taste for.

* Myth: Porn is all about men’s sexuality and men’s pleasure
* Fact: Most porn includes a focus on the pleasure of the characters portrayed by actresses. This often includes cunnilingus, typically includes a female orgasm (no matter that it may be shown unrealistically), frequently shows her enjoying fellatio, and may include domination that she finds pleasurable. These are standard features of ordinary caring and consensual heterosexual sex.

* Myth: Watching porn encourages violence against women
* Fact: (1) Since broadband brought free, high-quality porn into almost every home in America, the rate of rape in the U.S. has gone down (according to the FBI). Yes, rape is an under-reported crime—and that was true before porn, just as it is now. (2) This decrease in rape following the spread or legalization of porn has been documented in dozens of countries including Denmark, Japan, and Croatia.

* Myth: Neuroscience proves that watching porn can damage your brain and even cause porn addiction.
Fact: No it doesn’t. (1) The brain lights up during all pleasurable activities, including watching a sunset and playing with your grandchildren. Of course it lights up during sexual arousal.

(2) While there are plenty of people with unhealthy porn-watching habits, no one has actually documented “porn addiction.” Unless someone has other non-porn mental health problems (such as bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder), almost anyone can modify their porn-viewing habits if they want to—making it quite different than addiction.

Here’s a fact we should all agree on and act on: that kids need an intelligent, caring adult to talk with them about porn. Kids need to know that:
~ Porn is an adult product, showing adult themes and behaviors that will be confusing to someone without experience.
~ Porn is not a documentary, and doesn’t portray sex as it really is. It’s made by actors and actresses playing characters that someone made up.
~ The bodies shown in porn are not typical adult bodies. Just as the NBA, NFL, and movie studios select people for their unusual physical characteristics, so do porn producers. You don’t look like LeBron James, you don’t look like Tom Cruise, and you don’t look like Rocky Buttman, either.

Most of all, if your kid has any questions about porn or sex in general, she or he should ask you. And they won’t be punished for their question. You do promise that, right?
Need help discussing porn with your kid? My new video “Helping young people develop porn literacy” will make it easier. It’s available as a DVD or mp4 download here.

Is Lousy Sex Better Than No Sex?

June 26, 2015

It depends on what you want from sex.

If you mostly want an orgasm, lousy sex might do the trick. If you mostly want to have someone agreeing to have sex with you whether they really want to or not, lousy sex may be your best bet. If you mostly just want to see someone naked, or briefly feel a tit or some balls in your hand, lousy sex may be good enough.

But most men and women want other stuff from sex. Maybe you do, too.

For example, you may want to see your partner smile with pleasure. You may want to feel close to someone, or a sense of acceptance, or specialness, or the experience of collaboration. You may want to feel the gentleness in your partner’s touch, or in your own. You may want to feel relaxed and carefree, and know that your partner feels that way, too. You may want a chance to explore the universe and express yourself.

These things are generally missing from lousy sex. Actually, the fact that they’re missing is what can make sex lousy.

Why do people acquiesce to sex they don’t want, or don’t think they’ll enjoy? For various people, it’s the belief that:
* if I don’t do it, my partner will yell at me, sulk, mistreat the kids, embarrass me in front of others, or even hit me.
* if I don’t do it, I’ll feel guilty
* if I don’t do it, my partner will stray, or even leave me.

This is not an ideal state of mind from which to begin sex. But many people seem surprised that when this is how sex starts, neither person is likely to find satisfaction.

When someone is relatively uninterested in sex, or they know that the sex currently available isn’t enjoyable to either partner, it’s interesting how rarely they wonder why their partner pursues that lousy sex so enthusiastically. Typically, the narrative is “my partner is over-sexed, I’m not, so he pursues me even when I’m not interested, and then he’s dissatisfied with the sex that I generously have despite my own lack of interest.”

Hardly anyone ever asks, “if my partner knows he or she is going to be sexually unsatisfied at the end, why does he or she want it so much?”

It’s really no mystery why people DON’T have sex they don’t expect to enjoy. It’s the same reason I don’t eat broccoli and you don’t listen to country music—we don’t expect to enjoy the experience.

So why do people pursue sex they don’t expect to enjoy? And why do they accept it when, grudgingly or not, it’s offered? It’s essential to get people talking about this honestly.

One reason is that they don’t want to be in one of those couples that never has sex. And it’s often true—a couple doesn’t have sex four days in a row, then five, and before you know it, it’s been seven months. At that point, initiating sex is an enormous challenge; enjoying it is even harder.

Other reasons people pursue or accept sex they assume will be lousy is because they can’t stand their sense of separation. Or they don’t want to pretend that everything is OK. Or because they yearn for touching. Or because they want to experience sexual feelings in their body, even though the feelings will soon be overtaken by frustration or sadness. Or because they clumsily imagine that THIS time their partner will be open to being pleased, despite years of evidence to the contrary.

Many low-desire people assume their partners are chasing exquisite friction and porn-worthy acrobatics. So when their partner finally says simply “It’s not the orgasm I want, it’s you,” or “yeah, getting licked is nice, but you reaching out to hold my hand is better,” the reaction frequently ranges from disbelief to confusion, sorrow and finally acceptance.

And that’s why it’s so important to challenge couples’ traditional ways. That weekly pity handjob? On the surface it may look like a sympathetic partner giving a deprived partner a gift, which is accepted gratefully. In reality, however, it may be building resentment in both partners, while reinforcing the idea that sex is troublesome, divisive, and for other lucky people. The hand-jobber feels valued for her hand, not for who she is. The hand-jobbee feels he has to trade his dignity just to get some touching, and he always notes how uninteresting his penis is to his partner.

With such couples, I encourage a moratorium on pity sex. And I encourage them to find an activity or two they can enjoy together unambiguously—playing Scrabble, walking the dog at night, reading Alice in Wonderland aloud to each other. Eventually we look for erotic activities they can share without inhibition or second-guessing—admiring each others’ hair, rubbing each others’ legs, spooning consciously for 60 seconds.

And I push them to keep talking about what they really want. When people are honest—with themselves and with each other—they almost invariably discover there’s an overlap between what they each feel, and what they each want. Not about superficial things like a favorite position or lingerie color. No, I mean the serious stuff, like “I’m afraid to get too close,” or “I’m afraid s/he won’t like the real me,” or “I dislike my body so much I can’t imagine someone else valuing it.” And “I want to feel special,” “I want to feel safe,” and “I want to laugh together.”

Sex therapy is rarely about just penises and vulvas. It’s mostly about people.

What Dads Can GIVE on Father’s Day

June 21, 2015

Two words: sex education.

Yes dads, today is your day. And one of your gifts is that you’re in a unique position to help your kids grow strong and healthy.

They need you to talk about what sex means to you, whether that involves pleasure or values or intimacy or self-expression. They need to know what was confusing or troubling for you about sex when you were their age. A story about how you coped back then may get both of you laughing together—if it doesn’t get you crying together.

They need to know that masturbation is OK. They’re going to do it whether you like it or not; your reassurance can help them do it without guilt or shame, which is a huge advantage in life.

They need to know that there are different kinds of sex. I don’t mean oral vs. anal vs. the Pirate Game. I mean sex for closeness, sex for pleasure, sex for giving a gift, sex for expressing yourself, sex for coping with a difficult day or week. And also sex for manipulating, sex for avoiding a serious relationship talk, sex because you feel that’s all you have to offer the world. When your kid’s old enough, different peers will want to have sex for various reasons. So will your kid. He or she needs to know how to tell which reasons are operating at any given time.

Your kid needs to know that contraception is an integral part of penis-vagina intercourse. This includes kids who identify as gay; the rate of unintended pregnancy among gay teens is way too high. Like using a helmet when biking (which no one did when I was young), learning the connection early helps kids take it for granted.

Kids need to know about consent—that having sex with someone who’s ambivalent or drunk or wanting revenge on an ex-boyfriend is a big mistake, possibly a huge mistake. They need to know that real consent looks like enthusiasm; bland acquiescence, or a drunken, shrugged “whatever” is not consent. Coercion? That’s when you do something with someone’s body that they don’t want you to do. There’s no possible reason that ever makes it OK.

Your kids need to know how you feel about pornography. However, no one wants their first adult-child conversation about sex to be about porn. So if you haven’t begun to talk about sexuality, start this week. And remember, “Porn is crap and if I catch you watching it I’ll kill you” doesn’t qualify as a helpful conversation. All it does is provide the instruction “When you have questions about porn, don’t ask me.”

When it comes to sex, don’t wait until they ask. Did you wait until they asked you to teach them about brushing their teeth or using a seat belt? Of course not. Dad, you have many responsibilities, and one of them is raising the subject of sex with your kids over and over. “The Sex Talk” does not exist. It’s The Ongoing Sexuality Conversation. Because what your kids need to hear (and to ask) about sex changes as they grow and change.

Traditionally, dads protects us. The question is, what does protection actually look like—withholding information, and implying that facts are dangerous, or telling us the truth and equipping us to face life?

There is no part of your kids’ lives where you are needed more than in teaching them about sexuality. And the most important lesson you can teach is that people can talk about sex the way we talk about other things—without euphemisms, baby talk, or embarrassment.

That opportunity is your gift. Enjoy it many times, starting today.

Good News About (Some) Sexual Rights

June 19, 2015

A few of our civil rights in America were reaffirmed last week. Ironically, the context, as is often the case when our basic rights are trampled, was sexuality.

* Forced ultrasound and required physician speech found unconstitutional

Like 12 other states, North Carolina forces women undergoing a legal medical procedure (abortion) to undergo an invasive procedure (uterine ultrasound) they may not want, and to listen to their doctor recite a script that the doctor may not want to recite and the woman may not want to hear.

In upholding a successful challenge to the law, a federal court concluded that the “state cannot commandeer the doctor-patient relationship to compel a physician to express its preference to the patient.”

Furthermore, “transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes.” Authored by conservative judges, the court’s decision is an elegant description of the brutal way government treats patients just because it doesn’t like their medical choices.

The Religious Right and other groups have consistently tried to regulate abortion differently than other legal medical procedures. The goal has always been to restrict people’s rights to this extremely safe medical intervention, simply because some people don’t want others to have it. When a group can mobilize our system of government so that one point of view gets more government-sponsored attention than others, we lose a little more of our democracy.

You may have read that presidential hopeful Scott Walker thinks that ultrasounds are “cool.” If he were a more sophisticated man, he might read this ruling and understand that “cool” is not a high enough standard to warrant government intrusion into people’s basic rights to medical care.

* Minnesota unlimited commitment of sex offenders found unconstitutional

In most countries around the world, governments exercise profound power over their citizens capriciously, destroying lives deliberately or carelessly.

Americans are justifiably proud of the many limits on our government’s power to do just that. Most Americans don’t realize, however, the limits on those limits—that is, the ways our government can legally target individuals and destroy them.

One way is through the radical laws regulating those convicted of sex offenses. It sounds like a punchline, but it’s true—in most states you can be punished more severely for molesting a child than for murdering one.

And that’s even true for non-molestation offenses that are considered sex crimes—possession of child pornography, voyeurism and exhibitionism, sexting, minors dating minors, certain kinds of sex work, and various activities relating to adult pornography. You can lose your children if you engage in prostitution in order to feed them. Or if you play SM games with your partner, even if the kids are blissfully unaware.

In this country, a convicted sex offender has to undergo successful “treatment” in order to be let out of prison after completing his or her sentence—a requirement imposed on no other convicted criminals. To prove the “treatment” is working, the convict must sooner or later admit his/her guilt. Punishments including denial of parole await those who refuse to “admit” their guilt.

Which makes the following fact all the more shocking: after a convicted sex offender has served his or her full sentence (often a decade or more), the state has the right to keep that person in jail permanently—based on some official’s hunch, feeling, instinct, or the phase of the goddamned moon.

Yes, even though sex offenders rarely reoffend sexually when they leave jail, the state can keep them locked up indefinitely if it guesses that they are at risk of reoffending.

In Minnesota, not one single person civilly committed after completing their sex offender prison sentence was ultimately released. The state’s involuntary detention program was challenged for equaling life imprisonment without trial. A federal court agreed. And so Minnesota will have to change the program. It can’t give anyone back their lives, of course. And the court certainly didn’t say a state couldn’t lock people up indefinitely—only that Minnesota, like other states, has to seem to do it less capriciously and more rationally.

That will be marginally better. But only marginally, because no therapist in the world can accurately predict who will NOT re-offend. Remember, most sex offenders don’t sexually re-offend. But because wardens and politicians don’t want the public to blame them on the rare occasion that a re-offense occurs, officials pretend that they can predict accurately—justifying the state’s ability to lock people up indefinitely.

Or else politicians in the prison industry’s pocket pretend that locking up people for life without a trial is the way to protect the public.

And many Americans agree. As long as the person being locked up isn’t them.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be you. You think you’re safe because you haven’t molested anyone? Tell that to the people behind bars who didn’t molest anyone, either.

So two different federal courts—in Minnesota and in North Carolina, a thousand miles apart—have reminded two different state legislatures that our civil rights include rights relating to sexuality. There’s the right to get an abortion without coercion. And the right for even half a chance to get out of jail after completing a prison sentence for a sex crime.

Of course, these two battles in America’s ongoing war on sex aren’t finished. The GOP’s obsession with preventing abortion in the most demeaning, most economically discriminatory fashion possible. And those obsessed with sex crimes, like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will keep spewing phony, scary propaganda that drives citizens, juries, and legislators alike.

But every once in a while, our increasingly conservative court system notices how states and the feds break the law trying to control our sexuality. Sometimes conservatives actually conserve. They deserve our thanks.

Why Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner Matters to Straight People

June 3, 2015

Alfred Kinsey said it best in 1948: the world is not so easily divided into sheeps and goats.

In his ground-breaking surveys of Americans’ sex lives, Kinsey discovered that many “straight” people were not entirely straight. This finding has been confirmed many times by subsequent studies of both men and women.

Back then, you were either 100% hetero-erotic in behavior, fantasy, and curiosity, or you were “queer,” a bucket of miscellaneous identities at the edge of the world. But Kinsey realized that sexual orientation isn’t that simple. And so he devised the Kinsey Scale, on which sexual orientation is not a fixed binary, but is rather located on a continuum.

Suddenly, we had more ways to describe ourselves.

Now multiply that by time—who we are sexually at 40 is often slightly different than who we were at 20. Now add the uncertainty of the future—we don’t really know what opportunities, challenges, contingencies, and near-death experiences lay around the corner for us.

As people say on those dating sites, “it’s complicated.”

And that’s why the whole gay-transsexual-queer-whatever thing matters to straight people.

Because those “other” folks are paving the way for everyone else to accept themselves as they are, rather than each of us searching for a sexual category to squeeze ourselves into.

And that’s true not only of sexual orientation regarding gender, but of other sexual categories. “Kinky” and “queer” are the new non-categories, used by thoughtful and lazy people alike. No problem. Terms like “bottom” and “slut” are also getting used, twisted, and are in the process of becoming meaningless as well.

Sex is one of life’s few arenas where we really can create our own story and evolve our own truth. Except for that pesky little detail of unintended pregnancy, sex has very little objective reality. We can configure it as we wish, collaborating with a partner to create forms of expression that suit who we are, or wish to be. There’s no need to select an off-the-rack sexual identity—“bisexual,” “eco-sexual,” “vanilla,” or anything else.

And so straight men watch porn of men sucking each other’s penises. Straight women fantasize about kissing a woman when they want to climax with their husbands. People do, or imagine, sexual activities that don’t fit into “normal” categories. They’re sometimes troubled by this. As long as behavior is consensual, they needn’t be. Fantasies don’t even have to meet that requirement.

And remember, you don’t have sex with “men” or with “women,” you sleep with George or Maria (or with as many unique individuals as you do). No one sleeps with all men, so we don’t need to categorize you as “a person who sleeps with men.”

So what do you call a lesbian who has a weekend fling with a man? Sonia. What do you call a guy who likes to spank his partner one night, and be spanked the next night? Morgan. What do you call yourself? Anything you like—and you don’t need a category.


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