Superbowl = Ground Zero for Sex Trafficking? Super Nonsense

February 1, 2016

Superbowl 50 is taking place next Sunday just a few miles from here. Some of my neighbors are renting out their suburban houses—five grand for the long weekend. Lots of locals here are getting out of town—winetasting in Napa, skiing in Lake Tahoe, or making the long drive to Disneyland.

Along with all the other hazards of 200,000 visitors descending on one place at the same time, one is talked about with increasing frequency—sex trafficking. For years, the urban myth of increased sex trafficking has followed the Superbowl (and Olympics, and World Cup) around like an unwanted cousin at a tailgate barbecue.

Sex trafficking—the real thing, not the political consumer product or object of do-good sloganeering—involves kidnapping or manipulating someone out of their community, forcing them to engage in sex acts somewhere else, and not allowing them to leave at will.

It’s horrendous.

It’s not simply prostitution, not even underage prostitution (which is, of course, illegal and awful). It’s not making porn films, even under onerous conditions. It’s not stripping or being an escort.

And it’s not a special problem at this upcoming Superbowl any more than it was at previous Superbowls.

An increasing number of groups are intent on persuading Americans that we have a terrible and growing problem with sex trafficking. Their data is virtually non-existent, elided with words like “experts agree” and “shameful epidemic.” The new phrase is “youth at risk of being trafficked”—which is, tellingly, ALL youth with any sort of problem.

The media reports anti-trafficking conferences and gigantic, grisly estimates; politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.

A favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to claim that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. In 2011, Texas attorney general Greg Abbot said “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human-trafficking events in the United States”—without any data. He strengthened a unit to pursue those involved with child prostitution (not the same thing as trafficking, of course). The result—at the Dallas Superbowl there were 113 arrests for adult prostitution, and none for trafficking.

The same is true for the three Superbowls before that: grim predictions of upcoming trafficking disasters, and none materializing. Says Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, “The Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes.” The 2012 Superbowl in Indianapolis: 68 sex workers arrested; 2 qualified as human trafficking. Last year’s Superbowl in Phoenix: 71 adult and nine underage sex workers arrested; none had been trafficked.

Simple economics would explain why event-specific trafficking rarely happens: it makes no sense for traffickers to spend huge amounts of money dragging victims across the country, housing them, advertising for business, and charging reduced rates to undercut local prostitutes, all for a single weekend of illicit income—in a place crawling with law enforcement.

Nevertheless, promoters of a Sex Trafficking Panic are at it again. Last month local county Supervisor Cindy Chavez held a press conference announcing a trafficking awareness campaign with the claim that “the scourge of human trafficking is still prevalent throughout our county,” citing no data whatsoever. Like almost all activists, she made no distinction whatsoever between labor trafficking and sex trafficking; labor trafficking is at least three times more common, although it’s a far less glamorous issue.

Every year, the NFL has to deny that they’re the center of an odious international sex slavery ring. Several years ago NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the Superbowl sex slave story was simply an urban legend.

But that doesn’t stop those who are feeding—and feeding off of—America’s latest Sex Panic. One week before hosting the 2014 Superbowl, for example, Indiana’s legislature unanimously passed a law that makes recruiting, transporting or harboring anyone younger than 16 for prostitution a felony punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison. The law was passed without a single documented case of sex trafficking in the state. You now get less jail time in Indiana for murdering a teen than for pimping her.

Nationally, dozens of millions of dollars are allocated for fighting human trafficking. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area some 39 organizations are dedicated to identifying and aiding survivors of trafficking. Most groups “fighting” trafficking primarily raise awareness, with little or no data on what this increased awareness actually accomplishes. “Raising awareness” would be harmless if it didn’t cost money, encourage fear and anger, or spread misinformation.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly why “raising awareness” about sex trafficking in America ISN’T harmless—it’s diverting money, time, and attention to a barely-existing problem, encouraging politicians and the public to ignore more important issues—like unintended pregnancy, domestic violence, and a lack of prenatal medical care for poor teens.

Calling prostitutes of any age victims of trafficking is an insult to those who really are kidnapped or tricked into sexual slavery. And lying about the Superbowl’s magnetism for the worst kind of criminality—when the numbers clearly show otherwise—is a disservice to every parent, every teen, and every taxpayer. It’s the latest example of the Sexual Disaster Industry expanding its product line.

To repeat, real human trafficking is horrendous. While even one victim is too many, we should be grateful that with all of America’s problems, sex trafficking victimizes such a tiny number of people. And we should be wondering at the motivation of law enforcement, non-profit groups, and politicians who work hard to frighten, anger, and mobilize the public about this.

Not Just Another Vegas Convention

February 1, 2016

Last week I spoke at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. It wasn’t exactly an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But porn lovers (and porn stars, porn producers, porn distributors, and porn photographers) are people too, and there had to be something interesting to see there, so I accepted their invitation. Besides, I have a book coming out in September called His Porn, Her Pain, and I want to get some advance support from people in the industry.

I spoke on “Has the internet really changed anything about sexuality?” My answer, of course, is “not really”—the human heart hasn’t changed, and American society’s ambivalence about sex hasn’t changed, and the collision of the two still produces anxiety, miscommunication, and shame. It’s what keeps me in business as a therapist.

But for me the big event was walking the floor of the mammoth convention. My host was my dear friend Mark who’d spent decades in the business (as a legal analyst, thank you very much), and he was gracious, patient, and informative as we walked up and down aisles, trying to ignore the deafening hip-hop music (why deafening and why hip-hop was never explained).

Aside from business-oriented stuff (think liability insurance and “your name here” key-rings) that’s fairly standard whether it’s a dental convention or fruit-grower’s convention, there were some idiosyncratic things here. Row after row after row of dildos, high-end vibrators that retailed north of a hundred bucks, and miscellaneous products to use while watching porn. Just when you think everyone in America has all the sex toys they need, American capitalists (and Chinese manufacturers) come up with new ones. They give “stocking stuffer” a new meaning.

I tried on Virtual Reality goggles, and was suddenly receiving a 3-D blowjob—well, my character was, anyway. So were several other people in my special world, oblivious to the actual humans all around me. And how long before this VR video is synched to a Bluetooth-enabled sex toy so someone can actually feel the 3-D blowjob? “Less than 12 months,” said the sales rep. Will they sell such a getup to minors? “You’ll have to ask our legal department,” he said. And when can we custom-design our VR so we’re mating with, say, Scarlett Johansson or Tom Cruise? “The rights might be a bit hard to acquire,” smiled our sales rep. What about, oh, Barbara Stanwyck? “Who?” replied the young man.

It was time to hit the really big hall, where the aisles were concentric circles, and the “booths” were miniature lounging areas for barely-dressed porn stars. Fans had a chance to stop, chat, and take photos of them. The women were working—smiling at everyone, hugging those who weren’t too pushy, posing for photos.

Mark steered us past this one and that, and occasionally said “OK, let’s talk to her,” and we’d veer left or right and stop. Whereupon some young woman way less than half our age would spot us, hug my host, and get introduced to Dr. Klein. I’d tell her about my upcoming book about porn and hand her a color copy of the cover, she’d smile enthusiastically, hug Mark goodbye, and we’d be back in the slow, Kaaba-like promenade with thousands of our intimate friends.

We’d been wanting to connect with Jessica Drake, described in Wikipedia as “an American pornographic actress, film director, screenwriter, sex educator, philanthropist, and radio personality.” She also has 540,000 twitter followers. In case you’re wondering, I have 4,163 twitter followers.

At age 30 Jessica’s made over 300 films, and spends considerable time educating her enormous fan base about sexuality. She’s known Mark since she started in the industry, and periodically refers to my work as an educator. Mark and I agreed that getting her backing of my upcoming book would be A Great Thing.

So we left the circular big hall, and went back to the first enormous room we’d walked. We saw a life-size doll of Jessica, posters of her way bigger than that, and then we saw…about a jillion fans lined up to say hello, take a selfie with her, and maybe say a few words: I dunno, maybe something like “I’ve had some of my best orgasms with you, thanks,” or “When I want to really get it up, I think of you.”

Mark guided me past this long, long line—bigger than anything I’d ever seen at SFO or JFK security—and we got to the front, a few feet from this major cultural icon. Finishing an autograph, she looked up, Mark caught her eye, and she squealed. “Mark my boy!” She strode over, hugged my slightly embarrassed friend, turned to me—and squealed “My favorite sex therapist!” and hugged me, too.

It was glorious, and rushed, and in slow motion all at once. I felt bad for the guys who were finally at the front of the line—they must have been waiting for a couple of hours, and of course had no idea why we were suddenly getting The Girl’s effusive attention—but this was no time to be shy or even considerate. For about four minutes Mark and I were alpha males—despite being the two oldest guys in a room of 15,000, the only two guys there who didn’t have raging erections.

I handed Jessica the packet for my new book, she vowed to read it and text me “soon,” she hugged us both, and Mark and I retreated, quickly swallowed up by the crowd. We headed toward the hotel lobby, totally satisfied with our rare, hard-fought prize—a brief Audience, complete with recognition. It was about time for a Diet Coke, and then I had to get a cab for the airport.

 

 

Sexually, Is Pleasure What Motivates You?

January 25, 2016

If you ask most people what they want from sex, they’ll say some combination of pleasure and closeness.

And yet people’s decisions around sex are clearly about other things. The way men and women select partners; choose to initiate or decline sex; relate to their preferences or fantasies; obsess on how they look, sound, or smell; and remain present or check out during sex—all of these decisions make it clear that for many people, their sexual agendas go way beyond pleasure or closeness.

In fact, pleasure and closeness may be quite far from what people are really going after in sex . Instead, the big payoff of sex for many people may involve feeling powerful; feeling competent; feeling attractive; feeling desired; feeling important to someone; feeling normal; satisfying curiosity; having something to brag about; or feeling naughty or avant-garde.

Some people do feel pleasure while feeling one or more of these other things; but many people use sex to create some of these feelings while experiencing little or no actual physical pleasure.

For example, I have worked with young men who like getting blowjobs from casual hookups. They don’t necessarily find them enjoyable, but they feel like successful alpha-males. Some guys report thinking during oral sex “if only my high school buddies could see me now,” while the physical experience itself is of only limited importance. Some young women tell me, “yeah, I have sex every week or two, but it’s mostly to fit in, or to avoid the hassle of saying no, or to prevent being labelled a prude—but do I enjoy it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”

Here’s one powerful but simple question that tells me a lot about the sex that people have: Do you kiss or hug during sex? The main reason adults do those things for more than a second or two is for the pleasure. When people say they don’t do those things before, during, or after sex, I figure the primary sexual story is about something other than pleasure. Of course, I follow up with lots of other questions.

Performance anxiety can certainly undermine pleasure. Erections, vaginal lubrication, and orgasm should not be ends in themselves, but rather a means to something else—experiences like enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure, gratification, or intimacy. When people focus too much on their “performance,” it’s hard to relax and enjoy sex.

To someone wound up about “performing” well, the best that sex can get is “Well, I delivered the goods that time,” or “Well, I didn’t mess that up, did I?” Not only is that a pretty thin outcome, it actually increases the chance of the dreaded sexual “dysfunction.”

That’s why I don’t aim therapy toward resolving someone’s dysfunction; I aim at increasing their enjoyment.

And so I never assume that pleasure is what motivates people’s sexual decisions, and I never assume that sex is mostly pleasurable for people, even when they have great orgasms. I do assume, of course, that if people do something, they’re getting some payoff or other. I just don’t assume I know what it is.

Some people play golf because they like fresh air. Some play because they like to compete. Some play because they like mastering a skill. Some play because it makes them feel close to their (dead) father. And some play because they like having an excuse to wear funny clothes.

It’s the same with sex—we don’t know why someone else likes what they like, or does what they do (say, oral sex, or vibrators, or the Pirate Game). Memo to therapists: the only way to find out is to ask. Memo to lovers: the only way to find out is to ask.

2015: The Year In Sex

December 30, 2015

2015 was a complicated year for sex. Americans won rights, lost rights, gained some products, lost (even more of) their innocence about internet privacy, found new ways to be entertained, and were horrified more than once.

As I wrote about these and other stories, my heart rose, and fell, just like yours. I was glad to have you along for the ride. I’ll be here throughout 2016, too—promise. You can also follow my 3-times-per-week tweets at @DrMartyKlein.

Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner

Famous athlete Bruce Jenner became famous transgender role model Caitlin Jenner. And now it seems like every third person is transgender, queer, or demanding new personal pronouns, like hir and zir. But reality-show nonsense aside, the new visibility of transgenderism is historically important for the 99% of us who aren’t.

I Am Charlie Hebdo

New Year’s Day hangovers were barely a memory when the War on Civilization came to Paris. The office of a little-known provocative (and often tasteless) journal was attacked by adults unhappy about a cartoon of their oh-so-wise, oh-so-peaceful inspiration. So they killed people. News outlets around the world reacted with outrage—and cowardice in refusing to run the images that many Muslims found so distressing that they supported these murders. Even today, American universities are duplicating this tragic, self-censoring mistake.

Free expression is all connected. The right to watch The Vagina Monologues or the Book of Mormon is absolutely bound up with the right to watch Butt Busters III or to draw a picture of Mohammed fingering Moses. As Lenny Bruce once said, “If you can’t say fuck, you can’t say fuck the government.”

“Pink Viagra”: Not Pink, Not Viagra

The FDA approved Flibanserin, a drug that helps a small number of women feel a little more sexual desire. The manufacturer had lobbied the government shamelessly, even inventing an allegedly feminist argument that women “deserved” it, given how Viagra had made sex so easy for men (yeah, right). Those lobbying against the drug promoted the myth that female sexuality is more complicated than male sexuality, and that women had a right to feel low desire.

In the end, neither ridiculous argument was persuasive. Money was.

Ashley Madison Hacked—Were You?

Millions of people—mostly men, apparently—found themselves deceived by the Ashley Madison website. Instead of lots of lusty married people ready to meet and have sex, the website’s members found unethical business practices and poor internet security instead.

Is everyone on a dating or hookup website actually looking for sex? No.

Other big sex stories in 2015:

* Twenty-six year-old Laci Green became the world’s most popular sex educator (after the Bible). Her YouTube videos receive millions of hits per month—earning her an invitation to the White House and death threats from both transgender activists and insecure men.

* Several hundred new state laws limited the rights of Americans to get abortions. No new laws limited our rights to get unintentionally pregnant. No new laws required cities or states to take better care of newborn babies or their mothers. And it is now dramatically easier to buy a gun in America than to get an abortion.

* Playboy magazine announced it will no longer publish nude photographs, since the internet now provides more nudity and pornography than anyone could possibly have imagined even just a decade ago.

Few Americans alive today remember the magazine’s launch in 1953, or the revolutionary way it challenged the conformist, suburban, only-barely-sexual dream of the 1950s. Hugh Heffner was one of the first people to say out loud that middle-class people were interested in sex—with the courage to bet his life savings on it. Heffner also donated millions of dollars to unpopular anti-censorship causes. The grandchildren of his first readers will scoff and even spit when he dies—without ever understanding what they owe him.

* Same-gender marriage finally became legal. So far heterosexual marriage has not been destroyed, and no one has demanded the right to marry their horse, their mother, or their potted palm.

 

Norway, Immigrants, and Sex Education

December 24, 2015

If you asked 1,000 people, “what’s the defining thing about you?” some might say “my sexuality,” but most would not.

Norway is holding classes for African and Middle Eastern immigrants whose fundamental values clash with those of Norwegian—that is, Western—culture. And on what aspect of Western culture are classes focusing on?

Norway’s values about sexuality.

The classes emphasize the equality of women, their autonomy, and their right to say no to sex—even to their own husbands. Attendees learn about local customs—the kinds of things women wear, the fact that they walk around unescorted, and that when they talk or smile with strangers it implies absolutely no sexual agenda. Put another way, the classes teach that no one has a right to have sex with anyone else, no matter what another person says or does.

The classes are necessary because of a continuing flood of immigrants from Libya, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, and other places with dramatically different values. Countries like these maintain lifelong gender separation of adults, making it easy for men to imagine women as “other.” Considering their widespread cultural agreement that men own women—which women teach their daughters and sons as much as men do—someone migrating to Europe is probably in for a shock.

I recall that some eighteen years ago I taught at a medical school in Morocco. During the break a group of students asked me why American men disrespect women so much. When I asked what they meant, they said that we “let” our women walk around with bare arms and legs, associating with whomever they wish, laughing and talking right out on the street.

I replied that Americans’ idea of “respect” is different than Moroccans’: we respect women by assuming their full autonomy, empowered to dress, socialize, work, and speak as they please. It was a moment of complete cultural non-empathy—on this issue, my students and I simply couldn’t relate to each other’s reality.

Today’s Norwegian classes also emphasize that although Norway has been largely Christian for many centuries, religion is NOT what determines their laws. And everyone must follow those laws regardless of his or her religion.

These days, many Europeans fear that the enormous influx of immigrants with different values is leading to an epidemic of sexual assault. Data on this are mixed. The immigrants are largely young men, which is the group most likely to commit crimes in every society around the world. Many of these young men come to Europe without families and are unemployed, which further exacerbates the statistical odds.

Additionally, many immigrants suffer from the results of their own journey to Europe. Often involving violence, fear, and betrayal, many could be diagnosed as having PTSD, instilling a sense of desperation and powerlessness—and paradoxically, an exaggerated sense of entitlement.

Not all crime is the same. Most Westerners would say that rape is a worse violation than robbery, and that rape represents a far more dramatic breakdown of individual morality than robbery. Anyone who violates another’s body needs to be held accountable.

That said, if a young man has spent his whole life learning that women are of little or no value and have little or no autonomy, accepting that man into a society that values women and grants them complete freedom creates problems for both. In Europe’s current situation, it’s the immigrant men who are far more likely to strike out against the local women rather than vice versa.

Where does that leave Westerners as we attempt to honor all cultures while protecting our own?

For one thing, immigrants and refugees are guests in their new countries. They don’t have an unlimited right to practice their culture insofar as it conflicts with the culture of their new home.  When I have traveled to places like India, Japan, and Burma, I have been expected—and often required—to behave in ways that were foreign and even uncomfortable to me. One never sees a Western woman bareheaded in Iran.

For another thing, people have a right to live as they wish in their own home. Norway is home to millions of people who share a cultural consensus about gender, sex, and social relations. As long as Norway doesn’t go to Syria and try to impose its values there, Norwegians have a right to live as they choose.

Third, we should remember that ANY religion that preaches its ultimate unity with the civil state is a problem, regardless of the content of the religion. This profound civilizational issue took over two centuries of warfare to settle in Christian Europe (frighteningly, many American Christians want to resume this struggle here). The Muslim world has not yet settled this state-vs-religion issue in a way that can possibly lead to progressive, modern values like the equality of women, freedom of speech, or education that encourages questions.

In today’s common idea of an Islamic state, no one within its borders is exempt from its rules. Blasphemy and apostasy are crimes equivalent to treason (and punishable as such). There is a huge difference between the morals police in Iran and the police department of Dallas; there is a huge difference between the Saudi government preventing every woman from driving, and religious missionaries like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses inviting others to live as they do.

When religion runs a state, the results are NEVER benign. Over a billion people live under law derived from TODAY’S Islam requiring women to cover up, sanctioning honor killings, allowing child marriage, controlling women’s movements, and permitting them to work in only the narrowest circumstances. Islam is not alone in these ideas, but it’s currently the main forum for religion that controls government.

If Western Europe is going to open itself to several million immigrants whose goal is to sustain homogeneous, separate communities within whatever nations they enter, Europe must find a way to establish clear rules about sex and gender. Ghettos for Muslims within Europe are NOT the answer (although Muslims communities in Paris and Marseilles are trying to create and maintain them).

Therefore, there must be a consensus on how all of a country’s residents are expected to treat each other. A government that invites people of dramatically different ideas into the country without clear plans for developing such a consensus is cruelly betraying its residents. It’s also setting up the immigrants themselves as scapegoats whenever anything goes wrong, whether it involves them or not.

Sex education is the key to creating safer lives for both Europeans and their new immigrant neighbors. In addition to specific facts and expectations, it’s also the most powerful way to announce “It’s different here.” Sexuality, it turns out, IS one of the defining dimensions of Western culture.

And that’s why there’s so much conflict about it here in the US. Norms, beliefs, even facts (or untrue myths) about sexuality are at the core of who we are. Anti-sex ed, anti-choice, and anti-porn activists know that they’re fighting for America’s soul. Their liberal, progressive, humanist opponents need to understand that just as deeply.

James Deen, Sex Workers, & Rape

December 7, 2015

You may have heard that several porn actresses have accused porn actor James Deen of sexual assault. In response, various production companies have terminated their contracts with him.

Yeah, there’s bad people everywhere, even in the porn industry. If he raped anyone I hope he’s locked up for a thousand years.

The case reminded me of a symposium I attended at Stanford University Law School a few weeks ago on the possible connection between sex work and trafficking, and America’s legal response to each. Panelists included a prosecutor, a sociologist, an anti-trafficking activist, and Maxine Doogan of ESPLERP (Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational, & Research Project).

The topic is especially hot in California right now as ESPLERP is working its lawsuit through U.S. District Court challenging California’s criminalization of prostitution. The attorneys for the case include Louis Sirkin, who successfully handled the world-famous Robert Mapplethorpe obscenity trial in Cincinnati some years ago.

Well-informed and articulate as always, panelist Doogan challenged the tired old myths that prostitutes and other sex workers are primarily damaged people coerced into their work. The other panelists kept using pejorative expressions like “women selling themselves” and “men buying women” when referring to adults purchasing sexual services from willing sellers.

The whole idea that sex work dehumanizes adult, consenting sex workers in some special way is particularly egregious. It overlooks the common idea that we pay to consume LeBron James’ body, pay to consume Meryl Streep’s body, and really don’t care about either human being beyond their performances. We may like to gossip about each, but that’s a far cry from caring about them.

While many of us have paid to consume Kobe Bryant’s physical performances for years, we will all forget about him minutes after this season ends. And we’ll have no concern whatsoever about any back or leg pain he’ll suffer for the rest of his life. Anyone care much about Mariano Rivera, Roger Clemens, David Beckham, or Shaquille O’Neill? Or Dionne Warwick, Judy Collins, or Linda Ronstadt now that they’ve lost their voices? Dehumanization is the foundation of capitalism, particularly in the various service industries. Every adult is free to sell their services in the marketplace, and to decide what the price for their dehumanization is.

Back at the Stanford panel, both the prosecutor and the activist insisted it was necessary to keep sex work illegal in order to discourage new entrants into the business, to pursue bad guys coercing people into it, and to protect the sex workers themselves.

But think about the James Deen case. The women pursuing their rape cases against him are able to do so because they are legally employed. They each have the option of going to their employer, the police, or both. What if they were raped while acting as prostitutes? They’d have no employer. They couldn’t go to the police, because they’d be arrested themselves. Or, as many prostitutes can attest, they’d be extorted for sex by the police in exchange for not being arrested.

Suggesting it was a progressive idea, the activist talked about the current Scandinavian model, wherein sex workers aren’t arrested—their customers are. This is exchanging one bad arrangement for another. Whenever economic activity is criminalized, it goes underground, denying legal protections that other industries enjoy. And denying adults the right to buy and sell the services they choose isn’t progressive. It’s arbitrary, unfair, and coercive.

As for the idea that sex workers provide a product so irresistible that consumers need to be protected from themselves, America already has a system for dealing with products like that. We regulate alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and prescription drugs. If we want to restrict the products of sex workers to consumers over, say, 18 (or 21), we can do that (it works in Nevada). If we want to restrict sex work jobs to those over, say, 18 (or 21), we can do that (it works in the porn industry). If we want to require that sex workers get regular medical certifications, we can do that (it works in Germany).

The best way to protect sex workers is to see them as WORKERS, and provide them with all the legal protections (and responsibilities, like paying taxes) of other workers. If people are really serious about eliminating sex trafficking, they’ll get way more serious about demanding and using legitimate statistics: saying there are 300,000 youth “at risk” of being trafficked is meaningless; conflating world statistics with U.S. statistics is pathetic. Decriminalizing sex work also helps reduce illicit trafficking by enabling sex workers to report suspicious-looking arrangements without putting themselves in jeopardy.

While anti-sex workers rights activists are self-righteously talking about protecting sex workers, it’s ironic that many American jurisdictions allow police to treat possession of condoms as evidence of sex work. This put sex workers in a double bind—use condoms to reduce the risk of HIV but increase the risk of prosecution, or don’t use condoms and increase the risk of HIV for themselves and their clients in order to reduce the risk of prosecution.

In the months to come, you’ll probably hear more about the ESPLERP lawsuit. Do consider supporting it financially, or following them via their website or at #DecriminalizeSexWork.

 

 

No Mabel, You Don’t Have to Compete With Porn Actresses

November 28, 2015

One of the objections that some women have to their partners watching porn is “I can’t compete with the women in those videos.”

The idea that a woman has to compete with the women or activities in porn films is an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Now some women feel they have to compete with mainstream celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Beyoncé (and before that, with Marilyn Monroe and Sharon Stone, and before that, with Cleopatra). That’s a fool’s errand that no one should attempt. These are professional; do not attempt to do their job in your home.

If you’re smart enough to realize you can’t (and don’t need to) compete with JLo or JLaw, why would you feel compelled to compete with Candye Kisses or Rosie Cheex?

While making superficial comparisons in life is inevitable, most men know that porn is a fantasy, not a documentary. No one actually expects his girlfriend to pay the pizza delivery guy with oral sex, and no grownup really expects his partner to look or act like a porn star. Like the NFL and Cirque du Soleil, people in porn are selected for their unusual bodies. Very unusual bodies.

Sadly, sometimes it’s women, not their men, who are comparing themselves with porn stars. Ladies, you’re not competing with a real person, you’re competing with a cinematic character—who has the benefit of lighting, editing, a fictional partner with unlimited energy and desire, and a script instructing her to defy gravity while moaning on cue.

You can’t compete with that character any more than your man can compete with the Arnold Schwarzenegger character, the Fred Astaire character, or the Sherlock Holmes character.

By the way, let’s be honest—plenty of women love to consume images of gorgeous females, too. Who else is the audience for People magazine, E! News, and those award show red carpet previews? And please don’t say you’re interested in “fashion” or “style” (or “news”)—the audience’s interest is in beautiful women wearing clothes that reveal more than they cover. Admit it—aren’t you a little disappointed when some famous babe shows up in a pants suit, or something that hides her cleavage?

(Note: Shouts of “sexism!” do not constitute a thoughtful critique here. No one ogling Leonardo di Caprio or Matthew McConaughey is thinking “what a fine actor” or “what an expressive artist.” No—eyeballing these guys is the same activity as eyeballing Kim Kardashian. Can’t we just admit it and get on with our fantasies?)

That said, plenty of porn features women who are not conventionally beautiful. There’s amateur porn, granny porn, and in-law porn, to name a few. People who view such things are looking for something other than perfect bodies. They may enjoy watching ordinary-looking people doing ordinary sexual things. They almost certainly enjoy the erotic enthusiasm, whether it’s scripted for professionals or authentic from amateurs.

If there’s any way your man compares you to porn, it’s most likely about enthusiasm—which for almost all men trumps a perfect body any time. This means your less-than-perfect body doesn’t disqualify you in bed.

When women are convinced that their partners are thinking about porn stars while having sex with them, I ask how they know this. During sex does he call you the wrong name, does he seem a million miles away, does he keep talking dirty even when you’ve asked him not to about a million times? Most women answer no. Instead of evidence, they say “Why would he focus on my saggy body during sex when he could be thinking about Ophelia Rump, who’s perfectly round and firm?”

Why would he? What about feeling desired, touching and being touched, kissing, nibbling, smelling, pleasing someone else, and feeling part of the ongoing human erotic parade? Sex with Mary FiveFingers while watching porn may provide more perfect stimulation and a more reliable orgasm, but when it comes to sex, friction isn’t everything.

So if your question is “Why would he focus on me during sex?” you may need to boost your sexual self-esteem. I’m very sympathetic if you can’t imagine why he’d rather focus on the live, imperfect naked woman he has with him rather than a maybe-perfect-looking body in a movie.

We should probably check how much your self-consciousness or despair about your body is undermining your mutual sexual enjoyment. It’s not like you’re going to wake up next week with the perfect body or boundless energy of a 24-year-old (unless you’re 24 right now), so you both need to figure out how to eroticize the conventional body of a person your age, in your condition.

At work, at the supermarket, in the airport, the world is full of beautiful bodies, male and female. Porn or no porn, every man and woman has to figure out how to feel OK with themselves when they aren’t as good-looking as others.

And how to feel OK when they don’t have as much money as others, don’t have jobs as prestigious as others, or don’t have kids as smart as others. This is the fundamental existential task of all people who want to enjoy life, and porn didn’t invent it.
***
Memo to any guy who resentfully tells a woman “Why can’t you look like the women in porn,” or “Why can’t you do what the women in porn do”: Dude, the “women in porn” are ACTING. They’re following scripts designed to get you hot. Very few people do those things in real life, and very few people look like they do in real life. They’re like the characters in Lord of the Rings.

If you want your partner to be more enthusiastic or adventurous about sex, criticizing her and comparing her to fictional characters—like Wonder Woman or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo—is guaranteed to make things worse.

 

 

(Not-So) Random Thoughts About Sex

November 26, 2015

Each of these thoughts deserves a post of its own, but after a day of special foods, special company, and hours of Masterpiece Theatre (about Henry VIII), a few words about each feels just right.

* Real sex doesn’t feel like porn looks.

It’s usually less intense, less gravity-defying, less taboo-breaking, and more about the people trying to connect. Therefore real sex often has a lot of kissing, hugging, and, well, non-“sex” in it.

And because it isn’t scripted or edited, real sex often has moments of frustration, awkwardness, disappointment, clumsiness, and misunderstanding. It’s best to laugh together at these moments—another thing you don’t see in porn.

* Couples, never say “We’re fighting about something silly.”

If you’re really fighting, it’s never silly–you just don’t know what the serious thing is. Of course, it’s almost never about the thing you’re fighting about (socks on the floor, hair in the drain, forgotten birthday card, dent in the car, oral sex).

More likely subjects include power, feeling disrespected, power, loneliness, power, fear of getting old, power, self-doubt, power, shame, and, um, power.

* I understand trying to conceive, and I understand trying to not conceive.

I don’t understand “we’re not trying to make it happen, but we’re not trying to prevent it.” This is how you approach the single most profound decision of your entire life?

* When someone says “of course you think that, you’re a man,” that’s a big insult.

And the more you respect the man you say that to, the bigger the insult.

Sometimes a man has such-and-such an opinion because he’s a fool, not because he’s a man. And sometimes a man has such-and-such an opinion because he thought about it carefully, not because he’s a man. If you don’t want to be told you think “just like a woman,” don’t tell someone else he thinks “just like a man.”

And if you don’t mind, you still shouldn’t disrespect someone (of any gender) in this way.

* Of course teens get wrong ideas about sex from looking at porn.

So exactly what are parents doing to help kids deal with these ideas, and with their uncomfortable or upsetting experiences of looking at porn?

Haven’t we learned that “just say no” doesn’t work? And then parents blame porn for influencing their kids. That’s like blaming the rain for soaking your kids when you can’t be bothered to look out the window, hand them an umbrella, or teach them how to use it.

* A therapist came to me for a consultation, about a 15-year-old patient who says he masturbates as much as 9 times a day.

He asked if I thought the kid might be a sex addict. I asked what the kid means by “masturbate.” He didn’t know, which may help to explain the “9 times a day.” I asked if the patient uses lube, gets sore, or uses his hand (some guys masturbate by lying face down and rocking on the bed or floor). He didn’t know. I asked if he ejaculates when he ‘masturbates’.

“OK, OK,” said the therapist sheepishly. “I need to ask way more questions before I can diagnose this kid or the situation.”

Yes.

* Let’s change the sexual expression “penetration” to either “insertion” or “envelopment.”

If you enjoy it, isn’t that a more accurate description?

* Is watching porn a form of infidelity?

If two people agree that it is, it is. If two people agree that it isn’t, it isn’t.

If two people disagree about this, why don’t they handle it the same way they handle all their other agreements? If two people disagree about whether or not 10 minutes is “late” or “mostly on time,” they may get frustrated—but they rarely end the relationship over it.

When couples ask me to adjudicate this I rarely take sides, preferring to help them talk it through. But sometimes I look at a patient and silently wonder—do you actually believe that if you walked in on your husband having sex with another woman, you’d feel “yes, this is just the same wound as him looking at porn”?

* If a male Muslim suicide bomber goes to heaven and gets 72 (presumably female) virgins…

What does a female Muslim suicide bomber get?

Giving Thanks for Sex; However…

November 24, 2015

It’s Thanksgiving, so let’s give thanks for sex.

Not just the huffing and puffing, the in-ing and out-ing, the sloshing around and drying off. Let’s give thanks for all the sexual rights we enjoy here in the U.S.—which billions of people in Russia, the Arab world, and many parts of Asia and Africa will never enjoy in their lifetimes.

Most of these rights have to do with privacy and autonomy. These always look dangerous to repressive or religiously-driven regimes. Science and technology look pretty frightening to such regimes when they can be applied for sexual purposes—which they inevitably are, throughout history.

So let’s give thanks for the many ways we are allowed to use privacy and autonomy to express our sexuality, and to use science and technology to make sex safer and more life-affirming.

Still, we should remember that these rights are stained by the many limitations that our local, state, and federal governments place on our sexual expression. In an era when tens of millions of Americans are calling for “smaller government,” it’s especially bitter that many of these same people are calling for more government intrusion into private sexual expression.

So let’s give thanks that here in America…

* You can buy birth control in almost every community.
…Although an increasing number of pharmacists claim they are exempt from state laws requiring licensed pharmacists to fill all legal prescriptions. Christ or Napoleon: does it matter what reason they give?

* Sex toys have become so acceptable that you can even buy them via Amazon.com.
…Although most marriage counselors, clergy, and physicians are licensed without ever learning a single thing about them.

* The internet offers almost unlimited opportunities where people can fantasize about alternative sexual universes and personae.
…Although our federal and state governments spend a huge amount of our tax money entrapping and prosecuting men who enjoy fantasy age role-play in adult chat-rooms.

* You can get tested for many common STDs without having to give a lot of explanation. You can get tested for HIV anonymously and confidentially.
…Although anti-pornography groups continue to lie that the adult film industry is a hotbed of STDs, and have targeted the industry for scrutiny by government safety inspectors.

* Emergency Contraception is now available over-the-counter across the U.S..
…Although many desperate anti-choice activists lie and call it an abortion pill.

* In most big cities, you can still go to swingers clubs, strip clubs, and dungeons.
…Although more and more cities are using emergency ordinances and discriminatory “sexually-oriented business” statutes to close these adult businesses—without having to prove they’re dangerous.

* The Supreme Court ruled, in Lawrence v. Texas, that morality alone cannot be the basis of American laws criminalizing sexual acts, such as sodomy.
…Although powerful and well-financed Christian groups continue to demand—and get—laws to curb “indecency,” “smut,” “secularism,” and “the homosexual agenda.”

* Many states have developed “Romeo & Juliet” laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for consensual teen-teen sex if the kids are close in age.
…Although most states still treat teen sexting as the felony of child porn distribution.

* Women can dress any way they like without fear of religious or state-supported violence.
…Although men and women still get arrested every year for being topless or nude in America’s parks and beaches—unlike our cousins in Europe, where toplessness and nudity are normal at public beaches and parks.

* Senior citizens like Bruce Springsteen, Goldie Hawn, Meryl Streep, Neil Young, Dolly Parton, and Mick Jagger are still performing, showing exactly what sexuality in old age can look like.
…Although sexuality for residents of nursing homes is still tightly controlled and sometimes punished.

I also give thanks for my 7,000 readers and 4,000 twitter followers, and for your encouraging messages of support throughout the year. You can always reach me at Klein AT SexEd DOT org.

5 Ways to Make Sex Less Enjoyable

October 28, 2015

Life has few guarantees—and even fewer when it comes to sex.

However, there are things that are guaranteed to make sex less enjoyable. How many of these have you done lately? How many of these do you think are part of “normal sex”? Imagine how much more you’d enjoy sex if you and your partner eliminated a few (or all!) of these:

* Insist that orgasm is the goal (for both of you)

Orgasm lasts a few seconds, making it a tiny fraction of any sexual experience. And while orgasms can be delightful, no orgasm is good enough to make up for sex that is annoying, mechanical, or emotionally frustrating.

If you’re having trouble climaxing, try relaxing instead of working hard. Do what’s pleasurable, what makes you glad to be there, and what makes you feel connected to your partner. If that doesn’t lead to an orgasm, you haven’t wasted your time—you’ve enjoyed sex.

And if your partner at some point looks at you and says “I don’t think I’m gonna cum tonite,” let it go—don’t insist on pushing for an orgasm. After all, your partner’s orgasm, if they have one, is for their satisfaction—not your sense of accomplishment.

* Tease the other person about their body

Most of us are a bit insecure about our bodies: too much here, not enough there, hair where it isn’t wanted, not enough where it is wanted. Bumps from shaving or waxing. Shapes that aren’t like Greek statues. A scar, blemish, or skin condition. Lack of symmetry (eyes, nipples, anything that comes in pairs).

And yet we keep coming back to sex, where we take off our clothes and invite someone to admire—or judge—our body.

Go ahead of admire. Don’t judge. If you don’t like every part of your partner’s body, focus on the parts you do like. If you can’t find one single thing to enjoy—the smell of their hair, the curve of their shoulder, the taste of their neck, the firmness of their calves—pay closer attention, and let go of your stereotypes about what’s attractive. Or get a new partner.

But don’t, don’t, don’t tease someone about their body—unless they LOVE their body. Hardly anyone likes it. And it make some people shrivel up inside—which will soon translate into them shriveling up on the outside. And if you can’t help yourself, if you absolutely can’t keep from teasing your partner about their body—maybe you have a problem much bigger than their big butt.

If you want to discuss a concern about your partner’s body, do it outside of the bedroom, when you’re feeling close.

* Refuse to touch your own genitalia

Most people masturbate, usually by stroking their vulva or penis. And most people would rather die than do the same thing in front of a partner.

What a shame. How else can you show how you like to be touched? How else can you give yourself a bit of extra pleasure when you want it? How else can you apply lube to yourself, or insert a penis into you (or your penis into someone else)?

Some people can only climax with their own hand. Instead of seeing this as a problem or a “dysfunction,” shrug it off as your own personal style, and put yourself over the top. If you do so, make sure you stay in touch with your partner—with your eyes, your mouth, or your other hand. Or theirs.

* Freak out if you fart (or queef) during sex

Our bodies are just a festival of fluids, sounds, and smells—many of which are on display during sex. And while some of these are welcome additions to sex (vaginal lubrication, moans of pleasure, the smell of arousal), others are definitely NOT welcome.

Farts are the most unwelcome of all.

So what do you do when you or your partner um, pass gas? You let it pass. You don’t need to say “excuse me,” don’t need to hide, and certainly don’t need to stop having sex. If you’re in the middle of being real excited, you can certainly keep doing what you’re doing. In any case, about 20 seconds after it happens, you’ll both forget about it.

Unless you hold onto the unwanted moment, preparing your apology for later.

Don’t do that. Grownups know that lots of things occasionally happen during sex: a little urine, a little drooling, a belch, a sneeze. It’s because we do this glorious thing—sex—with this pedestrian thing we don’t entirely respect—our bodies.

Oh, what’s a queef? That’s just an expulsion of air from the vagina, typically during or after something goes in and out of it, over and over. It can’t be gas (that isn’t how the plumbing is arranged), so it can only be air. But it sounds like a fart, so some people feel guilt (or embarrassment) by association.

* Obsess that you don’t smell or taste good “down there”

I hear there are people who enjoy the taste of broccoli. Really? It’s hard to predict what someone will enjoy smelling or tasting—and even harder to understand it.

In oral sex, there shouldn’t really be a “giver” and “receiver”, just two people sharing some flesh, some dampness, and some enjoyment. So if you have trouble understanding why your partner enjoys licking or sucking you, ask; and then you really should believe them.

If you’re concerned about how you smell or taste, just say so—“I’m not sure I’m real fresh down there right now.” Thanks for the warning, friend. Then let your partner decide for themselves. If you hear “Mmm, lovely,” believe it. If your partner continues in an enthusiastic way, believe it. If you’re baffled by your partner’s enjoyment, be grateful rather than pushing them away.

And if you’re certain you wouldn’t like the way you smell or taste down there, don’t lick yourself.


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