Archive for the ‘culture war’ Category

Imagine Sex Is Just Sex

March 30, 2012

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

–John Lennon

Throughout my career, I’ve continually been asked why the U.S. is such a nutty country when it comes to sex.

Consider: No one is debating sex education for teens in Holland. No one is questioning the wisdom of birth control in Japan. No one’s freaking out that prostitution is legal and regulated in Switzerland. If anyone suggested withholding Gardasil (the HPV vaccine) from Germany’s young people for fear of increasing “promiscuity,” he’d be laughed out of town. And in Spain, Australia, Israel, and dozens of other countries, gay soldiers serve openly next to straight ones.

And yet every one of these issues is considered controversial in American politics. Ours is the only industrialized country in the world in which people actually demand fewer rights and more restrictions on their sexual expression.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

The only reasonable explanation for what separates us from other advanced countries is the toxic form of Christianity that has a stranglehold on our political dialogue, medical institutions, and childrearing.

The Pope has more influence on public policy in America today than he does in Italy. More Americans believe in the Rapture than in Evolution—and while they’re awaiting celestial transportation, they’ve captured our school boards. Pharmacy schools teach future professionals that they can pick and choose which prescriptions to fill—if they make their choices based on religion (rather than, say, obeying the voice of Elvis).

Tens of millions of Americans have actually invented a god that condemns their sexual feelings and behavior. Interestingly, this doesn’t affect their sexual impulses or behavior—it just makes them feel miserably guilty and alone. Some 10 million American teens are taught that this same god is deeply offended that they’re interested in sex before marriage. Instead of shaping their behavior, however, this teaching simply makes them unable to plan for sex, leading to all the messy stuff that happens when you have sex unexpectedly—unwanted pregnancy, misunderstandings, exploitation, etc..

By teaching children that masturbation is sinful, organized Christianity gives sexual impulses and behavior meaning where none exists. It creates an external sexual standard against which people believe they are compared—and are always found wanting, which damages them for life. The very idea that the consensual and responsible expression of sexuality can somehow be sinful is psychotic and abusive. Only because religion has so much cultural acceptance in the U.S. are these ideas seen as a system of “morality” instead.

By the way, I spent the weekend in Bethesda, MD, a guest of the American Atheist National Convention. It was as joyful, as thoughtful, and as irreverent a bunch of adults as I’ve ever met. A thousand of them gave me a standing ovation after my talk.

It was great.

Like they say: religion flies planes into buildings; science flies people to the moon. Religion gives people guilt about their sexual desires, and shame about their bodies; science gives people birth control, lubricants, penicillin, RU-486, pre-natal screening, and post-partum care.

Imagine.

It’s Not A War On Women—It’s A War On Sex

March 11, 2012

First, why is “slut” considered an insult? After all, it’s simply a woman who’s willing to have sex with several men with whom she isn’t married, and probably doesn’t even “love.” We know Rush meant it as an insult—loose morals and all that—but do we have to take it that way? Why the hurry to assert Sandra Fluke’s status as wholesome? That’s very different from saying she didn’t deserve to be attacked.

Next:

* Demeaning Fluke’s sexuality doesn’t just attack women—it attacks people.
* Saying birth control is immoral doesn’t just disempower women—it disempowers people.
* Requiring vaginal probes before granting the increasingly rare privilege of abortion doesn’t just trivialize women’s lives—it trivializes people’s lives.

Women shouldn’t complain as women, they should complain as people.

And men should complain just as much. These women are their loved ones. Not only that, they are being attacked by the government in their role as sexual actors. That makes them someone’s sex partner, typically a man. Why aren’t these men complaining?

Why men are willing to stand by and let their right to contraception and abortion be swept away is beyond me. And why they’re willing to let their wives, girlfriends, and sweethearts (not to mention their mothers, sisters, and daughters) be defamed and disenfranchised is similarly beyond my understanding.

That said, let’s stop blaming men (“all-male church,” “mostly-male Congress,” “male-run Fox News,” etc.) for doing all this bad stuff to women.

Women vote to put anti-sex politicians in office; a majority of women voted for Republicans in the 2010 Congressional election. Women support the churches that keep anti-sex politicians in office. Women buy the newspapers and consume the radio and TV programs (like Rush’s) that promote moral panics about sexuality.

And let’s remember that when women get political power they typically act like men when it comes to sex. Both Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin are aghast about Rush—not about what he said, but about how he’s been held accountable for it. And virtually every female Republican governor and Congressmember of the last decade has voted to restrict access to abortion and birth control.

All of which shows that women can be manipulated to vote against their own interests just like men can.

But again, it’s a mistake to think of this as a war on women. It’s actually a war on sex. Anything that makes sex safer, more comfortable, healthier, or more pleasurable for women or men is under fire. Rush wants Sandra Fluke to have less sex so she needs less contraception. The Family Research Council wants the HPV vaccine Gardasil withheld from the public because it might lead young people to have more sex. Rick Santorum wants to make abortion harder to obtain so that people won’t take sex so lightly. The Phoenix, Arizona city council banned swing clubs because they believe people shouldn’t use sex for recreation.

Let’s call it what it is: a war on sex. That makes it clear that everyone is a combatant, whether they like it or not.

Superbowl Sex Trafficking Increase? Super Nonsense

January 30, 2012

Sex trafficking—the real thing, not the political consumer product or object of 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. It’s not making porn films, even under onerous conditions. It’s not stripping or being an escort.

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,” “a shameful epidemic,” and “enormous human suffering.” The media reports their conferences and feral estimates, politicians grimly respond with vows of stricter laws, and the occasional wildly unusual victim is trotted out as proof of some enormous underground industry.

The favorite ploy of anti-trafficking groups is to grimly remind us that major sporting events are a central focus of this evil. Last year, for example, 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 prostitution, and none for trafficking.

The same is true for the last three Superbowls: 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.”

Every year, the NFL has to deny that they’re the center of an odious international sex slavery ring. NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy says the super bowl sex slave story is a 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 next week’s Superbowl, for example, Indiana’s House and Senate both voted unanimously for a new 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.

The dozens of groups “fighting” trafficking rarely report success stories, which shows exactly how pointless most of what they’re doing is. “Raising awareness” is harmless if it doesn’t cost money, doesn’t encourage fear and anger, and doesn’t 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.

Book Review: Vulva 101

January 4, 2012

Today I come to praise vulvas.

Vulvas in general, but especially the hundred and one featured in Hylton Coxwell’s new book. It’s gorgeous. They’re gorgeous.

The coffee table book is elegantly simple: it features 101 Canadian women, age 18-65, showing their vulvas close up in living color. We get the women just as they are. We see hair, we see stubble, we see smooth, bare skin. We see jewelry, tattoos, and even the wisp of a tampon string.

The variety of course, is astounding. For decades, we sex educators have been saying “vulvas are like noses—every woman has one, but each one is different—in size, shape, color.” Indeed, in these extreme close-ups every vulva is a landscape (vulvascape?) all its own: graceful peaks, abrupt valleys, graceful curves, contrasting textures, the random asymmetries of nature.

And the colors! The high-resolution photography yields every possible shade between ebony and bubble-gum: cranberry, wine, claret, maroon, nutmeg, fire engine, mauve, chocolate.

A review of this wonderful book would be incomplete without mention of its predecessors. In 2003 there was Petals (the book, followed in 2006 by the DVD, both of which won a Sexual Intelligence Award). Its black-and-white work was exquisite; the interviews with its models were even more eye-opening.

A decade before that (and, remember, before digital photography) was Femalia. The truly groundbreaking book edited by Joani Blank featured 32 full-page vulvas, all with lips spread. This little (6”x8”) gem has just been reissued, and is a perfect $15 Valentine’s Day gift.

“Vulva 101 is a great resource for anyone who wants to honor the female sex organ,” says educator and artist Betty Dodson. Indeed, our world would be a better place if every girl received a copy from her parents the day of her first period.

In fact, Vulva 101 is a great antidote for any woman considering labiaplasty to “correct” her “unattractive” genitalia. It’s also a great response to activists complaining that today’s porn, which shows primarily shaved or waxed vulva, is subtly training men to desire pre-pubescent girls. In these dozens of bare vulvas, no one could possibly say there’s a little girl among them.

With a tip of the historical hat to both Petals and Femalia, congratulations to Vulva 101. It’s the perfect confluence of art and sex–which makes it a work of political provocation. Both the subject and the provocation deserve celebration.

The book’s website is here.

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Top Moments of Sexual Intelligence, 2011

December 30, 2011

2011 was quite a year for Sexual Intelligence. Some 75 posts were viewed over 125,000 times.

The blog was also honored twice. It was named number 21 of the Top 100 Sexuality Blogs. And the post on the circumcision debate (Self-Hatred As Public Policy) was expanded and reprinted in the book Best Sex Writing 2012, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press.

What do you think of as the year’s most memorable moments of Sexual Intelligence? Here are my choices—some happy, some awful, all important.

5. Mississippi “Personhood” Amendment Fails
4. Stealth Federal Funding for Abstinence Ed
3. Newsweek Conflates Watching Porn, Prostitution, & Trafficking
2. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Ends
1. Teen Pregnancy, Sex Abuse, & Rape Decline in America

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Your Kid Looks At Porn. Now What?

December 23, 2011

I was recently interviewed by internet safety expert Dr. Larry Magid for a piece on kids looking at porn. We had such an interesting conversation I thought I’d write about this myself.

Of course, 700 words can’t possibly cover every aspect of this issue. But let’s begin.

Given the typical danger-oriented media coverage of pornography, it’s easy for parents to feel terribly anxious about this issue. To listen to Newsweek or “morality” groups, you’d think that every American boy is in danger of becoming a porn addict—an obsessive, aggressive loser who hates women, and eventually destroys himself.

So let’s all take a deep breath and calm down.

Here’s what we know: All children are sexual. That means they have sexual feelings and thoughts. Naturally, six-year-olds don’t think about intercourse, and thirteen-year-olds can’t imagine the subtleties of mutual arousal and satisfaction. But every human is born a sexual being. How parents deal with their feelings about their children’s sexuality will shape how they feel about, and what they do about, their kid looking at porn.

So how do you, Mom or Dad, feel about your kid masturbating? That is, after all, why he or she looks at porn more than once or twice. If you can’t handle that, the kid’s use of porn will of course be unacceptable—but beside the point. Whether it’s about kids’ use or adults’ use, too many conversations about whether porn is harmful to users or society is really about the unacceptability of masturbation. If that’s your position, be honest and say “I don’t want my kid masturbating to porn because I don’t want my kid masturbating.”

Even parents who accept the reality that their kids are sexual and masturbate can be concerned about porn. What if it’s violent? What if it encourages values of which I disapprove? What if it’s confusing?

The answer to all three questions is: it might.

The porn your kid watches might be violent—but it probably isn’t. Most porn isn’t—for the simple reason that there’s a limited market for that.

The porn your kid watches might encourage values of which you disapprove—but it probably doesn’t. Most porn shows men and women as partners, wanting pleasure and wanting to give pleasure. Porn isn’t a love story, so if you disapprove of people having sex before marriage, you may object to your kid watching almost any sexual depiction, whether it’s porn or Desperate Housewives.

But if your kid watches porn, he or she might easily get confused: Is that what sex is really like? Is that what most people look like naked? Do strangers really have sex together so easily? Are some people really rough with each other in bed? (This is where you explain that just as kids play games on the ballfield, pretending to be mean or brave when they really aren’t, some adults play games in bed, pretending to be bossy or submissive when they really aren’t.)

Questions like these deserve answers. And if you remember your childhood—before the internet—you know that kids develop questions (and confusion) about sex even without porn. After all, you did.

The response to “my kid’s watching porn, what do I do?” is—you talk about it. You ask lots of gentle questions. Your kid squirms. You explain stuff. You squirm. No one’s comfortable talking about this. You talk anyway. That’s what parents do—they talk about subjects even when they’re uncomfortable.

Just like kids need media literacy, kids need porn literacy. They need to understand that they’re watching actors playing roles, not documentaries. They need to understand that just as Glee and Harry Potter are edited, so are porn films. None of these media products is an accurate portrayal of real life. For example, porn usually omits two crucial parts of sex—the feelings and the talking.

All of this argues for a pre-existing parent-child relationship, doesn’t it? No one wants their first parent-child conversation about sex to be about porn.

So make 2012 the year you raise the subject of sexuality with each of your kids. Both you and they will benefit. And if at some point you need to discuss porn with them, you’ll already be in the middle of a loving, long-term dialogue.

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The Morning After: Screwed By Obama

December 9, 2011

President Obama has joined President Bush in opposing the widest possible access for Emergency Contraception (Plan B). And he’s done it for the two worst possible reasons: emotion and “common sense.”

After years and years of dishonest stalling, the FDA has finally recommended that minors get complete over-the-counter access to Plan B. In a rare move, the HHS Secretary overruled the FDA’s decision. The President says he supports Secretary Sebelius’ decision, “as the father of two young daughters…we [should] apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”

This is anti-science doubletalk.

During the dark Bush years, the federal government stalled the availability of this miracle drug for adults, which was already being used safely in Europe. The objections have generally coming from the religious community, “decency” crowd, and those who pretend to want a smaller role for government. After they exhaust their morality pitch, they simply lie. They say Plan B is an abortion drug (it isn’t), and that it will promote “promiscuity” because it lowers the perceived cost of reckless sex (data from both Europe and the US show it doesn’t).

The terror of “promiscuity” is the same argument used against the HPV vaccine, legal abortion, condom distribution in schools, contraceptive insurance coverage, and every other public policy measure designed to make sex safer or more enjoyable. This terror deserves sympathy and psychotherapy, not public policy consideration.

Some argue that young teens can’t be trusted to use Plan B properly. That’s undoubtedly true for some of them. But we let them have access to a lot of things in the drug store that they might not use properly: tampons, razor blades, ipecac. And there’s nothing they can do with Plan B that will be as dangerous and life-damaging as carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, much less getting an illegal abortion.

Every sexually active fertile person, regardless of age, should have Emergency Contraception in their medicine cabinet. It’s for an emergency, get it? At $50 a throw, I don’t imagine a lot of 12-year-olds buying it for a thrill—or by accident.

Mr. President, when you were elected you promised us science and rationality. I don’t want you making public decisions as a father, a husband, a Hawaiian, or a basketball fan. I want science from you and your administration. Save your “common sense” for the dinner table. And if you have any, make sure your kids understand Plan B.

And just to remind you: the most dangerous thing the average 13-year-old does is ride a bike while talking on a cell phone. You might want to talk to Malia about that, too.

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

November 24, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yale Bans “Sex Week”

November 16, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Pleasures of Sexual Science

November 10, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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