Archive for the ‘online safety’ Category

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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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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Fourteen Ways to Observe Pornography Awareness Week

November 1, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Use some.

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

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

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

September 4, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and they can model an important value for our young people: you shouldn’t lie.

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Deep In the Valley: Going to a Porn Shoot

August 29, 2011

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

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

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

But maybe not for the reasons you think.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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National Security? Protecting Kids? Porn Takes the Rap Again

August 4, 2011

Say you were the U.S. government and you wanted a record of every moment that every American was on the internet: every search, every transaction, every click. Of every American. And just for laughs, you also wanted every credit card number and bank account number an American used on the internet.

What would you call such a law?

* The No More Internet Privacy bill
* The 1984 Really Is Here Big Brother bill
* The Trust Your Government With Your Privacy bill

No, those wouldn’t be very attractive with voters, would they. So instead, the House Judiciary Committee has just passed the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.

The bill would require your ISP to maintain a record of your internet activity for a year. Not because you’ve done anything wrong, but because you might. If that strikes you as, well, exactly the kind of government reasoning that made the Soviet Union such a successful and stress-free place, you’re right.

And if you’re wondering what that has to do with protecting children, get in line.

“The bill is mislabeled,” said Committee member Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). “This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database of everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.” Indeed, the information wouldn’t be available only to the government. It could, for example, be subpoenaed by attorneys litigating civil disputes in divorce, insurance fraud, and other cases.

The Republican majority that fast-tracked this bill through the Committee seems to have forgotten that looking at internet pornography is legal. You should feel insulted that one of your hobbies has been tarnished in a pathetic attempt to get popular support for a bill that strips every American naked.

“Every piece of prematurely discarded information could be the footprint of a child predator,” said Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-TX, who cosponsored the bill with pseudo-liberal Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL. “This bill ensures that the online footprints of predators are not erased.” The key word there is could. Lamar, how about you start submitting a minute-by-minute log of your driving activity for review by the government—-which will hang on to it for a year or two? After all, your car could be used by a child predator.

Some three dozen civil liberties and consumer advocacy organizations oppose this warrantless invasion of privacy, this dangerous expansion of government surveillance, this continued drumbeat of our children’s vulnerability. To oppose this bill, use the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s
handy form.

The bill is repulsive for its frontal attack on a basic American right-—the right of innocent people to be left alone, unsuspected and unmonitored.

It’s also noteworthy in the way that it uses fear of sexuality (not fear of death, or of poverty, but of sexuality) as a way of distracting and disarming people from the blatant power grab. That’s why sexual literacy helps safeguard American democracy. Reducing the fear of sex, and the perception that sex is dangerous, eliminates a key excuse American leaders currently use to undermine democracy, limit our rights, and impose a unitary vision of American society on all of us. That vision limits reproductive rights, adult entertainment, unfiltered internet access, and the use of sexually explicit material, to name just a few of its elements.

Just as racial myths (Blacks are criminals, Black men are after White women) were a key element in institutionalized racism, myths about the dangers of sexuality—-and the resulting necessity of controlling it at all costs-—are a key element in reducing Americans’ freedom of expression and thought.

The demonization of sexuality is not a trivial matter, and tolerating it is a luxury that no freedom-loving American can afford.

In opposing the bill, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) proposed renaming the bill the “Keep Every American’s Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government Without a Warrant Act of 2011.”

That also failed. The government insists it wants to monitor you to protect your kids from porn.

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Porn Addict or Selfish Bastard? Life Is More Complicated Than That

May 6, 2011

I’m seeing an epidemic of “porn addiction” in my office. Not of porn addiction, but of “porn addiction.”

Here’s how it looks: Wife/girlfriend somehow assumes that husband/boyfriend does not watch porn (guess that’s what she means by “he’s one in a million”). One day, his porn watching comes to her attention (he leaves something on the screen, she searches his website history, he gets an email or bill from some friendly porn site, etc.).

She freaks.

She decides what his porn watching “means”:
* He doesn’t care for her
* He’s been faking sexual desire or enjoyment
* He’d rather be with other women (or men, or kangaroos, or whatever he’s been watching)
* He’s a pervert
* He’s unfaithful

Needless to say, these interpretations make his porn watching her business. And frequently, she decides she has the moral high ground from which to dictate what his problem is, the fact that he must get it fixed, and what the treatment needs to be. With slight variations, a new version of this case walks into my office almost every week now.

In a different world, Mr. Porn Consumer would turn to Outraged Wife/Girlfriend and say “Wow, I can see that you’re really upset about what I’m watching. Let’s talk about it and see what we can do.” In the real world, however, most men are so loaded down with shame about their sexuality that the second their partner attacks them for watching porn, they collapse and allow their partner to seize control of the relationship.

She then drags him into my office so I can fix the poor guy. I’m supposed to turn him into a non-perverted, non-selfish, non-hiding, aroused-by-her-and-only-her ex-porn consumer.

I understand that some guys really have a problem with porn (I see these guys more than most therapists): some watch way too much, some have abandoned their partners emotionally, some think porn depicts real life (yeah, like the NBA depicts your local gym). But most guys who watch porn just, well, watch porn. And of course they hide it from their partner—because they assume their partner will hit the roof if she finds out.

While some women don’t, too many do. And these days they have a choice: they can decide their man is a selfish bastard, or they can give him the dignity of a medical problem—“porn addiction” (as a bonus, she acquires the dignity of suffering with a partner who’s ill). A lot of guys like the disease option, too. If a wife claims that porn use is infidelity, if a girlfriend claims that porn use means he isn’t attracted to her, a disease is a good place to hide. It’s like a high school dropout being busted for car theft—and choosing to join the army instead of going to jail.

How much of the woman’s pain is really about him masturbating (the reason he uses porn, of course)? A lot of women insist that “as long as I’m sexually available to him, he has no reason to masturbate.” When pressed on this, they say he has no right—“he shouldn’t take his sexuality outside the relationship,” as if they’re jealous of his right hand.

If a woman has complaints about a guy’s behavior—he calls her the wrong name or daydreams during sex, never wants to talk about anything, checks his phone during dinner—those are legitimate grievances that need addressing. Couples therapy is a great place to do that. But if her complaint is simply that he uses porn, which she finds disgusting or confusing, that doesn’t give her the power to ban his hobby, or force him to defend it.

You can get a guy to promise to give up porn, and some guys actually will. You can even get a guy to promise to give up masturbating. A few actually will. The rest will do what they did when they were 14—they’ll do it in secret, feel bad about it, and hope they won’t get caught. And so a life of lying about sex continues. You can imagine what that will do to the couple’s closeness.

Sadly, some women will continue to blame the porn, rather than examine how they’ve used coercion to undermine intimacy.

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Those Wonderful Librarians

May 3, 2011

I’m recently back from Austin, where I spoke at the annual meeting of the Texas Library Association. My topic was America’s War On Sex, Libraries, & Librarians. I’m pleased to say I was warmly received.

And I sure learned plenty from them—some of it heartening, some of it scary. And some of what they said was sadly familiar. Just a few notes:

* A small number of people can cause a lot of trouble.
In almost every community, some people feel terrified that people—young or otherwise—are being exposed to immoral, inappropriate, unpatriotic, or dangerous material in the library. One might argue that that’s exactly when a library is doing its job, but of course not everyone agrees with that mission statement.

Thirty years ago, educator Sol Gordon said that “it only takes four people to disrupt a school board meeting, and only five to take over a school board.” It turns out the same is true of library boards.

Most librarians reported that without active, vocal boards, their library would be reduced to a half-dozen cookbooks.

* Every library offers the public computers.
And that means dealing with questions of “access”: who can watch? What can people view? How much protection do other patrons need?

Different libraries deal with this “security problem” differently. Some are highly protective of adult patrons’ rights to watch undisturbed. But other librarians told me of security cameras aimed squarely at computer users; to facilitate the photography, one library forbids hats. Some libraries keep records of who looks at what sites, which I’m certain is what libraries and internet cafes in Iran do.

When I asked about the urban legend—thousands of masturbators spending hundreds of hours watching porn on library computers—only two librarians in a room of 200 said they’d seen someone watch porn. And both said it was an old, lonely guy who genuinely hadn’t realized he was being rude.

* Even cataloging books turns out to be a political task.
Should a book about teen life go into “young adult” or “adult”? Some parents and religious leaders fear that certain novels will give kids ideas, so they want them put in the “adult” section, which kids can’t easily access. Some librarians cleverly put books about contemporary teen life in “history,” “sociology,” or other sections to enable young people’s access.

* And the taboo stuff?
These librarians were plenty savvy on dealing with censorship. One talked about keeping certain books with sexual information behind his desk, quietly lending them outside the official system. Another librarian has a collection of gay-themed books that she’s been collecting on her own, which she quietly lends out to people from a dozen small towns that don’t even have libraries.

* How’s book banning going?
Most librarians with whom I spoke wearily acknowledged that books were challenged on a regular basis—“and once in a while, someone has actually read a book that they challenge.”

Since 2001, half the challenges are due to either “sexually explicit” material or “offensive language.” The Color Purple and Catcher in the Rye are among the most banned books each year.

Only a few communities hold actual book burnings, none of them last year in Texas.

* Is reading dangerous?
Inevitably we come back to this question. The biggest fear about Guttenberg’s press was that “too many” people would read. The biggest concern about mass paperback printing in Victorian England was that servants would read and get the “wrong ideas.” And today more than ever there’s concern that kids who read about other kids’ difficulties—physical abuse, alcoholic parents, drug use, rape, exploitative divorcing parents—will somehow want to pursue similar horrible lives.

“Urban fiction” is the new term for these books, and they’re being banned with the ferocity that only self-righteous missionaries can muster.

It’s like withholding Black history books from Blacks, or Jewish history from Jews. Minors are a repressed minority—without the dignity or legitimized outrage of any other such group.

* Of course, it wasn’t work every second of the day.
At dinner one evening, someone ordered peach cobbler. I asked two simple questions—“why cobbler?” and “what makes cobbler different than pie or crisp?”—which had everyone scurrying for their smart phones and iPads in pursuit of historical and etymological treasure. Most librarians LOVE research; one said her job was like playing “Trivial Pursuit” every day.

So: Want to be politically active, but don’t want to run for governor or start a new political party? Get appointed to your local library board. Turns out that’s where a lot of American decisions get made.

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Sex Ed & China: Ambivalent to the Core

March 28, 2011

If you’ve been following my travel blog, you know that I’ve been in China, training sex education teachers and psychology graduate students. China has 1.35 BILLION people (4 times the size of the U.S.), and has been involved in policy debates regarding family planning and sexual behavior for decades. They’re currently reevaluating their “one family, one child policy,” and of course sex education is part of the policy debate.

The other night I lectured for two hours to sex education teachers-in-training at Chengdu University, in south-central China. The topic was “Teaching Sexuality Education: How? Why?”

About 100 students, most between 19-24, attended. Naturally, over ¾ were female. A handful of faculty also attended. Like every indoor space in southern China during the winter, the room was cold, and everyone wore a coat.

I talked about the usual stuff: that healthy children are interested in sex from infancy; that adults have an affirmative responsibility to handle this sexuality in a positive way; that sex ed is education for relationships with self and other.

But, I emphasized, the effective sex education teacher needs way more than information and a curriculum; the teacher needs a healthy attitude about sexuality. That’s mostly what I’m here to discuss, I said.

And that was the biggest issue for them. Knowing what a clitoris is is one thing. Being able to say the word is another. If you can’t do that, you’ll never get your students comfortable with saying it.

These student teachers were unable to say the word. And it wasn’t just in the class—they acknowledged they’d never say it in private, either. So of course I had them say it a few times, until they were laughing. And then we talked about why this is important.

“This isn’t the way sex education is taught here,” one said. I remembered my mentor Sol Gordon’s critique of 1980s American sex education as being too fact-based: “a relentless pursuit of fallopian tubes,” he used to complain.

I asked for questions periodically, but the students were too shy to ask many. I told them there’s no room for politeness in sex education, which I think confused some of them. In the end, we accomplished a lot (I’m told), and then there were goodbyes all the way around.

Afterwards the faculty invited me to a little banquet. About 10 of us sat in a freezing restaurant (everyone in a coat!), chowing down on stuff that I didn’t recognize, and mostly didn’t like. The big challenge of such events is to smile while swallowing things that don’t taste, well, completely cooked. I’m not blaming the food, but later on I was glad I’d brought raisins and nuts all the way from California.

The conversation at the meal was disconcerting. These people were supposedly the progressive thinkers in China, both in terms of curriculum and pedagogy. But like so much in this country, the “progressive ideas” had strict limits, and the thinking changed abruptly as soon as we touched those limits. In this case, those limits included pornography, premarital sex, and the internet.

My hosts suggested that censoring the internet was important to protect young people from sexual imagery. But they weren’t talking about the hard-core stuff that concerns many Americans; they were talking about Playboy. “It’s just naked ladies!” I blurted out in shock. More composed, I asked what was dangerous about that. I was told it gives people bad ideas, leads to crime, and undermines society. Those arguments are sadly familiar to me, but are generally not applied to something so benign.

Besides, my hosts said, the government was just responding to parental concerns. Parents don’t want their teens using computers because of potential exposure to “bad things.” And what about the educational value of computers for teens? No, parents (supposedly) don’t think the risk is worth it. Given that China’s leadership tells its people exactly what they need and what they will have, I found it completely disingenuous to suggest that the government’s internet censorship was a response to public demand.

With all the wonderful advantages that a democratic system offers, I found China’s justification for internet censorship depressingly similar to America’s.

Nevertheless, they are developing a national sex education consciousness and program, and they are investing money in training teachers. They are examining the value of various curricula. And while their programs don’t exactly encourage premarital sex, they aren’t obsessed with abstinence. In that respect, they’re one up on us.

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