Archive for the ‘pornography’ Category

Talking sex ed & porn with Congress & the APA

October 20, 2013

This week I’m in Washington, DC giving very different presentations to two very different groups. I’ll be giving Congressional briefings on science-based sex education. And I’ll be giving a half-day webinar for the American Psychological Association on couples counseling & psychotherapy around pornography. These two subjects might seem unrelated, but they aren’t. Consider:

If young people were taught media literacy and porn literacy, they’d understand that porn relies on editing, lighting, makeup, and modern digital techniques. And they’d understand that porn isn’t a documentary, it’s more like a highlight reel.

If young people were encouraged to communicate with their partners about sex, they’d notice how much it’s missing in porn—especially the part about “Wait, I’d prefer it this way,” or “Y’know, I’d rather not do that.”

If young people were taught that contraception is a normal part of intercourse, they’d understand that its lack in porn is just part of the fantasy.

If young people were taught empathy and respect for others in sex ed class, they’d notice when it’s missing in porn—and not expect that selfishness or disrespect would work in real sex.

If young people were taught about male and female anatomy, they’d understand that the porn version of women climaxing from intercourse (in about 2 seconds) is inaccurate. And they’d understand that lube is almost always a good thing to add to sex, although it’s typically missing on-screen.

If young people were taught decision-making skills, they wouldn’t assume that the “spontaneous” sex shown in porn is a good idea.

If young people were taught about the reality of sexual fantasy, and told that fantasy does not necessarily reflect desire, they wouldn’t feel so guilty about their sexual curiosity and fantasies, which drives a lot of porn-viewing.

I’m always trying to teach adults that “Sex is not about what the bodies are doing, it’s about how the people are feeling.” If we successfully taught that to young people, we wouldn’t have to teach it to adults.

Happily, everyone at the Congressional briefing will be getting a copy of my current book, Sexual Intelligence. I hope they see the summary: “Sex is more than an activity—it’s an idea.”

32 Helpful Things You Can Learn From Porn

August 5, 2012

Pornography is not meant to be sex education. It’s fiction, period.

Nevertheless, with the enforced ignorance of abstinence-only sex “education,” most families’ and couples’ discomfort discussing sex seriously, and mainstream Christianity’s taboos about sexual reality, most people find themselves needing more information about sexuality.

If they’re fortunate, they manage to find a smart book or two, a reliable website or two, and maybe even an enlightened, open-minded, communicative sex partner. Anyone lacking all three who wants sex information inevitably turns to porn, whether intentionally or unconsciously.

Unfortunately, many young people don’t realize that porn is not a documentary. Lacking porn literacy or media literacy, they’re ignorant about editing, off-camera preparation, and other normal features of film-making. While some people assume that sex is—or should be—like what they see in porn, every good sex educator cautions against this. The most recent set of caveats comes from my good friend, journalist and sex educator Michael Castleman.

While I agree with most of his excellent article (I’ve said similar things myself over and over), let’s not forget the helpful things consumers can learn from porn.

This is NOT, NOT, NOT to say that everything people learn from porn is good. Puh-leeze—any 17-year-old who thinks his next girlfriend is dying for anal sex or a chance to blow the pizza delivery guy is in for a shock. And it’s always too bad when men think most women climax from 90 seconds of intercourse (although the antidote is pretty straightforward: simply telling a guy ‘that’s not me,’ no apology necessary).

That said, here’s a reminder of helpful things that porn can teach us about sex.

WAIT, ONE MORE TIME: I know, I know—porn also contains many inaccurate, even egregious lessons. But if we take them seriously—and, fortunately, not every porn consumer believes the fantasies of porn—let’s also take the following positive helpful lessons seriously. Many of these are positive lessons sex educators have been teaching for years:

Men can touch their penises during sex;
Women can touch their vulvas during sex
Spit works for lube
Some women sometimes desire sex without romance
Telling each other stories can make sex hotter
Men can climax using their own hand
Some women think about sex in advance
Women sometimes insert the penis into their vagina
Men sometimes insert their penis into a vagina
If the penis comes out during intercourse, you can simply put it back in
Some women like fellatio
Some women like cunnilingus
Some men like fellatio
Some men like cunnilingus
Some women like anal sex
Some men like anal sex
Vulvas can look really different from each other
Some women use and enjoy vibrators and dildos
Some men like their balls squeezed during sex
Pregnant women can be sexual
Whether during intercourse, oral, or manual sex, the clitoris can be important
The volume of ejaculate is not related to penis size
Sex is more than penis-vagina intercourse
Some women have orgasms
Some older women are sexual
Older women can be attractive to younger men (and vice versa)
People can have sex with people of different races
People can smile and talk to each other during sex
People can indicate to each other what they like during sex
Some women shave/wax, others don’t
You can happily ejaculate outside a vagina (onto a leg, chest, butt, belly, lower-back tattoo, or your own hand)

WHATEVER your sexual fantasy, you’re not the only one who has it

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

October 5, 2011

Here’s an old therapy joke:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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