Archive for the ‘sexuality’ Category

Premature Ejaculation—All About Time?

June 23, 2016

Just about every week, a man or a couple come in and ask about treatment for “Premature Ejaculation” (PE). People used to say “I come too fast” or “He comes too fast.” After a few minutes on the internet, people have learned they have a condition, with a name, diagnostic criteria, and prognosis. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

People can also discover that the DSM-5 (the insurance industry’s bible of mental & sexual problems) classifies the severity of the problem thus:

* Mild, in which ejaculation occurs 30-60 seconds after vaginal penetration
* Moderate, when ejaculation occurs 15-30 seconds after vaginal penetration
* Severe, in which ejaculation occurs prior to, upon, or less than 15 seconds after vaginal penetration.

There is so much wrong with that powerful little paragraph.

“Vaginal penetration” is not an expression I use. I prefer “insertion” to “penetration.” In fact, I prefer “vaginal envelopment” or “containment.” These all sound nicer and easier than “penetration.” You can make up your own phrase to describe the experience.

Then there’s the idea that these increments of 15 seconds are meaningful to people. No one likes to come involuntarily upon entering a vagina. But virtually no one would be grateful—or feel their problem were solved—if they had 14 extra seconds of intercourse. That’s about two, maybe three thrusts. Two or three anxiety-filled, guilt-ridden, about-to-be-disappointed thrusts. So the DSM’s alleged differences between “mild”, “moderate”, and “severe” are pointless.

And by the way, try telling a guy who comes in 31 seconds (or his partner) that his problem is “mild.”

The DSM-5 is about two decades behind the times on this. There isn’t a sex therapist in a thousand who would agree with the time delineations. Most sex therapists say “rapid ejaculation” instead of “premature” anyway; to see what I call it, keep reading.

The DSM also says that as many as 30% of men “report concern” about PE, yet they say that according to their dandy new criteria, “only 1-3% of men would be diagnosed with the disorder.” I’m certain that’s not accurate; in any case, it’s a bizarre contrast. The DSM also says that PE “may increase with age” which is absolutely, positively wrong. Ask a hundred middle-aged men about their ejaculations, and the big complaint won’t be how quickly they come, but how slowly—when they come at all.

In a brief fit of thoughtfulness, the DSM notes the existence of culture-related issues, which is a big understatement. If a couple is upset that he comes after “only” 12 minutes, does he have PE? In the old Soviet Union, women would get insulted if a guy didn’t come after a minute or two—“Don’t you find me exciting?” I would translate the DSM’s “culture” as “expectations, beliefs, and self-image” as a way of overriding the silly time dimensions.

I know that physicians in general don’t have much time to discuss sex (or anything else) with patients. Hence many prescribe Viagra without knowing whether the guy has an actual problem, whether he’s drinking, having an affair, hates his wife, or hates his penis. Similarly, if a guy says “I have PE,” an MD or psychologist would ideally ask NOT “how fast is too fast” (although that’s better than nothing), but rather “and what’s the problem with that?”

Because PE isn’t a problem. People turn it into a problem by withdrawing in disappointment, or blaming their partner, or having affairs, or refusing to try other ways of being sexual or intimate. And then they (or their partner) blame the PE.

My experience in treating PE is that half the time I don’t treat it at all. I treat power struggles, shame, unrealistic expectations, fear of conception, discomfort talking about sex, and myths about “real sex.” The rest of the time I treat anxiety and/or depression, which are the typical physiological triggers of the unwanted ejaculation—as opposed to too much pleasure, which is what a lot of people assume it is.

A combination of these various interventions usually reverses the PE. More importantly, people often start enjoying sex again. That’s the goal of sex, you know—to enjoy sex, not to last a long time.

Some practitioners prescribe anti-depressants like Zoloft to slow down ejaculation. It often works, but doing that without a thorough psycho-social evaluation is like giving someone Vicodin for physical pain without finding out about any structural problems (e.g., spinal stenosis) or lifestyle issues (e.g., jogging when injured). It may provide short-term relief, but it could be laying the foundation for bigger problems later.

So if I don’t say PE and I don’t even like the gentler “Rapid Ejaculation,” what do I call it? I encourage patients to say “I come faster than I want to” (if they do). That helps us focus on the real problem—not the “I come faster…” but the “…than I want to.” It creates the expectation that we’re going to talk about expectations, communication, arousal, the relationship, and the meaning of sex.

Yeah, I know “I come faster than I want to” is a lot of words, and it doesn’t have a quick acronym like PE. That’s OK—there’s plenty of time.

Giving Thanks for Sex; However…

November 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s give thanks that here in America…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sexual Intelligence—My New Book is Published Today!

February 10, 2012

My new book is out from HarperCollins today. And people already love it!

“Read this book if you want to let go of your inhibitions and improve your sex life.” –Psychology Today magazine

“Transform your sex life? Ultimate satisfaction? Look no further. Marty Klein’s new book offers something better.” –Salon.com

“No matter where you are, if you want to get the most out of sex and relationships, there’s something here for you.” –Good Vibrations

Here are some of MY favorite quotes from the book. Buy the book here, and then let me know which is your favorite.

Sexual Intelligence: Quotable quotes

* For many people, sex is an opportunity to fail. And for some people, not failing is the best that sex ever gets.

* Feeling good (whatever that means to you and your partner) is the big payoff of sex—-not orgasm.

* Sexually, men and women are more alike than similar. They typically want the same things from sex, and are typically concerned about the same things.

* If sex is so important, why leave it for the last thing at night, when you’re too tired to do anything else?

* What do people say they want from sex? Pleasure and closeness. But that’s not what most people focus on during sex.

* Most people think the way to reduce anxiety or emotional problems around sex is to create incredible sex. That’s exactly wrong.

* Figuring out what kind of sex you want is not the same as knowing what you don’t want. That can be challenging when people are used to thinking in the vocabulary of sexual “dysfunction.”

* Adults (especially those with common health challenges) must redefine “sexy” to include someone—-themselves—-in a physical state that society specifically defines as unsexy.

* If you want to enjoy sex, stop looking for romance or spontaneity.

* Sex is meaningless until and unless we give it meaning. Most people give it too much meaning, and the wrong kind of meaning. Then they complain that sex is too complicated.

* We overburden our genitalia with too much responsibility for making sex enjoyable.

* One reason so many people drink before or during sex is that the pressure of getting it right is just too much.

* You’d be foolish to craft a definition of sexy or manly or womanly that excludes you.

* Most people develop their model of sexuality when they have the body of a young, healthy person. Most of us don’t have that body very long. So if we want to enjoy sex when we develop a different body, we better have a different model of sexuality.

Remember: Sex isn’t just an activity—it’s an idea.

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.

Should Prison Inmates Have the Right to Masturbate?

January 16, 2012

I was interviewed about this on Public Radio yesterday. Since it’s a subject I hadn’t given a lot of thought, I prepared by reading up on it just a bit. And I was shocked.

It’s actually against the law to touch yourself sexually—in private—if you’re in jail. Sounds barbaric, doesn’t it? OK, you’re behind bars, your body is no longer your own. But if you’re not allowed to masturbate, neither is your soul.

Worse, if there’s any disagreement about whether you’ve done it, you automatically lose the argument. There are many cases in which guards either misinterpret prisoner activity and perceive masturbation, or some nutcase guard goes hunting and finds masturbation in every nook and cranny. Either way, prisoners are punished.

Of course, masturbation in prison is common. A 2001 study of one maximum-security joint found that all but one male inmate masturbated. Another study found that 2/3 of female inmates masturbated. Criminalizing something that everyone does makes selective enforcement inevitable. And there are documented cases of just that.

Prisons say they have to regulate masturbation because of security issues, which sounds completely bogus. It’s the same argument society makes when it restricts the sexual expression of any group, such as teens, soldiers, and the elderly. But prisons are trying to control sex, not safety.

A new wrinkle in the prison masturbation scene is the increasing number of female guards. Because women are more likely to lack a criminal record, more likely to have some college education, and can oversee and pat-down both male and female inmates (male guards must work primarily with male prisoners), their numbers are steadily increasing.

Presumably, the percentage of nutty female guards is roughly the same as that of nutty male guards. Presumably, the one female guard who busted eight different Florida inmates for masturbation four years ago is an anomaly.

But the increasing number of female guards raises the question of “hostile work environment” that is bedeviling every American organization—governmental or for-profit—with a lawyer. A legal doctrine and laws meant to protect women is now being used as a weapon to strip sexuality from every possible workplace interaction. To protect their delicate sensibilities (a myth that 1970s feminism worked tirelessly to challenge), women in cities across America are now claiming that classic nude sculpture, photo shows depicting childbirth, sex education brochures, and even co-workers’ tiny silver vulva earrings create a workplace in which they just can’t function.

So what we have now is some women wanting it both ways—equal rights, but with extra protection. If a person, male or female, can’t work within earshot of the word “fuck,” that person should probably not be a prison guard, bus driver, football coach, or high school teachers. And if Michaelangelo’s nude David makes someone swoon, he or she should have the decency to get some help, rather than deprive their co-workers from the world’s artistic patrimony.

I don’t imagine that prisoners treat female guards any worse than they treat male guards. The content of the disrespect, envy, and manipulation may differ, but the treatment is no worse. Of course, any given guard—male or female—can get unhinged by seeing or imagining a penis while they’re at work.

Finally, punishing guys for masturbating in prison is counterproductive. How do people feel after orgasm? Relaxed. Isn’t that preferable to prisoners feeling rageful? I’d say inmate masturbation is the jailer’s best friend.

Every guy in prison started masturbating as a child, and always for the same reason: to soothe himself. To comfort himself, to feel a sense of control in otherwise repressive circumstances. To validate his power and individuality.

These, too, are what we want in prisoner’s lives. Better than the rage and humiliation that dominate prison life, and the brutality that naturally follows from it. Putting hundreds or thousands of men together, robbing them of their most basic rights and dignity, and expecting them to respond by being asexual for 10 years is simply ridiculous. Giving prisoners the chance to privately comfort themselves psychologically is in everyone’s best interests. And giving prisoners a private, solo sexual outline would surely reduce the amount of coercive and dangerous sex that’s rampant in every prison.

It’s simply logical. But when it comes to sex, science isn’t a strong suit of the correctional industry—any more than in any institution in the outside world.

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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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