Posts Tagged ‘sex’

Sex & Fertility Are Not a Miracle—Just Life

January 28, 2014

Item: Texas hospital goes to court to keep a dead woman on a machine that keeps her fetus alive—over the objections of her husband, her family, and her stated wishes while alive.

Item: Kansas judge rules sperm donor is liable for child support payments even though he and the two moms signed a document ahead of time renouncing his involvement in any child.

Item: Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee decries supposed Democratic Party belief that women are helpless without government-supported birth control because they “can’t control their libido or their reproductive system.”

Half of this country simply cannot get over the amazing fact that human women can get pregnant and give birth. This prevents America from having an intelligent discussion about sexuality, conception, and contraception.

I am as awestruck as the next person when considering the elegant engineering and world-class reliability of my eyes, my fingers, my ears, and my bowels—not to mention my brain. And yes, the whole sex-conception-birth thing is totally astonishing.

But come on, this is old news. As with all extraordinary facts of the physical world—eyesight, nuclear power, bacon—the question a grownup society must face about the mechanics of conception and birth is what to do about it.

In this, self-described religious people have no advantage over the rest of us. Neither do parents, or physicians, or those who have suffered tragedy. We simply face a series of public policy questions that should be addressed the way we (ideally) handle tasks like locating airports, treating diseases attacking orange groves, and ensuring clean drinking water: with logic, facts, science, and by using the tools of the 21st century, not the 20th. Or the century of Julius Caesar.

The wide-eyed “miracle of life” narrative infantilizes us and prevents adult policy decisions around sex, fertility, & conception.

Sound public policy proceeds from respect, not awe; from fact, not faith; from what benefits most people, not the loudest, or most violent, or a group who believe their “feelings” somehow matter more than everyone else’s.

Every technological advance, every fundamental change in our understanding of the world leads to other changes in our understanding or abilities that some people don’t want, don’t understand, or don’t believe. The jet planes we can no longer live without are spreading previously local germs and predatory plant species around the world. The ultrasound that discloses a fetus’s gender now makes gender-selective abortions possible. And inevitable.

Two such advances in knowledge are now on the table, and are never going to go away. Now that we know exactly how conception and childbirth work, we also know how to prevent each one. Not surprisingly, over 90% of American women at some point want to contracept. And each year over a million American women—more than half of them already mothers—want to abort.

Artificial fertility treatments and the resulting births are growing at a dramatic rate, while the use of First World contraception remains stable and abortion is actually diminishing. Societies can’t consider fertility treatments as simply technological developments to be made available to everyone without treating contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion the same way. Whether it’s IVF and sperm donors or RU-486 and Plan B, these all involve personal choices that people have—and expect to use—as a result of technological achievements.

Thousands of years ago scientists speculated that sperm contained tiny invisible people. One hundred fifty 150 years ago the Victorians believed that a woman had to climax to become pregnant. Today in Africa, sex with a virgin—no matter how young—is believed to prevent or cure AIDS.

But the truth is that there’s no magic in sperm, or climaxes, or conception, or virginity. They’re all just routine parts of the amazing life of humans. Public policy needs to catch up and treat these various parts of our sexuality in an adult way.

Anything else—treating a dead woman like an incubator, treating sperm like parenthood, treating birth control like an admission of pathology—is barbaric. And by pretending that we don’t know any better, it trivializes “life.”

British Re-Invent The Wheel—and Fail

December 29, 2013

To our British cousins:

You needn’t have bothered.

When your Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to “protect young people” by requiring your ISPs to impose mandatory internet filters on their customers, we Americans already knew what was going to happen.

See, we tried that a long time ago, and it failed miserably—just like you are now. Our Congress proposed its first such internet filtering law all the way back in 1995, and has frequently attempted to control material “harmful to minors,” even criminalizing “virtual child porn” involving no actual children. And to receive federal funding, American libraries and universities must install computer blocking systems (some of which block this blog, by the way), whose blacklists are protected corporate secrets.

Back then, many of us predicted the results—that filters would be over-broad and disruptive. Not surprisingly, sites were blocked that refer to breast cancer, sexual orientation, and rape. Congressman Dick Armey’s site was blocked, as was Middlesex County’s. And was blacklisted because it described teams for “boys under 12.”

Your British attempts to censor the internet are creating the same results. One of your ISPs blocked access to the website for Glasgow’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, the blog of its provost. A second ISP blocked access to charity sites including ChildLine, the NSPCC and the Samaritans. Other websites blocked include the British Library, National Library of Scotland,you’re your Parliament.

And your best unexpected blocking of all is the site of Claire Perry, the Member of Parliament who campaigned so prominently for the new law. How’s it feel, Claire? Oh, your site is legitimate and shouldn’t be censored? That’s how the owners of every single other site being blocked feel. When simple imagery is concerned, danger is in the eye of the beholder. Some would say that a legislator who doesn’t trust democracy or British adults is pretty dangerous.

Even if internet filters could be perfect—which they can’t be—their use is still a problem in democratic countries. Democracy demands the free flow of information. Democracy demands that government trust its people. Democracy demands that people, not the government, decide what they want to access themselves. Internet filters are domestic terrorists.

I’ve been in countries with mandatory internet filtering, like China. And I’ve just returned from Burma, where until just 2 years ago they didn’t bother with filters—they just regulated who could own a computer and a modem. Do you want to be in the same censorship club as China and Iran?

My British cousins, if you want to protect young people, address the real dangers they face: texting while bicycling, texting during school, texting people instead of learning how to talk to them, watching sports instead of playing them.

And did I mention texting while bicycling? It’s the single most dangerous junior high-school activity in America. I’d never let my kid play high school football, but its danger pales in comparison to the dangers of driving while texting—which at least 1/3 of American kids do. What’s the British data on this?

Porn? Yeah, kids learn the wrong stuff about sex from it, but there’s a great, non-censorship approach to that problem. It’s called parenting—talking to kids about sex. Apparently, you British need more of that. I know we Americans do.

Sex: Skeptics Say “Who’s In Charge Here, Anyway?”

July 18, 2013

I just returned from TAM, an annual gathering of about 1400 skeptics hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation.

There were scientists, philosophers, environmentalists, computer geeks—in all, an intelligent, fun-loving crowd that takes reason seriously.

And so there were a lot of atheists. And a lot of t-shirts: the Jesus fish roasting on a grill of science. “We are all Africans.” “Facts do not cease to exist because they’re ignored.” “Praise bacon.”

I spoke on “Junk Science, Moral Panics and Sex,” and was received warmly. In fact, during the course of the weekend I was approached by dozens of people variously thanking me, revealing their non-traditional sexual arrangements, or sharing their stories.

Many of those stories were about religion and its impact on their sexuality while growing up. There were tales of guilt, shame, Biblical warnings, and more guilt. By now, everyone’s heard one of these stories: “When I was a kid I was told that God hated my sexual feelings, thoughts, or desires. I learned to hate or fear my sexual impulses. I was sure everyone could tell that I masturbated or had bad impulses.” Etc.

I don’t trivialize the power of these early injunctions; as a therapist, I clean up their debris every week. But there’s another way in which religion undermines our sexuality: by stealing our sense of agency—about life in general, but particularly about sex.

For millennia, religion has colonized sexuality. Religion dictates who is eligible for sex, under what conditions, which activities, and which parts of the body in which combinations. It doesn’t matter what the rules are; what matters is that there are rules.

Whether forbidding oral sex, forbidding intercourse during menstruation, forbidding sex between unmarried people, the dynamic is always the same. Believers are stripped of ownership of their bodies and their sexuality.

Sexuality is religion’s worst nightmare, because it offers the possibility of personal autonomy. Anyone can be sexual—rich or poor, old or young, tall or short, educated or not. So religion attempts to seize sex as its own domain. Religion says that sexuality is about “morality” (rather than, say, science, art, friendship, conflict resolution, or even ethics). And religion claims a monopoly on morality: “Who would be good if they weren’t afraid of going to hell?” they cynically question, reducing all people to the moral level of three-year-olds.

So religion says “sex is our domain.” And since religion’s idea of sexual “morality” is primarily about limiting sexual expression (rather than ethical or rational decision-making), religion’s ideas about sex center on ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’

Again, the worst of it isn’t the content of these limitations. It’s the very idea that some external institution, thousands of years old, gets to enforce some arbitrary and meaningless list of behaviors that you can’t do. Religion treats every believer like a child who’s too greedy, selfish, ignorant, or violent to make rational, collaborative sexual decisions.

My patients from religious backgrounds, 40 years after their childhoods, still have trouble knowing what sexual behaviors they like, and feeling they have the right to choose sexual activities simply based on personal preference. Many couples are paralyzed by religious injunctions preventing them from cooperating or even talking about eroticism.

When it comes to sex, religion says Thou Shalt Not…think, consider, empathize, or decide. Just follow the rules.

As one t-shirt at TAM says, “Religion—together we can find a cure.”

Gardasil For Teens: Less Cancer vs. Parental Emotion

June 21, 2013

   As more teens are being vaccinated against HPV and the sometimes-resulting cervical cancer, they are NOT having more sex, according to government statistics. So take that, Abstinence Clearinghouse. And they’re not experiencing unwanted side effects, either. So there, Michelle Bachman. 

   People who fear or hate sex make almost everything about sex. And so they did with this vaccine, which is recommended for pre-teens before they become exposed to the virus.

   The Family Research Council, for example, opposes the vaccine: “Giving it to young women could be potentially harmful because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.” Yes, of course. The average 14-year-old girl refrains from “premarital sex” because she’s afraid that at age 50 she might get cervical cancer. Besides, preventing “premarital sex” is more important than preventing cancer, right?

   The Religious Right has had problems with the Gardasil vaccine from the start. HPV has been the Right’s poster child for the dangers of “promiscuity”—an infection that may show no symptoms, and in some cases leads to cervical cancer and even death.

   So what have they done? They’ve successfully scared millions of parents (and thousands of physicians) away from this now-standard medical procedure. The journal Pediatrics found that in 2010, 44% of parents said they did not intend to vaccinate their daughters.

   Only about a third of American teenage girls have received the full course of three doses (about half have received at least one does). By comparison, vaccination rates in countries like Denmark and Britain are above 80%. Even Rwanda has reached 80%. And yet even with America’s low vaccination rate, infection with the viral strains of HPV that cause cancer dropped by half among teen girls in the four years after the vaccine’s American introduction.

   Of course, any reasonable pre-teen getting the vaccine would ask why she was getting it. That would inevitably lead to one or more conversations about sex with doctor, parent, or both. This should be a good thing—especially in families where sexuality is a taboo subject. But rather than embrace this teachable moment, many parents are rejecting it—putting their own child, and the child’s future sexual partners, at risk.

   It’s easy to be sympathetic with parents who are queasy about discussing sex with their kids. Just like few of us want to think of our parents as being sexual, few of us want to think of our kids as being sexual. And yet, unlike our parents, our kids need information and support as they develop their values and decision-making habits. Statistics clearly show that “Just say no” or “Wait until marriage” are only implemented by a tiny, tiny fraction of Americans.

   Some parents try to walk a fine line of supposed neutrality. “I’ll give my kid the shots if she asks, but there’s no reason to bring it up,” said one of my patients last year. “You’re a good parent,” I replied. “That isn’t how you’re handling information and action on your kid’s nutrition, dental care, sleep habits, and study habits—waiting until she asks about it.”

   When it comes to sexuality, giving in to our comfort zone can’t be the only criterion a good parent uses. As my teacher Sol Gordon used to say, “No parent on earth is completely ready to discuss sex with their kids. We have to do it even when we’re not ready.”

   According to CDC estimates, Gardasil could prevent 53,000 cases of cervical cancer and 17,000 deaths among girls now age 13 and younger if only 80% of preteen girls were vaccinated. As one official said in response to last week’s report, “It’s possible to protect the next generation from cancer, and we need to do it.”

Sexual Highs & Lows of 2012

January 4, 2013

As is true every year, 2012 had its ups and downs regarding the public policy aspects of sexuality—this year, perhaps, more than many. Sadly, in 2012 it wasn’t simply diverging opinions that made the news—it was extraordinary ignorance and rejection of science. In a country where more people believe in the Rapture than in Evolution, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

* Science affirms: porn actresses not traumatized
For years the myth of porn actresses as damaged goods has persisted: these women must be victims of horrible sexual trauma—how else could we account for their willingness to undress and have sex on camera? Research published in the Journal of Sex Research now affirms that these women are just like other women of similar age and background—except they started sex earlier, had more partners, and were more spiritual.

* Contraception is covered under Affordable Care Act
Contraception is now included under America’s new health care system. That is, when an employer offers health insurance as an employee benefit, that insurance has to include contraception.
The faux horror of religious groups about this shows how little they respect or trust the faith of their flock. Since no one is forced to use contraception, the Church has nothing to lose by its inclusion in health insurance. Unless, of course, Christian women choose to disobey their faith leaders and choose to regulate their fertility like responsible adults.
If there were a heaven, Thomas Jefferson would no doubt be smiling at the reinforcement of Church-State separation this insurance regulation represents. Of course, he’d be shocked that there is a heaven.

* LA voters pass mandatory condoms for porn shoots
Los Angeles County voters passed Measure B, mandating that porn shoots require condoms for anal and vaginal sex. The real story is how this proposition got onto the ballot—via a coalition of anti-porn groups that lied about a non-existent problem and a non-existent concern for performers.
Porn producers could be expected to oppose the measure, but the fact that performers were almost universally against it says it all. With a strict industry-sponsored testing program in place, there has been only one case of HIV attributable to heterosexual on-set sex. Measure B was a solution looking for a problem. If instituted, all it will do is drive porn production out of California and into Nevada.
And it won’t change the fact that you’re safer having unprotected sex with a porn star (who’s getting tested monthly as a condition of employment) than you are having sex with a stranger you meet in a local bar.
The measure would create a new layer of government bureaucracy, as sets are inspected and porn producers take mandatory blood-borne-pathogen training courses. For women who squirt or men who climax unexpectedly, guess we’ll call EMTs and first responders pre-premature ejaculators.

* 43 new state restrictions on abortion
The good news: U.S. states passed half as many restrictions on abortion in 2012 as they did in 2011. The bad news: with 2011 restrictions all in place, those 43 restrictions are still the second highest number ever. Literally hundreds of restrictions are in place across the country.
Eight states now require vaginal ultrasounds prior to abortion. That’s a doctor forcing a medical instrument into a (frequently) unwilling patient’s vagina, and requiring her to look at pictures she doesn’t want to see, so she can earn the privilege of a safe, legal medical procedure. If Iran or Russia did that we’d call it barbaric. And we’d be right.
No laws were enacted in 2012 to facilitate access to safe abortion.

* Scientists encourage birth control and Plan B
In contrast to the U.S. Congress, the American College of Obstetricians decided that women have a functioning brain, and could handle birth control pills without the blessing of a doctor. Perhaps they were looking at the dozens of scientific studies showing that illness, injury, and deaths from oral contraceptives are dramatically lower than illness, injury, and deaths from childbirth.
Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics showed itself wiser than America’s politicians (and fear-mongering morality groups) by recommending that Emergency Contraception be available for teens. Since hundreds of thousands of unmarried American women become unintentionally pregnant each year, it’s logical and humane to make a safe drug available to them to prevent that pregnancy. The pills ought to live in every fertile, sexually active person’s home. Anyone with moral objections to little Sally using the damn pills should make birth control free—and stigma-free.

* 50 Shades Of Gray conquers the United States
The good news: this bag of words has shy people talking about sex, tittering about (and even exploring) bondage. The bad news: the book is fiction, not a documentary, so it presents a caricature of bondage, leaving out most of what it’s really about.
The really bad news: this collection of syllables sold more copies last year than all of my books combined since 1988.

* General Petraeus loses job because of infidelity
Arguably one of the most important generals of the century, he lost his job because he had an extramarital affair—which is a violation of America’s military code. Come on, that simplistic bugaboo “risk of blackmail” is so 1950s. Let’s call this regulation what it is: a cruel intrusion into soldiers’ private lives that is irrelevant to their fitness for duty. The Taliban has taken over nuclear-armed Pakistan, China is taking over the Indian Ocean, and we’re worried about where a general puts his penis? That’s not West Point, that’s Keystone Kops.
At the moment, single people are obviously a better investment as career soldiers. In fact, gays serving openly should learn from this: if you want a military career, don’t marry.

* GOP reveals massive ignorance of female reproductive system
“Legitimate rape?” Ovaries knowing the difference between welcome sperm and unwelcome sperm? “Some girls rape easy”? A Florida bill permitting hospitals to refuse emergency care to some women on religious grounds?
As the 2012 presidential and congressional elections peaked, an amazing number of Republican politicians revealed their ignorance (and hatred) of the female body. The most disgusting include Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, Indiana Congressional candidate Richard Mourdock, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith, Iowa Congressman Steve King, and Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh. They would flunk a high school bio class, and be blackballed at the junior prom.

* Akin, Mourdock, Smith, and Walsh lose their election
As a bonus, Ann Romney, who said that contraception was not an important election issue to women (after her husband and her party made it one), also lost. If, according to Mourdock, a raped woman’s pregnancy is “God’s gift,” at least this horrifying deity gave us Romney’s loss as well.

Philip Roth Retires, Undefeated

December 3, 2012

After 31 novels, Philip Roth has announced his retirement.

With all due respect to the person who channeled Fifty Shades of Grey, Roth is America’s greatest sex writer.

He covered sexuality in almost all its manifestations. The masturbation in Portnoy’s Complaint made him a household name. A quarter-century later, Sabbath’s Theater brought us an old man masturbating over his dead lover’s grave.

The Breast parodied men’s obsession by bringing us a man turned into a giant mammary. More seriously, Deception used a brilliant device to examine an equally common obsession. In it, a novelist’s wife discovers the diary in which he describes his affair—no, he says, it’s notes for his next novel, about a novelist who has an affair.

In book after book, Roth examined longing—not the romantic, wonderfully melancholy version of second-rate novels, but the longing that erodes self-respect, that creates resentment (at both self and other), that challenges self-image. Over and over, Roth examined a particularly cruel version of longing: older men needing younger women, even while they know that day by day, they have less and less to offer their would-be lovers.

Roth talked about sex as it really is for people—messy, irrational, loaded with contradictory feelings and needs. He described the kinds of arousal that “normal” people are not supposed to feel: over sniffing used panties, over hearing about one’s lover’s lovers. He knew “normal” sexual sadism inside and out. When Mickey Sabbath’s lover of 13 years suddenly insists he become monogamous with her, he insists she start sleeping with her husband—an equally repulsive and ridiculous demand.

Perhaps most impressively, Roth wrote unblinkingly about the ways people use sex to distance death. “With the lover, everyday life recedes,” he writes in Deception. As I often see with my patients, many of Roth’s characters pursue sex not primarily for its pleasure, but to push away loneliness, to feel youthful or special, to remember who they are in the unrelenting face of a pitiless aging process.

Because Roth didn’t write about every sexual perspective equally, he was sometimes branded a male chauvinist. That’s like criticizing Shakespeare for not writing chamber music, or the Rolling Stones for not writing, well, chamber music. Let genius do what it will do.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day, and the National Football League proudly showed its support by weakly urging viewers to…“get more information.” Apparently, our great nation is not prepared to hear the word “condom” even on World AIDS Day. Roth did not respect any such taboos, and for this we are the richer. His complete disrespect for propriety has been honored with the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award (twice), and Man Booker Prize.

He also received the first Sexual Intelligence Award in 2001.

It was an easy call.

Sex in Hong Kong

November 20, 2012

I’m finishing up a week in Hong Kong, training psychologists and sex education teachers.

In some ways, Hong Kong is similar to India—part Asian, part Western/British. They drive on the left here, almost everyone speaks English, and the street names recall Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Duke of Connaught, the Prince of Wales, and other colonial icons.

Of course, Hong Kong is now part of the People’s Republic of China, which gives every historical reference, every financial transaction, and every conversation about media, culture, or the internet an added frisson. Hong Kongers are proud but practical, independent but not stupid. Both China and the locals want to keep the money spigot wide open, but conflict between the systems is inevitable, especially when Hong Kong is completely interdependent with capitalist troublemakers in Europe, America, and Japan.

When it comes to sexuality, Hong Kong is interesting, even unique in some ways. Just a few notes:

* Prostitution here is legal. But brothels are illegal, as is pimping. And so sex workers aren’t supposed to advertise. The city features “love hotels” that rent by the hour.

* The age of consent here is 16. This has lots of implications, because developmentally, most people are quite different at 16 than they are at 18. China’s age of consent is 18, and so some men who cross the border for business or tourism pursue these younger sex workers.

* One kind of sex work that has gotten lots of attention lately is “compensated dating.” This involves teens (usually, but not always, girls) going on “dates” with men they pick up in certain neighborhoods, generally involving a meal, perhaps shopping, and often some kind of sex—discretely followed by a gift or more shopping. The kids often say they do it because they need the cash to keep up with their peers’ high tech gadgets. And they loudly proclaim that it’s not prostitution because the sex is supposedly optional, which they can turn down any time for any reason.

Veteran sexologist Dr. Angela Ng says this is a growing phenomenon, and that some of these kids inevitably get involved in other risky behaviors.

* As in China, there are virtually no displays of sexy affection in public. Parents and grandparents fuss endlessly with small children in strollers on every street in the city, but parents rarely touch teens in public, and never touch each other—in restaurants, streetcars, streetcorners, even cars. One therapist in my seminar asked rhetorically, “how can couples expect to be comfortable with physical intimacy when they have so little practice?”

* Girlie bars: very big here. I strolled down Lockhart Road one night, which is like San Francisco’s Tenderloin District in its heyday—on steroids. I passed bar after bar after bar, each one with a bikini-clad 22-year-old and an old mama-san sitting out front. Occasionally one of them would grab my elbow and urge me to come through the red velvet curtain to sample the wondrous young women (and even more wondrously-priced drinks). As with many local businesses, each proprietor burned incense and fake paper money in front of their entrance to bring good luck.

* Massage parlors: very big here. A big part of the male-oriented business culture.

* Sex education: Program content and teacher training are decided on a school-by-school basis, which leads to a chaotic heterogeneity. I lectured an audience composed of teachers, government officials, family planning staff, and other professionals. I talked about the specifics of the most effective American programs, as well as the features of the worst programs. I also talked about parents’ anxiety, and—most importantly—the needs of young people. Those in attendance were very appreciative of the nuts and bolts of my talk.

Dr. Susan Fan of the Hong Kong Family Planning Association asked if I thought homosexuality should be discussed in sex education class. “Actually, no,” I said. “Sex ed programs should discuss sexual diversity, which includes sexual orientation, sexual identity, and confusing fantasies, along with homosexuality and same-gender experimentation.” Putting homosexuality in this sort of context makes it more understandable for kids, as well as making programs less vulnerable to religious attacks.

* Premarital sex: Frowned upon, but not rare. On the other hand, young people here start sex later than kids in the West do, and they have fewer partners before marriage. As in many places around the world, teen girls and young women here wear short skirts and high heels—but, unlike in the West, this isn’t considered a sexual statement or invitation.

In Hong Kong, it can be hard to tell the virgins from the hookers. What a perfect metaphor for this complex, fascinating place.

General Petraeus Resigns, Casualty of War on Sex

November 9, 2012

General David Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA today. He said it was because he had engaged in an extramarital affair.

America’s leaders quickly announced how regretful they were, and what a big loss the country had just suffered. President Obama said that “through his lifetime of service, David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger.”

Senator John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Petraeus one of “America’s greatest military heroes.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “I wish President Obama had not accepted this resignation…I would have stood up for him, I wanted him to continue.”

Currently, adultery is against military regulations if the conduct is shown to be detrimental to, or brings discredit upon, the armed forces. Such a subjective standard is easily used to punish or exonerate; typically, it’s to punish. In fact, other federal agencies forbid adultery as well. The State Department recently added adultery to its list of banned activities. Yes, you could lose your job as a translator, teacher, or construction worker if you break your marital vows.

So given his obvious breach of military rules, why didn’t America’s leaders want Petraeus to resign? And if this is simply a familiar (if spectacular) case of a good man who made a mistake, why not change the rules for mere mortals?

Historically, the justification for the regulations was blackmail: “Give us America’s nuclear secrets or we tell your wife about your girlfriend.” But once someone outs himself, that possibility vanishes. And remember, that was the argument against allowing homosexuals in government or the military.

In fact, it’s against military regulations to have a consensual open marriage. And in that case—since there’s no marital secret—there’s no more risk of blackmail than there is for any other secret: My father was a bookie. My grandmother is a whore. My brother can’t read. My sister voted for George Bush. Whatever.

The idea that infidelity indicates a special character weakness is old-fashioned, unscientific, and moralistic in the extreme. Concepts like this are a poor way to run a country. But even if you believe that the maritally unfaithful can’t be trusted to execute important civic responsibilities, what about consensual non-monogamy? There’s no betrayal, so there is no character flaw. And with no chance for blackmail, how can we justify regulations against it?

Oh, you’re a soldier or a spy and you’re single? Do what you want, as long as it’s consensual. But note that the State Department is more stringent. They can fire you for “engaging in public or promiscuous sexual relations.” “Public,” “promiscuous”—that’s nice and vague.

So if you’re going to join the Army or the CIA, don’t marry. If you already are, get divorced. You wouldn’t want to lose your job over a private, non-job mistake.

Some day, the idea that you could get bounced from the military because of infidelity will seem as destructive as the idea that you could get bounced from the military because of homosexuality.

Shame on America. The greatest military power on earth, and we’re afraid of sex.

Pity The Virgins: Wedding Night Blues

October 31, 2012

Say there are 50 million weddings a year around the globe. I figure about 85% of those wedding couples contain at least one virgin. At least half of them have two virgins.

I saw one of those couples today in therapy. Mr. A and Ms. B have been married twenty years; when they wed she was a virgin, while he had had intercourse a few brief times with someone else. Their wedding night was an unconsummated mess, resulting in tears and confusion. Several days later, on their honeymoon, they tried again—“and we failed again,” Mr. A recalled. Her vagina didn’t get wet enough, he couldn’t get his penis in, and he soon lost his erection. They each took turns blaming themselves; the next morning they took turns blaming each other.

For years, sex was an infrequent, discouraging hassle. Now they can’t remember the last time they did it.

They revealed a variety of reasons besides the wedding night disaster. Years ago she refused to let his friend’s son stay in their home during semester break; he was distant and cold during her subsequent miscarriage; she was bitter rather than supportive when he lost his job; his new job required travelling to India, and he started to get massages there with “happy endings.” She was crushed when she found out, and brought them to my office.

But no matter what we talked about, it seemed we periodically returned to their unhappy wedding night. “I didn’t know what to do,” Ms. B acknowledged. “I expected him to lead, to guide, to explain. When he couldn’t, I felt abandoned.” “Yes, replied Mr. A, “all the pressure was on me, and when things went wrong, you made it clear it was my problem to figure out. And I couldn’t.” Neither of them has forgiven the other. I don’t think they’ve forgiven themselves, either.

It’s too easy to say they got off to a bad start and never recovered, although it’s true. Their personalities weren’t a very good match, and their sexual visions were mismatched, too. She imagined a gentle, kind, knowledgeable but wholesome man; he imagined a sexy, enthusiastic, curious but wholesome woman. What their bedroom needed was an extra pair of gentle hands—and wise eyes, a confident smile, and an extra heart—but of course none came their way.

I won’t say their marriage was doomed by virginity or sexual inexperience. But it certainly wasn’t helped. Her virginity provided no reassurance for him, no spiritual haven for her. His inexperience made the wedding night nerve-racking rather than “special.”

People do NOT need to be sexually experienced before marriage to enjoy sex after it. But “love” and “commitment” generally aren’t enough to ensure a happily-ever-after. People who don’t have intercourse need sex education as much as those who do. Everyone needs words for their body parts; information to combat common myths (masturbation is dangerous, men don’t like to hug, etc.); good decision-making skills; and a sense of empowerment about their sexuality.

When people have good information, feel comfortable with their bodies, can communicate with a partner, and believe that sex is lovely, their virginity is not an obstacle on the wedding night. But too often virgin-until-marriage also means enforced ignorance, unfamiliarity with the other gender, discomfort with one’s body, and a pile of taboos so high that people can barely see each other in bed.

I feel bad for Mr. A and Ms. B, who didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, they followed all the social rules with which they were raised—and paid the common price.

Here’s what I propose: in all cultures that emphasize pre-marital virginity, redefine the wedding night as the start of a couple’s sexual life together. That means the first night should just be looking; the second, talking; the third, touching; the fourth, kissing; etc.. If it took God a week to create the world out of nothing, couples need at least that much time to create a sexual connection out of nothing.

You’ll also remember that God said “Let there be light.” So to enable couples to see each others’ naked bodies on the wedding night, let’s start a new tradition. How about making it the maternal aunt’s honor to give the new couple a bedroom lamp—turned on during sex?

Sex in Australia

October 21, 2012

Welcome me back, mate. I’ve just spent two weeks in Australia training psychologists in sex therapy and couples counseling. (Insert your favorite joke here about the Land Down Under.)

The people there are wonderful, the food is great, and the beaches are gorgeous.

I learned that in Australia adult prostitution is mostly LEGAL, and adult pornography is mostly ILLEGAL—the opposite of what we have in the U.S.. The consequences of each policy are quite instructive for American law-making.

Australia also has a political party called the Sex Party—and people vote for it! Its platform includes:
* decriminalizing recreational drugs
* 24-hour weekend public transportation in major cities
* guaranteeing the right to die with dignity
* giving tax breaks to small businesses

Oh yes, there are some sexual issues in their platform, too:
* developing a national sex education curriculum
* developing a national internet education scheme for parents
* guaranteeing reproductive choice for all women and men
* investigating child sexual abuse in religious institutions
* decriminalizing all non-violent erotica

I love the Sex Party’s work, and they appreciate mine. Their brilliant major candidate Fiona Patten held a reception for me, at which I spoke about the Religious Right’s influence over U.S. policies regarding sexuality. They reminded me that religion has less overt political influence over there (although still more than the Sex Party would like), but that conservative feminism had a very strong voice that generally tried to control sexual expression.

The Sex Party notes that adult pornography is generally legal in countries with higher living standards and better levels of education. Conversely, countries that ban X-rated films typically have lower living standards and levels of education. And, I might add, there’s a huge difference in the rights of women—countries in which adult porn is legal enforce dramatically less discrimination against women and girls.


Adult porn legal: Europe, Canada, Japan, South Africa, USA
Adult porn banned: Iran, China, Turkey, Nigeria, Philippines

The Australian government made it legal to PURCHASE and POSSESS adult porn in 1983. But all Australian states ban the SALE of X-rated video material. Enforcement of these contrasting laws is very low, so there is a gray market—non-rated material is sold by gas stations, convenience stores, etc., putting legitimate adult shop owners at a competitive disadvantage.

There are many other inconsistencies as state-by-state laws try to coexist with federal laws. For example, in many states it’s legal to sell an adult magazine—but if you film the magazine it’s illegal to sell it.

So what’s the result of Australia banning the sale of various adult entertainment? Australians buy it anyway, creating a generation of criminals. The government loses tax revenue, as well as respect.

The foolishness of attempting to ban a popular, victimless activity like watching adult porn is even more obvious when considered in light of Australia’s decriminalizing of most adult prostitution in 1992. In most states brothels are legal and registered; sex workers may work privately, although soliciting is illegal. Prostitutes must be at least 18 years old.

What has the result been? Most people do NOT become prostitutes, and most people do NOT hire prostitutes. The divorce rate isn’t any higher than America’s, which obsessively persecutes sex work

And what about human trafficking, the latest American moral panic? In the U.S., advocates speculate (with little documentation) that prostitution is an enormous gateway for trafficking; in Australia, the estimates of human trafficking rates are far, far lower than the rates typically suggested for the U.S..

So what have we learned here?
* Criminalizing popular private sexual behavior just drives it underground rather than reducing it;
* Decriminalizing sex work doesn’t increase its use, society’s debauchery, or human trafficking;
* Adults can take a political party focused on sexual rights seriously;
* In Australia, they really do say “G’day mate” (pronounced “g’dye mite”).