Archives For sex and sexuality

instagram model

As just about every organization with the word “family” in its name, the Family Research Council is an archconservative group that spends its time fighting against big government when it wants to fund social programs or raise taxes, and promoting it when they think it should barge into your bedroom to check if you’re having sex in the positions they deem not too indecent with a person they find acceptable to be your sexual partner. So when one of the FRC’s senior fellows went on the radio to advocate the illegalization of pre-marital sex, declaring that “functioning societies” could never tolerate it, it’s hardly big news. Considering that virtually every major study on the subject shows that between 80% and 95% of the Western world engages in pre-marital sex and the modern Occidental civilization is nowhere near collapse, I could only describe his comments as downright imbecilic and so fantastically detached from reality that it boggles the mind.

But of course none of this confuses or surprises me. No, what I find so bizarre and worthy of an actual post about Pat Fagan’s brain-dead proclamations is how incredibly unaware of the world around him he must be to think even for a moment that he had a logical line of thought. At least the Fox News featured prude with a superiority complex famous for his obnoxious naiveté on the subject, Stephen Crowder, was at least self-aware enough to shame those of us who treat sex not as a forbidden fruit, but as an important facet of any romantic relationship, not demand that the government crack down on anything sexual without a ring and a marriage license involved. Fagan’s plea for the Supreme Court to illegalize pre-marital sex by once again making it a crime to sell contraceptives to singles is so patently absurd and so spectacularly devoid of any hint of nuance or logical follow-up that is sounds like a manifestation of a pathology.

Then again, we’re talking about zealots who see the world in black-and-white absolutes, whose definition of a crumbling society is based on their belief that any family unlike the ones in which they and tried friends and loved ones were raised is fundamentally wrong and broken, and that just the fact that the typical American family has changed over the last 60-plus years is a sign of societal collapse. Perhaps I’m simply expecting too much to have such people think through the talking points they spew and realize why so few take them seriously, much less take the time to study anything about human sexuality or acquaint themselves with the volumes of work showing that artificial prudishness results in more unwanted pregnancies, more STDs, and more demand for social programs to support kids and their young parents, who had children when they weren’t ready for it and were lied to about their family planning options. They’ll simply find any excuse to stay in their cozy, self-righteous bubbles, getting high on their own pious fumes…

malt shop

Perhaps one of the things I love hearing most as a techie about the tools my profession creates for making communication easier and more convenient is how these tools are destroying decent society and are supposedly turning people into hyperactive idiots. Almost invariably, this comes from old fogeys, either in age or at heart, who think their Luddism is the cure for what they see as the ills of the modern world. But what if the social malaise they want to treat so badly is not a problem at all but an outdated practice that needs to change or die off completely? For the past few weeks, a number of big news sites have been lamenting the death of dating and courtship in today’s wired world, blaming online dating, new inequalities between genders, and even texting for the near demise of the traditional courtship ritual your great grandparents would’ve endured, citing fictional characters or those with poor communication skills as examples of its swift demise at the hands of technology and the economy. So, courtship is dead? Terrific, good riddance.

Now, it’s important to point out that the good, old-fashioned dinner-and-a-movie dates are alive and very well, and a lot of married couples still have date nights. Go out on a weekend and you will see plenty of couples holding hands or getting to know each other over dinner with that stiff awkwardness so many people have during the first half an hour of a first date. Where the writers reading dating’s eulogy go way off the rails is by failing to consider that official numbered dates of the looking-for-my-soulmate variety are not the only way men and women enjoy each others’ company anymore and serious relationships can start from casual hook-ups, just hanging out on a regular basis, or just come together by going with the flow. My wife and I had one date in three years and shacked up about a week after we met. The arrangement was supposed to last a few months and you know how that worked out if you paid attention to the previous sentence. She’s still here. We didn’t have to court. We just enjoyed each other’s company after our first date.

This relaxed let’s-see-what-happens attitude seems to be the new face of dating and it removes a lot of pressure from meeting someone new or formally committing to a person until you really, really get to know him or her. One of the biggest reasons I usually avoided dating other Russian immigrants was because the culture is still typically set on traditional courtships and parents are organizing dates and referring potential suitors to their children. From the very first date, you’re under a microscope and everything about you is being evaluated for your potential as a spouse while you’re assured that this is totally not what’s happening at all, you’re just having fun. I was not and I’m guessing it wasn’t fun for her either, especially the post-date parental interrogations that start with "so, what do you think?" Would anyone with the option to avoid all this really want to go through these uncomfortable motions? Dating isn’t solely about finding a spouse anymore, it’s about getting to know people better and seeing what they’re like to be around.

Using a fictional bed-hopper as done by The Atlantic, or collecting quotes about how someone misunderstood a rather vague text doesn’t prove that technology is killing the concept of a date or that there is no dating today any more than a short text instead of a phone call proves that conversation is dead and gone. As helpfully pointed out at Slate, the courtship process usually detailed by those who aren’t aware that society has moved on from the 1890s puts far too much pressure on women to find husbands and reads like a manual on how to be a fake, hollow shell of the person you actually are. Women are encouraged to be perfect little Stepford wives-to-be and whom they marry is secondary as long as they get married, while men are left to navigate a dating world where any warmth or genuine affection are to be treated as warning signs because they’re not lady-like and unsuited for a proper wife. If that’s not a recipe for misery, I really don’t know what is and it’s asinine to think that with today’s options for casual dating and taking things slow and naturally we’d still be living by such backwards, prudish, totalitarian rules.

For all the talk about how technology is making the dating scene confusing and encouraging all those young whippersnappers to consider more dating options and have fun doing it instead of settling down, the old fogeys don’t seem to realize that creating this assembly line of families in their social engineering experiment by outmoded rules is what dehumanizes people while texting and online dating are really putting the choice for how they want to run their love lives back into their hands. Rather than mourning the writhing decay of courtship, we should be celebrating it by picking up a phone and texting that cute guy or girl we recently met "hey there, wanna hang out tonight?" And if he or she replies yes, say what you want to happen. Imagine that. Hanging out with no pressure or expectations with life-long consequences, and getting married when you think you’re ready and it makes sense rather than spend your youth playing a role and trying to find a spouse as the elders impatiently tap their feet and ask why it’s taking so long. What evils has modern technology wrought on the young adults of today, am I right?

intense blue eye

It’s a frequent societal stereotype that women in porn must have been sexually abused as kids, otherwise they would never go into this line of work. You can hear it from social conservatives in their dire warnings about porn addiction and from feminists who find all porn to be merely an exploitation of women for the enjoyment of men, alike. So one would think that to put the idea of the typical porn star as dealing with molestation or abuse through hypersexuality to rest, all one would have to do is have them take a survey, right? It seems fairly straightforward and it’s just what one study has done. After a survey administered to 177 women being tested between their videos, it found that 36% report being molested as children. If that sounds rather high, a control group of women who presumably had nothing to do with pornography reported a stunning 29% rate of sexual abuse. Basically, when taking the small sample sizes into account, it looks like the stereotype is wrong and women in porn are not predominantly survivors of molestation.

Oddly, note that according to the surveys, nearly a third of all women have been molested and often cited numbers say that anywhere between 20% to 40% of women have experienced some sort of sexual abuse as children. That’s disturbing to say the least, but the matter if also rather problematic because nearly all of these studies are relying on self-reporting on surveys given to convenience samples of women, which is science jargon for "asking whoever’s first available to fill out the questionnaire." This could easily produce a skew because the samples are not a truly random slice of the population but more homogenous demographic groups and the answers will reflect experiences typical for their group as well as their interpretation of what it means to have been sexually abused. Some groups of women may report a very low incidence of abuse during one study and a totally different group would report a very high one in a later one. And while a sample of women will consider a particular episode in a gray area during their childhood to be abuse, others would have forgotten and never reported it, or considered odd but not abusive.

So what does all this mean? It means that this study is certainly not definitive and could well be skewed, especially because women in porn know that people are eager to stereotype them into their image of what a female porn starlet should be: a hapless victim degrading herself because she was denied a proper childhood and now suffers from self-esteem issues that manifest as an over-active sex drive. When they’re doing self-selection and self-reporting, a bias simply could not be ruled out. And this, as well as the comments on the results of this study on news sites, is the other result from this study I find extremely disturbing. There really seem to be people who want female porn stars to be "damaged" so they can rationalize their choice to have sex on film as something only a person who "has issues" would do. And I’ll bet cash money that those exact same people commenting on how those poor abused dears whose father figures had boundary problems would go on to watch porn with those poor abused women. It’s not just a few weirdos watching it; only social media use exceeds online porn viewing. And not by much at that.

There’s something fundamentally unhealthy and downright bipolar in how we view porn and sex in general here in the U.S., and even this small study and the issues it raises gives us a peek at that. We cannot be a society that promotes unrealistic, self-indulgent piety and prudishness, just as we also can’t demand that everyone must embrace every sexual position, arrangement, kink, and relationship with nothing less than an orgasmic grin. This is absolutely a case in which the golden median is not a fallacy but a good approach. Humans are wired for sex. We enjoy it, we enjoy watching it, entire areas of our brain are dedicated to lust and encouraging us to find new mates, and all this enjoyment evolved to coax us into reproduction. To stigmatize natural urges and demean those who we end up watching doing the very things we said only "damaged" people do, fueling an industry that pays them for doing them in the process to the tune of billions per year, is hypocritical at best. And it’s especially bad when it’s done for irrational reasons like the wholehearted embrace of cold, haughty, snobby prudishness as the social norm…

See: Griffith, J., et al. (2012). Pornography actresses: an assessment of the damaged goods hypothesis Journal of Sex Research, 1-12 DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2012.719168

egg relationship

I have a confession to make. You see, I’ve never been married but I’m not a virgin. What’s more is that I’ve been with more than one person. Just let that sink in for a minute and if that does not shock you or change your opinion of me, it’s probably because I’m just like 95% of adults in the real world who don’t wait until their wedding night to have sex, or their honeymoon to live with a partner, and chances are that you’re exactly like me in this regard. But according to Fox News columnist Stephen Crowder — whose "work" was recently mentioned in a Cracked.com list of all sorts of ridiculous ideas to promote abstinence — the reason why I’m not shamefully denying my sexual history is because I’m an insecure, emotionally damaged husk of a man unlike him, an ecstatic virgin who waited until his wedding night to show the world what it’s like to have sex, then gloat about his newfound prowess in marital life, and basically just be a judgmental prick.

His column sounds a little like the bragging of someone who just finished boot camp and thinks his basic training makes him SEAL Team 6 material, and provides a very handy counterpoint to my post about haughty polyamorists who look down on those in monogamous relationships as depressed shells of human beings who are just repressing their natural desires. Crowder does the exact same thing, only with high-minded abstinence talk and wants those of us who had sex more than once and had relationships beyond high school-style dates, to praise him for jumping into marriage with someone he barely knows. He bet his single life on a woman with whom he did not live in the same home, with whom he had never been intimate, and whose bathroom habits were a mystery to him until his wedding night. Maybe this will work out for him, but what he did is to leap without really getting to know his future bride and wants our applause and admiration for turning in his V card at the honeymoon suite. The man got laid, now give him a medal!

Right now, I’m sure he’s elated. But there’s a reason why we refer to periods of euphoria as the honeymoon phase. Not everything will be champagne, roses, caviar, and losing your virginity. It will only be a matter of time until the kind of compromises and decisions you only learn to make when you live with someone will have to be made, and the kind of facts you can only learn from seeing your partner day to day at home, will have to be dealt with. Our marital white belt with zero experience in any of this proudly discards these warnings as jealous rumbles from floozies and emotionally damaged men who can’t possibly understand how happy he feels right now. In that honeymoon stage they mentioned as the high point from which things will inevitably get tougher unless he’s outright manic. He’s been married for just a few weeks. I’ve shared my home with my significant other for three years. We’ve been poor together, we’ve been frustrated grad students together, and we set up our lives by each other’s’ side. Do you really think he knows his partner better than I do mine? Does he think I’m incapable of being in love without a ring on my finger or a self-imposed pledge to avoid doing anything sexual until I do?

And here’s why his column annoyed me so much. This matter actually hits pretty close to home for me. My significant other was the maid of honor for someone who refused to talk to her after learning that we didn’t just live together platonically and were happy with the arrangement. Just like Crowder, she believes that being associated with us is now beneath her superior morals, so any event at which the three of us were present at the same time quickly became torture. And a close-minded, judgmental prude like Crowder, or like my partner’s former friend is supposed to be the shining example for us to follow according to social conservatives. Rather than truly get to know each other through thick and thin and enjoy some of the pleasures of being healthy and active adults before making any wedding plans, we were supposed to jump into marriage to win their approval and learn what we’ve learned so far in a situation when a mutual parting without a lot of paperwork and lawyers isn’t an option. This is not a healthy way to have relationships. It’s an asinine fantasy by those who steadfastly ignore reality to feel better about themselves.

While those who promote comprehensive sexual education, because it solves so many social ills associated with uninformed sexual experimentation, would compare trying to stop people from having sex to peeing into a windstorm and wonder why we’re peeing into gale force winds, every abstinence-only advocate would just scream for us to pee harder and accuse us of wanting kids to end up pregnant or disease-ridden sex addicts. More than 9 in 10 adults have sex without a wedding involved in the process, but in their fantasy, everyone must be pure and asexual until a chosen partner magically falls from the sky. That’s their wish for our society, to stay ignorant and virginal until we find our soul mates. Well, when I was a kid my wish was to be an astronaut. Just because I wanted to be one doesn’t mean I ever will, and just because you have a dream of how the world should be ran doesn’t mean that it will ever happen or even that it’s a good idea. And the sooner self-absorbed abstinence-only zealots like Crowder wake up from their fantasy, the sooner we can fix a lot of major problems their denial of reality causes every day.

lexi belle

Ok, so it’s not the most tactful and well thought out fundraiser for breast cancer research ever, but at least PornHub’s heart was in the right place when it announced that it would donate one cent per every 30 views of adult videos in certain obvious categories. It might seem rather low but considering that adult ads pay a few dollars per 1,000 views, they’re actually taking a pretty good chunk out of their revenues and that’s before we account for the considerable bandwidth expenses. Wouldn’t you know it though, nobody seems to want to take their money lest cancer research be forever tainted with the scent of porn. I mean come on, follow the logic, first science takes cash from adult entertainment and next thing you know, the morality genes in cancers are going to get wise to what went into making the treatments and refuse to let the tumors die when doused with a new experimental therapy. Cancers have prudish morality genes, right?

Now, certainly, I can understand why high profile non-profits wouldn’t want to be associated with porn and why they would find the idea of raising money through soliciting views of graphic adult videos to be rather crass and exploitative. And we can even go as far as to say that millions of dollars in free-floating research funds aren’t exactly stuck in a moralistic limbo so it’s not a major problem per se. However, we do need to consider that cancers don’t exactly care about funding sources for their treatment and a therapy made possible by money from porn tycoons may work just as well or even better than money raised through a corporate fundraiser or religious charity drives because in the end, all money is green — at least in the United States — and all of it can enable researchers to do more experiments, conduct more basic research, and test more ideas for effectively fighting cancerous tumors or even preventing them in the first place.

There are times when appearances are important and we have to be discriminating about how the money we use for R&D gets to the researchers to prevent conflicts of interest and attempts at whitewashing serious misdeeds, but there are also times when any cash should be accepted because the problem it’s supposed to help solve cares nothing about our opinions on sexuality, entertainment, or values. Cancers claim both crime bosses and selfless givers, prostitutes and prudes, ardent fundamentalists and atheists. Right now we’re at a stage when we know enough about cancers to start fighting them but not nearly enough to subdue them, and we’ll need a lot more money, time, and hard work to get to our goal of keeping patients in permanent remission, money for which we often have to beg, time we rarely have, and work few are qualified to do. So to reject any donation meant to fight such a complex and widespread problem for political and prudish purposes is a luxury that we really can’t and shouldn’t be willing to afford.

[ illustration: porn starlet Lexi Belle ]

male model

Like the vast majority of men around the world, I’m not an eunuch. And you can probably tell by some of the graphics on this blog that I’m hardly disinterested in anything sexual. But according to a trio of researchers from South Korea, this isn’t a good thing for my lifespan and if anything, my male hormones are really slowly but surely killing me. They base this conclusion on a study of historical records that detail the lifespans of 81 Naesi servants in Korea, who as you already guessed, were all eunuchs. When their lifespan was averaged and compared to that of similarly well off Korean aristocracy which was not castrated, the difference was 14 years. Royalty had a life expectancy of 56 years, eunuchs could count on living to be 70 and above, some of them reaching well past 100 and doing so at a rate the researchers say is 30 times greater than the centenarians in modern First World nations with access to highly advanced medicine.

Of course if I know my fellow male members of the species (hey, no snickering there in the back row, this is serious business), we’ll trade almost a decade and a half of life for the ability to have sex because after all, a life of celibacy is embraced by only 1% of the entire population and as far as nature is concerned, we’re here to reproduce. So don’t expect a whole lot of castration on the elective surgery schedules at your local hospital, and for good reason. This study shows an interesting anomaly, true, but there are a lot of missing factors. For one, the researchers state that a comparison with eunuchs in other societies is necessary to falsify their hypothesis, and in many societies there were a lot of eunuchs serving royalty and overseeing harems, living highly comparable lifestyles to the Naesi. Another issue is that the research only really accounts for the number of years lived by aristocrats and the eunuchs. It doesn’t really compare their lifestyles in other meaningful ways. Maybe the eunuchs were clean and sober while the blue bloods were all party animals and it’s unhealthy habits that did them in sooner, like with Chinese royalty?

Keep in mind that in many cultures, being an eunuch meant that you had to live to a strict code of religious and social conduct that emphasized purity and spiritual devotion. For example, the Naesi were regularly examined for their grasp of Confucianism, and in other cultures, they were held as transcendent above base human desires like fornication. In the meantime, regular Joes with their penises intact lived fast and hard, going to war, picking fights, drinking, and partying in a constant search of a sexual partner or two. Or three. Depending on their luck. Males who don’t live quite as hard tend to last only a few years less than women on average, something we often tend to attribute to our greater susceptibility to genetic defects. And overall, sex does prolong lives by several years and improve one’s quality of life as seen in many animal models and a lot of humans, so giving up on sex in an attempt to live longer might not be such a great decision in the long run. We don’t know if a lack of male hormones had adverse side effects in old age or if the eunuchs would’ve suffered from shaky health and depression on a regular basis.

Finally there’s the sample size issue. Over some 600 years there have been thousands of Naesi employed by the royal courts and yet the study covers just 81 of them from a single genealogical tome. It’s a convenience sample, and one that’s compared to over 3,000 aristocrats. Why were those eunuchs included in this tome? What results would the researchers get if they reviewed a few thousand Naesi lifespans? Would it smooth out the differences or solidify them? Less than a hundred eunuchs in one country just isn’t enough to make this hypothesis anything more than conjecture backed up by a few experiments in which castrated mice seemed to live longer for an unknown reason and a few rather vague historical records. It’s not just important to know if men lived longer as eunuchs, it’s also critical to understand their cause of death, something that very old records can’t provide us with any reliability since the medicine of the time wasn’t exactly all that advanced; even pronouncing someone officially dead back then was more of an art than a science. Though one could argue that this problem sometimes rears its head today…

punk model

Long time readers know that when it comes to human sexuality, yours truly is for it. Just as long as what you’re doing involves consenting adults and doesn’t harm anyone, have at it, I say. I’ve come down hard on those who demonize porn, and ridiculed those who promote abstinence-only sex ed because the data very clearly shows that this approach actually causes more STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and does little to nothing to delay first sexual encounters, unlike the scientifically comprehensive courses self-appointed moral crusaders loathe. So one would think that people who support such stances can be labeled sex-positive and would never have to hear someone accuse them of fearful prudishness, right? Of course you didn’t think so. When has this sort of loaded question ever had an intuitive answer on this blog? In case you didn’t click on the link above, here’s a short summary. Slowly, accounts from people who generally call themselves sex-positive are mentioning being called vanilla for not being into the same kinks.

Why is this a problem? Well, as mentioned before, every group has extremists and people who call themselves sex-positive are no exception. Furthermore, a surprising number of those in the sex-positive community tend to ascribe to New Age spiritualist woo, unable to separate sex and religion, and using what they think is advanced science and understanding to create a bizarre hierarchy of relationship types. Monogamy is treated as a default, boring setting and polyamory is elevated to near-divine status. You can see this in various New Age groups which encourage their members to share partners and treat sex as a form of worship. And with this view on the different types of human sexual relationships, they encourage a kind of snobbery in pockets of sex-positive communities, pockets which see traditional couples as being afraid to really open up and be sexually adventurous, not realizing that maybe this is all the adventure they want and the idea of sex with strangers or their friends is an immediate turn off in their minds.

Now, the severity of this sort of self-righteousness depends on a lot of factors, but talk to people who are into this sort of thing enough, and you’ll certainly encounter someone who gives you a lecture on how all monogamous marriages are bound to collapse and polyamory is the future of all relationships because strict monogamists are just lying to themselves about their nature. It’s true that there’s some research indicating that humans aren’t completely monogamous per se, but it hardly puts a nail in the coffin of exclusive couples. If anything, it says that we’re not simply looking for sex, but for relationships, and the best classification for many would be that of serial monogamists rather than polyamorous swingers. To twist the science to justify one’s sense of smug superiority over those who don’t have a spouse, a live-in sex partner, and a dozen FWBs on call, and actually like it that way because they don’t want to become the equivalent of an air traffic controller but with genitals rather than aircraft, is not a sex-positive behavior. It’s being an arrogant blowhard who just needs to write a letter to Penthouse Forum and a webcam.

Sex-positivity, at least to me, always meant trying to remove stigmas from safe and consensual sexual choices created by crusading prudes constantly on the lookout of a libido to pound into the ground, to tell people who feel like freaks because they want to do something outside the bi-weekly missionary position with the intent to conceive that as long as they’re responsible, they have no reason to be ashamed of their feelings, and that yes, it’s ok to do that. And in the last decade or so, people are being more open about recreational sex being a normal part of life, the once taboo topic of swinging is being discussed much more freely, and more people are asking questions and looking for advice to enhance their sex lives. Considering that a good sex life is a key part of good mental health, boosts immune systems, makes for more satisfying relationships that last longer, and actually extends your lifespan by at least several years, all of this is terrific and the sex-positive community needs to pat itself on the back. Who cares that the reactionaries on the sidelines are horrified that people are talking about their no-no bits? Who asked them?

For all their big talk about the need for role models for others, the moralists really don’t seem to understand that maybe, just maybe, someone who isn’t busy loathing every aspect of his or her urges in what is an important part of adult life, and is educated and well-rounded in this area, is going to make a better example for others? Because this is really the whole point here. We want people to feel at ease with their sexuality and have safe, responsible fun with it. The last thing they need are fire and brimstone pontificators who berate them for being human. But they also don’t need the other extreme; the New Age disciples mocking them for not being as adventurous and as open as to regularly attend orgies, or practice the sort of hardcore BDSM that Marquis DeSade so lovingly chronicled in his public diaries. Not only do they seem to play to the radical right’s worst stereotypes of sex-positive activists, they undermine the whole idea of positivity in one’s sexual decisions by turning sexuality into some sort of a secret society-style hierarchy of initiation rituals to be completed and mastered, mixing sex with woo and pseudoscience.

black model

If you don’t know who Satoshi Kanawaza is, here’s a brief bio. He’s an evolutionary psychologist whose claim to fame are racist and sexist op-eds thinly veiled as scientific research. Last time he wrote about his supposed ironclad evidence that black women and Asians are ugly based on childish simplifications and cherry picking so obvious that you could smell the acrid stink of pure bigot through your browser, he vanished for a year, trying to escape the pillorying he swiftly and very justly received. But now, Big Think, decided to play the controversy card and got him a gig to drive some traffic and give him a soapbox to spew more of his typical bullshit. PZ has a pretty accurate dissection of his claims and I don’t think I could really add much at the detail level. The problem comes down to this: Kanawaza looks at how many partners certain groups of people have and instead of examining cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and how they affect the subjects’ sex lives, he cherry-picks data to make them fit his stereotypes.

This is generally what racists who want to justify their bigotry tend to do. If they want to "prove" that black men are more violent and less intelligent than white men, they’ll cite how many end up in prison, do worse on the SATs, or occupy senior management posts at big companies. At the same time they’ll ignore the fact that black boys go to woefully underfunded schools where the top priority of the administrators is discipline rather than education, are racially profiled by many police departments, and discriminated against by racists who hire managers, and that decades and decades of this created a legacy of social problems that make these statistics reflect much more than just what happens to black men in the United States. Race relations are a very thorny issue across much of the world, but the racists are too busy feeling superior to others to care. In the case of Kanawaza’s "scholarship," we see a very similar cherry picking happening as he oh so conveniently forgets that there are a lot of very attractive women with few partners and a fair bit of… ahem… aesthetically challenged men whose sexual tally rivals that of porn stars.

Has he bothered to ask whether there was a reporting bias at play since women are well known to significantly underreport their number of sexual partners while men are known to do the exact opposite? What about the cultural attitudes of the subjects’ communities and their views on sex and dating? A liberal city is more openly promiscuous than a conservative town where to say that you had more than "two or three" sexual partners is taboo. Likewise, someone who doesn’t feel that casual sex is a bad thing is going to have a lot more partners than someone who thinks that having steady, long term relationships is the only proper approach to intimacy. How does he try to reconcile Ron Jeremy, a homely, beer-bellied porn star with more than a thousand sexual partners, and a Southern ultra-conservative beauty queen who had maybe three partners in her entire life? He doesn’t. Why? Because that would undermine his narrative that black women and all Asians are sexual untouchables and the only people who would object are politically correct liberal ninnies. I could go on and on and on with things he could consider for a genuine study. I once lived with an honest to goodness sex researcher so I got a really good look at what proper studies in this area ask their subjects and how they grade things like attractiveness.

The kind of pseudoscience that Kanawaza practices is best left in the 1930s where it belongs, and regardless of how much he whines about being persecuted by evil leftists and the PC police for his "research," the fact is that he’s a shitty scientist and a bigoted simpleton to boot. Just in case you needed more ammunition to despise him, note how calmly he advocated large scale nuclear bombardment of the Middle East in response to 9/11, seemingly unaware of all the U.S. assets in the region, the devastating health, environmental, political, and economic effects of a nuclear first strike against countries that just so happen to be in the Middle East, even if they’re not known for widely supporting terrorist groups. The fallout from such an attack — fallout, oh I slay me — would make World War 2 look like a minor skirmish by comparison. But when you got an enormous mouth and don’t bother to think before you speak this is the kind of stupid that will come pouring out. Kanawaza isn’t too bothered by the criticism though, he’s busy assuming the favorite position of most far, far right wing bigots: hapless victim of the liberal elites…

Generally, when researchers studied children in same-sex households and measured how well they fared in terms of education, criminal records, and income, then compared them to heterosexual households with the same criteria, they found that as long as the kids get love, support, and attention, they tend to grow up happier and go on to do generally well in life. Obviously, bullying and discrimination are a bigger problem for kids who grow up with same-sex parents, but they usually bounce back from such episodes and in some communities that’s not even an issue since more parents and adults in charge have a life-and-let-live policy towards gay or other nontraditional couples with children. These findings mean that when a study purporting that children of gay parents fare worse in every possible life outcome, from being subject to more sexual abuse, to ending up requiring food stamps, to considering suicide more, it better have really, really good evidence behind it. In the light of a recent much-covered retraction of a paper that justified therapy for homosexuals, you’d think that anyone studying gay couples wouldn’t simply conduct the study his donors wanted. But he did just that.

You see, the problem is not in the fact that Mark Regnerus’ study was contrary to current scientific consensus because science corrects itself based on new data and were he to have good data, the consensus has to be reconsidered in light of new evidence. And it’s not even in the fact that the study was funded by two think tanks which promote social conservatism as the solution to all our problems, and one of which hosts a forum that questions the separation of church and state. Good scientists follow the data rather than the donors, which is why a study funded by the Koch brothers and trumpeted by global warming denialists as the imminent end to the current scientific view on global warming, ended up agreeing with the prevailing consensus and was ultimately denounced by its backers, who up until the last week or so before publication were praising it as an exemplary undertaking in climate science. No, the problem with Regnerus’ study is that it was just weird and has all the obvious traits of cherry-picking data to suit his goal, repackaging the results of previous studies of children in broken homes as a survey of kids from same-sex households. He essentially did the equivalent of studying the likelihood of having your car getting damaged on any given date based almost entirely on data he collected from visiting body shops until he felt he had enough data points to make his conclusions.

After hiring a survey company to contact some 15,000 people over several months, Regnerus got a sample of only 255 subjects who said that one of their biological parents had a same-sex relationship. Which is odd. I’m pretty sure that if you’re studying how well children fare after being raised in same-sex households, you would build your sample out of those who live in committed same-sex relationships rather than people who left their partners for someone of the same sex for an unspecified period of time. And what’s more bizarre is that we’re also told that 58% of the respondents had a biological mother in a same-sex relationship leave. The figure is said to show higher than average instability in the family but what average we’re talking about is not specified or cited. What about instability in heterosexual households in which infidelity caused a split? Regnerus spent no time trying to control for such situations in heterosexual families and simply barreled ahead, calling many previous studies obviously unreliable because they don’t represent "how gay and lesbian parents really are," apparently meaning that because in the sample he collected parents who had a same-sex relationship even once are now officially gay, and therefore, this is an accurate picture of how same-sex couples function.

Obviously the respondents came from broken homes and we know that in such situations, kids are very often neglected, which makes them more prone to do badly in school, get worse jobs, feel depressed, and expose them to sexual predators or inappropriate behavior by their parents. Less than 1% of the respondents had an established same-sex couple as parents and were planned either through IVF or adoption, so the sample of people studied to figure out what effect same-sex parenting have on kids are barely a blip on Regnerus’ radar and he justifies his omission of them by declaring that he captured real same-sex households rather than an idealized convenience sample. Again, don’t let the fact that he didn’t separate bisexual experimentation from a committed gay relationship or consider that his sample showed broken homes in which one parent decided to pursue a same-sex relationship rather than leave for a heterosexual one. We know kids raised in a broken home without constant contact and support from their families are prone to all the negative outcomes that the study found and that’s not what we’re studying. We don’t use broken homes in which both parents had strictly heterosexual relationships as the benchmark by which to judge straight parenting. Why would we use broken homes where a homosexual relationship occurred as a benchmark to evaluate gay parenting?

Oh and one more thing, the sample of the study considered only people between 18 and 39, which would very easily miss a period in which more and more gay couples were settling down and planning families, omitting many functioning gay relationships from consideration. Odd, huh? Maybe we should consider Regnerus’ very generous donors, the  Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, who gave him $785,000 for his work as you can see on page 5 of his CV. In fact, a cursory glance by The New Republic finds that Regnerus has a penchant for espousing the kinds of views that you’d hear from Focus On The Family or Heritage, views such as declaring that consensual premarital sex between adults is a male’s way of avoiding a proper marriage to a woman he finds attractive, and that women better net themselves a husband quickly or face spinsterhood in their 30s and 40s. So why wouldn’t two socially conservative think tanks read a few of his papers, and offer to give him some money to study life outcomes of children in gay couples? And they were extremely generous in their donations, especially Witherspoon, which gave $640,000 towards the venture. Curious minds really want to know how that money was spent since his surveying would cost $20,000 to $25,000, tops, and his sample could be easily analyzed in Excel by one person. A budget of $50,000 would more than cover this study even if he bought an equipped a new office especially for it. Are these grants for more than one study?

Here’s what irks me. If scientists take money from private companies or organizations, it’s not proof of bias in their studies by default because it all comes down to data. The issue is that the data and conclusions have to make sense. Were a scientist accept a million dollar grant from say, Sugar Inc., and publish a study that a lot of sugar in one’s diet does not in fact cause diabetes, red alarms should be going off in your head because a lot of existing work shows that it very much does. Likewise, when Big Pharma pays doctors to sign off on very, very laudatory papers about their latest blockbuster drug, we should thoroughly question any off-label use this paper would recommend. So when a social scientist takes money from wealthy conservative groups and then espouses their views in a study in which data screams of cherry-picking and spends a lot of time denouncing the existing body of literature as being just plain wrong while packaging those who grew up in broken homes as the end products of a "representative sample" of gay parenting, we should cry foul. Right wing groups saw literature that found few differences between gay and straight parents and they needed a study that supported their talking point. So they found a sympathetic researcher and bought one. It’s just that simple.

See: Regnerus, M. (2012). How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the NFSS Social Science Research, 41 (4), 752-770 DOI: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.03.009

punk model

It seems that every magazine targeted to adults must now have a sex issue, admitting that yes, the audiences do indeed engage in an activity for which humans are wired by nature and for which our bodies spend several emotionally unstable, frustratingly confusing, and acne-riddled years preparing. Depending on the magazines in question, the articles in the said sex issues can veer off into hostile and overly personal polemics, end up as clinical as any introductory med school lecture, desperately and awkwardly try to be raunchy and failing, or pose provocative and rarely discussed questions in the underground press. But what do you do with a sex issue if you’re a magazine devoted to the more wonkish aspects of international diplomacy? Why, study sexual politics around the world, as was done by Foreign Policy, and use this opportunity to shine a spotlight at the jaw-unhinging hypocrisy and the pathological possessiveness of religious fundamentalists all around the world on the subject of sex and gender relations. It’s a lot like watching a horror show to be perfectly blunt, especially when it becomes extremely evident that the religious fanatics’ obsession with censorship and their reflexive sexism is a product of their self-imposed guilt, shame, and fear of anything related to sexuality.

Since the most sexually repressive regimes around the world are Muslim quasi-theocracies where a woman can be seriously asked to cover her eyes as not to tempt men and punished if she doesn’t comply, there is an obligatory cry towards something other than misogyny in the Muslim world, one sure to fall on deaf ears. If you ever wonder why we’re not trying to explore the solar system and establish cities on Mars, I’d love to point you to the amount of energy and resources expended by fanatical fundamentalists to crushing every last form of sexuality or rights for women in these theocratic lands. If we harnessed their energy for something productive and beneficial to society, we would’ve solved most global problems already just because we would hold so many summits and negotiations that eventually a solution would be found by sheer persistence. Such is their frustration at having sexual desires and longing to experiment freely with the fantasies they keep under lock and key in their heads, they erupt in fury at all those attractive women around them, blaming them for their self-imposed psycho-sexual confinement and casting them as evil temptresses, all because they were told to fear their own natural desires. And when they do actually get married and are allowed to have sex, they are not allowed to learn anything about it and are often doomed to decades of dissatisfaction and repression.

Ask a religious fundamentalist, any religious fundamentalist, about this lifestyle and you’ll be told that they are extremely happy in keeping as pure as possible in the eyes of their favored deity. Considering that this it the only thing they know and that an equally repressed, embarrassed, and self-punitive mentor told them that any pleasures during their sexual lives were of the Devil, I’m sure that quite a few are. But if they’re all so thrilled to live in this world of only procreative intercourse, why are religious fanatics who lead them and so many of their followers so obsessed with talking about all the sinful things out there in such explicit detail? Oh the horror of a secular lifestyle with its one night stands, and couples engaging in premarital sex, and pornography, they cry. Why the things you can see in adult videos, they’ll continue and proceed to list in lurid detail every scenario, scene, and position offensive to their deity. Yes, they’ve watched all these sickening videos and read all those filthy books cover to cover, but only to know the kind of demonic evil the secular world is capable of unleashing! And they’ll continue to do it not because they’re somehow titillated nearly to orgasm, mind you, but to keep an eye on the enemy and a hand on the… um… trigger, yeah, that’s it, trigger. This is why the Muslim world ranks among the top porn consumers on the web and other devout fundamentalists quietly join it at nights.

But while the guilt and shame driven repression of religious fanatics often results in sexism and draconian laws to obey a deity they make out to be a judgmental voyeur with a spy cam in every bedroom and shower, there is a reverse albeit far more rare form of extremism on the far left and New Age circles in which women describing themselves as liberated, participate in religions in which male gods are discarded as little more than ghostly phalluses summoned on a Goddess’s whim and existing only for her pleasure, and view sexuality not as just a part of the human experience, but as an ideological and political struggle in which males are only interested in subjugation and domination alone and it’s up to women to deny them a conquest. Obviously, sexism against women is much more widespread so these ideas seldom manifest themselves as full blown misandry, but I’d argue that treating all men as domineering, sleazy scum will be just as damaging to a relationship as seeing all women as little more than demonic temptresses. And since we went this far into the cycle of misery perpetuated by religious fanaticism, we may as well mention those who rebel against repressive upbringings and end up doing things they’ll later regret and wouldn’t have ordinarily done if they were allowed some basic freedom and education about their sexualities rather than kept in the dark out of their parents’ constant shame over their sin of being human with all the contradictions, desires, and emotions that entails.

Now, of course, a society’s goal shouldn’t be hosting some sort of Discordian inspired orgies in the streets, or swing clubs in former church buildings on every corner. I’m sure that’s the horror-fantasy of those who censor anything even remotely lewd on TV and in print only to later be caught watching RedTube with their hand deep in their pants, but that’s certainly not a good idea. No, the overall goal should be the ability to treat human sexuality as just another facet of existence, as free as possible from politics, shaming, as well as anti-shaming in which a person’s aversion to a certain act is instantly (and very ironically) labeled close-minded. We should be able to discuss sexuality and learn about it so we can decide what we like and what we don’t rather than have orders about which positions are acceptable, what we’re allowed to wear, and have our status in life determined by a repressed and often hypocritical fanatic’s opinion of our genitals, an opinion he vehemently declares to be the absolute and unwavering word of God. We know for a fact that comprehensive sex education works, and it gives people the tools to enjoy their sexuality responsibly and make their own choices. But of course a fanatic would always be horrified by the concept of someone using his or her free will to decide, which is exactly why they have no business dictating how a modern society should behave and to what it should aspire…