Archives For sex and sexuality

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.

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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 big 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, the 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…

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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

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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…

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One of the great things about writing a blog is that you never know who might just show up and opine on what you wrote. Back in September, I wrote a post about the complexities of human behavior in a post-Singularity scenario in which we’d exist as data on servers, kind of like virtual Sims or avatars in Second Life, using an odd interview from one of Second Life’s famous sexual performers as a starting point. And wouldn’t you know it, months later, the very performer in question dropped by to offer a link to her older talk on how the web and technology in general are changing our sexuality. It was a whirlwind tour of sexual kinks and fetishes on the web today and yes, it has some NSFW images and content so you know when not to check it out for yourself, but when you get the chance, I recommend at least a review of the second half. Basically, it posits that sexual behaviors have made their way to the web and we’re creating new fetishes out of them, and that technology is setting the stage for future cultural and societal changes, making us bolder and more sexually inventive. But it also seems to drastically overstate how much of an impact technology can ultimately have on our sex lives…

Unlike the previous article on sex and the web we reviewed, this one thankfully eschews cheap sexism and personal bitterness, providing a solid overview of the kinks that thrive on the web. However, when told that the technology we use to simplify communication is changing the way we satisfy our biological urges, I tend to be a little skeptical. Sure, there are plenty of red light districts on the web and I’ve written about how and why just about every type of NSFW content will not just survive, but thrive in all iterations of the web, but we need to ask ourselves whether the web is creating new phenomena or if it just gives us an arena to discuss what has been around for a while. As noted by the author, humans have always been trying something new and exciting behind closed doors. And as we know, a lot of fetishes we think are new, have actually been around for a very, very long time. Yes, even furries, which seem a lot like a modern spin on the various sexual imps or demons of the Middle Ages and post-Enlightenment religious communities. The web hasn’t created any of them, it just left a very public and easily accessible record of what was once hidden in rare books and spoken about when no one was listening. Just as much as we are living in an age where instant global communication is the new norm, we’re also living in an age of T.M.I. thanks to social media and Web 2.0.

Of course this is not to say that having more and more people discussing their kinks more openly has no real effect on society in general. We learn that some of the urges we thought were shameful and rare are actually far more frequent and shared by a lot of other people. We learn that gender stereotypes are often quite wrong. We find new communities and explore new things. Above all, discussing what was repressed with shaming by fiery, often hypocritical demagogues who appoint themselves authorities of right and wrong, gives us the chance to deal with these complex and important issues more productively. But that in itself doesn’t change a whole lot about our sexual nature. It just lets us come to terms with what’s already there and gives us an outlet or two for self-discovery. When we get right down to it, sex is a biological issue and it’s the biology that has the ultimate say in what human sexuality will be like until our species either goes extinct, or if transhumanists are to be believed, turns itself into mostly mechanized cyborgs with completely different methods of reproduction. Though, come to think of it, were we to pursue the machine route, sex as we know it could go extinct because the reproduction itself might change beyond recognition. If new humans are assembled or grown without any sexual interaction taking place, all the energy evolution invests in our sex drives may go elsewhere.

All that said, I do have to acknowledge that modern technology has given rise to at least one new fetish known as techno-sexuality, or ASFR. In its simplest form, it’s a sexual attraction to robots because robots could be a perfect companion provided they either mimic humans or human personality enough to elicit some emotional response. However, it’s very doubtful that we’re going to see a huge explosion in ASFR anytime soon because for many, the robots are more of a surrogate for a human object of affection than an entity they completely and totally separate from humans. Why else would ASFR art incorporate so many human elements into it or focus so much on the human form? Of course I could be wrong, but as far as I’m aware of, they haven’t been any in- depth studies of techno-sexuality dealing with the origins and evolution of the fetish. So if you’re a psychology major interested in researching sexuality and looking for an original thesis, here’s one to consider.

[ illustration by Margherita Premuroso ]

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One of the things I encounter most in my line of work is the need to look at the big picture of what’s going on. If a piece of software is acting oddly, it’s not enough to make generic, overriding statements about how it has to function out of thin air. No, you have to roll up your sleeves, set up your breakpoints, and get to work to slowly, and often tediously, make your way through the logical layers to find the bad loop or misplaced variable. That’s how you tackle and solve complex problems, by considering the whole picture and it’s many facets. But were I to go by Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s ability to tackle the intricate topic of sexuality in The Atlantic, I think I’d be quite safe in wagering that she’d never be able to produce any complete research project. Her lengthy article’s vacuity on par with the simplest and worst thought out pop evo psych isn’t just a perfect example of how utterly dysfunctional the conversation about sex can get in the United States, but its thesis verges on being offensive to nearly half the human population. Here’s the short version of her argument: men are depraved and sexually aggressive creatures who hunt women down as conquests, and internet porn is making them even worse.

Now, I’ve written about the bizarre place porn has in American society, and tackled some of the trumped up charges against it in pop culture, as well as the dreaded "addiction to porn" ominously whispered by many self-appointed crusaders for our decency. Vargas-Cooper doesn’t fit any of the above molds, of course, but in her slash and burn across the world of sex, she has apparently decided to turn her mixed experiences into an indictment against men, casting them as predatory creatures who use sex as a means of subjugation that all women must struggle to escape. She even mentions an explicit episode from a one night stand in that quasi- profound way which lets the reader know that this article is very personal but framed as a long and deliberate meditation on a question. And it is, though the meditation itself is an attempt to come up with supporting logic for the pre-existing conclusion of the author that men are all pigs. But hey, don’t blame them, Vargas-Cooper rushes to add, it’s not their fault. They’re just born sexual deviants and can’t help themselves. If the ignorance of this piece could only manifest itself, I’m sure it would take the form of a monster from a tentacle rape hentai and go after the author threatening to do things best left to your imaginations. Why a self-respecting and high brow publication like The Atlantic published this little ode to low level misandry, larded with the kind of cheap, self-indulgent pseudoscience that would make any sex researcher fume, I don’t know.

We’ve encountered this type of pseudo-expertise before when it comes to sexuality. It’s what made psychology treat anything kinkier than the missionary position as a dire pathology until the middle of the last century, the kind of expertise that’s based on absolutely nothing but the author’s personal grudges and opinions being masqueraded as fact. Even worse, we have to go along with Vargas-Cooper’s ridiculous assertion that using the most extreme and hardcore porn on the web is a perfectly valid way to research men’s attitudes towards a woman they find sexually attractive. By this logic, we could measure the effectiveness of CSI teams based not on the actual efficacy of the CSI teams working in law enforcement agencies, but on TV shows and say that in the last five or six years there’s been a sudden and incredible jump in arrests and convictions made solely on the weight of iron-clad forensic evidence. Of course there would be. The characters on CSI shows will always, always catch their killer, even if it takes them a few story arcs to track down that one mad genius foe who lives to create tension for a few seasons and give the show more cohesion. In the real world, too many crimes will go unsolved and the quality of forensic evidence from a stray hair or drop of blood will always be inconclusive to some degree and allow for the jury to acquit. It’s even been studied as the CSI effect. Likewise, whatever a person can find on the many pornorgraphic -tube sites won’t say anything about about his sex life. You could have a subject who goes out of his way to catch some of the roughest, most explicit BDSM porn and yet insist on only the most vanilla sex in the bedroom, even if his partner really wants to give sadomasochism a try.

Speaking of which, I have to ask if Vargas-Cooper has even met a sexually aggressive woman or a woman in search of someone who could play a dominant role in bed because that’s what turns her on? Did they simply vanish from her radar? Is she unaware of the so-called "cougars," older, well-off, single women for whom sex isn’t so much about reproduction but recreation? And on the flip side, is she unaware of sexually submissive men who go out looking for a dominatrix? How does her perpetually sexually aggressive men theory explain a population of males who hand over control to females? Human sexuality is a far more complex and elaborate topic than Vargas-Cooper seems to be even willing to acknowledge with a passing phrase when she boils it down to sexist clichés which just so happen to neatly fall into some of the lowest quality dreck from evo psych studies trumpeted by the media. If her goal was a cathartic growl at the men who wronged her, she absolutely succeeded. But if she was trying to provide a factual analysis of human sexuality in modern times without odd and unnecessary fixations on the subjects of anal sex and kinky fetishes, she failed spectacularly.

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Spain’s government took at look at how well comprehensive sex ed works and decided to include obligatory courses covering basic topics regarding sexuality to the nation’s curriculums. That means Spanish teens will get exposed to real world facts and figures, very likely delay their first sexual encounters, and end up with both lower pregnancy rates and fewer STDs, much like their counterparts throughout Europe. Good news, right? If you’re living with thousand year old puritanical dogmas of the Vatican, not at all. In fact, Pope Ratzinger took a break from protecting pedophile priests, blaming atheists for the Nazi movement, and declaring that it was perfectly acceptable to be a pedophile a few decades ago, to denounce the idea of required sex ed classes as an affront to religious freedom itself. Problem is that he does have a point. You should allow for opt-out policies to respect people’s beliefs. However, you also need to give students a sound education that will help them in life rather than pretend that with enough stigma in shame, teen pregnancies will drop while they often end up doing the exact opposite when facts are discarded in favor of pious and dangerous absolutism.

Sex and sexuality is an area where religion and science often intersect in the worst possible ways. Scientists strive to bring detail, accuracy, and facts to the table while the faithful want to run away to remain ignorant of a fact that may offend their sensibilities and go against what they read in their holy books. I mean what if some believers listen to biologists, decide that homosexuality just happens and there’s nothing we can do about it, then decide to treat gays and lesbians as they would any other human being? I know, cats living with dogs as fire falls from the sky while up becomes west and down becomes white. But those worries aside, is there not some sort of societal obligation for us to at least try to hand down some valid facts to those who need them in the near future? If we stick to abstinence-only education, or worse, leave teenagers to be educated about sex by those who may not know much about it past some dangerous myths, or so repressed on the subject that they shirk their duties altogether, we know for a fact that these teens will be worse off and endure more STDs and pregnancies. And we also know for a fact that the more they know and understand about the basics, the more likely the are to make better choices. What Ratzinger is asking us to do is to value the freedom of those who want to remain ignorant and pious above our need to make sound public health decisions.

And really, there’s something bizarre about basing health policies on the guidance of a person who seems to think that priests abusing their authorities in heinous ways is less of an affront to religion than teaching teens not to view sex as something horridly shameful or potentially lethal until marriage suddenly makes all those hazards or sins suddenly vanish into thin air. Let’s remember that his lieutenants’ fear mongering conspiracy theories are actually contributing to the global death toll of AIDS by encouraging patients to forgo condoms and medication, and place their fate in their belief. This is about as responsible as telling drivers not to wear their seatbelts, feel free to drink and drive, and just play the odds on whether they’ll get home intact or without killing someone along the way. Sure, if all of us only had one sexual partner in our entire lives and we were all zapped with divine knowledge of anything sexual when we got married, Ratzinger’s proclamations about how sex ed should be taught might have some grain of validity to them. But we don’t like in a world where this sort of thing happens. We live in a world where people are wired for promiscuity and need to actually learn what it is they’re doing to stay safe and be responsible in their actions.

You see, Ratzinger and his supporters believe that if only everyone were to follow what they preach, everything would work out as neatly and wonderfully as they envision it in their dreams. To them, it’s not their fault that an abstinence-only program discouraged teenagers from using contraception by lying about its efficacy and this amorous duo caught a nasty disease as a result of this pedagogic negligence. If those teenagers didn’t have sex, they would’ve never gotten that STD and everything would’ve worked out great. But just like declaring that all it takes to end global hunger and poverty if for everyone to be rich won’t suddenly make people across the world millionaires, demanding that all of us be abstinent and properly pious won’t turn us all into prudes. And to pretend otherwise only inflicts misery on countless people who certainly don’t deserve to be the victims of a dogmatist in colorful robes who places his beliefs above the value of his followers’ lives.

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Cartoons are probably the worst place to find advice about good parenting, usually because they’re either for kids who just want to see something funny or something break in spectacular ways, or for adults who want to escape reminders about their ever-growing to do lists. Definitely in the latter category is this 2003 short by two master animators, layout and character artist Bert Klein and Pixar’s Teddy Newton, a retro tribute to the times when people who wanted to have some fun at night had to do it on the down low, and kids discovered that all those pure and moral authority figures might not be nearly as pure and moral as they were told they are…

Now here’s a question for you. Who was surprised to see a priest howling to exotic dancers and hugging one of the club’s shapely statues? Who was surprised by the slick step-dad schmoozing his way around? And the twist ending, was it really that much of a shock? Yeah, of course, the kid had absolutely no business being in that sort of place, but as far as the adults trying to keep a secret go, I’m sure all those from whom they’re trying to keep their fantasies a secret would understand quite well. It’s just that in our sexually schizophrenic society, they would be required to act outraged and throw a hypocritical tantrum. And those who actually do get upset, often see their relationships fail because they trap themselves and their partners into a lifetime of denial.

[ video via PZ Myers ]

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If you’ve been following academic news, you might’ve heard of a bizarre mess which is slowly trying to unravel itself at the University of New Mexico. The story itself reads like a classic case study in what not to do if you’re a professor, regardless of whether you’re teaching graduate courses or undergrads. If you have a position of authority over a group of people, you should not be partying with them, you should not be encouraging them to work as phone sex operators, you should keep your own phone sex side job out of the classroom, and under no circumstances should you ever pose in sexually explicit pictures with one of your students. And yet, English professor Lisa Chavez did all of the above. After an investigation, she did admit to a lack of good judgment to a university committee and quit her side job. And yet the scandal apparently still goes on because it seems that even in the new millennium people can’t stop getting appalled over anything that even remotely implies sex.

Now, it may be that if Chavez was so interested in sex and sexuality, and wanted to see what was out there in terms of S&M aficionados, she could’ve become a sex researcher, a very real occupation and one that would certainly let her explore whatever sexual topics she wanted within an academic setting. I know people who do this for a living and are absolutely fascinated with the psychology of sexuality, struggling to imagine their work focusing on anything other than the realm of complex interpersonal relationships created by sex. A university with a medical school and a social sciences curriculum would’ve certainly accommodated her interests. But as it stands, she acted inappropriately by bringing her sexual inquiries into the classroom and involving some of her students in her side job. Again, a classic case of terrible judgment and letting one’s libido call the shots without taking the time to think things through, but what prompted me to write about this story in the first place was the annoying and vexing matter of what started the investigation into her personal life: a classic, prudish, shocked letter from anonymous, “concerned parents” on an administrator’s desk.

What the hell do concerned parents have to do with graduate school? Grad school students are adults and all of us are legally old enough to enter into contracts, make our own decisions, and the vast majority of us have to hold down jobs to feed ourselves and pay the rent. And if some grad students choose to make their living in the world of phone sex, that’s their right and no one can talk down to them about “ethics and morals,” or how a job waiting tables or washing dishes is more dignified than a little dirty talk in the evening. In case like this, the appeal to “morals” is usually a mix of envy (phone sex operators make far more than waitresses because they practice a very specialized skill), and a hypocritical attempt to look down at those having fun with their work for fulfilling desires we don’t want to acknowledge, something that happens with all those working in every field of adult entertainment. And the noxious politics and pseudo-morality dramas in Chavez’s case are just a very awkward and clumsy repeat of just about every sexual non-scandal out there, made worse by the fact that the professor at the center of this scandal doesn’t seem to know how to properly handle herself.

She and her students had every legal right to take on phone sex jobs if it made them happy, pose for as many sexually charged pictures as they wanted, and talk dirty in their own, personal time to their hearts’ content. As far as we should be concerned, the only thing they did inappropriately was to mix their studies and their work across the student-professor divide. And come to think of it, I bet that if they all worked as IT consultants or as writers for the same magazines, there would be no letter from anyone and the whole arrangement would have never been exposed, even though it would be just as inappropriate. But since they chose to work in the world of adult services, they had to get hit by an anonymous letter from pious cowards and gossips who acted more like children than mature, serious adults who understand that after puberty, we all have certain needs, wants, and urges, and as long as we don’t interfere with the lives and welfare of others, we should be free to pursue them on our own time. And it astounds me that today, people turn simple ethical conflicts and poor judgment into full blown scandals just because these violations have anything to do with the word “sex”.

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In my humble opinion, all too many of Paul Carr’s posts on TechCrunch tend to be rather verbose exercises in self-centered navel-gazing about life in a wired world, social media, book publishing, and cynicism about the future of cutting edge medicine, which yours truly put through the grinder. But in a pleasantly surprising turn of events, Carr managed to pen an interesting column about censorship on the corporate web and how we shouldn’t worry that one day, giant social networking sites will crumble under user complaints and ban pretty much any controversial or adult-oriented content. His point is that the web’s privately owned portals make the conscious choice to be prudish and appeal to the widest possible audience to keep revenues flowing, hence you see temporary, permanent, or intermittent bans on just about anything that might get prudes in a tizzy. But when it comes to the diversity of the web, we needn’t worry, since the web will always have a place for what an enormous social network or a major news blog considers to be just too controversial to allow on their sites.

And this is very true. The more respectable you want to seem, the more you have to crack down on how much you let your users express themselves, and everyone from breastfeeding moms, to racy corset designers, to advocates of medical marijuana could get struck down by a moderator’s virtual hammer. Even when you’re on the biggest sites on the web, you’re still on private property, hosting data on servers owned and paid for by an entity which expects to make a profit on doing what it does. And if that entity doesn’t want your data hosted on one of its servers, it has all the rights in the world to ask you to leave. True, without that Facebook group or an extensive campaign on Twitter, you may not get the attention of as many people as you may have hoped since your reach is limited from potentially millions to thousands through a ban, but you will still find a space on the web to host your ideas, and another social network or forum ready to spread it. Places like Reddit have plenty of users and they’re very tolerant about potential, or actual NSFW content as long as you tag it properly.

There’ve been plenty of essays written about the potential for major sites or social networks to conquer what we know as the web due to their sheer popularity. A popular scenario describes how we’ll be logging into just about everything through Facebook, reading news feeds on sites partnering with social bookmarking forums we frequent, and purchasing everything we need through the sites to which we tether our lives. Since it would be so easy and convenient to whittle down the web to just a few pages worth of widgets delivering virtually all the content we customize to our liking, why bother going anywhere else? Well, how about because a friend of yours shared a link? Or you were surfing through a social bookmarking site and came across something that caught your eye? Yes, some social networks may look like they’re trying to create a closed ecosystem that will be regulated by their rules and policies for a billion web surfers, but they’re actually just portals to what lies in almost every corner of the web, customized by interests, personality, and culture. All those logins into partner sites do is open the door to data mining and further custom-tailoring of suggestions and ads. They don’t try to restrict or censor the web, or forbid you from venturing to NSFW sites if you feel like it.

And on top of that, there are plenty of companies for which NSFW content is crucial to their EBIT because adult entertainment is the the second most popular thing on the web, an intensely close second to social networks which have been spinning off into adult varieties for years, inviting web surfers to join and meet other adults in their city for no strings attached sex. Or more likely, a scammer trying to sell subscriptions to adult cam sites or get into your PayPal account. These sites will never go away because we’re drawn to what they offer with a powerful urge from our limbic system, and their business model is pretty solid because eventually, someone will buy something that nets these companies a profit, be it a premium subscription to a site, or some toy that would make for rather awkward conversation if it were accidentally left out when polite company came to visit. So don’t decry the supposedly increasing tyranny and censorship of big social networks and news outlets on the web. They’re just trying to avoid lawsuits, complaints, and unneeded attention from politicians looking for some red meat in a campaign speech during which they can pound themselves on the chest and promise to be the defenders of virtue and decency in the digital world. Right before they head on over to RedTube at their supposed bedtime to intermittently take notes about what they find offensive and indecent enough to warrant some in-depth research and viewing. But only for the public’s safety and protection, of course…

[ illustration by Tomasz Miazga, some images may be a tad NSFW ]

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