Daily Archives: June 29, 2006

Kink is fine as long as you’re married?!

The July+August issue of Mother Jones (one of my favorite magazines) contains an item about web sites for Christians seeking sex advice and sex toys. Those sites raise an interesting question about what “counts” as sex-positive.

The article begins with two quotes, one from the Song of Solomon, and one from a Christian sex toy web site (Book22.com) that itself refers to a Christian sex/marriage community bulletin board and advice site (TheMarriageBed.com). In characterizing the advice given on The Marriage Bed, JoAnn Wypijewski writes, “They must shun porn, but are commanded to pleasure. they may enjoy oral and anal sex, toys and fantasies, “mild pain” through spanking, biting (so long as nothing becomes a fetish or substitutes for intercourse, and couples fantasize together, of themselves married and forsaking all others).” In addition, she writes, that Christian couple should feel free to “slather their skin with chocolate body butter and Happy Penis Massage Cream, restrain each other with silken bonds, use blindfolds and swings, vibrators and pierced-tongue stimulators, penis extenders and dildos (though not those molded after real flesh). All this may be theirs if they are straight and married.” She even describes an essay written by one of the founders of The Marriage Bed (the husband of a husband/wife team) that encourages wives to strip for their husbands, and finish by masturbating to orgasm while he watches.

And therein lies the problem. While I want to rejoice that Christian couples are getting good sex advice and affirmation of their desires for pleasures of many sorts, there is no getting around the prohibitions against extramarital sex (which, in every US state aside from Massachusetts also means prohibition against sex with somebody of the same gender, though that is explicitly prohibited for good measure), or sex that involves even fantasizing about extramarital sex. This can’t be sex-positive, and yet I want to be happy that these people who are devoted to their faith are at least getting advice that allows for sexual fulfillment within the oppressive boundaries of their doctrine. Yet if, as Wypijewski suggests, that means usurping “a vocabulary of desire that owes everything to gay liberation’s unlocking of sex even as they slam the door on the notion that gays and lesbians have any right to sexuality,” if it means exploiting gains in sexual freedom that came as a result of enormous risks taken by those who are then explicitly excluded from basic civil rights by the very people doing the exploiting, this can’t be considered positive even in the most generous of interpretations.

In presentations I’ve given, I’ve described ways of thinking about sex as fitting into conservative sex narratives (no sex outside of marriage, and then a restricted notion of appropriate sex which is geared toward reproduction and marital duty), liberal sex narratives (where most consensual sex is okay as long as it takes place in a loving, and preferably monogamous, relationship) and sex radical narratives (where all consensual sexual activity and identity is okay, period.) It would appear, from this article, that the conservatives are using language from the liberal and sex radical narratives but inserting them into the conservative sex narrative. Is this a way to draw the uncertain back into the Christian fold? Is it a way to help keep committed Christians happy in their marriages? And how unjust it is that many of those who opened the door to this kind of freedom are still being stigamtized and shut out of basic access civil rights by those very powerful Christians who are probably enjoying vibrators and bedroom strip shows!

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How (not) to close a strip club

There are many stories of communities resisting the opening or operating of strip clubs and those communities are often successful in pushing clubs out of areas where they could operate relatively safely and into areas where they are less able to do so. Some zoning rules limit strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses to industrial zones and other spaces where there is little other nighttime activity, or where the other nighttime activity is also likely to contribute to rowdiness and disorderly conduct. Anonymous areas off of highway interchanges come to mind. While driving from New York to Georgia last December, my partner and I noted how often as we crossed state lines, there would be a zone of marginally legal activity — Fireworks!! Live Nude Girls!! — that seemed unowned by the “decent” people in either state.

Yet, as New York City is finding out, zoning clubs into industrial areas does not make them less likely to be associated with crime. Sweet Cherry, a club that the New York Times has printed no fewer than three articles about in the last month, operates in a perfectly legal spot, and has been with at least three murders, either directly or indirectly. Meanwhile, clubs that are operating in violation of the controversial zoning rules that the city has been defending for several years tend not to be associated with crime problems (partly, I’d argue, because they are in busy retail/commercial areas which, in NYC, are also often residential areas and are places where lots of people are paying attention).

The most recently article by the Times indicates that Sweet Cherry has finally been closed, but not as a result of zoning rules. Rather it has closed as part of a plea deal that will resolve several criminal and civil complaints. Not all strip clubs are associated with crime. Studies by researcher Daniel Linz and his colleagues have demonstrated no greater number of criminal complaints around strip clubs than around demographically and economically matched areas surrounding non-strip night clubs. Clubs that generate criminal complaints ought to be investigated. Club owners who participate in or enable criminal activity ought to be prosecuted, as should any club employee or patron who commits crime. Clubs that cannot operate within the law ought to be shut down as a result of their violations. But the law itself should not create a situation where crime is likely to occur. That is what NYCs current zoning rules would do if enforced.

Hosting sexually oriented businesses on busy main streets in our own towns would be healthy for our communities and for the businesses. In addition, it simply isn’t fair to push the meeting of our erotic needs off on other communities.

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