Monthly Archives: March 2007

This Blog “Not Safe for Thruway”

The New York State Thruway has put wireless Internet access into all their rest areas. This came in handy recently when my partner and I had to go back to his childhood home to be with his family as his father was dying. There was — until just a few days ago — no Internet access at his parents’ home, and so we went in search of WiFi spots when we could.

The Thruway WiFi was very useful when, on our drive up to his family’s home, we were called and asked to send an e-mail to family in the Netherlands with the day’s update on his father’s condition. It was useful when we were on our way to pick up one of Will’s nephews from the airport in Rochester and, while stopped at a rest area for a cup of coffee, we got a call saying his flight had been delayed. We stayed at the rest area for a while checking email, and checking blogs. And that’s when I discovered that this blog is “NSFT” (Not Safe for the Thruway). I was happily clicking through email messages and found some comments in need of moderation. When I clicked on the link to the comment moderation page, I got the following message:

“This site has been blocked due to content.”

I tried again. After all, the content on this blog is not obscene. Sure, the words “sex” and “public” are in the title, but it contains no very explicit material. Again I saw:

“This site has been blocked due to content.”

I was baffled. I tried some sites that I know are much more explicit (note: if explicit writing or naked pictures bother you, don’t follow these links). I tried Chelsea Girl’s Pretty Dumb Things, one of my favorite sites for smart explicit writing about sex. Her current post was about having anal sex with her boyfriend. (This is something she writes about with some frequency, great style, explicit detail, and much intensity.)

I tried Deviant Delyte’s DeviantsLair for photos that outraged a small but vocal number of community members in her small Oklahoma town, and ultimately resulted in her husband (the chief of police) and other town officials resigning their positions.

Hoping to find out more about the filtering software I picked up the Thruway Authority’s brochure promoting their WiFi service. Not much help. All it said was:

“The Authority reserves the right to filter content that may be inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza.”

Could the content on Sex in the Public Square be more “inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza” than the content on DeviantsLair or Pretty Dumb Things? I can’t imagine so. I’m sure this is the result of filtering software that casts a very wide net with very large holes. It apparently filters key words in site names and URLs rather than screening the words on the page.

Let me put aside for a moment my perennial complaint that fast food — ubiquitous at (Thruway) Travel Plazas — is more harmful to the general public than is sexually explicit material. We can debate what is or is not “inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza,” and we can debate whether or not public utilities ought to be filtering at all, but I cannot dispute that I agreed to the filtering when I accepted the terms of service. Still, if they’re asserting this as a “right,” I’d say they are not exercising their right very effectively.

In any case, we moved on. I found that I had unfettered access to my blog at the local Subway sub shop. I am not a fast-food fan, as you might have guessed by my statement above, but they had free WiFi and, better yet, did not filter sites. I was able to check in on my blog, and was happy to see a new comment or two and saddened that I did not have time to write any new posts.

Another place that had wireless access was the Valvoline Instant Oil Change spot we dropped in to on our way to the hospital one morning. (If you are getting a sense by now that I am rather dependent on my Internet connectivity, you are perceiving the situation accurately!) I checked my email (all four accounts!) and then tried to check my blog. No luck! Turns out the VIOC used a filtering software and this blog was blocked as “Pornography.” I hope their oil filters are more effective than their web content filters. There is nothing pornographic on this blog, though it has the words “sex” and “public” in the title and in the URL. Interestingly, just as at the (Thruway) Travel Plaza, I checked a few erotica blogs I read and none were blocked.

I’m especially interested in this because I have in the past recommended parental controls on web browsers as a way of helping parents keep their children from seeing material that they — the parents — don’t want them — the children — to see. I’ve known, abstractly, that these “parental controls” and filters have weaknesses, but I hadn’t realized quite how weak they could be.

I’m very interested in your stories about using such filters or blocks or parental controls. Have you found them useful? Have you found that they screen out too much? Please tell me about your experiences in the comments section below.

Oh, and by the way, I sent an email to the Thruway’s customer service department asking about their filtering software and its settings. I’ll let you know what I find out!

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Filed under censorship, culture, moral panic, public discourse, sex, Travel

March 20 is “Back Up Your Birth Control” Day!



“Back Up your Birth Control with EC” is a campaign that aims to get Emergency Contraception (EC) into the hands of women before they need it. EC more effective if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex or birth control failure, so it’s important to have some on hand before a crisis happens. This is especially true given the difficulties women in some parts of the country have had in getting it. It’s also true for women under 18 who can’t buy it over the counter in most places.

Here are two important web sites with info about EC:

This oneis especially for teens.

This one is for the rest of us.

(Both sites have a listing for the 24-hour emergency hotline – 1-888-NOT-2-Late, and both link to the EC “Not-2-Late Web Site for those who cannot buy EC over the counter in their communities. You can also buy EC online at Drugstore.com.)

There are a couple of very important things to know about EC (often referred to by one of its brand names, Plan B). First, is not the same as the abortion pill RU486. It is important to know that because EC works before pregnancy occurs. It is essentially a very high dose of regular birth control pills, it needs to be taken within a few days of unprotected sex if it is going to be effective at all, and is most effective if taken right away.

Second, it is not as effective as condoms or birth control pills so of course you want to be using those regularly and correctly. EC is for emergencies.

I blogged about my own experience buying EC over the counter back in November and I will repeat part of that message here: If you are a sexually active woman and you do not want to be pregnant, you definitely want to have some EC on hand in case you need it. You do not want to be in the midst of an crisis and then discover that it is hard to get hold of the pill that you need. You want it now, before you need it.

You could find yourself in need EC for any number of reasons, none of which you’re likely to have intended. So, since today is “Back up your birth control day,” add an item to your to-do list: buy yourself a dose of EC.

In fact, if you have enough money to do so, buy a couple of extra doses. You might be able to help a sister in need some day.

And here’s another important thing you can do: Tell a friend or two about EC. It might surprise you how many people don’t know that it exists, or don’t know how to get it. Considering how important it is to maintaining our sexual and reproductive freedom, we need to make sure everyone knows about it and knows how to get it!

Lastly, I’d love to know your stories: Did you try to buy some? Did you have any trouble? Was it easy to get? How did you feel when you bought it? Did you have a conversation about EC with a friend? What was it like? Leave any stories you’d like to share in the comments section of this post.

(If you’ve commented before your comments will be posted immediately. If you have not commented on this blog before, your comments will be held for moderation. Because of a family crisis I will be out of town again and may not be able to moderate comments quickly. Don’t interpret this as lack of interest or approval on my part!)

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Filed under activism, EC, Education, emergency contraception, feminism, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex and health, sexuality

Our kids are born sexual. Now what do we do?

My mother says I don’t write enough about positive things in this blog, and she’s right. So I’ve decided to start a book review section where I’ll tell you about books I think help to create a healthy and open sexual environment. This is a great moment to begin, because I just read a fantastic book about kids and sex.

The book is called Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they’d ask: The secrets to surviving your child’s sexual development from birth to the teens by Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster, published by Three Rivers Press (2004) and I think the title says a lot, but not enough. For one thing, the book is clearly intended to not only to help parents survive their child’s sexual development, but to help the child survive the parents’ anxiety about his or her sexual development. In that way it teaches parents how to help shape their children’s sexuality in healthy ways. For another thing, it acknowledges the fear that parents often have about dealing with their kids and sex, and yet I think for many parents the issue is the “afraid they’ll ask” not the “never wanted them to know” part. I think a lot of parents want their kids to figure it out without having to talk about “it.” This book helps parents figure out how to talk about “it.”

One reason I like the book so much is that it starts out with an important-but-difficult-to-accept reality: talking to kids about sex isn’t going to make them sexual. Kids are already sexual. They lead into this with a short bit about observing a male fetus on an ultrasound and pointing out that it has an erection: sexual arousal occurs even before birth. Sexual response is biological. It is shaped, structured, and channeled by culture and socialization, but it is at its base a biological reality and it exists in babies just as it exists in adults.

Richardson and Schuster, both doctors with very down-to-earth attitudes (a psychiatrist and a pediatrician/public health specialist both with very impressive resumes), take on subjects like childhood sexual development, kids and sex play, masturbation, the Internet, discussions about abstinence, safer sex practices. And in all these areas their main focus is on open discussion, accurate information, and remaining calm. They explain that their approach to sexual development is based on putting children’s health first and they define health in a very comprehensive way:

Our definition of health includes physical health, by which we mean the absence of sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy, and safety from sexual abuse and violence; and emotional health, by which we mean the ability to take pleasure in sex, the freedom of mind to make choices about love and sex, the possession of a meaningful value system to guide those choices, and the presence of strong self esteem. (p. 9-10)

They do all this with great humor and an sensitivity to the real strain, concern, and fear that parents really feel around these matters. I discovered this book while browsing for parenting section of Books-a-Million with my sister, a mother of two young boys. We were so engaged by the book that we sat on the floor in the aisle and read out loud to each other. We read the section about what to do when your kid walks in on you when you’re having sex. One reason I’m telling you about this book: one real life scenario used as a model by the authors involved a same-sex couple — two men — and the authors presented this without comment on the sexual orientation of the couple. Instead, their focus was on the quality of the reaction that “Jack and Simon” had in the moment:

We still marvel at the composure of Jack and Simon. When their four-year-old boy walked in on them having sex, Jack managed calmly to say, “Oh, you found us doing the special thing that people in love do when they want to make each other feel good; now, which of us do you want to put you back to bed?” (p. 103)

They point out that the most important thing is not to hide, not to ignore it, to try an explanation that is simple and clear, like “When you came in we were having sex. It’s a way that grown ups like us show that they love each othe. Do you understand?” They recommend answering any questions that the child has, and then reminding the child to knock if the door is closed. In other words, they recommend treating it without alarm, as an everyday act, and moving on. (An example of the humor they bring to the book. They end that section with the remark, “You can now tuck your little one into bed, go back to your room, and perform CPR on your partner.”

Another reason I’d encourage you to take a look at this book is because of its strength in addressing questions about kids, sex, and the Internet. First, they point out that if your child or your teen is online in any interactive forum, there is a chance that she will be approached for sex. You can’t prevent this. What you can do is prepare your kid for it when it does happen. Richardson and Schuster recommend telling young Internet users that they’re safe as long as they don’t respond to such requests and don’t give out any personal information about themselves to people they don’t know. Teach them how to block senders of unwanted IMs and to let you know about the incident. (Then, when they do talk to you, don’t freak out, but calmly discuss it with them to get the details, and, I’d presume, to support them for having done the right things!) Second, Richardson and Schuster talk about the near-inevitable event that your child surfs to a porn site or some other site containing explicitly sexual content. They discuss the benefits and drawbacks of web browser filters and again focus on being open with your kids about sex so that they’re willing to talk to you about what they see.

There are lots of good reasons to check out this book. I can’t mention them all now but I’m sure I’ll be referring back to the book in future posts.

I encourage you to check out the website for the book. You can read selections from the book, read more about the authors, and ask questions, too.

It takes guts to talk to kids about sex. In this time of moral panic about kids and sex, though, it is as important as ever that adults step up to the plate early and create a healthy environment for their kids’ developing sexualities. This is truly the best way to protect them from harm.

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Filed under book reviews, culture, Education, Family, life, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sexuality, sexuality and age

Susie Bright Brings Sense to the “Not Safe For Work” Pink Ghetto Bizarreness that is our culture

I have never once made a post that is really nothing more than a pointer to another blogger’s post, but this one, by Susie Bright, is so relevant to the discussions we’ve been having here, and is so well done, that I am simply tipping my hat to her and asking that you go read her piece and then come back here and discuss it with me.

It makes me wonder why we, at WordPress.com, are even discussing the issue of “mature” tagging when publications like The New Yorker or the New York Times publish sexually explicit material regularly without being labeled “mature” or “not safe for work.”

It makes me wonder why we are so ready to accept self-censorship and self-ghettoization.

It makes me wonder where my head was when I suggested that we should ask for a separate set “adult” tag pages.

Read her piece. Now. It’s long, so if you’re short on time read the first half (though I bet once you start you won’t stop).

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Filed under censorship, culture, moral panic, sex, sex and the law, sexuality

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a hateful policy and must be undone

First of all, a big thanks to Tom Joaquin, guest contributor, for his excellent post on General Pace’s disgraceful comments. Such moments of bigotry and immorality on the part of public figures need to be pointed out. There is often too little public outrage about such important issues.

I want to add some of my own thoughts to Tom’s. And I’d preface them the way Tom ended his: I don’t support the war in Iraq. I don’t support war as a solution to international conflict in general. I do, though, believe that the institutions of this society need to be arranged according to principles of equality and social justice. If we are to have a military, it must be on that does not depend on bigotry and hatred and discrimination. All must have an equal chance to serve.

It often surprises me that, given our society’s blatant and persistent discrimination against gays and lesbians, that they want to serve in the military in the first place. But it is naive of me to wonder about that. Gays and lesbians, despite being targets of discrimination, despite increasing antagonism toward them, are just as likely to feel called to defend their country as anyone else is. In addition, the military has become, for many poorer and working class young people, a route to college in a society that makes higher education increasingly unaffordable. For those reasons, it is extremely important to change the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that currently forces them into the closet and reinforces homophobia, heterosexism, and hatred.

The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is hateful in a number of ways.

First, it says “sure, you can serve, and you can offer your life, but only if you hide who you are.” This is a policy that contributes to homophobia and heterosexism while still accepting the sacrifices made by gays and lesbians. It’s like saying “come, serve in a system that hates you and will not acknowledge you, but will happily take your life.”

Second, it says “discrimination against gays is okay, while discrimination against other groups is not.” The military has been one of the best institutions at providing equal opportunity regardless of race or ethnicity. We went from a segregated military to an integrated one relatively quickly, and now the military – and I don’t say this enthusiastically by any means – is one of the most reliable (and dangerous) ways for young men and women of color to get training, get access to college, and to move up the economic ladder. Racism is no longer systematically tolerated in the military. But gay and lesbian soldiers are subjected to institutional closeting and to individual harassment and abuse because of a system that is based on homophobia and heterosexism. (It is interesting, and probably connected to this, that the military has done a better job at integrating racially and ethnically than it has done at integrating genders. While women are technically allowed to do nearly all the same jobs that men in the military can do, they are quite often targets of individual violence and harassment. That connection is perhaps best explored in another post.)

Third, it says “we’re so invested in our homophobia and heterosexism that we’ll put our military at risk in order to reinforce our biases.” I remember my shock when I read a story back in 2002 about linguists being dismissed from the Army because they were gay. This was at a time when, as a nation, we were focused on the problems our Military Intelligence units were facing because of their lack of linguists fluent in the languages of “the war on terror.” Recent articles describing the shortages in mid-level officers, and the difficulties that the branches of the military are having in recruiting enough soldiers to fight our misguided wars also point to the risk that the military puts itself in when it excludes groups who want to serve. It is shocking to think that we are willing to put our national defense, and our soldiers’ lives at risk in order to maintain our systematic discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Fourth, it insults our allies, who nearly universally allow gays and lesbians to serve without question. It would seem to be evidence of a lack of confidence in their militaries when we say that we think our own military would be weakened if we did what they’ve been doing for many years.

There are those who would say that “as a country we’re just not ready yet” for gays in the military. They might even say that to allow gays to serve would be to create conflict among troops who need instead to have great trust in each other. They might try to argue that it is wrong to “force” people to accept gays and lesbians because some religious traditions say that homosexuality is a sin. To those people I would say this: Religion has been used to justify horrors in the past, and we have learned from those incidents. Mainstream Christians wouldn’t think of using the Bible to justify slavery today even though that might have been a common strategy not so long ago. We were not ready for racial integration when Brown v. Board of education was decided but we got ready in a hurry, at least in some institutions. We still aren’t an integrated society, but we’ve made some progress, and the military in particular has done better than most sectors of society. They can do the same in this case. We should not cater to individuals’ discomfort, bias, or hatred in our social policies. We should create policies that work at undermining those biases, not policies that support them.

I echo Tom’s call to write to your representatives in the House and Senate, and to write to local papers (click here for some advice if you need help getting started), and to write to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace, himself.

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman
9999 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon
Room 4E873
Washington, DC 20318
Fax: (703) 697-8758

Feel free to use any part of this post, non-commercially and with attribution, in your efforts.

Onward!

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Filed under culture, Don't ask don't tell, Gays in the military, Homophobia, News and politics, sex, sex and the law, sexual orientation, sexuality

Speak out on General Pace’s disgraceful words!

This post, by Sex in the Public Square contributor Tom Joaquin, was originally published on his blog, The Free Lance.

General Peter Pace, the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced on Monday his personal opinion that simply being a gay or lesbian person is immoral, and that the military should therefore continue to refuse gays and lesbians the opportunity to serve in the military. Well, to be more precise, he supports the official military policy, that gays and lesbians can sign up, as long as they’re willing to crawl into the military closet and deny who they are.

The current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is immoral because it openly requires dishonesty, and treats gays and lesbians as second class citizens. It is unconstitutional because it punishes by exclusion gays and lesbians, not because of what they’ve done, but because of who they are; this type of “status crime” was years ago determined unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

General Pace’s delicate moral niceties are archaic. Barry Goldwater, the bastion of all that’s conservative, and 37 year veteran of the military, announced years ago his support of the right of gays and lesbians to be in the military:

The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that’s what brings me into it…. why the hell shouldn’t they serve? They’re American citizens. As long as they’re not doing things that are harmful to anyone else.

Vice-President Dick Cheney, while Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush, called security concerns about gays and lesbians an “old chestnut” and referred to the idea that “a gay lifestyle is incompatible with military service” as “a policy I inherited.” These comments were made by Cheney just after his assistant secretary of defense, Pete Williams was outed as a gay man.

The world has moved on ahead of the US. There are at least 26 nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve, including Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Columbia, and every country in the European Union, which requires all members to abolish any bans on open service.

Pace’s comparison with adultery is specious. According to files received by Salon pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request the military, under General Pace, is currently providing waivers for at least 17% of incoming recruits, accepting recruits with civilian criminal records including domestic abuse, assault, breaking and entering and auto theft. An outstanding article by Helen Benedict, also published in Salon, documents the pervasive threat of rape and sexual harassment women soldiers in Iraq live with daily. Perhaps General Pace should focus his moral concerns on matters of real substance existing within the scope of his responsibility.

The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has let the world know what he thinks Department of Defense policy should be, based upon his morals. He has also provided encouragement and cover for the continued harassment and abuse of men and women by their fellows and those in their chain of command. Sounds pretty damn immoral to me.

Please note: I am personally against the action in Iraq and support plans to withdraw troops now. I am not advocating for the war in Iraq, but for the right to openly serve in the military without regard to sexual orientation. Tom

IMPORTANT: If you agree with me, write your representatives in Congress and the Senate as well as General Pace, and write your local papers. Register your disapproval with General Pace’s remarks and your support for changing military policy to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. General Pace can be reached at:

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman
9999 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon
Room 4E873
Washington, DC 20318
Fax: (703) 697-8758

All or any part of this post can be used, with attribution, for any non-commercial purpose to help spread the word.

-Tom Joaquin, The Free Lance

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Filed under activism, culture, Don't ask don't tell, Gays in the military, Gender, Homophobia, News and politics, public discourse, Relationships, sex, sex and the law, sexual orientation

Coming Soon …

I know, I know, I just got back, and now here I am headed out again for a couple of days. I thought it might be nice to let you know what I’m working on so that you’ll know what’s coming up when I return:

  • A discussion on the treatment of sex offenders, specifically dealing with the recent signing of a law in New York allowing for ‘civil commitment’ of certain sex offenders after their prison terms are up. I’ll be asking whether we should treat pedophiles like regular criminals or like people who are considered too disturbed to be responsible their crimes, but who need treatment and to be confined. It seems in New York we want to have it both ways.
  • Some happier posts! My mother says I don’t write enough upbeat stuff, so in the coming week look for a review of the book “Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex but were afraid they’d ask.” And also look for an interview with the guys from Nekked, a great electronica/pop band that I first mentioned back in September. (I’m thinking about making book reviews a more regular feature of Sex in the Public Square. Feel free to send recommendations. I’m thinking about books that contribute something interesting and useful to public discourse around sexuality, and that have a down-to-earth, sex-positive spin.)
  • A first post in a series about monogamy. Specifically, I’m talking about the kinds of nonmonogamous commitments people make in serious long term sexual relationships. (If you have a nonmonogamous relationship you’d like to talk about, drop me an email using the link on the sidebar!)

So that’s what’s coming up. If you’ve had a comment moderated and posted already, you can comment without moderation while I’m away. (Otherwise comments will be held until I can get to a computer.)

I’ll be back soon. Be good! (That means you, JanieBelle!)
Elizabeth

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Filed under book reviews, marriage, nonmonogamy, polyamory, sex, sex crimes, sex offenders