Category Archives: activism

SITPS.org: A Labor Day Call to Johns

From Sex In The Public Square dot Org, Friday, May 2008:

sex worker rights red umbrella logo only rights can stop the wrongsYesterday I’d intended to write a Labor Day post. It was going to be about the importance of workers organizing across all types of work, recognizing that we are all workers, and it was going to be the beginning of a conversation I want to have about why established unions need to support the organizing efforts of sex workers.

And then I read about Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s death and all that went out the window for a while.

This morning I went back and looked for last year’s May 1 post. I couldn’t remember what I’d written about. My breath caught in my throat when I found that I’d written this, also about Deborah Jeane and about my speculation that perhaps the exposing of high profile clients would help in the effort to reduce the stigma attached to sex work.

Obviously I’d been overly optimistic last year. While there continues to be the occasional exposing of a high-end john, we also continue to see sex work trivialized in the press and sex workers treated as criminals and victims and rarely as people making choices, sometimes difficult and sometimes obvious, but always from a range of options that is circumscribed by economic and social circumstances.

I no longer think that the exposing of clients is going to be the source of any great reduction in the stigma attached to sex work. Why? Because they always apologize.

They apologize by admitting their “sins” a la David Vitter or they apologize and resign their posts, a la Eliot Spitzer, but they always apologize, and by doing so they reinforce the impression that consciously and explicitly exchanging sex for money is wrong, and they reinforce the stigma. In fact they often refer to that stigma when they include in their apologies their regret for bringing shame on their families.

Note that they do not apologize for any mistreatment of the workers. They apologize for being clients in the first place.

So my new call on Labor Day is a call to the clients and not a call to the workers. Clients of the sex workers of the world: stand up for the people whose work you are paying for. Treat those workers respectfully and protect their safety and don’t apologize for paying for their services.

Yes, you may have much to apologize for:

Apologize if you have actively worked to keep the services you pay for criminalized.

Apologize if you have said insulting, demeaning or paternalistic things about sex workers.

Apologize if you have contributed to the shaming of sex workers.

Apologize if you have jeopardized the health of a sex worker.

Apologize if you have committed violence against a sex worker.

And by all means apologize if you have lied to your partner about sex you are having with other people.

But for being a client of a sex worker?

Please, no more apologies. We can’t afford them.


Links to sex worker organizing efforts:

Please add others in the comments on this thread and on Sex In The Public Square dot Org.

Technorati Tags: Deborah Jeane Palfrey, labor unions, labor day, prostitution, sex work, sexuality

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Filed under activism, human rights, labor organizing, News and politics, prostitution, public discourse, sex, sex work, sexuality

Access denied: A different kind of de facto segregation

blog for choice iconIt’s interesting that “Blog for Choice” day falls right after Martin Luther King Jr’s holiday. It has me thinking about intersections and parallels of civil rights issues. For those who’ve studied segregation, the terms “de facto” and “de jure” are familiar. They mean “in fact” and “by law” and they are used to describe the reality of segregation in the United States today. Segregation in schools, for example, has been illegal since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 yet there is a great deal of de facto segregation in American schools.

I mention the terms because I think there is a similar phenomenon going on with access to abortion services. Abortion services, since Roe v. Wade in 1973 have been legal — with restrictions — across the United States, and states have not been allowed to ban abortion outright. (Note: some have come perilously close.) But, abortion services are not accessible in many places, and so there is a kind of de facto abortion ban over much of the country.

I think about this on “Blog for Choice” day, because the right to choose to have an abortion is not very real for the women living in the overwhelming majority of counties without abortion services, for whom the cost of abortion is not only the price of the procedure and any attendant health care costs, but also the price of the travel and the cost of days away from work.

Recently, the Guttmacher Institute published the results of its study, “Abortion in the United States: Incidence and Access to Services, 2005” (PDF) and they found that the rate at which women have abortions has continued to fall since 1990. In 2005 there were 19.4 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44. For comparison, in 1990 there were 27.4 and in 1995 there were 22.5. In raw numbers, this means that 1,206,200 abortions were performed in 2005, about 400,000 fewer than in 1990. (Table 1, p. 9)

This all sounds like good news, and it may be good news. Reducing the number of abortions as a result of reducing the number of unintended and unwanted pregnancies is certainly a good thing. But the report also indicates that the number of abortion providers continues to drop (though that drop has slowed). Taking the whole country into account, 87% of counties have no abortion providers, and what part of the country you live in matters a lot. If you’re in the northeast, where I am, you’re the luckiest. Only a bit more than half of counties have no providers (and we’re pretty densely populated, and counties are packed together, and transit options are not so terrible). If you live in the midwest, though, are among the least likely to have access. Ninety four percent of counties in the midwest have no abortion providers. Obviously that puts an enormous research and travel burden on the woman seeking an abortion. In the south 91% of counties have no provider and in the west 78% have none. (Table 3, p. 11)

Could this be among the reasons that, as reported in the New York Times this past December, the number of births per 1,000 women rose in nearly all age groups last year, ending a decline in teen births that had been going on since the early 1990s and rising above the replacement rate in general for the first time since 1971. As with most social phenomena, this one no doubt has many causes, and actually immigration (immigrant women tend to have more children, for an intersecting number of reasons) is no doubt a bigger cause. But I wonder whether we have reached a level of no-access that more unintended pregnancies are resulting in births than used to.

Amanda Marcotte made some interesting speculations about what else this could mean last week in her post “Could it be easier to force childbirth when abortion is legal“. She wonders whether, because there is no outrage over a legal prohibition in many of those areas, there is less organizing around issues of access. Certainly there are women’s health organizations and abortion access organizations that are trying hard to increase access for women who live in regions without their own providers, but it might be a good deal harder for those activists to drum up support (especially volunteers and money) because there is no legal issue for people to fight.

The theme for this year’s Blog for Choice is “why it is important to vote pro-choice.” I would extend that to “why it is important to vote, talk, agitate and live pro-choice.” Voting goes an important distance toward protecting legal rights. We certainly cannot afford another Supreme Court Justice who is opposed to abortion or weak on privacy rights, for example. But until the rights that are protected by law are made real by ensuring access (geographic and financial) to abortion services, they are pretty unevenly distributed, available to women with privilege to travel if needed, or with the good fortune to live in a place with providers.

The law is only the foundation for our rights. Real live access — to abortion, to education, to opportunity or to anything else — depends on much more than the law. We all need to walk the walk so that it is safe for people to provide the services that the law says we have a right to use.

And that is not a matter of voting. That is a matter of speaking up in the eleven months of the year that there are no elections. It is a matter of declaring that we will not tolerate the infringement of anybody’s rights, regardless of where they live or how much money they have.

It is a matter of finally understanding that class and race and gender and geography all intersect in ways that put some US residents at much greater disadvantage than others, and it is about all of us understanding that such inequality is wrong.

And that goes beyond voting. That means we need to act.

Now.Loudly.

Without rest, until we all are free.

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This post is also published on SexInThePublicSquare.org – it’s like this blog, only with a whole lot more going on!

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Filed under abortion, activism, Blog for Choice, civil rights, pro-choice

Verizon to customers: NARAL 2 CNTRVRSL 4 U

The New York Times reports this morning that Verizon has rejected a proposal by Naral Pro-Choice America to use its network for sending text messages to people who sign up for them. Other cell phone networks have accepted the proposal which allows subscribers to sign up to receive text message updates from NARAL.

According to a communication with Verizon that NARAL gave to the times, the company’s policy is to reject proposals from groups that “promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its [Verizon’s] discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.”

There are at least three very troubling pieces of this rationale.One is that a communications company should be allowed to censor the legal content that is transmitted over its network in the first place. This would seem to erode the “common carrier” rule and tremendously limit free speech. Cell phones now are as important to political activity, community organizing, and ordinary everyday life as landlines and the US mail have been in the past and we would never accept such a limitation from either of them. Can you imagine if Verizon’s landline division made a ruling saying that NARAL could not phone anybody who uses a Verizon phone service? Why should text messages be any different? (Sunburnt Kamal, I think we really need your “on the Internet there are no sidewalks” essay! Can you include cell networks too?)

Beyond that, even if Verizon’s policy is legal, applying it in this way is illogical. The messages sent by NARAL would only be sent to people who requested them by texting a 5 digit code specfically subscribing them to the updates. These are people who, by definition, would not find the messages controversial or “unsavory.”
Last, until I’ve had more coffee and thought a bit more about this, it would seem that just about anything could be “seen as controversial” by some user or anyother and Verizon’s policy is written to reject any program that might be seen as controversial to any of their users. To really be consistent then, they should accept no text message advocacy programs at all. Presidential candidates use these programs and have not, apparently been rejected by Verizon and yet presidential politics is by its nature controversial. Even the Repblican National Committee has such a program.

Jeffrey Nelson is Verizon’s media contact for Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs and he’s is quoted in the Times article indicating that Verizon might be considering a change in its policy:

“As text messaging and multimedia services become more and more mainstream,” he said, “we are continuing to review our content standards.” The review will be made, he said, “with an eye toward making more information available across ideological and political views.”

Want to let him know that you don’t think that a communications company ought to be restricting the kinds of information its customers can access? His phone and email info are on this Verizon Wireless Media Contacts page but in case you don’t want to go look him up yourself, his email is jeffrey.nelson (at) verizonwireless (dot) com and his phone number is 908-559-7519.

Note: This post is also published on our community-building web site, SexInThePublicSquare.org. Drop by and check it out!

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Filed under abortion, activism, censorship, civil rights, Education, feminism, New York Times, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, technology

Democrats vote to increase funding for abstinence-only “education”

I don’t know how I missed this item posted on the Advocates for Youth web site last week:

Democrats INCREASE Funding for Discredited Abstinence-Only Policy
Ignore Findings that Programs Don’t Work

WASHINGTON, DC (July 19, 2007) Today, by a vote of 276 to 140, the House of Representative passed the Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill which included an unprecedented $27.8 million increase for failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, bringing the total annual funding for Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) to $141 million.

“In one spectacularly cynical move, the Democrats turned their backs on science-based public health and chose political expediency over the health and well-being of young people,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. “With friends like these, who needs conservative Republicans?”

Democrats who have been ardent critics of abstinence-only voted to increase the very programs they opposed when Republicans controlled the Congress.

“With this vote, reproductive health ‘champions’ like Representative Nancy Pelosi and Nita Lowey have aligned themselves with ultra-conservative abstinence-only proponents,” added Wagoner. “They are now complicit in funding programs that promote ignorance in the era of AIDS.”

Since 1982, Congress has allocated over $1.5 billion for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that censor information about birth control and the health benefits of condoms in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. A 10-year congressionally mandated evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. and released in April, 2007, found that “youth in the [abstinence-only] program group were no more likely than control group youth to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having had sex they had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age.”

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell our friends from our opposition these days,” concluded Wagoner. “The majority of Democrats say they oppose these ineffective programs because they withhold life-saving information, yet they failed to act on those beliefs. Shame on them!”

Cynical? Cynical doesn’t even come close.

Now I know these provisions are buried in huge appropriations bills. And this one is interesting because in at least some states (New York, California, I haven’t checked them all!) it is the Democrats who tended to support the bill and Republicans who tended to it. So clearly the vote wasn’t “about” abstinence-only “education.” It was more likely about the funding of things like public schools and hospitals, for museums and libraries, public broadcasting, programs for the blind, for Medicare, for the National Labor Relations Board, and other important stuff. (Click here for the text of the bill, its provisions, and the programs it funded.)

But Democrats certainly had an opportunity in moving the spending bill through the House to amend it or alter provisions to which they objected, and they certainly could have cut funding for abstinance-only programs and allocated money instead for comprehensive sex education programs (which, by the way, also promote abstinence as the best policy for teens).

Here is the section of the bill that deals specifically with “abstinence education”

Provided further, That $136,664,000 shall be for making competitive grants to provide abstinence education (as defined by section 510(b)(2) of the Social Security Act) to adolescents, and for Federal costs of administering the grant: Provided further, That grants under the immediately preceding proviso shall be made only to public and private entities which agree that, with respect to an adolescent to whom the entities provide abstinence education under such grant, the entities will not provide to that adolescent any other education regarding sexual conduct, except that, in the case of an entity expressly required by law to provide health information or services the adolescent shall not be precluded from seeking health information or services from the entity in a different setting than the setting in which abstinence education was provided: Provided further, That within amounts provided herein for abstinence education for adolescents, up to $10,000,000 may be available for a national abstinence education campaign: Provided further, That in addition to amounts provided herein for abstinence education for adolescents, $4,500,000 shall be available from amounts available under section 241 of the Public Health Service Act to carry out evaluations (including longitudinal evaluations) of adolescent pregnancy prevention approaches: Provided further, That up to $2,000,000 shall be for improving the Public Assistance Reporting Information System, including grants to States to support data collection for a study of the system’s effectiveness.

We are now spending almost 137 million dollars to teach teenagers that abstinence is the only acceptable method of preventing STDs and pregnancy, and we are prohibiting organizations that accept grants from this allocation from offering “any other education regarding sexual conduct.”

Ironically, or not, this same bill in Title V section 517 b provides that “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to disseminate scientific information that is deliberately false or misleading.”

Click here to find out how your legislators voted (once there, click on your state to see each of your legislators’ votes) and then call them or email them and let them know you’re outraged that they didn’t address the problem of abstinence-only funding but instead voted to increase funding for the very programs they claim are harmful to kids. You can use the “Speak Out!!” box on the left side bar to find contact info for your representatives.

By the way, this same bill in Title V section 507, continues the ban on spending federal money to provide abortions (so they aren’t covered for poor women, or for women insured under federal health insurance programs).
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This is posted here and also at SexInThePublicSquare.org

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Filed under abstinence only, activism, Education, Health, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex and health, sex and the law, sex education, sexuality, sexuality and age

Questions for Dr. James Holsinger, or those in charge of his confirmation hearings

Quick: name the Surgeon General of the United States. Can you do it? I couldn’t. I know all about the guy who is being nominated and nothing about the one who is currently serving. I had to look him up on Wikipedia. He is Rear Admiral Kenneth P. Moritsugu PHSCC, M.D., M.P.H., and he has been acting Surgeon General since his boss, Vice Admiral Richard Henry Carmona, M.D., RN, M.P.H, F.A.C.S., finshed his term in 2006. (For the record, David Satcher is the last surgeon general I have a clear memory of!)

On Thursday, the man selected to replace Moritsugu and take on the full mantle of surgeon general will have his confirmation hearings in the Senate. His name is James Holsinger and it’s a good bet you’ve heard of him. You may have heard that his nomination is a controversial one because he is a conservative Christian or because he has expressed the view that homosexuals are diseased and pathological, and both of those things are true. But he is controversial mostly because he used weak science and faulty reasoning to try to back up his view that homosexuality is pathological. It is that use of unscientific argument disguised as science that makes him an upsetting candidate to take on the job of top public health educator in the US.

This is a link to the paper that is the basis for all this criticism (PDF, hosted on ABCnews.com). Holsinger wrote it in 1991 for the United Methodist Church’s Committee to Study Homosexuality. The main text is only 6 pages long so go ahead and read it. I’ll be here when you get back.

~~~

Done? Good. So you probably have some questions, and so do I. Let’s lay some of them out. My first question comes after reading the second paragraph, which begins, “There is absolute concensus in the scientific community concerning the structure and function of the human alimentary and reproductive systems.” Holsinger goes on to explain that they are entirely separate systems in humans (as we do not possess cloacas, something he returns to later), and then explains how the reproductive systems of men and women interact to produce baby humans.

Now, I’d bet that there is no debate in the scientific community that the two systems are separate, nor that only one of them functions in a way that absorbs nutrients into the body while only the other functions in a way that causes reproduction when properly combined with the right other reproductive organs. But, how many scientists would agree that each system has only one function? And how many would deny that both systems can function in ways that create pleasure? Or would contend that pleasure is not an important part of human existence?

So one question I would ask at Dr. Holsinger’s nomination hearing on Thursday is this:

Dr. Holsinger, do you believe that public health policy and health education should ignore the ways that we use our bodies for pleasure, and should omit information about how we can do so safely?

My second question comes after a description of how the anus and rectum do not lubricate in the way that a vagina does, and so can be damaged by penetrative sex. From this observation he argues that “the varied sexual practices of homosexual men have resulted in a diverse and expanded concept of sexually transmitted disease and associated trauma.” He cites a study that I wont attempt to evaluate because I haven’t read it yet. The section he sites notes findings that bisexuals, heterosexuals, and homosexuals had different rates of assorted sexually transmitted diseases. Without commenting on the quality of the research, I can say about this is that his use of the study, whatever its own merits, doesn’t support his argument. He is trying to argue that homosexual sex is pathological and heterosexual sex is not, and he presents evidence that every group gets STDs, but that those STDs are distributed differently across groups. In the study, more homosexuals than heterosexuals get things like amoebiasis and giardiasis while heterosexuals are more likely than homosexual to have urethral gonorrhea and or chlamydia. Unless he’s willing to argue that only some STDs are signs of pathology while others are just fine, I don’t see how this helps his argument.

So, my second question for Dr. Holsinger at his nomination hearings would be this:

Dr. Holsinger, would you say that some diseases are markers of pathology in a person while others are not? If so, which diseases are markers of heathly lifestyles and which are markers of pathological lifestyles?

My third question comes from a strange quote he uses to support the claim that “trauma and tumors are the primary problems related to the anorectum in homosexual men.” He quotes a study that found that women who engaged in “anal-receptive intercourse” did not suffer from anal-sphincter dysfunction and rarely suffered from anorectal problems in general, partly because “consensual penile-anal intercourse can be performed safely provided there is adequate lubrication.” Ignoring that finding even though he cites it, Holsinger then goes on to decry the dangers of fisting and of unlubricated forceful anal sex.

So my third question would be this:

Dr. Holsinger, is it safe to say, based on your writing, that you only think homosexuality is pathological if it does not involves enough lube? In other words, would it be a key part of your public health policy to educate people about the value of proper lubrication? Or, rather, would you suggest that no sex that requires lubrication not supplied by the body itself can ever be healthy sex?

Last, I am puzzled by Holsinger’s claim that squamous-cell anal cancer, which is associated with HPV virus strains that cause genital warts is further evidence of the pathology of homosexuality. After all, those same strains cause genital warts in women, and lead in some cases to cervical cancers (for which we are all supposed to be screened annually or every two years, and which are often contracted through heterosexual contact).

So my fourth question would be:

Dr. Holsinger, how can a disease that occurs frequently in women who have heterosexual sex be used as evidence that homosexual sex is pathological, but not used as evidence that heterosexual sex is pathological?”

He ends his paper with an analogy to pipe fittings in order to illustrate just how taken-for-granted the sense of male-fitting-into-female is in our culture, and notes that injuries and diseases result “when the complimentarity of the sexes is breached.”

I do not want a man who reasons this way to be my Surgeon General. It is not his private views on homosexuality that are the problem, though I strenuously disagree with them. It is certainly not his privately held religious convictions, so long as could keep them separate from his scientific evaluation of evidence.

No, it is his inability to weigh scientific evidence to come to logical conclusions that is the problem. Perhaps Holsinger has gotten smarter in the 16 years since he wrote that article. I hope that difficult questions are asked during his confirmation hearings so we can discover whether he can now reason more logically than he could in 1991.

For updates during the confirmation hearings on Thursday, check the HRC web site’s blog.

To let your Senator that you oppose Holsinger’s nomination, you can use this HRC Action Form.

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Filed under activism, feminism, Gender, Health, heterosexism, Homophobia, James Holsinger, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and health

SexInThePublicSquare.org

I’m holding my breath. I’ve got my hands over my eyes and am peeking out between my fingers. I can hardly believe it’s time, but it is: SexInThePublicSquare.org is ready for visitors! 

This is the “expanded” public square I told you to watch out for three weeks ago. The idea came as a result of my looking back over nearly a year of blogging here and realizing that there is a community of people that have grown around this blog, and that we needed more space. Specifically, I wanted more space for readers and commenters and visitors to talk about the sex-related issues that matter to them even when those issues are ones that I don’t think to raise, or don’t know a lot about. I noticed that many of my readers – and you all come from such a wide range of places! – don’t write about sex anywhere else. I wanted to create an open space for people who don’t have their own places to talk about sex. And I wanted a place where I could do more reading and listening!  I especially wanted a space where activism on the kinds of issues we discuss would be easier to organize. You’ll see that on the left sidebar of our new public square is an easy “Speak Out!” section that will link you immediately to your local media outlets or your representatives in local, state and federal government!

So, please drop by the new public square. The sidewalks are new, there are plenty of places to can sit and chat, or just watch what goes on. There may not be shops but there are lots of spaces for exchanging ideas! And there is also lots of room to build, so come on in and have at it! 

If you want to stroll through the square and just browse its resources feel free. Silent readers are always welcome. We put our ideas out there because we know you are there. If you want to be more active, become a member or regular contributor in the community and help us build the space! (Membership requires nothing other than a username and an email address.) 

There are some kinds of building we could especially use help with: 

We’ve got a great calendar, but I’m very NYC/San Francisco centered and there is a whole lot of space — within and outside the US that I can’t cover. If you know of interesting sex-related lectures, readings, events create a profile, become a participant, and add them to the calendar! (or use the contact form to let us know about them.) 

We’ve got a great place for collecting links to important resources — they’re sort of the signposts of our public square — and we need more of them! We want to collect links to agencies, organizations, blogs, news sources, anything that will help people sort out the complications of sexuality in their lives and in their worlds. 

We’ve got a great place for book reviews (and we can do music and film too, I’m sure) so share what you know! If you are an author who would like your work reviewed, let us know how to find it. If you’re a reader or viewer with suggestions for reviews, we want to know that too. If you want to actually write reviews, all the better. You’ll have a place to put your work! 

If you hang out a while and decide you want to be a regular contributor and have a sexuality-related blog in the square just let me know using the contact form on the site. 

One of the central pieces of the new site is the Forums space. There are lots of forums there to get us started, but there is room for an infinite number. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, please drop a note. There’s a contact form on the site. Otherwise, jump on in to anything that looks interesting! 

This blog will remain here, where you’ve come to find it for the past year, so don’t worry about that, though I may start truncating the posts here and redirect to the new site for the full posts and discussion.  (I’d love feedback on that, by the way, since I haven’t made up my mind yet.) The content of this blog is currently being syndicated on the new site, so you can read it there, but right now you’d have to come here to comment. 

The most exciting thing about the new site is the opportunity to get to know each other better. Members of the new site can have profiles and can participate in many more ways. I’m hoping we really do begin to build a smart, open, as-public-as-possible-given-private-ownership-of-phone-wires, space for the discussion of all aspects of sexuality in our personal and public lives. 

So please take walk over and say hello. We’re at http://sexinthepublicsquare.org and we can’t wait to see you! 

Oh, who is this “we” I keep talking about? My co-founders are Chris Hall of Literate Perversions and Tom Joaquin of The Free Lance. Chris and I have been working closely together over the past couple of months to create the site. Tom has jumped in to offer some advice and will, I hope, be an active participant in shaping the site. Invaluable assistance has been provided by Jade and Andale of Playful Bent. Encouragement from Robert Lawrence has been incredibly important. And JanieBelle of U Dream of Janie and Lyle Hallowell have both been a fantastic early testers of the site.  The gorgeous header image was created by Jolene Collins whose work I am extremely proud to display. My partner, who blogs as Tugster, remains more a spectator than a participant, though his support is invaluable. But if you read both of us and you’d like to see him be a more active participant, surf on over to his blog and let him know.

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Filed under activism, community-building, culture, sex, sexuality

Expanding the Public Square…

More to do and more space to do it in!

I started this blog as a way to write about ideas that didn’t easily fit into a different project I’ve been working on. That was nearly a year ago now, and Sex in the Public Square has quickly become much more than what I’d intended. Rather than remaining a container for distractions from my work, it has become an integral part of my work.

Sex in the Public Square is one piece of a large and beautifully decentralized attempt at building more rational and productive spaces for talking about sex. As the wise and perceptive bloggers at the newly-born Sex Calumny point out, “It’s not that people aren’t talking about sex. It’s just that sex is so often discussed in unproductive ways: euphemisms, commandments, myths, norms.” So I was happy, a year ago, to join other writers who use their blogs to expand the space available for productive discussions of sex, whether at the personal, community or cultural level. (My side bar is full of links to these amazing people so I’m not going to name them all here!)

And as I wrote yesterday, expanding the space for productive and honest discussion of sex and sexuality is essential to the health of our society and our communities — reducing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections — just as it is essential to our own individual sexual fulfillment or happiness. After all, it’s hard to get what you want if you can’t communicate about it!

For those reasons, but just as importantly because I have been so encouraged by some of the conversations that have taken place here, I’ve decided it is time to expand my corner of the public square. I’m teaming up with Chris Hall of Literate Perversions, Tom Joaquin of The Free Lance, and others to create SexInThePublicSquare.org. (If you want to join in keep reading then drop me a note! And don’t try the URL just yet; it’ll just point you back here. We’re nearly ready to take down the scaffolding and put away the drop clothes, but not quite! Soon, though. I’ll tell you when.)

We’ve laid out our mission like this:

We believe that sexuality is a key component of human life, and that it cannot be excluded from “polite conversation” without losing an important element of democratic participation. We seek to expand the space available for discussions of all aspects of sexuality, and to build communities where respect and inclusion are the norm. We also believe that talk about sex needn’t always be “serious” in order to be “appropriate” and we welcome playful conversations that focus on the fun of sex as well as serious conversations that focus on things like policy, safety, and identity.

The new site will be collaborative, with varying levels of access depending on the interest level of the member. There will be many different ways to participate. And just as here, unregistered visitors will be able to read and comment on everything.)

A public square is a place of intersections, of interactions, of communication and recreation, of political and expressive space, and mostly, of community building. SexInThePublicSquare.org will be basically blog-like in format, thus easy to navigate and easy to keep up with, but will have features and capabilities that a typical blog doesn’t have, and that begin to add more of that “public square” feel. In addition to the kinds of blog entries you’re used to reading here (which will still be here, by the way, but will also be there), it will have:

  • Forums where readers and members can talk about all kinds of sex-related stuff regardless of what I’m blogging about at the moment.
  • “Take Action” space that makes it easy to contact the media or your elected officials when an issue motivates you to act. (Let’s put sex back into politics — in a helpful way!)
  • Reviews of sex-related books, films, music or web sites. It will have links to blogs, agencies, foundations and other resources.
  • Listings of interesting sex-related events — lectures, demonstrations, rallies, readings — that we know about or that are contributed by readers.
  • Links to sex-related research, advocacy groups and blogs.

My question to you, the readers of Sex in the Public Square on WordPress, is this:

What else should it have?

It was you, after all, who inspired me to think about expanding this space. It was the conversations in the comments of this blog, most of which were carried on by people who do not usually blog about sex in their own spaces, that made me think it would be wonderful to have an expanded space for people of all sorts to come and participate in discussions about sex.

Think about it, and then email me using the contact form above or leave your comments here. And if you’re really curious and think you want to contribute to the shaping of the site, send a note saying so and I’ll see about showing it to you at its temporary “in development” address.

It’s true that there isn’t any space on the Internet that’s truly public, but we’re about to open up a space that is as close to public as we can without buying a phone company.

Stay tuned!

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Filed under activism, community-building, culture, Education, public discourse, sex

“Do it ourselves” Abortion Reduction Policy

Atul Gawande had a very clear, concise, mostly very smart and only partially problematic op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times about how to reduce the number of abortions in the US (TimesSelect registration required). He started out by dispelling some of the myths we have about who has abortions and why. For example, on the upsetting side, roughly half of pregnancies are unintended, and four in 10 unintended pregnancies end in abortion. On the optimistic side, teens are getting the message about contraception:

“Pregnancies at age 15 to 17 are down 35 percent since 1995, according to federal data; one-fourth of the drop is from delaying sex, and three-fourths is from increased use of contraceptives. Today, just 7 percent of abortions occur in minors.”

and

“Forty-five percent of abortions occur in adults ages 18 to 24; 48 percent occur after age 25. Most are in women who have already had a child. The kids are all right. We are the issue.”

Consistent and correct use of contraception appears to be the biggest problem:

“92 percent of abortions occur in women who said they used birth control. Six in 10 used contraception the month they got pregnant. The others reported that they had used birth control previously but, for one reason or another, not that month. (Many, for example, say they didn’t expect to have sex.)

Gawande then asserts that the “trouble appears to be blindness to how easy it is to get pregnant and what it takes to make birth control really work.” I would disagree: the trouble is not blindness to how easy it is to get pregnant. It is wishful thinking of the “it won’t happen to me” variety, and a difficulty accepting one’s own likelihood of having sex. It is also fear of the stigma attached to being willing to have sex without a committed relationship. Another problem is the difficulty women have with requiring their male partners to use condoms, and the difficulty some men have using them. Then there is the forgetting of the many ways to have sex that can’t result in pregnancy in the first place! Lets get more creative with our hands and our mouths and the rest of our bodies! Lets buy sex toys. (Wow, did I actually just recommend a consumer-based solution to a problem? Yikes!)

Gawande is right, though, that the number of unwanted pregnancies in the United States — and thus the number of abortions — could be dramatically reduced if we were a more sexually honest and open society. If we — men and women — were honest with ourselves and with each other about the situations in which we are willing to have sex, and about the degree to which we do not want to be responsible for a child, I think we would have an easier time consistently and correctly using contraception. Imagine….

…if we were more honest with ourselves about how the contraception we do use makes us feel, and more willing to talk to each other about our contraceptive methods, we would be better able to find the methods that would work best for us.

…if we were more willing to admit that we simply won’t stop having sex just because we aren’t ready, able or interested in raising children.

…if we could acknowledge sexual pleasure as a basic human right and not a privilege for the middle and upper classes.

Then perhaps we would — as a society — realize our moral imperative to improve access to contraception and safer sex education and supplies for those who need them.

Gawande believes that politics precludes government from helping to create that society and that ultimately we need a “do it yourself” approach. I’m not willing to let government or the politicians who control it off the hook quite so quickly, but I agree that there is much we can change about this society if we “do it ourselves.” And among the things we can change through grassroots community-based activism is, in fact, the government.

Among the things the government could do better, or do at all:

  • Offer incentives for research and development of long-lasting contraceptives that have fewer risks and side effects.
  • Provide contraceptives free, and without any burdensome monitoring, to women and men who want them.
  • Require that sex education programs offer clear, accurate information about the effectiveness of contraceptives and about their correct use.
  • Support programs that help parents learn how to talk to their kids about sex.

But Gawande is right that, absent some sea change in what we as individuals and communities demand of our government, these things are not going to happen quickly. We need to take up the lead of organizations like Planned Parenthood which already offer workshops on how to talk about sex, and start branching out in our communities and among our friends to “do it ourselves.” Imagine if we each had at least one conversation a week with someone about the right to sexual pleasure, or he right to sex without fear of pregnancy or disease.

Try it out. Start with yourself and make a list that honestly accounts for the ways you like to have sex, the people you like to have it with, and your own risks of pregnancy. (Yes, this applies to men too. Women don’t get pregnant on their own!) Any unpleasant surprises on your list? If so, acknowledge them and make a plan to reduce your risks. Then, be courageous: share your list with someone. And share this post. Next week try a conversation with someone else. Ask someone how they feel about the right to have sex because it feels good. Discuss whether we should take a punitive attitude toward sex for pleasure.

And stay tuned here. This blog has been part of my attempt to create more open space for reasonable and productive conversations about sex. But you’ve inspired me to do more, and I’ve decided to expand the public square:

Coming soon to a computer near you: SexInThePublicSquare.org!

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Filed under abortion, activism, culture, EC, emergency contraception, Family, feminism, Health, inequality, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex and health, sexuality

My not-collaborative, daughter-only, very late Mother’s Day post

I wanted to write this post with my mother, who was visiting this weekend for, you guessed it, Mother’s Day. But every time we’d start talking about the post we’d end up in a debate about whether the ideas were feasible or whether they were too idealistic. I think my mother likes to debate with me, even when she agrees with my positions, because she doesn’t get a chance to have a lot of intellectual debates and because we can argue with each other without it becoming personal. Believe it or not, I think that arguing was part of my mother’s day gift to my mom!

So, instead of a collaborative mother-daughter post, you’re getting my list of things I want to see achieved so that mothers — and hence the rest of us really — can have better lives and lives where working for sexual freedom doesn’t seem like such a luxury.

My list, the items on which my mother largely generally thought important but too idealistic, includes the following:

– Sexual openness so that women can enjoy their sexuality and share it fearlessly with their partners. Through sex we express desires, we communicate, we connect, and we feel pleasure. We should continue to work so that women are free to experience the fullness of their sexualities without shame or danger.

– Access to contraception and safeguarding the right to abortion when needed so that all motherhood is by choice. This is a place we need to redouble our efforts, as access to good information about contraception, and access to abortion when needed, is being eroded in this country, and being eroded or prevented in other countries this country’s policies.

– High quality, affordable — dare we even say government subsidized — child care so that all parents who work outside the home — including those for whom work is a necessity and not a choice — can do so without economic penalty or fear for the safety of their children.

– Realistic part-time and flexible work options so that parents have more choices about how to divide the labor of wage-earning and child-care. I don’t mean part time with no stability and low pay. I mean part time with reasonable wages that would exceed the child care costs incurred while working those more flexible hours.

– Universal health care — not just health insurance — so that employers are no longer the ones who provide our access to health care. This isn’t just a matter of concern for the poor, either. Plenty of middle income people end up financially devestated even if they do have health insurance because the part of the medical bills that the health insurance doesn’t cover is still more than they can afford. (This is especially awful for people who have fallen prey to the “two income trap” where two parents are both working to pay for meeting the basic needs of the family and then one gets sick and the other can’t make up the difference.) Oh, and of course this health care has to cover treatment for addictions and mental illness just as it covers physical illness.

– Fair wages for all workers. This means eliminating the wage gap, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, and providing living wages to all workers. Living wages mean that parents can work reasonable hours and spend time with their kids. And we also need reasonable paid leave policies so that people don’t lose out when they need to take care of a child.

– Peace. The costs of wars, in dollars and in lives, is too great to justify, and the paying of that cost is keeping us from doing the kinds of things suggested above — things that would make economic security a reality for many more people.

Julia Ward Howe is often credited with initiating Mother’s Day in the United States as a protest against war, ironic since she also penned the Battle Hymn of the Republic. But she herself was inspired by the work of Anna Jarvis who organized around workplace health and safety issues and then organized women to tend to the wounded in the Civil War. In fact, the Mother’s Day we now celebrate is on or about the anniversary of a memorial that Jarvis’s daughter held in her honor after she died. The holiday, which originally honored women who worked for social justice and peace has become, in the US, a mostly-consumer, mostly-private holiday where we thank our own mothers for the sacrifices they have made and the work they have done. I think it’s time, again, to turn the day around and make it a day when mothers — and the rest of us — call for justice and peace.

Mothers have sex, and they need sexual freedom and economic security. Without economic security it is difficult for people to make sexual freedom a high priority. When people don’t have economic security their first priority must always be gathering what resources they can to meet their basic needs. All people, regardless of economic status, must be entitled to sexual freedom but sexual freedom feels like a luxury when you are too exhausted from working your second job and making sure the kids got to school to even think about having sex with your partner. When we work for sexual freedom we must take into account the needs of the poor and working class as well as the needs of the middle class and the wealthy.

Health care, child care, contraception, fair wages, peace, and sexual freedom. They’re all connected.

Happy Mother’s Day.

~~~~~
Links:

Click here for Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation as posted on the CodePink web site.

Click here to watch the Mom’s Rising! Mothers’ Day E-Card
featuring the Infant Aerial Stunt Team and a simple laying-out of the Moms Rising policy goals (several of which are reflected in my post, above).

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Filed under activism, culture, Family, feminism, inequality, mothers day, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex

Will the “Washington Madam” Scandal Help Destigmatize Sex Work?

It won’t do the job on it’s own, but imagine if more and more high powered people were to “come out” or be outed as clients of escort services. Imagine if sex industry clientele all stood up one day and identified themselves.

Perhaps you’ve been following the story. The New York Times reports that, according to ABC, which received a list of phone numbers from Ms. Palfrey to try to match to real names of clients, the list includes

“a Bush administration economist, the head of a conservative think tank, a prominent C.E.O., several lobbyists and a handful of military officials” in addition to Mr. Tobias and Mr. Ullman.

Destigmatizing sex work is as important as decriminalizing it. In fact, perhaps it’s even more important. In response to my last post about sex workers, Alex asked whether or not there was any data on the connection between legalization of sex work and a reduction in crime against sex workers. I said I didn’t know offhand. Then, just yesterday, I read a post by Kochanie, writing at Real Adult Sex, in which she describes some research she’s been doing, and which indicates that

for prostitutes in Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands, or Australia, decriminalization and legalization of their trade has not removed the stigma of engaging in sex work. Even where sex work is legal within certain zoned areas of a city, prostitutes are reluctant to press charges against an abusive client because of the lack of support from local law enforcement. Complaints of police harassment were cited in most reports I read. Some prostitutes did not want to even register as members of the sex trade, because they felt that, once registered, the stigma could never be erased.

She concludes, I think rightly, that decriminalization and legalization on their own are not enough to make sex workers safer. Without removing the stigma from the work, the people who do it will not benefit as much from the decriminalization as proponents of those measures would intend.

I think of this in part because, as I wrote a few days ago, my union just voted overwhelmingly in support of strong anti-trafficking legislation that would allow having been trafficked to be a defense against prosecution for illegal sex work. At a meeting of the Civil and Human Rights committee, where this was being discussed, I suggested amending our resolution to also include support for organizing efforts among sex workers. You could have heard a pin drop. The amendment did not get much support, though several people came to me after the meeting to suggest that I prepare more thoroughly and propose a resolution at next year’s Assembly. My rationale is this: if large groups of organized workers come out in support of the organizing of sex workers, that would be a powerful push in the direction of destigmatization. Imagine if teachers stood up for their students who are sex workers, and if nurses stood up for their patients who are sex workers. Or, imagine if the carpenters and the lawyers and the politicians and the electricians stood up for the sex workers they patronize.

Several months ago I was fortunate enough to interview Audacia Ray, an incredibly powerful sex worker advocate and very inspiring woman. (She’s just finished her Master’s Thesis, produced her first porn film and published her first book!) She said something at the end of our interview that really struck me. We were talking about the difference between destigmatization and decriminalization of sex work. She said she didn’t think the US was nearly ready for decriminalization, but that destigmatization might be happening, and in ways that some of us might not really like. When I asked her to clarify, she referred to “sex worker chic” trends in mainstream media.

I wonder if the exposing of powerful, upper middle class clients of high end escort services is also going to become a source of destigmatization.

I’d be thrilled if labor organizations become another engine for the destigmatizing of sex work. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 790 is the union with which the Lusty Lady employees (now owners) affiliated back in the mid-90s, so this isn’t as much a stretch as some might think. (Click here and scroll down for a link to their 2005-2006 contract).

Those of us who are members of labor unions will need to speak up in favor of sex workers’ organizing efforts and to acknowledge them as our sisters and brothers in the labor movement. We’re all safer when sex workers are safer.

~~~~~~~

Some other good reasons to be thinking about sex workers today:

Today is May Day, which is both International Labor Day and a day traditionally associated with ancient spring-into-summer fertility rituals featuring dancing and passion and ecstatic celebration

Oh, and the Sex Worker Visions II Art Show has it’s gala opening tonight! Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Filed under activism, feminism, labor organizing, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex work, sexually oriented businesses