Category Archives: New York Times

The Myth of the Liberal Media, or Further Evidence that the NYT is an Elitist Paper

Originally posted on SexInThePublicSquare.org – join us there!

I’ve always known that the New York Times is an elitist paper. Most national papers are pretty directed at the upper middle and upper classes. You can tell just by looking at their advertising. Million dollar studio apartments and thousand dollar watches are not for the masses, after all. And I learned from a beloved sociology instructor in college to recognize the significance of the fact that there is never a labor section but always a business section and that the Times has two “Style” sections a week where you can learn about the newest expensive trends. So it isn’t like this is a revelation. But today’s Metro Section really beats all:

new york times screen shot of headline emperors club sold an oxymoron high class prostitution

The story itself is worse than the headline. It contains stereotypes, overgeneralizations, faulty logic, bad assumptions and lots of other problems that I warn my students about. And aside getting the prostitution stuff wrong, it’s very clear message is this: don’t try to pass yourself off as belonging to the upper classes if you weren’t born and bred among them.

Where to start?

Perhaps with the faulty logic. Susan Dominus asserts that Emperor’s Club was selling a fantasy image of “Kristen” that didn’t match Kristen’s real life. Of course many sex workers do in fact shield their identities by disguising other aspects of their lives. Dominus must know that. What she is pointing out in her article is that Kristen’s image was one of upper middle class or upper class upbringing, and to prove that Kristen was not in fact of such a background she poses a series of what she presumes to be inherently contradictory statements:

that she was a successful swimsuit model who’d traveled the world (as opposed to a singer getting nowhere with a boyfriend who’d paid her rent, as The Times reported yesterday); that she enjoyed civilized pursuits like dining at exclusive restaurants (actually, she’s been hoping for work at a friend’s restaurant); and that she liked sampling fine wines (no mention of the drug abuse she’d reported on her MySpace page). The site also described her as 24 (in fact, she’s 22, an age that might have sounded dangerously collegiate to an affluent clientele).

Can Dominus really believe that a working class or middle class person could never enjoy “civilized pursuits” like dining at fancy establishments, or that a person who enjoys fine wine never abuses drugs? (Wall Street, anyone?) Are these things really logically related in any way at all?

Only if one buys the assumption that pursuits like fine wine and fancy restaurants are reserved for the upper classes. And only if drug abuse is somehow different from addiction and the Betty Ford Clinic only serves the masses.

Then there are the overgeneralizations:

Once the story of Ashley Alexandra Dupré’s life actually came out, it was a fresh reminder that the words “high class” and “prostitution ring” pretty much never make sense in the same phrase (expensive prostitution ring, yes; high class, no). This was not someone who’d been turned down by the consulting firm of her choice and decided to make an alternative entrepreneurial move. Ms. Dupré’s MySpace page said she’d left home at 17 and had been abused. She’d been homeless. She said she knew, at 22, what it was like “to have everything and lose it, ” even if she’d built herself up since. Her story was not self-empowering; it was, even in its scant detail, profoundly sad, all the more so because of her extreme youth.

Somehow because this young woman herself is not of the upper classes no prostitute ever is. Somehow because her profile fits that of the stereotypical sex worker she must represent all sex workers. And somehow the fact that she reports having built herself back up (in part using sex work) after having lost everything is not evidence of any kind of self-empowerment.

Sudhir Venkatesh is quoted later as if his work supports this overgeneralization about prostitutes but if you heard him on the NPR the other day or read his piece on Slate.com you’d know that he has in fact interviewed women who left professional-class careers for upscale escorting. I have not reviewed his research so I’m not attesting to its quality, though I think highly of some of his other work. (And I should note that Melissa Gira Grant has taken Venkatesh to task for oversimplifying things, too.) But he introduces a three-tier categorization of prostitution that would certainly challenge the statements that Dominus makes in this article.

My real anger, though, actually comes from Dominus’s acceptance of the term “high class.” I know that is the term that much of the press has been using to describe the escort service in question. But to accept its use and to apply it to people is appalling.

“High class” is a value judgement and a way of obscuring the real stratification of wealth, power and privilege in the United States. Why not talk about the upper class, the elite, or the working class or the middle class, which are much more meaningfully descriptive?

And why not come out and make the message clear:

If you aren’t born among us you can never be one of us and we’d much prefer it if you’d stop pretending.

The ad at the top of the NYT screenshot is for Loro Piana and the Americana Manhasset, shopping for the wealthy.

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Filed under Eliot Spitzer, feminism, Gender, inequality, New York Times, public discourse, sex, Sex in the Public Square, sex work, sexually oriented businesses

Spitzer coverage on Sex In The Public Square

Forgive me for not posting here for a while. I’ve been concentrating my attention on the other Sex In The Public Square and have been so busy that I forgot to mirror everything here. (Really, don’t you want to just come over and join us on SexInThePublicSquare.org? There’s a lot more going on over there!)

Some quick news about where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to first:

Last Wednesday night I was interviewed by Seska Lee on Audio Smut, a feminist radio collective that broadcasts on CKUT in Montreal.

From Friday through Monday I was at South by Southwest, where I presented a core conversation with Lux Alptraum. I also saw a great movie about bisexuality, a not so great movie about training of US soldiers, and some good panels on sexual privacy, 2257/2257a record keeping requirements, and creating interaction online. I got to talk with Cory Silverberg, Melissa Gira and Karen Rayne and Violet Blue in real live face-to-face space, and I’m finally starting to recover from the general lack of sleep. (More on SXSW later, I promise!)

I landed in NYC on Monday to a misplaced bag and to the news of the Spitzer/Emperor’s Club story. It’s been a busy week! You can follow our coverage of the story on SexInThePublicSquare.org. Here’s what we’ve had to say so far:

For updated lists of Spizter-related posts from SexInThePublicSquare.org click here.

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Filed under Eliot Spitzer, New York Times, News and politics, pink ghetto, prostitution, public discourse, sex, Sex in the Public Square, sex work, sexually oriented businesses, SXSW

But will Medicare pay for lube?

drawing You might have missed the part about the penis pumps. It was in a New York Times article about Medicare overpaying for things like oxygen tanks. Apparently Medicare, despite its potentially enormous bargaining power, spends more for many items than they would cost in your neighborhood pharmacy or surgical supply store. In the midst of the article is this paragraph:

For example, last year Medicare spent more than $21 million on pumps to help older and disabled men attain erections, paying about $450 for the same device that is available online for as little as $108. Even for a simple walking cane, which can be purchased online for about $11, the government pays $20, according to government data.

The article doesn’t comment at all on whether penis pumps are a legitimate Medicare expense, which I think is interesting. Given our government’s very conflicted attitudes about sex, I find the news both heartening and irritating. I am glad that Medicare takes the needs of aging men seriously and considers sex a part of healthy living. We were just discussing that when we were discussing Pepper Schwartz’s book Prime. TracyA linked to a great post by Supercrone about sexual desire in her 80s, Mimi of Sexagenarian in the City writes about her own re-entry into dating and sex, and so I’m glad that the US takes the sexual needs of the elderly — at least elderly men — seriously. I wonder why it denies the sexual needs of so many of the rest of us. Our own internal contradictions around sexuality are pretty amazing. Medicare, an entitlement program for older folks, will pay for penis pumps. Medicaid, the program that provides health care for poor people, does not cover abortion services (thanks in large part to Henry Hyde, who died the other day) though states are apparently free to provide such coverage. (For example, in New York State residents enrolled in Medicaid are entitled to “Free access” family planning — including contraception and abortion — even if their Medicaid Managed Care Provider does not cover those services.) We see inability to have intercourse as an illness for the elderly but don’t want to teach young people about safer sex.We spend our tax dollars foolishly in either case, overpaying for penis pumps or paying at all for abstinence-only education.But back to the penis pumps again: is this an example of sexism in health care again? I mean, older women are less likely to be in need of contraception or other family planning services, but does Medicare pay for lube? Or are women expected to deal with the changes in their sexual function on their own while men’s physical changes get medical attention? (And if Medicare does cover lube, what are they paying for a bottle of Astroglide, do you think?)And is Medicare paying for condoms to keep these older men from getting and transmitting STIs? Or are we again in a situation where we’ll pay to address the disease (inability to maintain erection) but not to prevent disease?If, like me, you were wondering about the efficacy of penis pumps in the first place, here is a link to Corey Silverberg’s piece on them from About.com. He points out that penis pumps are pretty reliable at generating erections but that unless well aroused, or if the man has a problem maintaining erections, that the erection created by the pump might not last. He mentioned that better penis pumps, of the sort sold by medical professionals (which he says run about $200, not the $450 that the US pays) come with “constriction rings” (read: cock rings) that help maintain the erection.I wonder if Medicare would cover the cost of cock rings alone for men who have no trouble getting erections but do have trouble maintaining them.And what about sex ed for older folks so that they know that there is plenty of good sex to be had without erections and penis-vagina penetration? What about some workshops on manual sex? Oral sex? Sex with toys? Training in orgasm without intercourse, anyone?Meanwhile, lets make sure that all government provided health care treats sex as an important component of healthy living. Lets make sure that Medicaid and Medicare cover sexually-related health care costs, whether those be penis pumps or lube, or contraception or abortion. If sex is a party of a healthy life, those things are all important.Lets make sure that private insurance plans do the same!And lets pay for smart sex education for sixty-year-olds and for sixteen-year-olds!Illustration, “Penis Pump,” by Derek on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, Share alike license.NOTE: This is also published on our community site, SexInThePublicSquare.org. Join us there!

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Filed under Education, Gender, Health, medicine, New York Times, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sexuality and age

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

Why Young White Unmarried and non-cohabiting Humans in Psychology Classes Have Sex (In America)

That should probably be the title of the new study by Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss of University of Texas at Austin (PDF).

The study is an important one because it does begin to explore people’s conscious, expressed motivations for having sex, a subject that has been largely ignored or taken for granted in the past. We know much more about what kinds of sex people have than we do about why they have it (or why they think they have it).

And when I read the New York Times article about the study and saw that there was such a wide range of reasons people gave, I was excited: it seemed that the researchers were breaking open some interesting ground and finding lots of diversity.

The news coverage only mentioned a few of the reasons, and I wanted to see the whole list of 237, so I downloaded the study, which you can do here (PDF). I skipped straight to the Table 1 (p. 481) labelled “Top 50 reasons why men and women have sex.” And while I was not at all surprised to find pleasure-oriented reasons among the top reasons for both men and women, I was rather surprised that nowhere in the top 50 for either gender was “conceiving.” Then I read the methods section.

Always read the methods section!

The study occurred in two phases. In the first phase, where the actual list of reasons was generated, the sample was slightly more diverse. It included undergraduate and graduate students in psychology and “community volunteers who were participating in several other ongoing studies in the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas.” (The demographic characteristics of these respondents are not broken down in the methods section of the article so we can’t say much about them.)

These participants were given an opportunity to respond to the following prompt: “Please list all of the reasons you can think of why you, or someone you have known, has engaged in sexual intercourse in the past.” Collectively they came up with 715 reasons, and after the repetitious ones were weeded out the researchers were left with the 237 “distinct” reasons they took into phase two of the study.

It was in phase two, the one with the especially skewed population, that respondents were asked to look at each of the 237 “distinct reasons” and, using each one to complete the sentence “I have had sex in the past because…” to indicate whether that statement was true of “none,” “a few,” some,” “many” or “all” of their sexual experiences. For those who had not had sex in the past (27% of women and 32% of men for whom sexual experience data were available reported not having had sexual intercourse, for example) the instruction was to use that same scale to rate the “likelihood that each of the following reasons would lead you to have sex.” In their published study the authors do not distinguish these responses from those of people who were reporting on actual experience, and while I can’t tell whether that had any major influence on the data, it seems to represent a seriously flawed assumption that guesses about what might motivate one to have sex are the same as reports on what actually has motivated one to have sex.

The respondents in that part of the study, the part where the “reasons” were analyzed for frequency and relatedness, the participants were 1,549 undergraduate students enrolled in Introductory Psychology courses. This kind of sampling is fairly common in academic studies, especially psychological ones, but in this case it makes, I think, a very significant difference in the results. And it means that the title of the study, “Why humans have sex,” and the overall interpretation of the data are rather overstretched. I don’t think that the motivations college students might have for having sex are the same as the motivations that married non-students might have, just for example.

The sample is interesting in its homogeneity in other ways too. Ninety-six percent were between 18-22. And most were not married or living with a sex partner. (Only 4% of the women and 2% of the men were married. Only 6% of the women and 5% of the men were living with a sexual partner.)

So at the time these people were filling out their surveys, they represented a group that is generally young, single or dating students who are focused on their educations and perhaps the beginnings of their careers.

This doesn’t sound like “humans” to me. And it doesn’t sound like a good way to make conclusions about the reasons that people have sex.

While the range of 237 reasons that people have sex might be broad enough to encompass most people’s experience, I don’t think that the priorities or motivations of 18-22 year old college students is representative of the priorities or motivations of, say 30-35 year old people in long-term relationships.

And none of this begins to address the hubris of claiming that any study performed on an American sample represents “humans” in general.

Now, the authors of the study do devote two paragraphs in the discussion section (always read the discussion section) to the limitations of their study. Specifically they mention the fact that their study is based on people’s “expressed reasons” thus can’t account for subconscious or unconscious motivations, and that social approval of some reasons and stigma around others might have affected what people were willing to claim about their own motivations. They also mention the limitations of their sample. They write:

“A third limitation pertains to the relative youth of most of the sample. Reasons for engaging in sexual intercourse undoubtedly differ by age cohort … and would be expected to change over the life span. For example, compared with the student sample assessed in this study, we would expect having sex for reproductive purposes to be endorsed much more frequently among 30 and 40 year olds and having sex simply to gain social status to decline with age.”

They also acknowledge the limitation of conducting their study “within a single culture” and simply say that researchers should explore these same issues in a range of other cultures.

If the authors acknowledge these limitations at the end of their study, why am I harping on them? Mostly because the vast majority of folks who hear about this study won’t have read the study itself. They’ll have read news coverage or commentary that quotes from the body of the results, or directly from the tables, and the authors of the study are not terribly cautious with their language in those sections. They talk about “men” and “women” and “people” but not about “male college students” and “female college students” for example. It will be very easy for these findings to be widely misinterpreted.

Still, the authors of the study raise excellent questions for future research to explore, and those questions acknowledge the limitations of their own work. For example, the authors suggest that future research examine whether or not the 13 major clusters of reasons found in this study are found as primary sexual motivations in other cultures as well, and “to what extent do the reasons for having sex change across the life span.”

It would be just as interesting to ask the question “Are we really motivated by the things we think are motivating us. Ironically, on the same page of the Times was an article suggesting that is not likely to be the case!
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Note: In another post I’ll try to address some of the actual findings. It is interesting, for example, how few of the reasons are “common” in the sense of representing most people’s experience much of the time! Even among the top 50 reasons, for example, most had mean scores that indicated that people said they were true only for “a few” or “some” of their sexual experiences!
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This is also published on SexInThePublicSquare.Org

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Filed under Archives of Sexual Behavior, Cindy M. Meston, David M. Buss, New York Times, psychology, public discourse, research, sex, sexuality