Tag Archives: sex

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

Melissa Farley in Scotland: Trivializing prostitution and trivializing violence against women

Melissa Farley and her fringe research mill Prostitution Research and Education have teamed up with a Scottish anti-prostitution group to produce a new ‘research’ report with the problematic title “Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland: A research report based on interviews with 110 men who bought women in prostitution” (PDF here).

Readers of this site will understandably be rolling their eyes and groaning, “not again!” But it is important to remember, awful though it is, that other folks take Farley’s research seriously and that it deserves serious attention to help mitigate the damage it can do to real efforts to advocate for women’s safety and sex worker safety. Such ‘studies’ play to particular political positions, in this case pressure to export the Swedish ‘solution’ through Europe, but political expedience is not the same as sound policy. Check today’s Daily Record (Scotland) for the most recent orchestrated flood of bad news coverage of a poor study to support wrongheaded policy.

It is important to stress, again and again, that Farley’s research cannot be considered reliable and certainly doesn’t approach even basic scientific standards. The problems with the current study are many but can be summed up in terms of ethical concerns, bias and inadequate attention to detail in the write up. The write up is problematic enough that it is hard to judge the quality of the research, but the very clear bias is enough to call the findings into question. The bias also leads to the making of recommendations that are not proportional to the findings. Below I address just a few of the major problems. (Watch this space for links to critiques by other feminist sex worker advocates and researchers.)

Ethics and Methods

In the section describing the research methods we learn that most of the respondents were recruited via newspaper ads that read in part: “Ever been a client of a prostitute? International research team would like to hear your views.” We don’t learn what they were actually told about the study once they called the number listed. We do not know if they signed consent forms. We do not know if they were informed of the policy positions advocated by the sponsoring organizations. We do not know if there was any ethical review of the methods prior to the conducting of the study. Instead of any statement of ethics regarding the use of human subjects we have a long statement about the pain and anguish suffered by the researchers. While recognizing the subjectivity of researchers is an important aspect of feminist methodology, this statement is over the top:

“The interviewers reported feeling skeptical about the men’s professed ignorance about prostituted women, fearful about the possibility of being stalked by the interviewees, physically revolted, had flashbacks to their own previous experiences of sexual violence, questioned some aspects of their own relationships with the men in their lives, and at times felt the inclination to dissociate or drink alcohol in order to numb painful emotional reactions to the interviews. ” (p. 7)

I applaud the authors’ acknowledgment of the interviewers strong reactions, but the fact of those reactions causes me to be very skeptical about their ability to maintain, as the authors mention earlier, a “nonjudgmental and friendly rapport with the men.” Is it possible that the degree of revulsion felt by the interviewers is because they went in to the research prepared to be revolted, expecting to be revolted, and that they constructed the conversations in such a way as to make sure that the revulsion occurred? In fact, one interviewer even questions her own sanity for being able to participate in the research in the first place:

“What does it say about me? How did I manage to interview so many men and not lose my temper, not react angrily or indignantly with them? It is a comfort to me that I do feel anger now, and did after the interviews. It is a comfort to me that some of the things they said hurt me. This reassures me that I’m not some hard-hearted individual who is at ease with hearing about the abuse of women.” (p. 7)

While this interviewer reports that she maintained a calm demeanor with her interview subjects it is difficult to believe that all the interviewers did. And even if they did, it is hard to believe that, going in with the assumption that they would be hearing about the abuse of women that they had an open mind about the answers the men might give.

Of course the men apparently gave the kinds of answers that Farley’s team was expecting. Now, because of inattention to methodological issues and to the write-up itself, we are not given a copy of the 100-item questionnaire on attitudes toward prostitution, rape myths, and about sexual behavior and sexual violence. Nor are we provided a copy of the 34-item questionnaire about “hostile masculinity” designed by Dr. Neil Malamuth. Nor are we given a copy of the 64-item structured interview guide on men’s history and preferences around purchasing sex, their perceptions of prostitutes, their knowledge of pimps, and how they talk about prostitution with their friends. Since we can’t see the questions it is difficult to evaluate the findings.

Given, though, that some of the basic demographics can’t be trusted (the income categories overlap, for example, we don’t know whether a person with a family income of, say 20,000 pounds is in the 20,000 or less category or is in the 20,000-30,000 category) it is hard to have faith in the other data.

And perhaps the biggest methodological flaw, the one that Farley and her research partners commit most often, is the lack of any comparison group. We learn a lot about these 110 men, but we know nothing about any similarly situated group of 110 men who do not purchase sex. So we don’t know whether the propensity to violence or the misogyny has anything at all to do with these men’s purchasing of sex.

For example, the authors tell us that there was a statistically significant association between the men’s pornography use and the frequency of their purchasing of sex. They can say with confidence that among men who pay for sex, there is some kind of relationship between the amount of sex purchased and the amount of porn used. That may reflect nothing but differences in sexual interest levels. What we don’t know is whether the amount of pornography used by these men is at all different from the amount of pornography used by men who never buy sex. It is possible that those men exhibit the same range of pornography use. Likewise for the believing of rape myths, the violence toward partners, and so on.

Editorializing and unsupported statements

Another problem with calling this scientific research is the tendency of the authors to editorialize and make unsupported statements throughout the report. For example, in a section on men’s first purchases of sex, the authors note that for 17% of the men a commercial sexual transaction was their first experience of intercourse. Quoting one man as saying “It’s uncomplicated, it’s a good way to have your first sex,” the authors then dismiss their respondent with the unsupported claim that “the sex that men learn in prostitution – disconnected and unemotional – is the opposite of the sex that most women are interested in when they are in relationships with men” (p. 10). Based on what do they declaim that men learn disconnected and unemotional sex in prostitution? They don’t say. But it is hard to imagine they have talked to many escorts, who often put a tremendous amount of emotional labor into providing a connected and intimate – if temporary – experience for their customers. (It is ironic that the authors don’t note this given that they mention Elizabeth Bernstein’s work in the References section. Then again, there is no actual reference to Bernstein that I can find in the text, another indication of lack of attention to detail.)

Logic and proportionality

The authors find that, when asked, a vast majority of their respondents (89%) agreed that being added to a sex offender registry would deter them from buying sex (p. 27). They use this data to recommend exactly that policy. This is interesting given that just a few paragraphs earlier they note that “the men’s responses suggest that there are a number of equally effective alternatives that would reduce men’s demand for prostitution.” Why do the authors then go for the most damaging of the public humiliations? Precisely, I imagine, because it creates a legal connection between prostitution and sex abuse. It reifies the sense that buying sex is committing rape, which is exactly the starting point from which these authors began.

If cutting off hands were acknowledged by shoplifters as a reliable deterrent would we be pursuing amputation as a public policy? Sex offender registries are deeply problematic, and the conflation of truly violent sex offenses with offenses that might better be considered disorderly conduct, if anything, will only serve to ruin careers, families and lives — way out of proportion to the offense in question: the purchasing of a sexual encounter.

Why does this matter?

Deconstructing “research” like this is very important. Because this kind of work fits into dominant political and ideological agendas it is often accepted at face value despite its tremendous flaws. Policy should be based on scientific research and sound logic, not on biased research that simply fits into a political or ideological agenda.

Prostitution needs to be understood as a complex social phenomenon involving the exchange of sex for money in a multitude of ways and for a wide range of reasons. When we reduce it to “men violating women” we render invisible all of the male or transgender prostitutes, all of the women or transgender clients, and all of the respectful interactions between purchaser and provider.

We do no service to women, to families, to communities by accepting reductionist and reactionary analysis of sex work or of violence against women. There is no shortage of real research that looks at these issues carefully. Any of these would be a much better start for a conversation on sensible approaches to studying prostitution and the policies that control it.

(NOTE: This was first published on SexInThePublicSquare.Org – our community-building site.)

Technorati Tags: prostitution, Melissa Farley, Scotland, sex, sex work

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Sex 2.0 – a very brief recap

Sex 2.0 was amazing.

What do you get when one exceptionally talented organizer and her team bring together 80 or so people to talk about sex, feminism and social media in a gorgeous and very well appointed dungeon? You get Sex 2.0, which took place this past Saturday, April 12, in Atlanta.

It was a really amazing event. (Note: this was a conference, not a party. Despite the number of desirable and skillful people, and the amazing equipment, we all kept focused on the important discussions taking place.)

It was amazing because it brought together people will a huge range of connections to sex and the ‘net. There were sex workers, BDSM practitioners, bloggers, academics, sex educators, community organizers, outreach workers (please note that many people fit in more than one of those categories). It was amazing because of the range of topics covered.

I led a discussion about building and maintaining the sex commons, and you can read a brief outline of my remarks here.

According to Amber more than 80 people registered. There were twenty separate sessions plus an inspiring keynote address by Audacia Ray. Participants traveled from all over the country. Some of the people I met there included Regina Lynn, Stacey Swimme, Ren, Melissa Gira Grant, Minx, Kimberlee Cline, Furry Girl, Match Point, J. Brotherlove, Kristi Kane (who will be linked as soon as she gets a blog), Ellie Lumpesse, Subnouveau – and there were many others, some of whom are not mentioned just because I can’t remember what your privacy needs were and I wanted to err on the side of caution. I feel privileged to have had the chance to meet such smart people. Of course some of the very smart sex writing folks from NYC were there, too, and it was great to see Viviane, Twanna Hines, Rachel Kramer Bussel and of course Audacia Ray again. (Even though they live near enough that you’d think I’d see them here in New York, I’ve been too busy to make it to Viviane’s tea parties or to most of the other gatherings where we’d run into each other.)

You can see the list of sessions here, but let me just recap some of the important themes that ran throughout the conference.

• Identity: Who are we, how are our identities fragmented? How do we protect our privacy or maintain boundaries between parts of ourselves. What happens when those boundaries begin to dissolve?

• Community: Are we becoming increasingly specialized in our sex/community interests? Is there more cross-pollination between communities than there used to be because of the Internet? How do we create and expand spaces for sexual expression?

• Power: How do we retake control over how we are represented in the media? How do we resist the dominant culture’s sexual restrictiveness? How do we use technologies to advance our own sexual/cultural agendas? How do we teach each other what we know so that we empower ourselves and our communities?

I really hope that this will be the first in a series of annual events. The information sharing, the community building, and the pleasure of being with so many people who are so smart about such a wide range of sex-related topics are all so important as we work in our own ways to create a more open sexual culture.

Note: This post was originally published on Sex In The Public Square dot Org. Join us there for a more community-driven approach to intelligent sex conversation!

Technorati Tags: conferences, sex, sex 2.0, sexuality, feminism

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Some recent blogging from Sex In The Public Square (dot org)

I realize I’ve been neglecting this space. I’ve been spending all my time either at work or over at Sex In The Public Square (dot org). If you enjoy my blogging that’s a good place to look for me these days. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to over there, here are some glimpses:

A very strange story about a sexual assault case

Amber Rhea sent me a link to a news story about a very bizarre ruling in a sexual assault case. It is a strange story and I’m wondering if it has been accurately reported. It sounds too awful to be true. If it is being accurately reported, it is beyond outrageous.Here is what we can know based on the news story:

Melanie Ross alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Daniel Day at his Mercer University fraternity house in 2003. (According to the article, Day comes from a powerful Georgia family. His father is Burke Day, a State Rep and he is of the Days Inn Days.)

Melanie Ross is brought a civil suit against Day because of the assault.

A Bibb County judge ruled in the civil suit that the lacerations she had did not prove rape, and that she needed to provide a list of her sex partners because “only virgins can bring a case for sexual battery in civil court.” In addition, she was ordered to pay $150,000 of Day’s attorney fees. (READ MORE at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

When is it okay for faculty and students to be sexual in the same place?

If you ask it that way it’s kind of an odd question, isn’t it? I mean we’re basically sexual all the time. We just aren’t always acting on our sexual desires. But we are not without our sexuality. Still, any time personal sexuality makes itself visible in relationships like those between coworkers or between students and teachers things get very muddy very quickly

I ask the question because of this story. I read it about it first on the dankprofessor’s blog. (The dankprofessor is Barry Dank, and he writes frequently about the politics of sex on college campuses.)

Briefly the story is this:

A creative writing professor at University of New Mexico, posed on a BDSM web site in the company of at least one of of her graduate students. The web site was for an organization called People Exchanging Power, a national network of support groups for BDSM-oriented people, and for those curious about BDSM that Lisa Chavez*, the professor, learned about from two of her grad students. (The web site for the Albequerque branch does seem to focus heavily on phone fantasy exporation, as indicated in the news article.) It seems that after that, Chavez posed for some pictures that were shown on the web site, and at least one of those pictures included one of the grad students. An investigation was prompted, somehow, at the University, and the deputy provost found no use of college resources, no undue influence, no hostile environment, and no coercion. He said that while he thought she’d exercised poor judgement, that the incident “did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty’.” (Read more at SexInThePublicSquare.org)

We also have:

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Filed under BDSM, Carol Queen, Chris Hall, Daniel Day, Melanie Ross, pornography, public discourse, rape, sex, sex crimes, Sex in the Public Square

Note to Bob Herbert: Misogyny is much more complicated!

Herbert’s column in the NY Times this morning reprises his claims about the misogyny of prostitution and pornography but in a different context this time and with some unwittingly apt parallels.

Readers of this blog know that I have a very different analysis of sex work, one that doesn’t assume that prostitution or pornography are inherently and essentially misogynistic, so I won’t reprise that here. (You can get a glimpse of some of that here and here) Instead, I’d like to point out some of the things I think make Herbert’s analysis here especially weak, including some false assumptions about causality, and unfortunate parallels to sports and the military.

Let me start with the false assumptions about causality. Herbert seems to be asserting that the existence of pornography and prostitution, as evidenced by legal brothels in Nevada, serve as evidence of the misogyny in American culture that then leads to the epidemic of violence against women. Wrong. Are more wives and girlfriends murdered by their partners in Germany or the Netherlands where prostitution is legal? No. I would say it is our culture of violence that leads to violence of all sorts. (Note: I am not asserting a direct connection between watching violent movies or playing violent video games and committing violent acts. I am suggesting that in a culture where violence and aggression are rewarded, as they are here, that you get more violence and aggression.)

The other problem with Herbert’s argument is his assertion that sex work is somehow uniquely problematic. The fact that he uses sex work and pornography as the sine qua non of misogyny tells us that he sees those things as uniquely and irredeemably degrading and dehumanizing to women. One of the bits of evidence Herbert shows us — again — from his Nevada trip to support his claim that the brothels there degrade women (and I have no doubt that some are run in degrading ways) is that the women must answer to a bell. Now others have previously pointed out that school kids answer to bells, workers in factories and other locations often answer to devices like bells or buzzers. I bet even Mr. Herbert has a Blackberry or some other device that vibrates or rings in his pocket, and causes a Pavlovlian response where he hastens to comply with some instruction from his employer. Oppressive? Yes. Unique to sex work? Not a chance.

In fact, Herbert mentions the men at the Jets games, which made me think about the way that professional athletes, while much better compensated than sex workers, are also selling the use of their bodies in dangerous circumstances, governed by whistles and commands, for the entertainment of others and the profit of a few immensely wealthy owners and media corporations.

Herbert also raises the very real — and too little examined — problem of sexual violence in the military, but again he misses an important connection. He completed passes over the degradation rituals common to military life. Think drill instructors shouting insults at new recruits as they train. Think chants about blood and killing. Think hazing-type rituals as groups are formed and as their members shuffle in and out.

Think leasing your body to a male-dominated institution for a period of years to be used as the leaders of that institution wish. They can send you to another country. They can separate you from your family. They can command you to kill and send you on missions where your chances of being killed yourself are incredibly high. And you can’t refuse without breaking the rules.

Think your only option for escape, if they don’t want to let you go, is to commit the crime of desertion.

It is all the more clear now that Herbert opposes prostitution and pornography specifically because they are centered on sexual transactions. But degradation and dehumanization in work are problems that are not unique to the sex industry, and the sex industry ought not be uniquely condemned for them.

The Times ran an article on Sunday about the violent crimes committed by returning vets and noted that about a third were committed against spouses, girlfriends, kids or other family members. If Herbert wants to understand the causes of violence against women he needs to look beyond pornography and begin examining the toxic aspects of conventional masculinity — including the valorization of violence and aggression — and he also needs to remind himself of the economic exploitation and oppression and hardship facing so many families, including those of returning vets, that cause so much stress and anxiety in people’s lives. If he understood the intersection of those problems he’d be much closer to understanding how the misogyny that does still percolate through American culture puts women at great risk.

Note: This piece is also published on my blog at the community site Sex in the Public Square dot Org. If you haven’t visited, check it out!

Sex in the Public Square | activism + community + information

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Filed under Bob Herbert, culture, feminism, pornography, public discourse, sex, sex work

Where have I been and where am I going?

I just noticed it’s been one month since my last post here. It has never happened before that a whole month has elapsed between posts. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing in the past month. I haven’t been writing much, it’s true, but if you check out Sex In The Public Square dot Org you’ll see that there’s been a lot more activity there than here. Please consider switching your readers, links, or favorites over to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org because that site is updated much more frequently. If you’re really really attached to my blogging, you can link to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org/ElizabethsBlog if you want the page that has only my writing on it. (Please explore the whole site, though. It’s much more interesting than anything I could put together on my own.)

Where else have I been? I finished my first semester back in the classroom (what an adjustment!), spent two separate weekends at union conferences (union work being another of my passions), and just got back from a trip to Georgia to see family.

Where am I going? Next semester is going to be a busy one! I’ll be speaking at:

Eastern Sociological Society annual meeting in New York City (Feb. 23rd)

South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, TX (Mar. 8)

Sex 2.0 in Atlanta (April 12)

At SXSW I’ll be leading a conversation with Lux Nightmare about using “web 2.0” technology to help deconstruct what she has called the “pink ghetto” and others have called “NSFW” — the stigmatization of sexual content whether it be educational or entertaining in nature, and the further stigmatizing of those who produce it. At ESS and Sex 2.0 I’ll be speaking about the important project of creating a “sex commons,” a project well underway. The “sex commons” is an space where independent information about sex, sexuality, sexual health, and communities can be collected, updated and archived. You can see by blogs alone that this sex commons is growing. I’ll be talking about the challenges of maintaining such a commons and safeguarding the quality of the information it contains.

I’m excited about all of these conferences, but I’m especially excited about Sex 2.0 because it is an independent grass-roots conference of people interested in the intersection of sexuality, feminism and social media, and it is being organized by the unstoppable Amber Rhea. Some of my favorite sex-and-society writers and podcasters will be there. Audacia Ray of Waking Vixen, Naked on the Internet, and The Bi Apple, Viviane of The Sex Carnival, Rachel Kramer Bussel, erotica editor extraordinaire and excellent writer of fiction and nonfiction, Ren of Renegade Evolution, Melissa Gira of Bound, not Gagged, Sexerati and The Future of Sex, Minx of Polyamory Weekly, and lots of other amazing folks will be there, and will be talking to each other face-to-face.

Sex 2.0Because it is an independent grass-roots conference, though, it could use some grassroots support. If you have a couple of dollars to donate via PayPal I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. (I did!) It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s secure, and you can donate as much or as little as you like. Even a couple dollars helps. To support Sex 2.0 click here to go to the conference’s home page and click the “Help make it happen” button on the upper right hand side of the page.

Why does it matter? Because those of us who are dedicated to working on the construction of what I call the sex commons (independent space containing info on sexuality of all sorts) rarely get to meet each other face to face and work on the issues we all care about together. Amber’s insight in bringing us to Atlanta is sharp. She understands that the work we do online is important and that we need moments together in person to push that work forward. You can help defray the cost of renting the space where we’ll meet, and providing modest travel scholarships to those who would otherwise not be able to attend.

To find out more you can go to the Sex 2.0 Google Group, Facebook page, MySpace page, or to its pages in Eventful or Upcoming.

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Filed under Advocacy, Info, and Activism, community-building, feminism, pink ghetto, public discourse, sex, Sex 2.0, sex work, sexuality, technology, Travel

Pepper Schwartz joins us on SexInThePublicSquare.Org

Come, talk about sex and older women with Pepper Schwartz!

Pepper SchwartzStarting this weekend, Pepper Schwartz will join us on SexInThePublicSquare.org for a discussion of her new book, Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex and Love in the Sensual Years.

Please join us!

Jeffrey Rosenfeld reviewed the book for us here. We’d especially love to hear from people who have read the book, but all are welcome.

Dr. Pepper Schwartz is a noted sociologist specializing in sexuality. She has written over 40 academic research articles, and also many accessible books on sex and relationships including, including The Great Sex Weekend and Everything You Know About Sex and Love is Wrong, along other books aimed at helping people keep their sexual relationships interesting and vibrant. She has also written Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character and 201 Question to Ask Your Kids / 201 Questions to Ask Your Parents, books that help parents talk about sex with their kids, Pepper Schwartz has dedicated her career to opening up sexuality as a realm of sociological study, but also to making that study useful and accessible to the public. In Prime, she does something academic-types rarely do under their own names: she reveals much about her own sex life, using her own experience as a prompt to offer advice to herself and to other women experiencing the dating and relationship-building world in their 50s.

This conversation marks the beginning of a new feature for us at SexInThePublicSquare.org. We’re initiating a series of conversations with authors of the books we review, and we’re thrilled that Pepper Schwartz has agreed to kick off the series for us.

The conversation will take place in the comments section of Jeff Rosenfeld’s review. When we start, I’ll put a direct link to the conversation on the sidebar of the site so you can get there quickly!

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Filed under culture, Gender, public discourse, sex, sexuality, sexuality and age, Travel

Prevention bill(s)* still stuck in committee while Democrats increase Abstinence-Only Funds

File this under “with friends like these…”

What has happened to the Prevention First Act (H.R. 819/S. 21)? Why are these bills stuck in committee while the Democrats are INCREASING funding for abstinence-only education? Don’t they at least have an obligation to hold the line on such misappropriate of funds? We’re talking about the spending of 141 million dollars on programs that we know don’t work and that actually put our communities at risk. And we’re talking about the party in control, the one that is supposed to be friendly to smart sexual health policy, granting this increase in spending and as a result teaching kids that abstinence-until-marriage is the only legitimate approach to sexuality and that condoms don’t work well.

James Wagoner at RH Reality Check, expresses his outrage about this far more articulately than I could express mine. He writes:

I am constantly told that it’s not “politic” to call out our friends on an issue like sex education. There are bigger fish to fry. I’m not buying that anymore. Not when ten thousand young people get an STD, two thousand become pregnant and fifty-five contract HIV every single day in this country. Not when poll after poll shows this issue to be a political winner, not a loser, for Democrats. Not after Democrats exploited this issue in opposition and now, with control of Congress, act like it’s an insignificant chit to be bartered away at the whim of a recalcitrant committee Chairman.

It is now time to call this what it truly is. A stunning disgrace.

A stunning disgrace, indeed. And this is not a new story. We wrote about this here back when the Dems in the House of Representatives voted to approve the increase when they passed the Labor/Health and Human Services appropriations bill. But its in the news again because the bill has just come out of the Democrat-controlled conference committee and the increase is intact. And the increase is outrageous. SIECUS reports that the Senates version of the bill would have reduced funding for abstinence-only programs. Why didn’t they hold that position in the conference committee?

We’re nearing election day and it is important to remember that the Democrats are not so clearly our friends. And they ought not be allowed to continue to get away with hurting us just because the Republicans might hurt us worse.

You know, it really starts to feel like an abusive relationship, doesn’t it? You know, the kind where you are being beaten but feel trapped because if you leave you’ll be worse off?

We need shelters for the battered body politic. I think they’re called multiple-party systems. You know, where real choices are possible.

Maybe that would be a truly “pro-choice” system.

I think we need to start building one.

Now.

*The Prevention First Act is only one of a slew of bills that were introduced to try to make sane sex ed and contraception policy. The REAL (Responsible Education About Life) Act is another that is stuck in committee. For a look at the whole list, depressing though it is that none are moving, click here.

Note: This piece is also published on my blog at our community-building site, SexInThePublicSquare.org. Drop by and join in!

Photo of “Condom Police” sign not taken in the US no matter how much it may feel that way. The sign was photographed in Vanuatu by “Phnk“, posted on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

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

Genarlow Wilson is Free

I posted yesterday at SexInThePublicSquare.org that he had been ordered freed, but this morning’s Times has photos of him outside the prison. It’s about time!

That’s the good news, and I wish the best to Wilson and his family. We’ve been pulling for Wilson for a long time here at Sex in the Public Square. And we know it is not easy to put a life back together after spending time in prison, and Wilson’s prospects — which had looked bright — have been damaged. We hope he finds the kind of external support and inner resources necessary to make things work.

At the same time, we need to remember that Genarlow Wilson was not the only one. The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran this piece yesterday describing how other teens have been caught up in sex offender registration rules for consensual sexual activity.

We need a serious discussion in this country teens and sex. Right now we’re in the untenable position of denying teens sex education, thus making it very difficult for them to make smart sexual decisions, and then treating them like criminals when they have sex.

We need to treat teens like they are people with rights, and we need to treat sex as a legitimate human interest. There are lots of ways that teens need support as they develop their sexualities. Draconian enforcement of age-of-consent laws is not one of them.

UPDATE: I’ve created a forum on SexInThePublicSquare.org where we can have that discussion. Click here if you’d like to join in

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Filed under culture, Genarlow Wilson, moral panic, News and politics, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex crimes, sex education, sexuality, sexuality and age

The danger of dismissing Fred Phelps

 Are he and his small band of followers on the lunatic fringe of the Christian Right, or aren’t they? First they blame the wildfires in California on homosexuality. Now the loss of American troops is also the fault of gays and America’s failure to properly condemn them?

The New York Times today has the story of a lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church, which is being sued for creating a media circus outside of a soldier’s funeral. They protested outside the funeral carrying signs that blamed the deaths of American soldiers on the fact that the U.S. condones homosexuality. Actually they’ve been doing this for at least two years now, but because the father of a soldier whose funeral was protested has filed a lawsuit, Fred Phelps and his crew are back in the news.

Westboro Baptist Church members protesting Laramie Project in Ann ArborIt is easy to cast Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church as a kind of lunatic fringe among Christians. The Wikipedia page for Westboro Baptist Church cites sources estimating its membership as between 70 and 150 people and most of them are related by blood or marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Westboro Baptist Church to be a hate group. Phelps, and Westboro, maintain the web sites “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates America“. They also hate Jews, Catholics, Muslims and anybody who supports any of those groups. (They are certain that God hates Canada and Sweden , for example.) And they’ve been around for a long time. Phelps started out protesting the funerals of people with AIDS. You may recall that he and his followers picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard. There is a counter on GodHatesFags.com, that keeps track of the days Shepard “has been in hell.” (Shepard isn’t the only one, either. They also have a counter for Diana Whipple, a lesbian who was mauled to death by dogs that Fred Phelps believes God sent to punish her for her sins.)

Yes, he sounds like nothing more than lunatic fringe, and it would be reassuring to put him in that box, put that box away on a shelf, and ignore it.

Yet in many ways he is not so much “fringe” as we might want to believe. While Fred Phelps might be crazy, and may lead a small number of people, there are folks like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and others who ultimately promote the same basic ideas but in more mainstream venues and who as a result have exponentially larger audiences, and access to Congress, and to power. Dobson, for example, has a radio show that is reportedly run on over 1,000 radio stations, and reaches over 3 million listeners. His Focus on the Family organization has much more political clout than Phelps could ever muster, yet it works for the same basic agenda. When Dobson came out against Republican presidential hopefuls like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson it made national news, with stories on CNN, the Washington Post, and other mainstream news outlets.

Conservatives for American Values, which runs the disclaimer “Everything posted on this blog is satire and should be read as such” spoke more truth than satire about the relationship between Phelps’s lunacy and Dobson’s comparatively staid performance when it published this in 2005:

Also, it’s people like Fred Phelps who limit the donations that groups like Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family can get from righteous Christians who dislike gay people. He hurts the rest of us because he’s too stupid to know how to effectively frame his own disgust with homosexuality. Simply put, he’s hurting the cause he claims to support.

Listen, I’m sure if Fred Phelps, Dr. Dobson and I all sat down at a table we’d find a lot we could agree on. I mean we all understand what James Dobson meant when he spoke out against the Texas sodomy case. When he says that he doesn’t want homosexuals to have the right to have sex because it will destroy the family we catch his drift. He didn’t come out and say, “I don’t want homosexuals to have sex because they’re gross and I hate fags.” Dr. Dobson is much too smart for that.

It will remain difficult to believe that Phelps and Dobson don’t represent mainstream Christian thought until many more Christian groups stand up and speak out against them, and call for more understanding and respect for sexual diversity. The silence of the real mainstream lends credibility to the extremists. It isn’t enough to denounce Phelps, either.

It is important to see past the theatrics of the Westboro Baptist protests and recognize that the basic principles of sexual oppression that motivate Phelps and clan are the same ones that motivate folks like Dobson.

In fact, the danger Phelps poses is really that he makes the Dobson crew look reasonable. Yet Dobson’s rhetoric is just as dangerous when it comes to disenfranchising people because of their sexualities. Without similarly denouncing Dobson, mainstream Christians will just be making the hate and the heterosexism seem more polite.

I give a lot of credit to groups like the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing. Debra Haffner and her organization do important work. But many more mainstream religious organizations and left-leaning religious organizations need to add their voices to the call for acceptance of sexual diversity.

Otherwise, it’s going to seem more and more like the “the love-thy-neighbor” and “judge-not” Christians are the fringe, and the one’s who’d like to bring back stoning are the majority.

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Photo of Westboro members protesting the Laramie Project in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2005 taken by AlanLK and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

Note: this post is also published on our community-building site, SexInThePublicSquare.org. Visit us there for blogs, forums, reviews, event calendars and interesting people talking about sex.

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