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war on sex Palo Alto therapist Marty Klein, PhD

Sex as Entertainment

As a large group of Americans increasingly accepts and participates in taboo sexuality, the repressive part of society cracks down with increasing fervor. The Internet and the modern lap dance didn't invent this schizophrenic civic morality; it existed during Victorian times, in Thomas Jefferson's home, as part of the Inquisition, in Chaucer's London, in St. Paul's own life and backward through time beyond that.

The ways in which communities across America are successfully limiting their neighbors' expressive and recreational opportunities are endlessly creative, incredibly expensive and at the very top of many civic agendas.

The coalitions driving this are typically religious at the core, but they attract other constituencies as well. These include worried parents, conflict-hungry media, savvy law enforcement departments and cynical politicians who know a good bandwagon when they see one. Until 1989, the scurrilous political tactic of choice was accusing one's opponent of being soft on Communism. That smear pales beside the power of today's smear of being soft on hard-core sex.

They can deplore the supposed negative impacts on neighborhoods, the supposed exploitation of those poor strippers, the supposed 10-year-olds being lured into massage parlors and all the marriages supposedly destroyed by husbands preferring lap dances to home cooking. In contrast, everyone jokes about golf widows; no one blinks at the number of blown-out knees that young athletes suffer; small towns are begging to be destroyed by Wal-Mart; and marriage, well, marriage is in trouble across America.

So it's not the busted neighborhoods, ruined virginal strippers or bored, philandering husbands that are the real issue. It's sex as entertainment. It's people arranging for sex to serve them, rather than people being enslaved by sexual repression. It's the acknowledgement that erotic novelty is not only desirable, it's possible. And it's the assertion that men and women who choose to use sex in this way can make responsible choices—both in sexual expression and in the rest of their lives.

The Internet

The way the Internet became pervasive in America followed a well-known historical pattern, one that tells us a great deal about human nature and sexuality. This 10,000-year-old pattern demonstrates that new technologies do not shove erotic imagery, words and themes at a naive public that hasn't invited it, wants to resist it, but simply can't. No, what has consistently happened for 100 centuries is that new technologies are used for sexual purposes very early in their development. And that's true regardless of a society's economy, religion, political system or level of literacy. These sexual uses ultimately make the technology available to the general public for more general, non-sexual uses.

One reason for this pattern is that sex is central to so many human endeavors. Humans have an unlimited thirst for sexual expression, health and comfort.

It doesn't matter which people, which technology or the format of the sexuality involved, the pattern is almost always the same. People upset about sexual adaptations of technology may blame it on the lasciviousness of a particular group (atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, liberals, perverts); or on the modernity or soullessness of a particular innovation (crocodile dung [for contraception], the printing press, latex rubber); or on the temptations of a particular sexuality (kiddie porn, swinging, sodomy). All are missing the point: Humans are hungry for sexual imagery. They fantasize about sexual opportunity. And they'll do so any way they can.

As people adopt technologies for enhancing nutrition, improving their health and keeping warm and dry, so too they adopt them for making sex easier, more exciting, more varied, less expensive, more self-expressive and safer. The Internet is only the latest chapter in this timeless story. And while most humans want privacy around their own sexual expression, most humans are dying to know what their neighbors do.

People will always respond this way to technology. You and I will live to see dire predictions, efforts at control and moral hysteria about other technologies that haven't been invented yet. Because those yet-to-be-invented technologies will be adapted for sexual purposes. Of course.

Hostile Environment

Across America, pictures are coming down and sculpture is being covered; workplaces are being sanitized, as bulletin boards and screen savers are cleared; and email blocking is ever-stricter. College campuses are in the grip of speech codes, as professors are being disciplined for discussing the realities of historical or contemporary gender, intimacy, and, most of all, sexuality.

Now that American culture has decided that sex is a primary source of most of its problems, removing it from the public arena as much as possible is seen as the solution.

The War on Sex is committed to eliminating any public experience that causes anyone discomfort around sexuality. It's stripping us of meaningful art, diminishing our creativity at work, interfering with normal adult relationships and constraining academic and media discussions of philosophy, social science, the humanities and politics. But many people apparently feel this is a small price to pay for making sure no one is offended or uncomfortable about sex.

When America outlawed the creation of a "hostile work environment" in the 1980s, the idea was to prevent racial and gender harassment that was repeated, pervasive and so severe as to obstruct individuals from performing their job.

But now even the most indirect reference to sexuality at work or school can be considered the creation of a hostile employment or learning environment. Given the breadth of sexual influences and expression in human life, this means that any individual can exercise a veto over a huge range of workplace or school issues: dress, language, decor, personal memorabilia, charitable policies, even after-hours recreation. "Hostile environment" law has been perverted to create a right to not be offended when one leaves one's home.

While everyone deserves a fair chance to succeed, appealing to the most erotophobic sentiment to create a sexless work or university environment is not about fairness—it's about bleaching eroticism out of society.

This is patently unfair, and this is offensive to many. But sex-positive feelings have no legal standing because people comfortable with sex are not a protected class like ethnic minorities or women. When can someone sue because short skirts are banned in a private office? Or because a gold cross around someone's neck is acceptable, while a silver vulva isn't?

The War on Pornography

The war on porn is a war on people—people who look at porn. The government and conservative groups talk about "pornographers" and "hard-core smut," but rarely about consumers of adult pornography—which total some 50 million Americans. To put that in perspective, The Daily Show gets about 2 million viewers in a typical week, and David Letterman gets about 4 million. About 30 million Americans have seen a Harry Potter film in a theater.

Clearly, adult pornography is mainstream entertainment. And obviously, all its 50 million viewers aren't "porn addicts," psychopaths or child molesters. But claiming they are opens the door for a wide range of attacks on pornography. For many people, this public attacking behavior is driven by private emotional issues.

Americans are anxious about their sexual "normality" and competence and about the impact of modern life on their relationships and their kids. Many of us are taught to feel guilty about our sexual desires, fantasies and bodies and this shame leads to secrecy, which complicates things.

We want our kids to be sexually healthy, but we don't know how to talk with them—and the sexualized media scare us. We want our sexual relationships to be enjoyable and nourishing, but we don't know how to talk with our mates and what we're told about everyone else's sex lives scares us.

The war on porn is a psychologically perfect solution to the confusion, anger, self-criticism and shame that many Americans feel about sexuality and modern life. It's short-sighted, futile, self-destructive, undignified and disempowering. It's a public policy solution to a private emotional problem. And it empowers and emboldens leaders and institutions who manipulate the public into thinking that sexuality is the problem, when sexual self-acceptance, flexibility, skills and knowledge are the answer.

The FBI says that the rate of sexual violence and child molestation has decreased since free, high-quality porn has flooded the country. So when Rick Santorum, Morality In Media and other "decency" champions claim the opposite, are they dreadfully misinformed or deliberately lying?

Sexual Privacy and Civil Rights

It's hard to believe, but in America today, who you make love with and how, actually determines what your rights are—both in and out of your bedroom.

Yes, the government uses your sexual preferences and orientation to help decide if you should get custody of your kids, get a security clearance at your job or be allowed to practice your sexual hobby in private.

Up until late 2011, your sexual orientation determined whether you'd be welcome to serve in the U.S. military, regardless of your qualifications to protect the country. In 2002, for example, just a year after 9/11, the Army discharged nine linguists, including six fluent in Arabic, for being gay. For decades, a variety of Christian groups have demanded that America pursue this prejudice more energetically and punitively.

The central question, almost beyond belief in a modern country, is: Do all Americans have to have sex the same way in order to claim their fair share of the American dream or of American justice? To people obsessed with "normal" sex, the answer is yes.

You may think this has nothing to do with you. "I'm not gay and I'm not kinky," you might say.


Because once the government can pathologize any kind of sex, it can pathologize any kind of sex—even yours.

And although your sexual interests may currently be perfectly legal (the very idea that private sex has to be declared "legal" is itself chilling), what if you experiment with something new and like it? Or you get involved with a new partner who likes something you never thought about? Or some local group decides that what you now enjoy is dangerous for the community? You could find yourself a sexual fugitive faster than you think. Because like all wars do, the War on Sex is creating refugees everywhere.

Adapted from 'America's War on Sex: The Continuing Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty,' released in an updated second edition this month by Praeger. Dr. Marty Klein, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Policy Analyst in Palo Alto.

He is an expert witness in state and federal trials and publisher of the blog and newsletter 'Sexual Intelligence.'

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